Learn Hawaiian

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About Hawaiian

The Hawaiian language, also called ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, is the indigenous Polynesian language spoken on the Hawaiian Islands in the North Pacific Ocean. It was once the main language on the islands and was used in government and schools, but it was replaced by English after Hawaii came under the control of the US in the early 1900s. Efforts to rejuvenate Hawaiian include its recognition as an official language in Hawaii in 1978 and its use as a medium of instruction in selected Hawaiian schools since 1987. Although currently classed as critically endangered by UNESCO, interest in the language is thriving and numbers of speakers are steadily increasing.

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Planet Earth

Where is it spoken?

Hawaiian Islands

People Talking

Number of speakers

2,000

Family Tree

Language family

Austronesian

Malayo-Polynesian

Oceanic

Eastern Polynesian

Fun facts — Hawaiian

  • The greeting ‘aloha’ means more than just hello - it also communicates love, good will and life.
  • The name of the Hawaiian monk seal “ilio holo i ka uaua” literally translates as ‘dog running through rough water’ because of its canine-like appearance.
  • There are different words for ‘when’ depending on whether you are referring to the past “ināhea” or the future “āhea”.
  • Words sometimes have repeated syllables such as “melemele” – yellow, “pikapika” - spicy, “nananana” - spider and, best of them all, the Hawaiian triggerfish - “Humuhumunukunuku'apua'a”.
  • Vowels are a big deal in Hawaiian – all Hawaiian words end in a vowel and consonants are always followed by a vowel.
  • A Hawaiian-English creole known as Hawaiian Pidgin is also widely spoken on the islands. One example of a word from this language is “slippahs”, which means ‘flip flops’. 
  • Commonly used directions in Hawaiian include the words “ma kai” meaning ‘towards the sea’ and “ma uka” meaning ‘towards the mountain’.

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