Language is amazing. It is one of the true defining features of humanity.
The fact that we created something just so we could communicate with one another is incredible, but the fact that we created language multiple different times in multiple different ways is truly one of the greatest of human accomplishments.
Many people see countries as synonymous with one language, but this is simply not the case.
Language is about community and people, and as long as you have more than one of each group in your country, you will more than likely have more than one language.
This is true with most countries, and indeed even our dear old United States.
Here there are many languages, but none have been brought to mind as much recently as the Hawaiian language, a language very different from our own English.
But how different is it? Well, let me ask you this: how many letters are in the Hawaiian alphabet? Don’t know? Well, let’s find out together!
Hawaiian: A Polynesian Language
The Hawaiian archipelago is one of the most isolated places on earth, yet its language did not develop as a completely separate entity.
In fact, Hawaiian is one of the Polynesian languages from the Austronesian language family.
Even with this connection though, its closest relative is Marquesan with a 41% intelligibility between one another, fairly low for languages in the same family.
Hawaiian was a language used prominently on the Hawaiian islands for potentially thousands of years and was ratified in the Hawaiian constitution of 1839.
However, when Hawaii’s status as an independent nation came to an end, and it was incorporated into the United States in 1898, the language went through a period of great decline as the native language was suppressed by those in control of the islands.
Nowadays, the influx of settlers and the 100-year period of suppression has meant that Hawaiian is no longer the dominant language on the islands.
However, there are still areas where Hawaiian is dominant and there are still a few thousand native speakers, with one island – Ni’ihau – still having an entirely Hawaiian speaking population.
How Many Letters Are In The Hawaiian Alphabet?
The answer to this question is quite long, although I’m sure some of you are wondering why it would be so hard to give the number of letters in the Hawaiian alphabet.
This is because it is written using a phonetic alphabet, which uses the sounds of the language rather than actual letters or symbols.
In order to write Hawaiian, you need to use 13 characters. These include vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and consonants (Hh, Kk, Ll, Mm, Nn, Pp, Ww, and ʻ).
Each character represents a sound, and these can be combined in various ways to create words.
In Hawaiian, there are also things called macrons, which are Ā ā, Ē ē, Ī ī, Ō ō, Ū ū. You probably recognize some of these from their use in other languages.
Although these are counted as the same vowels in the alphabet, their sound and function in the words they are placed in changes how the word sounds and functions.
The most notable change is that macrons indicate when a vowel should be sounded as a long vowel or a short vowel, in English we do this by doubling the letter – book is a long vowel, bok is a short vowel, but that didn’t work in Hawaiian.
Therefore, they created macrons.
Another thing to remember about Hawaiian is that some letters in the Hawaiian alphabet look like ones we have in our own alphabet, but sound completely different.
You see, the Hawaiian alphabet was created by English speakers who visited the islands and studied the language. M, N, P, W, and most likely L are derived from Greek to be represented in this language.
Another thing to note about Hawaiian is its use of the glottal stop. This is a feature of many languages, but is not used much in English.
It is when airflow is obstructed in the vocal tract to produce a stop halfway through a sound. In Hawaiian, this is represented by the consonant ‘ or as it is called the ‘okina
Is The Hawaiian Language Taught Today?
Yes, Hawaiian is taught today.
Although many were and still are worried about the language’s survival, many of the island’s native inhabitants have been unrelenting in their mission to save the language.
The plight of the language and the fight of the native speakers has become more obvious to outside observers, thanks to constant news about the islands and the advent of the internet.
The internet has in fact fueled a resurgence in the learning of the language, since it provides many resources and archives full of all the world’s information.
Many companies have taken this as a business opportunity and, while their motives are not exactly entirely for the islander’s benefit, this has given rise to more learning equipment to be available for the people in rediscovering their lost language.
Language learning websites and apps, such as Duolingo and Babbel, almost all now feature a Hawaiian course and though it is small, it is a start, and it shows that while the Hawaiian language may be down, it is not out.
Hawaiian is a language of technically 13 letters, but with the macrons, ‘okinas, and the way the language has been structured, there are actually a few more sounds and variations than we give it credit for.
As such, if you are interested in Hawaiian, then take a closer look at a potential language course for you to study and understand this most beautiful of languages.