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Commentary on Hawaiian Language

Cover Image: Masthead of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa published on December 6, 1873.

Aloha Nūhou Monday!

Much about the Hawaiian language can be discovered through reading the newspapers. In its pages, specific commentary about the language itself can be found as well. The following is the second part of a two-part article talking about state of the Hawaiian language being spoken at the time. The translation by Mary Kawena Pukui can be found in the Bishop Museum Hawaiian Ethnographic Notes (HEN) Collection.

Image: “Pehea la e hiki ai ia kakou e kamailio pololei i ka olelo Hawaii?” J. N. Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, December 6, 1873, p. 3.

3. The pidgin Hawaiian—It is a language spoken by those who are unfamiliar with the Hawaiian language.

It seems that most of these people are persisting in its use because of their conversing with people from foreign lands. Some Hawaiians know very well how to speak correctly but through associating with foreigners they act as though they hardly know the language.

[To the questions] “He aha kou manaʻo?” (What do you think?) Here again is the way a person should answer, “Makemake au e haʻi aku iā ia ʻo kaʻu keiki nō kēia.” (I want to tell him that this is my son.)

Here is another one much misused, “I ka nānā a kuʻu mau maka a me ka lohe ʻana a kuʻu pepeiao he mea hou ia iaʻu.” (To the sight of my eyes and the hearing of my ears, it is a new thing to me.) The correct way is, “I ka nānā aku a me ka lohe ʻana, he mea hou ia iaʻu.”

It is the custom of our ancestors who know Hawaiian, not to confuse in their pronunciation. All parts of the body of a person was not spoken as being apart from it and so the pronouns koʻu and kuʻu are used in mentioning each part, such as—kuʻu maka (my eye), kuʻu niho (my tooth), koʻu waha (my mouth), koʻu mau pepeiao (my ears), koʻu mau wāwae (my feet), and so forth. Never at all did they say, kaʻu maka, kaʻu pepeiao, kaʻu lima, and so on. Such were severely criticized if spoken among them. It was all right to say, kaʻu ʻai, koʻu lio, kuʻu hale and so on because they are things aside from the parts of the body of a person.

Here are some misused words, “Ke aloha aku nei koʻu wahine iā ʻolua,” for the correct way is, “Ke aloha aku kaʻu wahine iā ʻolua.”

“E nonoi aku iā ke Akua.” Correct—“E nonoi aku i ke Akua.”

“Pehea ʻoe, nīnau akula kēlā.” Correct—“Nīnau akula kēlā, ‘E, pehea ʻoe?’”

It was the usual custom with the language of Hawaiʻi not to reverse questions of this kind with actual question first and the mention of the person asking it after. If it was so reversed then the words “wahi āna,” “pēlā kāna,” “ʻoia kāna,” “kāna pane mai ia,” or “kai ala maila ia,” and so on. Many errors can be found in scanning the new book, “Aʻo Heluhelu Hawaiʻi”1 now being printed by our public school. If the books are going to be used with these errors, then the pupils of the future will believe that these sentences are absolutely correct because they are printed and published that way, without it being mentioned as an error or corrected. That is one reason that they will not be able to speak the Hawaiian language accurately.

4. The Hawaiian—That is that language with changed words or other useless words added to hide the meaning or to amuse those who are using them. Some continue to speak this way and because they are used to speaking in this silly manner, they become ignorant in the correct usage of Hawaiian and in observing their children it is noticed that they too follow in the same ignorant manner of speaking.

There are many more imperfections but these told here show that they are obstructions to correct speaking. If we leave out all hinderances, then we will be able to speak perfect Hawaiian

J. N.

(Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, December 6, 1873, p. 3)

1“Ka Buke Ao Heluhelu,” published in 1871.

Image: Title page from a school textbook, Kumumua. It was published by the missionary press in Honolulu in 1844. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 210903

Image sharing on social media is welcome. For all other uses please contact

Image: Illustrated page from a school textbook, Kumumua. It was published by the missionary press in Honolulu in 1844. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 210908

Image sharing on social media is welcome. For all other uses please contact

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