Commentary on Hawaiian Language

Cover Image: Masthead of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa published on November 29, 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 first 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, November 29, 1873, p. 3.

How Are We to Speak the Hawaiian Language Correctly.

The Hawaiian language is the speech of this people. The language of another people is a key to open and clarify the thoughts, the desires, and the privileges of all the people of that racial group.

In comparing Hawaiian to other languages of the world, it is seen that it is a more understandable language and because of this, it is quickly grasped by all who wish to learn it.

Our first ancestors arranged the Hawaiian language, corrected the way of speaking it, of expression, and of inquiring, with the greatest of skill. Because they were eager to speak well and accurately they interpreted and arranged their proper usage in the language and no one who is very capable of speaking correctly can do so without regard to the usages laid down by them.

So the Hawaiian language was accurate and pure at that time but not now, most of the people have deserted the usages set up by our ancestors and made the speech confusing by imitating the errors of certain strangers who do not know the Hawaiian language. By continuing to talk with these ignorant people the language has become confusing and very slipshod. Therefore it has given rise to this question, how are we to speak the Hawaiian language correctly.

By comparison, the language of a people is like a good tool. If the tool is given good care and kept sharp, it becomes a great help to the user, to give him success by facilitating his work. But if he does not take care of his tool, leaving it outside at times, walking on it, it will become ruined and lose its sharpness. It becomes a waste of time, a thing to wear out the strength of the user and the object made is bad to look at.

So also is it like a good road, that is kept clean; it is a benefit to all, but if stones, sticks, and trash are thrown on it, they all become obstructions, a hindrance to all who walk on that road.

Like a good tool or a good road, which is beneficial, so is the well-spoken Hawaiian language a benefit to the Hawaiian people. Like a tool thrown around here and there, without care, or a road full of trash, so is the Hawaiian language as it is being abused by some of the modern generation of today.

So if we eliminate all that hampers our speaking our language properly, then we will be able to speak Hawaiian correctly.

It seems that there are many ways in which Hawaiian is being spoken today, but I shall mention four used by the youth of this race who speak the Hawaiian language of their ancestors very carelessly.

    1. The pure Hawaiian speech.
    2. The mixed Hawaiian.
    3. The pidgin Hawaiian.
    4. The corrupted Hawaiian.


  1. The language spoken by our first ancestors is the real, pure Hawaiian. Therefore most of our words have come from them and if we continue to correct our speech according to their usage then the purity of the language of our native land will be preserved for generations to come.
  2. The mixed Hawaiian is a combination of the real Hawaiian with the languages of foreign lands. These are entirely different words belonging to entirely different races, but they are combined and is like mixing poi made of sweet potato with poi made of taro—the combination is neither sweet potato poi nor taro poi, although mixed in the same calabash. So is the combination and mixing of Hawaiian with foreign words, which is neither entirely Hawaiian nor is it a foreign language. But it is being spoken so by these people and here are some of the words frequently heard—

“He aha hoʻi kā iū [you]?” (What is it to you?) The correct way to say is, “He aha hoʻi kāu?” This is an expression of annoyance uttered when two are arguing, that is its true import. It is a wish not to do as the other wants one to—but to Hawaiians, English is mixed with Hawaiian and used together.

Here is another word, “Kaia [tire] maoli au.” (How tired I am.) The correct way is, “Māluhiluhi maoli au,” or “ʻOʻopa maoli au.” Some people dislike the words ʻoʻopa, māloʻeloʻe, and māluhiluhi and use the Hawaiianized English word “kaea” for tired.

It is better to be patient in speaking your own language correctly than to add unsuitable words from the language of others. If the Hawaiian language has no word at all to call an object then it is well to Hawaiianize it, but if it does not lack a word, it is entirely useless to mix the language and make it incorrect to use.

(Not completed.)

(Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, November 29, 1873, p. 3)

Image: Illustrated page from a school textbook, Alakai Mua no na Kamalii. It was published by the missionary press in Honolulu in 1854. Bishop Museum Archives. SP210513

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

This post is part of He Aupuni Palapala: Preserving and Digitizing the Hawaiian Language Newspapers, a partnership between Bishop Museum and Awaiaulu with assistance from Kamehameha Schools. Mahalo nui loa to Hawaii Tourism Authority for their support. Learn more about this project here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for our Newsletter

Nūhou Mondays

Introducing Nūhou Mondays

Member Spotlight

Paula Pua


Patience Namaka Wiggin