0403V Pronunciation #3: The Glottal Stop

Introduction to the ʻOkina

In this video, you will learn about what we call the ʻokina, which is commonly known as a glottal-stop in English. The term ʻokina is very widespread today; but the older term ʻuʻina is equally valid, if less known by new speakers. ʻUʻina was the term my hānai (adoptive) mother, Aunty Nona Beamer, used to use for its name.

Before doing this lesson, you should know how to pronounce the vowels and consonants and you should know about the kahakō. If you missed any of those previous lessons, go back to 0401V Pronunciation #1: The Alphabet or 0402V Pronunciation #2: Macrons to catch up. This video is actually a continuation of 0402V.


The ʻokina, or ʻuʻina, are used in both spoken and written Hawaiian language. You will learn how they play a very important role as valid as any other letter (such as “k” for example). You will be able to practice your pronunciation by comparing pairs of words with and without ʻokina.

Some people seem to think that the ʻokina in Hawaiian is a completely new thing; this is not, however, the case. The glottal stop exists in all Polynesian languages and has been spoken for countless generations. What is relatively new is the need to actually represent the ʻokina with a character in written text.

Hawaiian was first written in codified form in the early 1820s, following the arrival of several American missionary groups. The missionaries, of course, were interested in translating the Bible into Hawaiian. As English language speakers, they did not have a method to consistently represent glottal stops in the written language (and in English we essentially ignore glottal stops anyway). So Hawaiian was written without consistent glottal-stop markings, but since everyone reading Hawaiian was a fluent speaker, he or she would know how to properly pronounce the words by the context of the sentence.

The writing of Hawaiian without ʻokina, or even kahakō for that matter, was the norm throughout the thousands of pages of Hawaiian newspaper texts which were to be printed over the following hundred years. Everybody still pronounced the ʻokina and kahakō of course; it's just that they were not represented on the page, except in a few cases with an apostrophe or a dash character. (See 0403R How To Write The ʻOkina for more information about how the ʻokina was, and is, written.)

Fast-forward to the mid-1900s and into the 1960s and 70s, and the language had suffered such a decline in speakers that the only people learning Hawaiian for the first time were not children in Hawaiian-speaking households, but students of Hawaiian language at schools such as Kamehameha and the University of Hawaiʻi. Thus the need for the ʻokina to be a written character: in order to make sure that these new speakers could read and write and pronounce the words correctly without having any prior knowledge of how they sounded. This practice continues to this day.

And so here we all are, learning about ʻokina. Enjoy!

Next Steps

You will know enough after watching this far in the 0400 Series to be able to move on to the first in the 0500 Series (0501V Spelling Hawaiian Words in Hawaiian), which will teach you the names for the letters of the alphabet and how to use them to spell out words. If, on the other hand, you want to go and practice some more with the ʻokina first, go to 0403P Pronunciation Practice: ʻOkina to make sure this set of lessons in basic pronunciation has been completed.

Video Links

This video was recorded in my original 480 by 360 pixel size using a “slideshow” presentation style. I am hoping to re-record it in the newer "blackboard" format as soon as possible.

Please be patient while the video begins to load; this may take up to 30 seconds or so.

Video Outline (Part Two)

  1. Introduction
  2. The meaning of "ʻokina"
  3. How to write the glottal stop character
  4. Finding ʻokina in English
  5. Practice
  6. Why we need ʻokina and kahakō
  7. Comparison between 1834 and today
  8. Closing

Video Links for 0403V: Macrons (Kahakō)

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