Wednesday, June 2, 2010


WORD IMPERFECT: As we perused the morning Honolulu newspapers in anticipation of soon perusing the Honolulu newspaper we uncharacteristically stopped at June Watanabe’s Kokua Line today after reading the hed stating State's official spelling of 'Hawaii' omits okina

Here on Kaua`i that’s not true with a council resolution passed about a decade ago that tried to assure that all official government uses of Hawaiian words are spelled correctly.

Being a writer in Hawai`i is fraught with pitfalls for those without a basic knowledge of the Hawaiian language-`Olelo Hawai`i- and although ours came from a couple of semesters of instruction almost 30 years ago there are things that we learned from our kumu, Ilei Beneamina, that stick in our mind.

One is about the so-called diacritical marks- the kahako and `okina.

Back to the article- and the reason we bring it up- it answers the question of why the name of the state is spelled without an `okina on the news state drivers’ licenses

But Watanabe’s answer leaves a lot to be desired. She says:

The answer is that "Hawai'i" is not the state's official spelling... Hawaii, as do all other U.S. jurisdictions, follows the driver's license/ID card design specifications set forth by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators "to ensure nationwide standardization of data elements," explained Dennis Kamimura, administrator of the city Division of Motor Vehicle Licensing.

The guidelines do not allow for punctuation marks to appear on any printed data element, such as the name of the state, the name of the licensee, street name, etc., he said.

"However, if the official spelling of Hawaii is changed to Hawai'i, it may be possible to change the spelling of our driver's license," he said.

The problem is that the `okina is not a “punctuation mark”- it’s an actual letter to be treated as a vowel for all intents and purposes.

Watanabe seems to have missed that even though she questioned an associate professor of Hawaiian language at UH-Manoa.

It’s been one of our pet peeves over the years and brings up another more important one that journalists and regular scribes around the state - including many dedicated to preserving and perpetuating Hawaiian culture- set off on a daily basis.

It’s the use of a possessive apostrophe in Hawaiian words, especially along with the use of an `okina.

We cringe every time we see something like “Hawai`i’s” or “Kaua`i’s” people because the Hawaiian language has no possessive case. You can say “the home of Kimo” – ka hale ‘o Kimo” but there is no way to say “Kimo’s home”.

Just as there is no verb “to be” there is no verb “to have” in the Hawaiian language as there are in most.

We remember as a young impetuous pup grilling Beneamina- who, being from Ni`ihau and having attended UH speaks both Ni`ihau and UH Hawaiian fluently- about whether to include the `okina when we were using the possessive apostrophe for Hawaiian words.

She simply wouldn’t give us an answer except to say that Hawaiian words should be written in Hawaiian only.. and spelled correctly.

At first, as a writer in English we were unwilling to accept that when writing in English we couldn’t at least use an English-ized spelling- without the `okina’- to accommodate the apostrophe and still be respectful of the language.

At first we thought that it’s really absolutely impossible to avoid using possessives apostrophes but after a while it became apparent that with a little wordsmithing there were no situations where we couldn’t accommodate the respect the Hawaiian language deserves and alter the sentence structure to say “the people of Hawai`i” instead of “Hawai`i’s people” or even “Hawaii’s people”.

That of course has a related corollary- the inexplicable use of the `okina in the words “Hawaiian” and “Kauaian” which aren’t even Hawaiian words. And don’t get us started on the pluralization of Hawaiian words like “heiaus” or “kanakas”.

So please all you writers out there- have a little respect and stop using the apostrophe in Hawaiian words and the okina in non-Hawaiian words. You’ll find it’s an easy accommodation that will become second nature after a while.


Doug said...

Actually, the 'okina is consonant, not a vowel.

Linguistics 101 put to use, at last!

Punohu's Politics,Environment and Culture said...

Oh I LOVED this post, Andy. Kumu Illei was not my first teacher of 'Olelo. That teaching came originally from hanai 'ohana, with my first formal introduction to the "university style" coming from the late Kumu Helena Maka Santos, who single handedly created a new interest in 'olelo Hawai'i mostly amung the born and raised of the North Shore. I spoke it,semi- passaby although often broken up with English with the North Shore dialect but did not know how to read or write the language.

However here is some history which I'm sure you already know.

The people of Hawai'i never used the 'okina and the kahako before when the language became a written one with the first printing of Na Bibela. The Exception was among the Ali'i. As I am sure you know, there was the "upper class" 'Olelo, reserved for the Ali'i, and the court and retainers, and the language of the common people, which was what I was familiar with.

When the Ali'i dealt with other leaders and countries, the language was often used more phoneticlly and deciphered mostly from linquists or botanists or historians aboard ships that traveled here. That is how the misspelled and misprounounced words for the major Islands occured, such as "Ohwyhee, Mowree, and Atooi", but this redated the creation of the 'okina and the kahako, although the macron was used in many phonetical spelling attempts. That is why you might see these incorrect spellings in documents of the period.

The people were fluent enough in the language not to need it. However if you read the old Nukapepa, you will see many liberal and creative spellings of "Hawaiianized" words. The "s" and the "t" was used far more liberally as well.

How the use of the 'okina and the kahako came about was of course from the great writer of the Hawai'ian Dictionary Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert who were commissioned to do it by the territorial Government.

It was the creative genius of these two that came up with the idea of the 'okina and the kahako, the 'okina to replace certain sounds, most importantly the "glottal stop", and the kahako to teach people where to elongate the vowels.

This was done since about the time of statehood the language was practicly non existant despite its being named as the official state language.

The use of the 'okina and the kahako to teach almost anyone to read, write and speak the language of 'olelo Hawai'i is one of the most brilliant attestments to the creative genius of the people of Hawai'i to adjust and to perpetuate the living, breathing culture of this place.

While Kaua'i, and its distinctively different dialects, (from the North Shore and Na Pali dialects, the Ni'ihau dialects, a and the West side dialects are distinct and unique Kauai still ranks as the purest of dialects in Hawai'i.

However when I write something for others I always use it. I will write it out without it, and then go back and pop in the 'okinas and kahako.

I enjoy reading the Nukapepa from the old days. A lot of words I still need to look up and its always fun to see how the words were "Hawaiianized" even back when the 'okina and the Kahako were not in common use.

Long live Ka 'Olelo 'O Mokupuni Pae 'Aina 'O Hawaii Nei!
THe full post of this is on my blog. Mahalo Andy for writting on one of my favorite subject!!

Andy Parx said...

Yes- you are correct Doug- for some reason I had a brain fut. Thanks.

And thanks for the history lesson Annie- very interesting stuff.