How do you say Hawai’i? – Eavesdropping Traveler #1


It’s the U.S.’s 50th state and one of
the most popular tropical vacation destinations in the world. But how do you say its name? Almost all the local town and street names
are written in an alphabet of only – get this – 13 letters. Most of them will be a cinch
for you: a e i o u h k l m n p w ‘okina. So that makes it easy: “havaii”. Oh, but this
little swishy at the end is actually a letter, the same sound that hides in the middle of
“uh-oh”! okay, so it’s “havai’i”. I’ll go try that out! Turns out that wasn’t quite right. As I’m
learning from these islands, this gets said more like “uh-y”, not so much “eye”. Hhh,
should’ve known it was too easy the first time. Here we go: “huhvuhy-ee”. When you say it that way, you at least get
the “hey, that’s not too bad!” reaction. Alright, practice time. So I’ve learned
that if you go snorkeling in “Havai‘i” you might spot a kihikihi. And if you bring your
underwater camera to this spot in Kailua-Kona you can snap plenty of pics of the state fish,
the humuhumunukunukuapua‘a. Oh, and this breathtaking hike 10 miles east of Honolulu
will take you straight up an old railroad track to the top of Koko head. And if we pan
over here a bit – there, there we go! – you can catch a glimpse of the suburb below, which
gets called Hawai’i Kai. “Hawai’i”… wait, wasn’t that “Havai‘i”? Hold it. Which
is it, [w] or [v]? After checking back in on the local pronunciation,
it turns out that it’s Ha[w]ai’i OR Ha[v]ai’i. This kind of behavior once earned it the nickname
“The Vexing Hawaiian w”. It’s a choice, but you guys know about choices. Maybe the
tomeyto ~ tomahto situation comes to mind? There’s even a name for this: it’s called
“free variation”. You say tomahto I say tomeyto, he says Havai‘i she says Hawai‘i.
I guess it’s just personal preference. Not so fast! Back in 1958, in his paper “Social
influences on the choice of a linguistic variant”, John Fischer tells us that “free variation”
is just a convenient term we use for a bunch of under-the-radar influences on our pronunciation.
Influences like the way other females or other males say something when we’re learning a
language as children, which could be going on here, too. I noticed that, on the radio here when the
dj’s speaking faster, Hawai‘i gets cut even shorter: “Hava’i”, “Hawa’i”. But it’s not all pau hana yet. The music
of the islands has one more on offer for us. In a study on the different ways Hawaiian
gets pronounced when people speak it versus when they sing it, Joseph Keola Donaghy of
UH-Hilo documents places where a famous musician actually splits the word in two, singing “Háwa-í’i”
when belting a tune. Have you been keeping track so far? You came
to me with Hawaii, and now I’ve found you havai‘i and hawai‘i, hava’i and hawa‘i
and even háwa.í‘i. Okay, things got a little out of hand here.
That’s a lot of answers to what started out as a simple question! But, whatever you
call this island chain, mahalo for taking the time to learn with me.

81 thoughts on “How do you say Hawai’i? – Eavesdropping Traveler #1

  1. Thank you so much! As a Hawaiian native, I am used to hearing numerous pronunciations for Hawaiʻi; the most annoying is the pronunciation said by tourists /həwajːi/. This video was very elaborate and informative especially on the pronunciation used in songs /hɐvɐˈʔiʔi/. Great job in pronouncing it as well! Regarding the free variation, I never realized the effect it has on my pronunciation! There is also slight variation of the letter k which could be pronounced with a t. Mahalo nui loa nō kāu hana.  Aloha nā kānaka Hawaiʻi iā ʻoe! 

  2. Very interesting post, I really enjoy seeing your videos 🙂
    I hope you don't mind my request here, since I cant find a way to contact you via mail, but might you tell me how you make those videos? I'm really interested in making this style of videos myself about languages, and I'm looking for software with which I could do that. Mahalo 🙂

  3. I speak Tagalog and Ilokano, both Austronesian languages like Hawaiian. Recently I've been listening to Hawaiian for [a shoddy attempt at] language reconstruction and have noticed that my pronunciation of "ai"/"ay" (pronounced like an English "eye") in these languages have become more like the Hawaiian "ai." I didn't notice until I sang in Tagalog. I probably wouldn't have noticed otherwise because it just makes me sound like I have a non-standard Philippine accent. I wonder if it's specifically because they are related languages or because my brain just doesn't like switching accents. Anyone with similar experiences?

  4. I disagree. It is spelled "Hawai‘i", so therefore it is pronounced "ha-VY-ee" or "ha-WY-ee".

    If it was spelled "Hawa‘i"
    Then you can pronounce it
    "ha-WAH-ee" or "ha-VA-ee", but it is not.

