I was flipping through Garner’s Modern American Usage when my eye caught on the surprisingly long entry on Hawaii. Along with sections on Sense (the state or the Big Island?) and Pronunciation (only people actually living there can get away with using a v), there is one called “Spelled Hawai’i” that features the Hawaiian diacritic called the okina (discussed here). His conclusion that “as a diacritical mark in an English context, the mark seems largely out of place” is unexceptionable; what bothers me is his explanation that the mark is “called an okina [/oh-kee-nə/], ‘u’ina [same pronunciation], or hamzah [/ham-zə/ or /hahm-zə/]).” Setting aside the odd use of the Arabic term hamzah in this context (Garner didn’t invent it, as you can tell by googling, but I fail to see how it clarifies anything for anybody) and the fact that the word okina should itself begin with an okina if you’re being accurate, can it possibly be the case that ‘u’ina is pronounced like okina? I want to say “No, that’s silly,” but Garner not only says so, he makes a point of it later (“look at ‘u’ina itself—most speakers would be at a loss how to say it”—speakers of English, I presume he means). Surely he didn’t simply make it up; could he have misunderstood something he read? I await enlightenment from Those Who Know.


  1. I haven’t looked at Garner’s entry on Hawai’i, but this section on the ‘okina/’u’ina is a stretch. They are entirely separate words. Also, the ‘okina itself is not a diacritic mark – it is a consonant. If you look at Polynesian cognates, other languages have the letter “k” where we use ‘okina.
    Check http://www.wehewehe.org and search for both terms (you don’t need to add the ‘okina to search). You will see that each words has meanings other than the glottal stop, as well as their proto-Polynesian forms.

  2. Just to second what Keola said (and he’s very close to the source on matters of Hawaiian orthography), and to add etymologies not on the wehewehe (‘definitions’) website, the word ‘okina ‘cutting off, separation’ traces back to Proto-Polynesian *kotinga, while the word ‘u‘ina ‘snap, crackle, pop, gulp’ traces back to Proto-Central Polynesian ku(u)kina.

  3. As for Garner’s ʻokina/hamzah confusion, I suspect it may have something to do with the typographic similarity of the two symbols as they appear in romanized script: ʻokina is [ʻ] (left single quotation mark) and hamzah is [ʾ] (right half ring) or sometimes [ʼ] (right single quotation mark). Both occasionally get simplified to a plain old vertical apostrophe [ˈ] (which is especially confusing for Arabic if it gets conflated with the voiced pharyngeal fricative ʿain, properly represented as a left half ring [ʿ]).

  4. Thanks, all. As I suspected, Garner is simply wrong. You’d think somebody would have checked out such an unlikely claim (really, why would ‘u’ina be pronounced /oh-kee-nə/?).

  5. If only natives can get away with v-ing the w (it strikes me that the true sound is somewhere between the sounds of these consonants in English), what of we haoles who occasionally utter Hawai‘i’s ‘okina? I don’t refer to Norway as “Norge” in English speech, so why am I inclined to say Hawai‘i the way it’s said by natives and kama‘ainas? Is it plain obnoxious affectation? <‘u‘ina!>
    I need to decide once and for all where to use the ‘okina in my spelling of Hawaiian names and then do a systematic cleanup of my blog and photoblog. I fear I’ve been rather inconsistent. The trouble is that most people will omit the ‘okina when searching for reference to the state or island of Hawai‘i, but the ‘okina is rather ubiquitous in other (often longer) Hawaiian place names, and omitting it there cause greater confusion.
    I know there have been discussions here before about whether to refer to places with their local names or their names in the language one is using (not to mention the discussions of what right a place has to determine its own name in foreign tongues–hello, Ukraine!) but it strikes me that we tend to employ a double standard. For example, while it certainly sounds affected to use the French pronunciation of “Paris” when referring to the city, one would stumble trying to use a non-French pronunciation of “Chartres”. What would the English pronunciation be? If you know the French, you do your best to use it. Where should the line properly be drawn?

  6. “Where should the line properly be drawn?”
    Conventional usage, I guess, and there’s no guiding principle to it that I can see. Perhaps placenames that entered English earlier came in when the custom was to use an more Anglicized form eg. Moscow vs Beijing. The there are cases like Paris, where the English form is just more conservative than the French.

