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Hawaiian (Hawaiian: ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, pronounced [ʔoːˈlɛlo həˈvɐjʔi])[3] is a Polynesian language that takes its name from Hawaiʻi, the largest island in the tropical North Pacific archipelago where it developed. Hawaiian, along with English, is an official language of the State of Hawaii.[4] King Kamehameha III established the first Hawaiian-language constitution in 1839 and 1840.

For various reasons, including territorial legislation establishing English as the official language in schools, the number of native speakers of Hawaiian gradually decreased during the period from the 1830s to the 1950s. Hawaiian was essentially displaced by English on six of seven inhabited islands. In 2001, native speakers of Hawaiian amounted to less than 0.1% of the statewide population. Linguists were unsure if Hawaiian and other endangered languages would survive.[5][6][failed verification]

Nevertheless, from around 1949 to the present day, there has been a gradual increase in attention to and promotion of the language. Public Hawaiian-language immersion preschools called Pūnana Leo were established in 1984; other immersion schools followed soon after that. The first students to start in immersion preschool have now graduated from college and many are fluent Hawaiian speakers. The federal government has acknowledged this development. For example, the Hawaiian National Park Language Correction Act of 2000 changed the names of several national parks in Hawaiʻi, observing the Hawaiian spelling.[7] However, the language is still classified as critically endangered by UNESCO.[8]

A creole language, Hawaiian Pidgin (or Hawaii Creole English, HCE), is more commonly spoken in Hawaiʻi than Hawaiian. Some linguists, as well as many locals, argue that Hawaiian Pidgin is a dialect of American English.[9]

The Hawaiian alphabet has 13 letters: five vowels: a e i o u (each with a long pronunciation and a short one) and eight consonants: he ke la mu nu pi we, including a glottal stop called ʻokina.