  5. Probably normal in everyday speech, but formally it is incorrect. If you listen to Hawaiian chants or even everyday contemporary Hawaiian songs, you will never hear it pronounced ha-VA-ee. Paula Akana is a local reporter who hosts the annual Merrie Monarch Hula Festival where language is major factor in judging and she is the most fluent when it comes to speaking Hawaiian. Everyone else "sabotages" the words and it's an ear sore at times.

  6. Mahalo nui iā ʻoe no kēia wahi wikiō ma ka ka YouTube! Thank you so much for showing others on Youtube how we here in Hawaiʻi pronounce the name of these islands. Eia nō naʻe koʻu manaʻo ponoʻī, here is what I think about the pronunciation, from the way it was said by our native speakers, the kūpuna (elders). It would be pronounced with a "w" instead of a "v". And when speaking fast, it is usually shortened to "Hawaʻi". This is the same for words like loaʻa and puaʻa (shortened to loʻa and puʻa respectively). From what I know, we started to pronounce it as Havaiʻi sometime in the 1980s during the Hawaiian renaissance. The reason is because our native language was almost wiped out. It is during this time that our language also started to change drastically from how it was used back then. It is more common to hear a w pronounced as "v", whereas there was much more use of w as a "w" amongst our elders. ʻO ia koʻu manaʻo wale nō, that is what I think.

  7. The nissiian language have the ' (okina) too, but we have whole bunch letters with okina, like aa, bb, cc, dd, ee, ff… Talk like this is quite funny 😀 N'neyboy bae e'elita, ma bae sxiv'vakamida. (He is idiot, i'm intelligent :D)

  8. Hey great video! The pronunciation of Hawai'i is something I usually have to explain to people once I tell them I am from there. Another thing I noticed, being a haole resident from Maui is that most people who are not Native Hawaiian (So, Kama'aina) typically use the "w" pronunciation nowadays opposed to the "v" pronunciation.

  9. I want to preface this by saying I mean this in the nicest, most encouraging way — but your video didn't suck! You come across as someone who went to Hawai'i and talked to people and listened. Mahalo for that and for sharing what you learned here. I haven't explored all of your videos (yet), but I wonder if you had any interest in HCE (Hawai'i Creole English), which locally we we call Pidgin (though I guess you know that). There are so many words that we grew up speaking that I didn't know where they came from. Recently, for example, I happened to find out that "boto", the word that everybody (children and adults) uses for "penis", came from Ilocano! I also learned where "shi-shi" and "chi-chi" came from (Japanese). Because of the plantation system, I would expect words from Cantonese and maybe other southeast China dialects, perhaps also Korea, and definitely Portuguese, English, Hawaiian and perhaps through other channels, other Polynesian languages too. Would be interested in your take. 🙂

  10. I was wondering – is there a particular website or book on learning Hawaiian? My sister and I love languages, but you often find the best source by asking other learners. Duolingo just doesn't explain most grammatical things, and it definitely doesn't have Hawaiian! 🙂

  11. Related Pacific islander languages often have cognates with consistent regional variations (even as far away as the Maori people of Aotearoa, or New Zealand). Within the Hawai'ian islands, themselves, "k" was sometimes replaced in use with a "t," which I suspect reflects influences in parts of the chain from Tahiti and other Pacific languages. =^[.]^=

  12. This video is pretty good. The only thing is that from living in Hawai'i for almost 9 years in total, I have noticed that there is almost a third option. While many tourists just say "Hawaii" or try super hard to say "HaVaii" I found that a lot of the locals and people who speak fluent Hawaiian often say a mix between the "W" sound and the "V" sound. However, even locals say it in varying ways.

  13. When you live in Hawai'i like me you have a TON of Hawai'ian study classes and I learned how to say all of those, except we aren't aloud to say Ha-wa-ee

  14. It's pronounced "Huh-vai-yEE" when it's stressed out (ie same way Mexican-Americans or Italian Americans try to sound exotic and proficient when stress out words they can say in those languages LOL) like when newscasters or TV narrators do…but generally day to day locals pronounce it 'Hau-waEE'. First ortography written by English ie Cpt. Cook etc is spelled something like "Ohwayee". The apostrophe in Hawaiian are stops that separate vowel sounds. PS example that beach on 1:02 is Magic Sands a minute from my mom's house th native name for the lagoon/bay where it's located is "La'aloa" separates the two 'ah' sounds (Lah-alohwa). IN similar fashion all islands in Hawai'i, ie O'ahu (Oh-ahoo, albeit locals today generally pronounce "Oh-wahoo"), Kaua'i (Kau-wa-EE) etc.

