Disc 1, Part 1: Pronunciation of the Hawaiian Alphabet

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In this section, we will be listening to the sounds that make up the Hawaiian alphabet of thirteen letters. If you can become familiar enough through repetition that your pronunciation is as you hear on this program, then you will be able to easily pronounce all of the words in the Hawaiian language!

In the Hawaiian alphabet, the vowels come first, and then the consonants follow. In English, we would say that the alphabet consists of the vowels A, E, I, O, and U; and the consonants H, K, L, M, N, P, W, and the glottal stop, or ʻokina, which is a break in the voice. When we get to the ʻokina, we just say its name. Are you ready to listen to the sounds in the alphabet? Mākaukau?

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In Hawaiian, the alphabet sounds like this: ʻĀ, ʻĒ, ʻĪ, ʻŌ, ʻŪ, H, K, L, M, N, P, W, ʻokina

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Now let’s say the alphabet together. Be sure to keep the sounds “pure”, without gliding one letter into another or mixing vowels together to make a single letter. Your mouth should be in one shape only for each letter and not change that shape until you stop making the sound. Hoʻomākaukau (get ready)! Repeat after me.

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ʻĀ, ʻĒ, ʻĪ, ʻŌ, ʻŪ, H, K, L, M, N, P, W, ʻokina

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Repeat after me.

ʻĀ, ʻĒ, ʻĪ, ʻŌ, ʻŪ, H, K, L, M, N, P, W, ʻokina

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The last consonant is the only one that may be new to you. It is the ʻokina, or glottal-stop. It is written like a single open-quotation mark, not as an apostrophe. It is the same sound we would make in English when we say “uh-oh”. In English, we would think that “uhoh” sounds strange, because it is missing its ʻokina in the middle.

This is the same for the countless number of words in Hawaiian which use the ʻokina; if they were pronounced without ʻokina, they would mean something completely different! For example, in the two island names often mispronounced as “Molokai” and “Lanai”, there should be ʻokina. They should be pronounced “Molokaʻi” and “Lānaʻi”. Say then after me, “Molokaʻi”, “Lānaʻi”. Say them to yourself the wrong way and then the right way a few times, and try to isolate how the ʻokina is formed in your mouth. This will help you to recreate it later on in more difficult words. Molokai – Molokaʻi. Lanai – Lānaʻi.

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As we now know, words will have a totally different meaning if the ʻokina is either mistakenly added or removed. In our example of Lānaʻi, if the ʻokina is removed and you say “lānai”, you’ll be talking about a porch or a veranda or deck! Lānai = a deck. Lānaʻi = the island. Say them after me: Lānai, Lānaʻi.

In a final note about the ʻokina, it can only come before a vowel, either ʻĀ, ʻĒ, ʻĪ, ʻŌ, or ʻŪ,. Therefore, it will never come at the end of a word, but it can and often does come at the start of one.

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Letʻs practice a few words. While doing so, recognize that all Hawaiian words follow two basic rules. Each consonat is always separated by a vowel and every word ends in a vowel. There are never two consonants join together. Ready to try? Hoʻomākaukau?

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ʻĀ – anuanu
ʻĒ – ehuehu
ʻĪ – iwiiwi
ʻŌ – omoomo
ʻŪ – uluulu
H – holoholo
K – kilakila
L – likelike
M – manamana
N – nahenahe
P – poupou
W – waiwai
ʻokina – ʻaʻaliʻi

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In the next series of exercises, we will practise sounds in the same way that native speakers have learned them for many generations. If you would like to visualise what we are doing, then write the sounds down and practice them by yourself, using this program as a guide.

In this first excercise, we’ll say the single vowels in order 5 times over. Hoʻomākaukau!

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ʻĀ, ʻĒ, ʻĪ, ʻŌ, ʻŪ
ʻĀ, ʻĒ, ʻĪ, ʻŌ, ʻŪ
ʻĀ, ʻĒ, ʻĪ, ʻŌ, ʻŪ

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The second exercise will help us get some vowel combinations in order. Be sure to pronounce each vowel distinctly and completely, with no ʻokina glottal-stops in between. We’ll save that for the next excercise! Each combination repeats five times. Hoʻomākaukau!

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ae – ae – ae – ae – ae
ei – ei – ei – ei – ei
io – io – io – io – io
ou – ou – ou – ou – ou
uo – uo- uo – uo- uo-a

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In this third excecise, we shall practice the same set of sounds as in the second excercise, but this time we will put an ʻokina inside each vowel pair. Be sure to note that there are no ʻokina at the start of each vowel pair, so let those sounds run into each other as you did in the last excercise. Hoʻomākaukau!

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aʻe – aʻe – aʻe – aʻe – aʻe
eʻi – eʻi – eʻi – eʻi – eʻi
iʻo – iʻo – iʻo – iʻo – iʻo
oʻu – oʻu – oʻu – oʻu – oʻu
uʻo – uʻo- uʻo – uʻo- uʻo-a

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Now in the fourth excercise, let’s try the same set of vowels again, but this time add ʻokina both before and inside each vowel pair. Hoʻomākaukau!

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ʻaʻe – ʻaʻe – ʻaʻe – ʻaʻe – ʻaʻe
ʻeʻi – ʻeʻi – ʻeʻi – ʻeʻi – ʻeʻi
ʻiʻo – ʻiʻo – ʻiʻo – ʻiʻo – ʻiʻo
ʻoʻu – ʻoʻu – ʻoʻu – ʻoʻu – ʻoʻu
ʻuʻo – ʻuʻo- ʻuʻo – ʻuʻo- ʻuʻo-a

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Whenever you find two vowels next to each other in a word, they will often have an ʻokina between them. Let’s try pronouncing a set of these and some words in which they are used. I will tell what the word means also.

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aʻa – puaʻa – pig
ʻaʻa – Maʻaʻa – the name of a wind
eʻe – neʻe – to move
ʻeʻe – ʻeʻena – shy like a wild animal
iʻi – aliʻi – a chief
ʻiʻi – huluʻiʻi – a type of seaweed
oʻo – maloʻo – dry
ʻoʻo – oʻoʻo – parsimonious, careful with one’s property
uʻu – mauʻu – grass
ʻuʻu – ʻuʻupekupeku- to sway, as a ship’s mast

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Sometimes, vowels are stretched to be almost twice as long as their unlengthened counterparts. For example “papa” means a flat surface, whereas “pāpā” means to forbid. So, a lengthened vowel could be thought of as another letter completely from the unlengthened one, giving the word a completely different meaning. When long vowels are written, a macron is added on top of the vowel; it looks like a short line right above the letter itself. Let’s explore a few of these lengthened vowels in this next excercise. Hoʻomākaukau!

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koa – a type of tree
kōā – a gap
paʻu – to work very hard on something
paʻū – moist
pāʻū – a hula skirt
hua – fruit
huā – jealousy
Nana – the name of a month
nāna – belonging to him or her
nanā – to provoke
nānā – to look

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