Hawaiian alphabet

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Hawaiian alphabet
Languages Hawaiian language
Creator American Protestant missionaries
Time period

The Hawaiian alphabet (in Hawaiian: ka pīʻāpā Hawaiʻi) is an alphabet used to write Hawaiian. It was adapted from the English alphabet in the early 19th century by American missionaries to print a bible in the Hawaiian language.


In 1778, British explorer James Cook made the first reported European discovery of Hawaiʻi. In his report, he wrote the name of the islands as "Owhyhee" or "Owhyee". By July 1823, they had begun using the phrase "Hawaiian Language." The actual writing system was developed by American Protestant missionaries on January 7, 1822.[citation needed] The original alphabet included five vowels and twelve consonants:

A, B, D, E, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, T, U, V, W

and seven diphthongs:


In 1826, the developers voted to eliminate some of the letters which represented functionally redundant interchangeable letters, enabling the Hawaiian alphabet to approach the ideal state of one-symbol-one-sound, and thereby optimizing the ease with which people could teach and learn the reading and writing of Hawaiian.[1][2]

  • Interchangeable B/P. B was dropped, P was kept
  • Interchangeable L/R/D. L was kept, R and D were dropped
  • Interchangeable K/T. K was kept, T was dropped
  • Interchangeable V/W. V was dropped, W was kept


Due to words with different meanings being spelled alike, use of the glottal stop became necessary. As early as 1823, the missionaries made limited use of the apostrophe to represent the glottal stop, but they did not make it a letter of the alphabet. In publishing the Hawaiian bible, they used the ʻokina to distinguish koʻu ('my') from kou ('your'). It wasn't until 1864 that the ʻokina became a recognized letter of the Hawaiian alphabet.[1]


As early as 1821, one of the missionaries, Hiram Bingham, was using macrons in making handwritten transcriptions of Hawaiian vowels. The macron, or kahakō, was used to differentiate between short and long vowels.

Modern alphabet[edit]

The current official Hawaiian alphabet consists of thirteen letters: five vowels (Aa, Ee, Ii, Oo, Uu) and eight consonants (Hh, Kk, Ll, Mm, Nn, Pp, Ww, ʻokina).[1] Alphabetic order differs from the normal Latin order in that the vowels come first, then the consonants. The five vowels with macrons – Āā, Ēē, Īī, Ōō, Ūū – are not treated as separate letters, but are alphabetized immediately after unaccented vowels. The ʻokina is ignored for purposes of alphabetization.


Letter Name IPA
Aa /a/
Ee /e/
Ii /i/
Oo /o/
Uu /u/
Hh /h/
Kk /k/
Ll /l/
Mm /m/
Nn /n/
Pp /p/
Ww ʋ
ʻ ʻokina ʔ


Diphthongs Pronunciation Examples
ai i in ride kai = sea water
ae I or eye Maeʻole = never-fading
ao ow in how

with lower offglide

Maoli = true

Kaona = hidden meaning

au ou in loud or out Au = I, I am
ei ei in chow mein

or in eight

Lei = garland
eu eh-(y)oo ʻEleu = lively
iu ee-(y)oo

similar to ew in few

Wēkiu = topmost
oe oh-(w)eh ʻOe = you
oi oi in voice Poi = a Hawaiian staple
ou ow in bowl Kou = your
ui oo-(w)ee in gooey Hui = together, team, chorus

See also[edit]


This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "Hawaiian alphabet", which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License but not under the GFDL.

  1. ^ a b c "Omniglot.com". Omniglot.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  2. ^ "Alternative-Hawaii.com". Alternative-Hawaii.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17.