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A Tricky Language

Children learning their native language in Hawaii don’t study their ABCs. For one thing, there is no “B” or “C” in the Hawaiian alphabet. In fact, their are only twelve letters in all—the same five vowels we have and seven consonants. Then, too, there is the okina, or glottal stop, which looks like a single apostrophe. You can see it in the above illustration next to the Hawaiian flag.

The sparseness of the alphabet could be the reason there are so many long words in the language. For instance, my favorite Hawaiian singer, the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole has a name that is virtually unpronounceable to us haoles (i.e., mainlanders). When Bruddah Iz, as he was called, died in 1997 at the age of 38, he was well over 700 pounds. The flag of Hawaii flew at half mast—the only non-governmental-official to be so honored. He had the voice of an angel. I own several of his albums on CD and regard them among my most treasured possessions.

As a rare treat, here is Iz singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow”:

The video also shows his funeral, when his ashes were scattered in the Pacific.

Here are just a few Hawaiian street and neighborhood names in Honolulu. Imagine trying to pronounce them aloud to a native after you’ve had a few drinks::

  • Kaka’ako
  • Kekeaulike
  • Kalakaua
  • Kawaiaha’o
  • Nu’uanu
  • ’Aihualama
  • Pu’uohi’a
  • Likelike
  • Kapahulu
  • Kapi’olani

Sadly, the Hawaiian language is endangered, with most natives reverting to Pidgin, which I discussed in an earlier post.