Use of the Written Hawaiian Language


As a symbol of a proud Hawaiian national identity, ʻIolani Palace strives to reflect the history and lifestyle of Hawaiʻi during the Kalākaua era, including the use of the Hawaiian language or ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. Throughout the Palace, you may see the lack of use of Hawaiian diacritical marks in historical documents, artwork, jewelry, and other items from the time period. However, contemporary signage and descriptions will include the use of diacritical marks.

Understanding Hawaiian Diacritical Marks
Hawaiian diacritical marks, ʻokina (ʻ) and kahakō (macron) are not just symbols but essential components of the Hawaiian language. The ʻokina represents a glottal stop, a pause in speech, and is typographically represented as a reversed apostrophe. The kahakō, on the other hand, is a bar above a vowel that indicates a prolonged sound. These marks are crucial for accurate pronunciation and meaning in the Hawaiian language.

Absence During the Monarchy Era
During the monarchy era, written Hawaiian often lacked diacritical marks because early missionaries who developed the written form used the Roman alphabet without incorporating these elements. Standardization efforts focused on basic education and religious purposes, and the printing technology of the time couldn't accommodate diacritical marks.

Inclusion in Modern Times
Today, the use of ʻokina and kahakō ensures accurate pronunciation and meaning, crucial for cultural practices and oral traditions. These marks are essential in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi revitalization efforts, helping learners use the language correctly and preserving its integrity. The use also honors the linguistic heritage of our Native Hawaiian people, reflecting a commitment to preserving our rich cultural identity.

Pictured: Queen Liliʻuokalani's songbook with music written in her own handwriting.
Click photos to enlarge.