Locals Know: Hawaiian Diacritical Marks

As the Hawaiian language revived over the past few decades, two diacritical marks have helped clarify pronunciation: the `okina and the kahako. In English, those are called the glottal stop and the macron.

The `okina actually is a consonant that takes the place of a “k” or a “t” used in other Polynesian languages. It sounds something like the break between the two “ohs” in “oh-oh.” It may begin a word or be inserted between vowels.

The kahako is a short horizontal line above a vowel to indicate that it is stressed or longer than other vowels. In fact, there is supposed to be a kahako over that word’s final “o,” to show that the last syllable is emphasized. But it’s not there, and though I generally am careful to use both `okina and kahako, you won’t see kahako anywhere on this blog.

That’s because this blog format’s font (and much of the Internet) does not have the option to use kahako. I can fake the `okina with that little mark to the left of the numeral 1 on my keyboard, but not the kahako.

Usually I go by the philosophy that one should use both or use neither. A friend persuaded me, however, that because the `okina is a consonent, while the kahako is simply an indication of pronunciation, I should use the `okina. So I am. It bugs me, but this font replaces kahako with the German umlaut, those two little dots over a vowel, and that bugs me even more.

So in this blog, you’ll see `okina here and there, but no kahako. Sorry about that.small slippers

4 thoughts on “Locals Know: Hawaiian Diacritical Marks

  1. Emily Bott

    Maybe tackle pronunciation? Auntie Nona Beamer would get irritated when people called our island “Maowi.” She said it should be pronounced more like a lawn mower “Maowie.”
    There’s a radio station in Lahaina that’s very careful about this.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Lancashire

      Thanks. Hmmm, can’t quite imagine the lawn mower! Liz Janes-Brown/Betty Green used to do a good “Maui,” definitely not the rhymes-with-wowie sound most people do. Hers was more like Muhwi. My own pet peeves are “Kahalui” and “kapuna.” It’s Kahului and kupuna, folks!

  2. Jane Lovell

    My iPhone has Hawaiian as a language option, giving me access to okinas and kahako when I send and receive email on my cell phone. I believe that you can download a Word-compatible Hawaiian language font for your PC or Mac. OHA might have some advice on that score. Or the local Hawaiian language immersion school.

    • Lancashire

      Thanks, Jane. I didn’t realize iPhones had a Hawaiian font! I assume you’ve heard the great story about how Steve Jobs because obsessed with typography, thereby giving us all access to all kinds of fonts? I do have a variety of Hawaiian fonts on my computer and use them most of the time, but this WordPress format does not, and I don’t know if it’s possible to add them. Even if I paste in a correctly typed Hawaiian word, it turns kahako to umlaut.

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