The Hawaiian ʻokina character indicates a “glottal stop” (like the break in the middle of the English word “uh-oh”). If you have arrived here and have no clue what I am talking about, I invite you to see video 0403V Pronunciation #3: The Glottal Stop to get a complete introduction to the concept.
The ʻokina may not look like a normal letter to you, but remember that it acts just like any other consonant and has just as much power to change the meaning of a word as its fellow consonants do (for example in English: bat vs. cat vs. mat vs. sat, and so on). You can clearly see in those examples that one little consonant can completely change the meaning of the word. Well, that’s exactly the same with this consonant we call the ʻokina, or glottal stop.
Rules of placing glottal stops
The rule of where to place the ʻokina is that it can be located at any part of a word as long as it is followed by a vowel, thus:
- it can be at the start of a word (eg., ʻala)
- in the middle somewhere (eg., wanaʻao)
- between two vowels (eg., Hawaiʻi), or
- in multiple places following these rules (eg., ʻaʻole, haʻihaʻi, pōnaʻanaʻa)
- no ʻokina at the end of a word ( eg., oliʻ ) because as stated above, it has to be followed by a vowel.
- no ʻokina with another consonant right next to it (eg., hānʻau, mahiʻna, haleʻʻaina)
Like the kahakō, explained in 0402V Pronunciation #2: Macrons, the ʻokina can completely change the meaning of a word. Listed below are a few word pairs with meanings that are altered by the presence of the ʻokina.
Practice saying each word and take note of the differences in meaning. Say them to yourself, following my lead, at least four times each. You’ll need to train your brain how to properly and easily make a glottal stop sound natural in the middle of these words. This kind of practice is very important before you advance too much further in your study of Hawaiian language.
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|1||mai (directional marker)||maʻi (sick, unwell)|
|2||kio (to chirp)||kiʻo (to defecate)|
|3||oi (to move)||ʻoi (superior, better; sharp)|
|4||oli (a chant; to chant)||ʻoli (joyful, happy)|
|5||kae (refuse, rubbish)||kaʻe (the edge of something)|
|6||au (pronoun “I”)||ʻau (to swim)|
|7||helelei (a variety of sweet potato)||heleleʻi (falling as of rain or tears)|
|8||pō (night, darkness)||poʻo (the head)|
|9||ahu (a heap or mound)||ʻahu (a cloak-like garment draped over shoulders)|
|10||lānai (a porch or veranda)||Lānaʻi (the name of the island)|
|11||Molokai (missing ʻokina)1||Molokaʻi (the island name)|
|12||aha (what?)||ʻaha (a gathering or convention)|
- 1. This island name is often mispronounced without an ʻokina, but we know from listening to many kūpuna (elders, ancestors) recorded from the 1950s to 1970s, who were native speakers from Molokaʻi, that the original name did indeed have an ʻokina in it. It is interesting that several Hawaiian island names have the -ʻi ending, such as Hawaiʻi, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, and Kauaʻi.
Now that you are done with the basics of pronunciation (vowels, kahakō, and ʻokina), you might want to look into the large set of words which I have created for you to practice Hawaiian pronunciation in as many variations of base “word parts” as I could think of: 0404P Hakalama Practice Audio. You will be able to download the audio files and an accompanying PDF with all of the words in nice tables so that you can practice the consonants, vowels, and macrons in small clusters of common combinations. This will be immensely helpful to you as you start to read and speak Hawaiian in the upcoming lessons.
You may also want to take a momentary side-step and learn how to actually write the ʻokina and practice that as well. Find out more in 0403R How To Write The ʻOkina