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Hawaiian standardized as a written language

Until early 1826, the culture and traditions of the people of Hawai`i were transmitted orally from generation to generation. American missionaries arrived in 1820 and soon formulated a written Hawaiian language based on the sounds they heard. Hawaiians quickly adopted written literacy following the introduction of printed primers, grammars, books of the Bible and other textbooks. Hawaiian was the primary language of all islanders until the late nineteenth century.

In its written form, the language uses an alphabet of thirteen letters: five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and eight consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w) including the 'okina or glottal stop. The "sound" of the 'okina is similar to the vocal break made when pronouncing "oh-oh." Omission of the 'okina, as with the omission of any other letter, changes the meaning of the word. Both the 'okina and the kahako, or macron, are diacritical marks employed primarily as an aid to proper pronunciation. The kahako or macron indicates a stressed and elongated vowel.

In 1893, the last reigning Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani, was overthrown by a group of businessmen with American interests. Soon thereafter, common schools where Hawaiian was the language of learning gave way to a public school system where English was spoken. A prohibition against non-English languages existed, and the ban against Hawaiian in the classroom was finally officially lifted in 1986. Today, the State of Hawai'i recognizes two official languages, Hawaiian and English, established by the State Constitution of 1978.

 Sites for further information

Basic Hawaiian Language Workshop

Hawaiian Dictionary On-Line

Mamaka Kaiao

"Olelo Hawaii" Hawaiian Language as Cultural Resource (M. Puakea Nogelmeier)

Hawaiian Bible 1839, On-Line 1994 Edition

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