Little Marks Make a Big Difference in Hawaiian Words

Hawaiian language
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Little Marks Make a Big Difference in Hawaiian Words

Small changes convert “all done” into the Hawaiian word for a skirt worn by female horseback riders. Depending upon where diacritical marks are placed, “pau” can mean completed, smudge, moist or skirt.

The okina looks like a single open quote mark. It sounds like a pause, like when you say “uh-oh.” It is not an apostrophe, an accent grave or the tick mark next to the semicolon on the keyboard. However, it is difficult to predict how it will look online. When displayed correctly, it is curved rather than slanted and wider at the bottom. It makes a big difference in Hawaiian words: lanai is a balcony, Lanai is the name of an island.

The dilemma is how to respect Hawaiian grammar online. To be honest, I’ve been fairly inconsistent in this blog, but I want now to propose a compromise. Inside the text of the post, it seems that the okinas appear right much of the time. They make such a difference in the meaning of words that it seems critical to include them. Even if you see an odd notation (usually a box or ?), you know something important is missing. However, the headlines will not use the okina. Online search results aren’t happy with apostrophes of any kind and the jumble inserted into words is more distracting than wondering if the intent is an island or a balcony.

Unfortunately, another important grammatical mark is wrong more often than right online. The kahako is a line over a vowel that gives it a longer sound. When I moved to Hawaii, I pronounced Manoa like “Muh-noah,“ which is wrong. There is a line over the “a” to give it a sound more like “Maah-noah.” These lines rarely look right online. At least for now, we will not include them in either the headline or the text of posts.

The Hawaiian language was not written until missionaries arrived – verbal tones, pauses and inflections are very important to understanding what is meant. We will strive for clarity where possible within the limits of technology.

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