Hawaiian: The Heart and Soul Language

A friend of mine recently mentioned that he spent his early childhood growing up in Hawaii and told me a little bit about the Hawaiian language.  I realized I know nothing about this particular language, so my interest was piqued.

The Hawaiian language belongs to a family of languages from central and early Polynesia.  This family also includes Tahitian, Tumotuan, Rarotongan, Samoan and Maori, among others.  It is most similar to Tahitian and least similar to Samoan.  While English may now be the language of commerce, business and the like, Hawaiian is the language of the heart and soul.

The arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778 started the change of the Hawaiian people and language but it wasn’t until missionaries arrived from New England in the early 1800s that the language was really affected.  Since the missionaries were determined to educate the Hawaiian people, the Hawaiian language needed a written form.  They came up with a written language consisting of only 13 letters, 5 vowels and a symbol called the okina.

The Hawaiian people soon became very literate, and in the 1890s the Hawaiian language was the principal language spoken within the government and schools.  It was also a community with a 90% literacy rate.  However, once the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown, the Hawaiian language was banned in 1896 and suppressed by the new powers that be.  Hawaiian could no longer be spoken or taught in schools.  This suppression of the Hawaiian language would continue following U.S. annexation in 1898, and last for most of the twentieth century.

The increase in travel to and from Hawaii during the 19th century brought the arrival of deadly diseases such as smallpox, influenza, and leprosy. These diseases killed off large numbers of native speakers of Hawaiian.  Also at this time, speakers of other languages, such as English, Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese arrived.  A dialect called Pidgin was established so that all these people could understand one another.

The good news is the Hawaiian people would not let the language die, and in 1978, Hawaiian became the official language of Hawaii once again.  By the late-80s, schools were allowed to teach this language once again.

1996 was proclaimed the “Year of the Hawaiian Language.”  Many special language-related events were held throughout the islands, intended to “raise awareness in the general public about Hawaiian and encourage groups and individuals to study, use and respect the language.”

Linguists consider Hawaiian to be an endangered language as Hawaii is the only place where this language is spoken.

Here are some useful expressions to use in the Hawaiian language (thanks to the Omniglot website):

English ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian)
Welcome/Hello Aloha
How are you?
Fine, and you?
Pehea ʻoe? (sg) Pehea ʻolua? (dl), Pehea ʻoukou? (pl)
Maikaʻi, a ʻo ʻoe?
What’s your name?
My name is …
ʻO wai kou inoa?
Ê»O … koÊ»u inoa
Where are you from?
I’m from …
No hea mai ʻoe?
No … mai au
Pleased to meet you Hauʻoli kēia hui ʻana o kāua
Good morning Aloha kakahiaka
Aloha kakahiaka nui (early morning)
Aloha kakahiaka aku (late morning)
Aloha awakea
Good afternoon Aloha ʻauinalā
Good evening Aloha ahiahi
Goodbye / Good night A hui hou / Aloha
Good luck Pomaikaʻi! Maikaʻi Pomaikaʻi!
Cheers/Good health! Huli pau!
ʻŌkole maluna! (bottoms up – considered vulgar by some)
Bon appetit E Ê»ai kāua (dl), E Ê»ai kākou (pl) – Let’s eat!
I don’t understand Maopopo iaÊ»u Ê»ole
Please speak more slowly E ʻōlelo mālie
Please write it down E kākau iho ʻoe
Do you speak Hawaiian?
Yes, a little
ʻOlelo ʻoe ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi?
ʻAe, he liʻiliʻi
Excuse me/Sorry E kala mai iaʻu!