The 'Ölelo Hawai'i language belongs to the Polynesian languages.
The Revival of the Hawaiian Language
In the 1970s we saw a revival of the Hawaiian culture, and with it came a renewed respect for the language of the Hawaiian people. Hawaiian was made the official language of the State in 1978, and the Hawaiian language became a mandated course in public schools. Today we see language programs spreading rapidly through schools up till 10th grade. About 1400 students are being educated through Hawaiian, with another 4000 learning Hawaiian as a second language. There’s even a Master’s Degree in Hawaiian Literature and Language being taught exclusively in Hawaiian. Today, thankfully, the true Hawaiian language has a new life, and to the Hawaiian people it’s vitally important that their language be kept alive for their children.
About the Hawaiian Language
The Hawaiian language is a Polynesian language, related to Rapa Nui and Maori. Rapa Nui is spoken on Easter Island, while Maori is spoken in New Zealand. These are distant islands in the Pacific; however, what they do have in common is that they were originally populated by the same Polynesian settlers who brought with them their ancient native languages, and allowed each language to follow its own evolutionary course.
Both Hawaiian and English are the official languages of the state of Hawaii. Hawaii is actually an archipelago, comprising hundreds of islands. Probably the most well-known Hawaiian word is aloha, which is used when saying both hello and goodbye. Its literal translation, though, is the presence of breath. Aloha can also mean affection and/or love.
Studying the Hawaiian Language
The Hawaiian alphabet consists of the 13 letters –
- Five vowels – A, E, I, O, U; and
- Eight consonants - H, K, L, M, N, P, W, ‘- the last one is the glottal stop, known as ‘okina. The reason that the ‘okina is considered to be a consonant is because, when an ‘okina is missing, it can change the meaning of a word.
In addition, the Hawaiian language has four basic rules –
- All words end in a vowel;
- Every syllable ends in a vowel;
- Every consonant is followed by at least one vowel; and
- Two consonants never appear next to each other.
You’ll only find the ʻokina at the beginning of a word or between two vowels. Both traditional and native speakers use the ʻokina whenever they write or speak Hawaiian. Even though the ʻokina is not always used on the Internet and in print, it’s used in most books on Hawaiiana and in major Hawaiian newspapers
The kahakō is another grammatical mark in the Hawaiian language - it’s a symbol that looks like a line placed over a vowel. When you see the kahakō you know that it means a long vowel, so you simply drag the vowel out a little longer than you would normally. It’s quite a subtle difference, and can take a while to get used to. Even though the kahakō is not considered to be a letter, the presence or absence of it can change the meaning of a word.
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