Hawaiian alphabet

The Hawaiian alphabet (in Hawaiian: ka pīʻāpā Hawaiʻi) is an alphabet used to write Hawaiian. It was adapted from the English alphabet in the early 19th century by American missionaries to print a bible in the Hawaiian language.

Hawaiian alphabet
LanguagesHawaiian language
CreatorAmerican Protestant missionaries
Time period


In 1778, British explorer James Cook made the first reported European voyage to Hawaiʻi. In his report, he wrote the name of the islands as "Owhyhee" or "Owhyee". In 1822, a writing system based on one similar to the new New Zealand Grammar was developed and printed by American Protestant missionary Elisha Loomis.[1] The original alphabet included five vowels and seven consonants:

A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, W, [1]

and seven diphthongs:


In addition, the letters F, G, S, Y, and Z were used to spell foreign words.

In 1826, the developers voted to eliminate some of the letters which represented functionally redundant interchangeable letters, enabling the Hawaiian alphabet to approach the ideal state of one-symbol-one-sound, and thereby optimizing the ease with which people could teach and learn the reading and writing of Hawaiian.[2][3]

  • Interchangeable B/P. B was dropped, P was kept
  • Interchangeable L/R/D. L was kept, R and D were dropped
  • Interchangeable K/T/D. K was kept, T and D were dropped
  • Interchangeable V/W. V was dropped, W was kept


Due to words with different meanings being spelled alike, use of the glottal stop became necessary. As early as 1823, the missionaries made limited use of the apostrophe to represent the glottal stop, but they did not make it a letter of the alphabet. In publishing the Hawaiian Bible, they used the ʻokina to distinguish koʻu ('my') from kou ('your'). It was not until 1864 that the ʻokina became a recognized letter of the Hawaiian alphabet.[2]


As early as 1821, one of the missionaries, Hiram Bingham, was using macrons in making handwritten transcriptions of Hawaiian vowels. The macron, or kahakō, was used to differentiate between short and long vowels.

Modern alphabetEdit

The current official Hawaiian alphabet consists of 12 letters: five vowels (A a, E e, I i, O o, and U u) and seven consonants (H h, K k, L l, M m, N n, P p, W w, and ʻ).[2] Alphabetic order differs from the normal Latin order in that the vowels come first, then the consonants. The five vowels with macrons – Ā ā, Ē ē, Ī ī, Ō ō, Ū ū – are not treated as separate letters, but are alphabetized immediately after unaccented vowels. The ʻokina is ignored for purposes of alphabetization, but is included as a consonant.


The letter names were invented for Hawaiian specifically, since they do not follow traditional European letter names in most cases. The names of M, N, P, and possibly L were most likely derived from Greek, and that for W from the deleted letter V.

Letter Name IPA
A   a ʻā /a/
E   e ʻē /e/
I   i ʻī /i/
O   o ʻō /o/
U   u ʻū /u/
H   h /h/
K   k /k ~ t/
L   l /l ~ ɾ ~ ɹ/
M   m /m/
N   n /n/
P   p /p/
W   w /w ~ v/
ʻ ʻokina /ʔ/


Diphthongs Pronunciation Examples
ai i in ride kai = sea water
ae I or eye Maeʻole = never-fading
ao ow in how

with lower offglide

Maoli = true

Kaona = town

au ou in loud or out Au = I, I am
ei ei in eight Lei = garland
eu eh-(y)oo ʻEleu = lively
iu ee-(y)oo

similar to ew in few

Wēkiu = topmost
oe oh-(w)eh ʻOe = you
oi oi in voice Poi = a Hawaiian staple
ou ow in bowl Kou = your
ui oo-(w)ee in gooey Hui = together, team, chorus

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Walch, David B. (1967). "The Historical Development of the Hawaiian Alphabet". Journal of the Polynesian Society. 76 (3): 353–366. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Omniglot.com". Omniglot.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  3. ^ "Alternative-Hawaii.com". Alternative-Hawaii.com. Retrieved 2010-02-17.