Although English is recognized as the country’s primary language, Hawaii is one of two U.S. states that acknowledge a secondary language as well. Hawaii considers both English and Hawaiian as official dialects and locals commonly speak back and forth between the two. As a visitor, it is a good idea to have a grasp on a few popular local phrases before your Hawaii vacation — in order to both enhance your experience as well as make it easier for you to communicate with the people you meet.
Basic Hawaiian Language Overview
Languages are broken down into a few primary elements including a standard alphabet, verb conjugation, and word pronunciation. The pronunciation of vowels is one of the most important differences between Hawaiian and English. Hawaiian vowels maintain a universal sound in every word and do not change depending on the word, as they do in English. For example, the letter A is always pronounced “ah” and the letter E is pronounced “eh”. The letter I is pronounced “ee” — aptly represented by the state’s name, “Hawaii” — and U is pronounced “oo”. Correctly spoken vowels are essential to expressing and understanding common Hawaiian phrases. A few other Hawaiian language basics include the fact that words and syllables always end in vowels and syllables are always only one or two letters long.
A few of the simplest phrases you will hear used extensively around the state involve common forms of greeting.
• Aloha: used for both ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and also to mean ‘love’
• Malaho: (mah-hah-lo) means ‘thank you’
• A hui huo: used to mean ‘until the next time we meet’ or ‘see you soon’
• Pehea oe: means ‘how are you?’
• Maikai no au: used as a reply, meaning ‘I am fine’
• Aloha kakahiaka: ‘Good morning’
• Aloha ahiahi: ‘Good evening’
Simple Phrases for Association
Many Hawaiian words are still used interchangeably with English words around local households, businesses, and communities across the state, especially in relation to the identification of certain types of people.
• Ohana: means ‘family’ (used in a broad sense to describe both blood and non-blood relatives, as well as types of restaurants or businesses, for example ‘family-friendly’)
• Wahine: means ‘woman’ or ‘female’ (useful for bathroom gender identification)
• Kane: means ‘man’ or ‘male’
• Keiki: applied to ‘children’ or ‘child’
• Malihini: means newcomer, visitor, or someone from a foreign origin, and may refer to you as a vacationer
Other Common Words and Phrases
Hawaiians fluently speak and understand the English language but as a strong culture have chosen to retain the lingual roots of their ancestors. Being a foreigner and a vacationer, it is both helpful and a sign of respect to understand and use basic Hawaiian phrases — plus, it will just make your vacation that much more meaningful. Here are a few more fun Hawaiian words and phrases:
• Okole Maluna: Cheers! (a toast)
• Luau: means a type of Hawaiian feast or party
• Hana hou: applies to an encore, meaning ‘one more time’, usually in relation to festivity
• Makai: indicates towards the ocean, or ‘oceanside’ (a pretty useful term within an island culture surrounded completely by water)