Hawaiian Pronunciation Guide
The Hawaiian language or ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i is a much more sensible language than English, the pronunciation rules are actually very simple, you don't have to guess how an unfamiliar word is pronounced. There's really only six things you need to know:
-Every syllable ends with a vowel.
-Each vowel only makes one sound. The vowels a e i o u are pronounced "ah ay ee oh oo." They're very soft, gentle vowels, which is hard to transliterate into text, but like... you don't open or stretch your mouth all the way? So a is actually somewhere between "uh" and "ah," and e is somewhere between "eh" and "ay."
-The kahakō or macron over the vowel (ā ē ī ō ū) is a subtle change in the pronunciation of the vowel sound; it lengthens the vowel in the sense that you literally hold the vowel sound a beat longer, and gives the impression of stressing that vowel sound. It also makes the vowel sound a bit more pronounced (that a and e will now definitely be an "ah" and an "ay"). Pronouncing the kahakō is important, these are essentially a whole second set of vowels and presence or absence of kahakō changes the meaning of the word.
-The ‘okina or backwards apostrophe denotes a glottal stop, as in the English words "uh-oh" or "uh-uh." It's a place where a consonant used to be and often still exists in other Polynesian languages. Two vowels with an ‘okina between them are sharply separated. Without an ‘okina you flow smoothly from one vowel into the other; you do pronounce every vowel, but when speaking quickly certain vowel sounds can start to blend together—ai and ae will start to sound similar to the English "eye," au and ao will start to sound similar to the English "ow," and "oi" and "oe" will start to sound similar to the vowels in the English "toy." The ‘okina at the beginning of a word is only audible when the word is used in a complete sentence; with an ‘okina that vowel will be sharply delineated from the word that came before it, without an ‘okina the words will flow together smoothly.
-The w... is the only part of Hawaiian that pisses me off, because it doesn't have a simple, trustworthy rule. When following o or u it makes a normal English w sound, when following i or e it makes a v sound, and when following a (or, presumably, nothing) it can sound like either w OR v, and in most cases I believe both are correct so... pick which pronunciation sounds best to you at the time?
-The rest of the consonants sound like standard English consonants.
Be aware, I've given you the proper, correct Hawaiian pronunciations, but in modern Hawai‘i you will often hear Westernized pronunciations, and even most of the locals will give you a Pidgin pronunciation.
‘a‘ā – Along with pāhoehoe, one of two main types of lava that flows overland. As molten lava cools and degasses, becoming pastier and less fluid, the semi-solid surface of the flow can start breaking into chunks and tumbling and rolling, which when the flow solidifies results in a field of nasty, spiky, razor-sharp loose boulders sob ‘a‘ā is the WORST.
active volcanoes – The definition of an 'active' volcano is a bit fuzzy and depends on which system we're using, but if we go with the idea of a volcano that has erupted within the last several hundred years, then there are four active volcanoes in the Hawaiian islands: Kīlauea, Mauna Loa, and Hualālai on Hawai‘i Island, and Haleakalā on Maui.
ahu – Any kind of mound or pile, in this case a cairn of stone; in modern Hawai‘i used as trail markers when crossing bare lava.
auntie – In Hawai‘i, any woman older than you is an auntie and any man older than you is an uncle, even if you are unrelated or even complete strangers. You would use 'Auntie' or 'Uncle' as a respectful form of address, rather than ma'am or sir. I feel 'auntie' in particular calls to mind a local woman who is motherly and good at cooking.
baked mochi – A Hawaiian twist on Japanese mochi, basically you're making a cake or brownie batter but with mochiko (rice flour) instead of wheat flour. The most common and popular incarnations are chocolate mochi and butter mochi, so called because it's made with like an entire stick of butter, and little else in the way of flavoring other than sugar and vanilla and sometimes coconut milk, depending on your auntie's recipe. IT'S THE SHIT.
Big Island Brewhaus – My favorite Big Island microbrewery, in the town of Waimea. The beer list at the brewery is seasonal and experimental, but they have a few popular favorites they put in bottles for year-round consumption. Their Red Sea of Cacao (a red ale made with Hawaiian chocolate) and their White Mountain Porter (a porter made with Hāmākua coffee) are my faves.
cinder – A type of tephra, or volcanic material that is thrown into the air. When lava fountains hundreds or even thousands of feet into the air, small droplets of lava spend enough time in the air that they solidify before they hit the ground, resulting in a rain of hot but solid cinder. Cinder is small, gravel-sized material, and spongy in structure—lightweight, low-density stuff.
Haleakalā – "House of the Sun," an active volcano on the island of Maui, a little less volatile than Mauna Loa or Kīlauea; it last erupted sometime in the 1600s. There is a massive (7 miles across) erosional crater in the top of it; the inside of the crater is a trip, a seriously alien landscape, and is my favorite backpacking in the whole state.
