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Aloha the Word

2005-04-29 2 min read Travel marco

When you’ll land, you’ll notice that words are suddenly all different. Outside of Honolulu, most places and towns have names that are incredibly long and difficult to pronouce, and you wonder why anyone would choose such tonge-breaking complexities at all. Of course, if you spoke the language of Hawai’i, you wouldn’t think the names odd.

{moszoomimglink:Sun setting from the lanai}Take the name of the channel between Maui and the small island of Kahoolawe, called Kealaikahiki. That’s one mouthful or two for you. Yet once someone, say Michener, tells you how to break it up, you’ll have a hard time forgetting it. In this case, the breakup is: ke-ala-i-kahiki. That doesn’t tell you much, right?

Drive from the airport to Waikiki, and you’ll find first Ala Moana Shopping Center, then Ala Wai canal. The former refers to a section of the beach that is protected by a reef close to shore, creating a natural ocean channel. The latter is a drainage canal that separates Waikiki from the rest of Honolulu. Ala implies channel. Good to know.

If you hear a Hawaiian talk, you’ll notice that the ‘t’ and ‘k’ sound very similar. Both are explosive sounds, and merge together in this language in a way similar to the confluence of ‘v’ and ‘b’ is Spanish. Another way of reading ‘kahiki’, thus, is ‘tahiti’. Add ‘ke’ meaning ‘the’, and ‘i’ meaning ‘to’, and you get: Kealaikahiki = The channel to Tahiti.

{moszoomimglink:36 The first sign on the trail}Oh, speaking of Spanish: pronounce Hawaiian words as if they were Spanish, not as if they were English. Lihue on Kauai is pronounced ‘leehooeh’, not ‘leehooee’ (although locals use the latter, too). Maui is ‘mowee’ (and that second spelling shows up in more than one old map of Hawai’i). Notice that the ‘w’ was prounounced ‘v’ all the time. Nowadays, it is retreating to that pronounciation only after ‘i’ and ‘e’ (so they say). Still, you may be used to pronouncing the name of the state ‘huh-why’, but a local always says ‘huh-vy-eeh’.

There are not many words that you and I as a tourist will hear spoken in Hawaiian. Aloha is the only frequent one, and oddly enough I have encountered it mostly where the going gets really touristy. Sometimes a friendly checker will say ‘mahalo’ after you pay, which means ‘thank you’. The correct reply to ‘mahalo’, in case you wondered, is ‘you are welcome’. I asked locals what the Hawaiian equivalent would be, and I heard back that nobody would ever bother replying to mahalo…