Hawaii, which became the 50th U.S state on the 21st of August 1959, is a tropical island chain located in the Pacific ocean, some 2000 miles off the coast of California.
When we think of Hawaii, most people think of Hawaiian shirts, hula dancing, surfing, and floral garlands.
But Hawaii is so much more than that, with its own distinct people, culture, and history.
Most people familiar with Hawaii will know that the capital is called Honolulu. But how many people know what it means in English, or where it comes from?
We’re going to tell you what Honolulu means in English, but first, we’re going to take a look at the Hawaiian language.
The History Of The Hawaiian Language
Long before Hawaii became a U.S state in 1959, and long before British explorer Captain James Cook ‘discovered’ the islands in 1778, Hawaii was home to native Hawaiians.
A Polynesian people, estimates suggest they arrived in the archipelago sometime between 1000 C.E and 1200 C.E, setting up their own independent chiefdoms across the islands.
Thereafter followed centuries of Hawaiian history before the Europeans arrived in the late 19th century, but that’s not the point of this article.
What’s important is that those early Polynesian settlers brought their language with them, which then developed into the Hawaiian language we know today.
During the nineteenth century, Hawaiian became an institutionalized, written language, used across all government branches in Hawaii.
It was also the lingua franca of the islands, spoken in everyday life by ordinary people.
Unfortunately, by the time the U.S occupied the islands in 1898, Hawaiian was already in decline, beginning to be displaced by English and Creole as newcomers arrived on the islands.
The trend continued apace, and by the 1950s the number of native speakers had dipped below 1%.
Thankfully, much work has been done since then to save the language.
In 1978, Hawaiian was re-adopted as an official language of Hawaii and remains the only U.S state to have a Native American language that has official status.
Since 1987, Hawaiian has been taught in schools and is used as a medium of education in several.
These days, Hawaiian has a much greater social and cultural influence in Hawaii than it has for decades.
Hawaiian: The Basics
You might not realize it, but you probably already know a few Hawaiian words. Yes, of course, aloha and hula are Hawaiian words. I guess Honolulu is a Hawaiian word you might know, too!
Hawaiian, though, is quite different from English. Whilst English uses the Latin alphabet, which has 26 letters, Hawaiian has just 12 letters as we would recognize them (A, E, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, U, W) and a 13th known as an ‘okina.
The ‘okina, written in English script as a backward apostrophe, is pronounced as a glottal stop.
To put it simply, a glottal stop is the noise made when you close the glottis in your vocal tract.
It’s common in some English dialects as a replacement for pronounced t’s- think of the word battle in cockney English, which is pronounced ba-’-ul rather than ba-TT-ul.
This, along with other factors, can make Hawaiian a difficult language for English speakers to learn, since it’s just so different from what we’re used to.
Another example of this is the fact that Hawaiian syllables always end in a vowel, which gives the language something of a ‘sing-song’ cadence.
Hawaiian- Some Basic Phrases
Here are some examples of some basic English words and phrases with their Hawaiian translation and pronunciation.
- Yes- ‘Ae (sh-ey)
- No- ʻaʻole (ah-oh-oh-ley)
- I don’t know- ʻaʻole au maopopo (ah-oh-oh-ley ah ma-oh-poh-poh)
- Hello/Goodbye- aloha (ah-loh-ha)
- Please- e ʻoluʻolu (eh oh-loo oh-loo)
- Thank You- mahalo (mah-ha-loh)
- Sorry- e kala mai iaʻu (eh kah-lah my ee-yah-oh-uu)
What Does Honolulu Mean In English?
When British sailor Captain William Brown became the first foreigner to sail into Honolulu bay in November 1794, it’s likely he would have found native Hawaiians settled where Honolulu now stands.
It is believed that Honolulu was settled around 1100 C.E. King Kamehameha the Great, the founder and first king of the Kingdom of Hawaii, relocated his royal court to the area in 1804, and the settlement grew steadily in the following decades, becoming an important port of call in the central pacific and a key trade hub.
King Kamehameha III made Honolulu the capital of Hawaii in 1850.
You can see why Honolulu developed as it did. In English, Honolulu means “sheltered harbor” or “calm port.”.
Its geography makes it particularly conducive to use for seafaring and trade. Previously, Honolulu was known as kou.
The island Honolulu is located on is known as Oahu. In Hawaiian, this means ‘The Gathering Place’.
The other seven main islands of the archipelago are Hawaii proper (often called Big Island to distinguish it from the archipelago), Maui, Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, and Lānaʻ.
Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii. It is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘sheltered harbor’ or ‘calm port’.
The Hawaiian language was once the majority language in Hawaii, before it was displaced by English. However, it has been making a comeback in recent decades.