  15. Just a quick heads up on pronouciation of the "au" blend; it's not "ow" it's more like ah-ooh, or "oh", or the "o" in "Mow the lawn". Great video though!

  16. Fun fact:
    El reino de Hawai'i fue la primera nación en reconocer la independencia Argentina.

  17. One wonders if in time /w/ verses /v/ might become phonetic or a dialect difference.

    We could be looking at the creation of a new distinction.

  18. Overkill! Here's a easier way to think of it… How do pronounce LA? Los Angeles or the Angels? No you pronounce it with a fked up Americanized pronunciation that you think is normal but anyone quien habla Espanol sabe que no! So you pronounce the W when speaking in English but pronounce almost like a V but it's actually close to a muffled B sound that sounds like a V to an English speaker. A lot of subconscious ethnocentric assumptions going on here but who's labeling!??
    For example, Hawaiian is never ever pronounced as V because it's totally an English word. Hawaiian in Olelo Hawaii (Hawaiian language) would be Kanaka Maoli.

  19. I love how you're trying to explain a pronounciation of a word that is pronounced like it is written, with English blobs (whatever you even want to call them, diphthong would be too nice, since there is no consistency) of letters not pronounced as they are written. Thanks for clearing absolutely nothing up.

  20. And you didn’t even get into the variations in pronunciation by native speakers on Ni’ihau, like K sounding a bit more like T… I understand it’s hard for a tourist to arrange a visit though!

  21. I can read Hawaiian but don't speak a word of it (well, "Aloha" and one sentence I shouldn't repeat). It's the easier language to read.

  22. Wow! It looks like the way we speek in Portuguese "Havaí" [ava'i] is somewhat more faithful to the Hawaiian pronounciation than English.

  23. In Portuguese we write Hawai'i as "Havai" and pronounce it with a "v" (we don't pronounce the "h" sound, which doesn't exist in Portuguese, and don't double the "i'i" but whatever but it's still interesting to see how that v/w issue gets treated in other languages).

  24. There are a few letters and sounds that exist in pre-formalized Hawaiian. The missionaries gave us an alphabet, but they didn't use all the sounds which is also why you see strange "B"s and "T"s in very early newspapers and books. My grandfather would regularly replace the "W" "V" with the "W" sound. He would sometimes drop the actual "V" sound in English words for a "W" sound. He and some others would use the "T" sound for "K", kind of interchangeably, but it seemed to me that it was more about which letter allowed a sentence to flow. Katou rather than Kakou, but usually when speaking quickly and in the middle or end of a sentence. You don't see that much with later generations. More people speak Hawaiian today, but less actually grew up with the old Hawaiian.

  25. It's the word for Polynesian homeland: Sawaiki, Maori Hawaiki, Niuean Avaiki, Samoan Savai'i, South Marquesan Havaiki.

  26. some people, including Anderson Cooper, pronounce it Hu-why. I guess those double i's throw some people.

  27. Watching in 2018
    I know I like languages and words but I never thought someone could make enjoyable YT videos about words and grammar. I love your channel.

  28. Funny, I met a native Hawaiian in a bar in Honolulu and we struck up a conversation. And I said, so tell me, do you say "Hawaii" or do you say Havaii. He said Havaii. So I said thank you and he said you're velcome.

  29. Don't forget to use the okina too it's very important especially when having a conversation a friend in Hawaiian or a conversation with family

  30. Uh oh, didn’t you leave the macron out of the state fish name? That solo “a” before the double a’a at the end is held a little longer.

  31. The key here is that Hawaiian makes no distinction between [v] and [w], and the reason we English speakers ask this is that we make this distinction. So this means that <w> can be a free variation between the two.
    In fact, there is also no distinction between [l] and [r], as noted in a video by Tom Scot about the island greeting 'Mele Kalikimaka', so 'aroha Honoruru' may well sound just as good to locals as 'aloha Honolulu'.
    Many learning a foreign language hope to achieve a perfect accent and some may be pressured by their school teachers to achieve it. You hear about students concerned with getting the accent exactly right and even teachers concerned with their students getting it right.
    And this is really hard to achieve and one of the biggest problems with achieving a perfect accent, do you try to sound like some native speakers or others? And the room for free variation left by a language's sound system is also why you can still be comprehensible even if you don't achieve a perfect accent.
    There is a video by Andrew Bossom (channel name: rewboss) about why you don't need a perfect accent. In that video, he gives a question about pronunciation frequently asked by students of German and then gives an example of free variation in that language. Mr. Rewboss notes that one could use any of those said variations or anything that's close enough.

    "As long as people understand you and you understand them, that's enough."

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