Halema‘uma‘u Crater – "House of the Ama‘u Fern," a half-mile wide pit crater in the floor of Kīlauea Caldera, considered to be the home of the volcano goddess Pele. This crater is set directly over the magma conduit that feeds the volcano, and has frequently throughout its history been the site of active lava lakes and other eruptions. A small vent opened up in the floor of the crater in 2008, initially only a few meters across; it has since widened into a lava lake the size of a professional football stadium, the current largest active lava lake on the planet.
Hapa Brown Ale – An American Brown Ale produced by Hawai‘i Nui Brewing in Hilo. Another local beer I enjoy.
Hawai‘i/Big Island – The name of the island Steve and Danny are visiting is Hawai‘i, not to be confused with the name of the state/island chain, which is... Hawai‘i. ...Look it's all the fault of a troublemaker named Kamehameha the Great, who in the late 1700s decided being a district chief was not good enough and did some conquering until he was the king of Hawai‘i Island, and then did some more conquering until he was the king of ALL the islands and established the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, named after where he was from. To avoid the name confusion we often call Hawai‘i Island the Big Island, which is appropriate since at 4,028 square miles it's the largest island in the United States, and is nearly twice as large as all the other main Hawaiian islands combined.
Honolulu Hale – The county seat of government of the City & County of Honolulu, where resides both the mayor's office and city council chambers.
hūi – If someone's trying to get your attention from a distance, expect this to get yelled at you, usually long and drawn out like Steve did. Basically a "HEY THERE!" or, at closer distances, a "LISTEN UP!"
Ice Palace – The only ice skating rink in Hawai‘i; skating there was a Christmas Day tradition when I was a little kid. I'm terrible at it, since skating once a year or less is not really enough practice. XD
Kīlauea – "Much Spewing/Spreading." At about 300,000-600,000 years old and only 4000 feet above sea level, Kīlauea is our itty-wittiest babiest volcano—except for wee babby Lō‘ihi under the ocean off the coast, who still has another 1000 feet or so to go before she hits island status. Kīlauea is also our most active; she's erupted 62 times since 1750, the current Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō/Kūpa‘ianahā eruption has continued nonstop since 1983, making it the longest observed eruption of any volcano in historic time, and since the Overlook Vent opened up in 2008 (now the Halema‘uma‘u lava lake) has been erupting in two places simultaneously.
Kīlauea Caldera – Traditionally, Kaluapele, "Pele's Pit ." A caldera forms when a large reservoir of magma is present very close to the surface at the top of the volcano; after the magma has drained away, during an eruption or by some other means, a void is left behind and the top of the volcano collapses under its own weight, creating a massive crater. Kīlauea Caldera formed about 500 years ago following the draining of the summit magma reservoir by the 70ish-year-long ‘Ailā‘au eruption. Initially about 2000 feet deep, the caldera has backfilled with lava to a depth of about 500 feet. What most people think of as the caldera is the Inner Caldera, 2 to 3 miles across, which is nestled inside of the less obvious Outer Caldera, about 4 miles across. It's a Very Big Hole.
King Street – The center of Christmas festivities in downtown Honolulu. Carriage rides, carnival rides, street vendors, the largest Cook pine they can find on the island transformed into a massive Christmas tree, gigantic festive statues including a Mr. and Mrs. Claus in swimwear lounging by the pool, all the monkeypod and shower and coconut trees lit up with sparkling lights—another major tradition when I was a little kid.
Kona blend – The world-famous Kona coffee is a sought-after brand, but Hawaiian coffee is blisteringly expensive since we have higher labor costs here in the United States than other coffee growing regions. For this reason you will often see much cheaper "Kona blends" marketed—10% Kona, 90% coffee from somewhere in Latin America usually. (By the way, Kona is not the only Hawaiian coffee, and not all Hawaii coffee is Kona. Kona coffee is coffee grown in the district of Kona on Hawai‘i Island, which has been growing coffee for over 100 years. In the last couple of decades coffee production has spread to every district of every island, each with its own distinct flavor owing to different soils and climates. Kona's good and all, and you can't go wrong with any Hawaiian coffee, but Ka‘ū is the best.)
lanai – A porch or patio.
lava colors – As Danny observed, there's a whole lot of colors in lava besides black. I've seen lava in literally every color of the rainbow. You often see the best colors at or near the eruption sites, where the lava was at a higher temperature for a longer period of time, cooking all the component elements and fusing them into various compounds and minerals. Iridescent rainbow shimmer, like a peacock feather, is the result of a copper iron sulfide mineral called bornite; chalcopyrite is a related copper iron sulfide that comes out a shiny gold. Brick reds, terra cotta oranges, and maroon purples are the result of iron in the lava undergoing thermal oxidation—like, high-speed, heat-activated rusting, creating high concentrations of iron oxides such as hematite in the stone. You will also see the oxidation of iron in lava slowly over time; young lava flows are black or silvery, but over hundreds or thousands of years will turn brown and red-brown, and over thousands or millions of years will degrade into rust-red soil.
