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5 Fascinating Facts About the Hawaiian Language: A Look into its History and Significance

Hawaiian language, also known as ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, is one of the two official languages of Hawaii. While the language was banned in schools after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1896, there have been revitalization efforts since 1978. Today there are only about 2,000 people who speak Hawaiian as their native language.

Currently, only English is required to be taught in Aloha State. With proposed legislation to teach Hawaiian in public schools, learning Ōlelo Hawaiʻi at every grade level could have a profound impact on Hawaiian culture.

In this article, we will explore five fascinating facts about the Hawaiian language.

#1. Hawaiian was recognized as an official state language in 1978

After almost 100 years of being banned, the US government officially recognized Hawaiian as one of the state’s two official languages in 1978. This led to revitalization efforts like Hawaiian Language Immersion Program in public schools.

What is the Hawaiian language called?

The Hawaiian language is called ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i.

#2. Hawaiian is a Polynesian language.

Hawaiian is a Polynesian language similar to Tongan and Samoan. While Hawaiian speakers may be able to communicate with other Polynesian language speakers on a basic level, the languages are not interchangeable.

For example, the word aloha is found in every Polynesian language, but it carries a deeper significance in the Hawaiian language.

How old is the Hawaiian language?

Experts don’t know how old the Hawaiian language is, but linguists agree that it developed out of other Polynesian languages. Before Captain Cook’s arrival, Hawaiian was exclusively an oral language. Once missionaries arrived, they worked to translate the Bible into the native language, and the oral Hawaiian language become a written language in the 1820s.

#3. Niʻihau locals speak Hawaiian as their first language.

Niʻihau, a private island that belongs to the descendants of the Sinclair family, is the only place where people primarily speak Hawaiian. About 200 people live here today, and it is closed to tourists.

What is Hawaii’s first language?

The Hawaiian language is currently being revitalized, but native Hawaiians historically spoke Hawaiian as their first language. Now, English, Hawaiian, and Pidgin are all common.

#4. Hawai’i Creole is spoken by thousands of Hawaiians.

Hawai’i Creole, also called Pidgin, is a common unofficial language spoken in Hawaii. Hawaiian Pidgin Creole was first listed on the US Census in 2015, but estimates suggest that anywhere from 1,600 – 700,000 people speak this language.

It developed on Hawaiian sugar plantations in the 1830s as workers from around the globe needed a way to communicate. It shares similarities with Japanese, Portuguese, American English, and many other languages.

How many languages do Hawaiians speak?

There are more than 130 languages spoken in the state. Native Hawaiians often use Pidgin at home or in other informal settings. Most Native Hawaiians are multilingual, and some speak three languages – English, Hawaiian, and Pidgin.

#5. There are 13 letters in the Hawaiian language.

The Hawaiian alphabet includes 13 letters – a e i o u h k l m n p w ‘.

‘ (okina) is a special character in the Hawaiian language that indicates a glottal stop. Using an okina changes the meaning of words. For example, “pau” means finished but “pa’u” means ink.

¯ (kahako) is not a letter in Hawaiian, but it is used to indicate long vowel pronunciation.

Now that you’ve learned more about this language try practicing some Hawaiian terms.

Hawaiian language English language

  • Aloha Hello/Goodbye
  • Pehea‘oe? How are you?
  • Mahalo Thank you
  • ‘A‘ole pilikia You’re welcome

Learning more about the Hawaiian language provides insight into Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage. As the language is being revitalized, it could have a significant impact on preserving and sharing this unique aspect of Hawaiian culture.

Want to read other fascinating language stories? Check out ALTA’s Beyond Words Blog for more.

Stephanie Brown is a New York City-based travel blogger and freelance content creator.
You can find her at The Adventuring Millennial.

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