Rare Language Fact File: Hawaiian

Native to:  Hawaii

Number of native speakers:   Approx 2,000

Spoken by:  native Hawaiians

Learn some:

You might think that ‘aloha’ means ‘hello’, but the word actually has many meanings, including ‘love’, ‘peace’ and ‘mercy’. It also has religious and deep cultural significance. To play it safe, it’s best to greet Hawaiians with ‘mahalo’ (pronounced mah-hah-loh), which does just mean hello

Interesting facts:

Hawaiian only has 13 letters in its alphabet, exactly half the number of the English alphabet. It also has a glottal stop, called the Okina. A glottal stop is the sound Londoners make when they don’t pronounce their t’s; eg if the word ‘bottle’ as pronounced by an eastender was transcribed into Hawaiian, it would like something like ‘bo’le’.

  • Enforced use of English after the islands were colonised drove native language usage down, but since as early as 1945, there have been moves to save the Hawaiian language. Now it is taught in schools and used in higher academic settings.
  • This is a broadly positive thing, however the academic Hawaiian is distinctly different from informal, spoken Hawaiian. There is now a debate over which language is the authentic version to be preserved. Some argue that academic Hawaiian, the one most likely to be granted official status, is polluted by foreign interference and the grammar is too standardised, following colonial and Western norms.

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