The Hawaiian language is one of the most ancient languages that is still in use in modern times. It is closely related to Tahitian, Maori, and other Polynesian languages. Although it is spoken by only a few thousand people as a primary language, most people in the Islands learn to speak Hawaiian words that are commonly used in everyday speech. The preservation of the language is an important step to the preservation of the culture.
Although the culture of the Islands was highly developed for many centuries, the language was spoken only, and not written.... until Protestant missionaries arrived in the early 1800’s. Believing that literacy was the key to conversion to Christianity, the missionaries created an alphabet and dictionary of the language using European letters and pronunciations. This allowed the people to read in their own language. It also made it easier for non-Hawaiians to learn to speak Hawaiian.
This Polynesian language has a musical and flowing quality due to the fact that every syllable ends with a vowel. On the surface this makes the language appear simple. And in fact, pronunciation is simple if certain rules are understood and if the word is written correctly. The complexity becomes clear when one realizes that most words have multiple meanings.....and can have meanings that are not translatable, may be hidden, or even be magical.
Most of us will never have the time or inclination to learn to speak this Polynesian language fluently. But if you are traveling to the Islands, learning some common words and phrases will seriously enrich your experience of the culture.
Take a look at the links below and on the side bar to learn about the Hawaiian alphabet, pronunciation of the language, commonly used words and phrases, the meanings of names, understanding menus, songs and lullabies, and more.