lava tube – A volcanic cave formed by a channelized river of molten lava. Just as a river of water will ice over at the surface when exposed to cold temperatures, so will the surface of the lava river freeze solid as it is exposed to, what is to rock, freezing cold air. This crust of solid rock insulates the river beneath it, keeping it hot and molten for a longer period of time, allowing the lava to flow for many miles (the longest lava tube in the world is on Hawai‘i Island, and is over 40 miles long). As the lava continues to flow inside the lava tube, it will start to melt the ground beneath it, cutting its way down into the older rock and enlarging the tube, leaving a gap between the surface of the molten river and the roof of solid rock. This can result in tubes that are many meters tall on the inside.
magma – Molten rock beneath the earth's surface. Once magma reaches the surface in an eruption, we call it lava.
mana – A spiritual power that is in all things—people, gods, animals, plants, rocks. Some people or places have more mana than others.
manapua – A Hawai‘i twist on Chinese bao, a steamed bun filled with sweet barbecued pork. Manapua is larger than traditional bao and can be baked or steamed. The original char siu pork filling is still the most popular, but other fillings like curry chicken, sweet potato, or whatever the heck else you want are also used.
mauna – Mountain.
Mauna Kea – "White Mountain," so named for its frequent snow cap (or, as I have also heard, the glimmering field of silversword plants that used to cover it). Mauna Kea is about a million years old and is considered dormant, having last erupted 4000-6000 years ago. At about 13,800 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea is the highest peak in all of Polynesia. Measured from its base at the sea floor, Mauna Kea is about 33,000 feet tall, making it the tallest mountain on planet Earth. The summit of Mauna Kea is also home to the largest collection of world-class astronomical observatories on the planet and groundbreaking discoveries altering our understanding of the universe occur there all the time; the use of the summit for this purpose is controversial, however, as it is considered sacred to Native Hawaiians who practice the traditional culture. Mauna Kea is more correctly written Maunakea, but I have opted for the internationally recognizable Westernized form to avoid confusion.
Mauna Loa – "Long/Broad Mountain;" also written Maunaloa (see the explanation in the Mauna Kea section). Mauna Loa's name is pretty self-explanatory; it is the largest active volcano on the planet in terms of mass and volume, and of all volcanos on Earth is outclassed only by the ancient, extinct, and underwater Tamu Massif. Comprising 10,000-18,000 cubic miles of rock, it takes up about 3/5 of Hawai‘i Island all by itself, dwarfing the other four volcanoes that make up the island. At a height of about 13,680 feet above sea level, she is also nearly as high as Mauna Kea. Mauna Loa is about 700,000 years old and very, very active, having erupted 33 times since 1843. She hasn't erupted since 1984, however, which is the longest gap between eruptions in 200 years.
pāhoehoe – Along with ‘a‘ā, one of two main types of lava that flows overland. Pāhoehoe is flowy, liquidy lava that solidifies into a relatively smooth, flat, asphalt-like substance. Cooler pāhoehoe can form lobes and bulges and wrinkles and folds; it's very beautiful stuff. Young pāhoehoe flows tend to be a shiny silvery-black color, as opposed to the matte black of ‘a‘ā. Flowing lava always starts as pāhoehoe and may become ‘a‘ā as it cools and becomes pasty.
pau hana – Literally "done with work" or "finished with work." This Hawaiian phrase has been incorporated into Pidgin/Hawaiian Creole and is ubiquitous in the islands, e.g. pau hana time, pau hana traffic, pau hana drinks specials at your local bar.
Pele – Our volcano goddess, who resides at Kīlauea and rules over the volcanic landscapes of the southern part of Hawai‘i island. She has many names and epithets; Pelehonuamea ("Pele of the Sacred Earth") is a common one. She is still revered by Hawai‘i residents; there are many stories even in the present day of sightings or encounters with Pele in her human form or strange behavior of eruptions and lava flows attributed to Pele's moods, and you can often find offerings of lei, food wrapped in ti leaf, ‘ōhelo berries, coins, cigarettes, or small bottles of gin left at the edge of Kīlauea Caldera. She is a powerful, destructive, and temperamental goddess, but she isn't evil, and has often shown love and care to her people; the relationship we have with her is more one of love and respect than of fear. Strictly speaking I wouldn't say I believe, but strictly speaking I wouldn't say I don't, either. I've got a couple good Pele stories of my own.
purple sweet potato – Hawai‘i's favorite sweet potato, basically the only one we grow here. Many locals are under the impression that this is the sweet potato that the Polynesians brought with them when they colonized Hawai‘i, but this is incorrect; the purple sweet potato is from Okinawa. The inside of the potato really is a rich, deep, royal purple when cooked, very beautiful—and DELICIOUS. As a kid in Hawai‘i, I didn't even know sweet potatoes came in other colors. You'll see purple sweet potato chips and purple sweet potato pie among other goodies.
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