  7. Yeah, “conventional usage” is the only guide.
    one would stumble trying to use a non-French pronunciation of “Chartres”. What would the English pronunciation be?
    I’m pretty sure it used to be pronounced just like the word charters, but I doubt anyone has said it that way in many years, so we each use our own individual approximations to the French (though none but the most batrachophilic would use a uvular r in an English context). I think I say something like SHAHR-trə, and I think that’s pretty common, but god knows what an actual survey would reveal.
    there are cases like Paris, where the English form is just more conservative than the French
    Huh? The French have never at any time said anything resembling our version; if anything, ours has changed more since, say, the 12th century than theirs (which has altered mainly by changing to a uvular r).

  8. What about the people who say “Hawa’i” or “Hava’i” — pronouncing the ‘okina but leaving out the preceding “i”? Is there any justification for that?

  9. Sloppiness, the dipthong slurred into nonexistence, that would be my guess. I’m certain I’ve done that.

  10. Here’s a relevant section from Elbert and Pukui’s Hawaiian Grammar (1979)

    In early Hawaiian works, such as the translations of the bible and the early grammars ad dictionaries, the glottal stop was indicated by an apostrophe in such important words as koʻu ‘mine’ and kou ‘yours’. A reversed apostrophe was apparently first used in Hawaiian by Judd, Pukui, and Stokes in 1943. Pratt’s Samoan dictionary of 1862 uses the reversed apostrophe, as do later religious works in Samoan. Churchward’s Tongan grammar (1953) and dictionary (1959) use a reversed apostrophe. Newspapers in Hawaiʻi today are beginning to use the ordinary apostrophe, which is quite acceptable. The possibility of confusing the apostrophe representing the Hawaiian glottal stop with the apostrophe representing the English possessive is almost nil.
    The Hawaiian names for the glottal stop are ʻuʻina (literally ‘snap”) and ʻokina (‘break’). English writers have called the sound “guttural break” and “hamzah” – this based on its usage in Arabic as a symbol for the sound, whereas the preferable term “glottal stop” represents the actual sound.

    And the entry for ʻuʻina from the same authors’ dictionary*:

    ʻuʻina 1. nvi. Sharp report, as crack of a pistol; to crack, snap, crackle, creak (as joints); to make a splashing sound. Cf. ʻaʻina, ʻeʻeʻina, pāpaʻaʻina. ʻUʻina ka puʻu, sound of swallowing. ʻUʻina pōhaku a Kāne, crackling rocks of Kāne [thunder]. He ʻuʻina, he nākolo ka wai o Nā-molo-kama (song), the water of Nā-molo-kama makes a splashing and rustling sound. (PCP ku(u)kina.)
    2. n. Glottal stop.

    * Among those you could find by following Keola’s link above.

  11. What about the people who say “Hawa’i” or “Hava’i” — pronouncing the ‘okina but leaving out the preceding “i”? Is there any justification for that?

    It is annoying, but there are other examples of this. There is a word pattern CVV‘V, (when the vowels that precede and follow the ‘okina are identical), that the first of the two will not be pronounced. Examples are pua‘a (pig) being pronounced pu‘a, and mau‘u (grass) being pronounced ma‘u. I have heard this in recordings of native speakers.

  12. If only natives can get away with v-ing the w (it strikes me that the true sound is somewhere between the sounds of these consonants in English), what of we haoles who occasionally utter Hawai‘i’s ‘okina? I don’t refer to Norway as “Norge” in English speech, so why am I inclined to say Hawai‘i the way it’s said by natives and kama‘ainas? Is it plain obnoxious affectation?
    Personally I’d almost rather hear you use “Sandwich Isles” that pronounce Hawai‘i without the ‘okina. To pronounce it with V or W is your call 😉
    The use of “v” or “w” had generated interesting discussion. I’ve heard “wai” (water) pronounced both with the “w” and “v”. Most commonly, those that use the “w” sound here are those from or influenced by speakers from Kaua’i and Ni’ihau. However, I’ve never heard Waikīkī, Wailuku, or any other place name that starts with “wai” pronounced with a “v” sound.
    The explaination found in the Puku’i/Elbert dictionary regarding the pronuncation of “v” or “w” is not entirely accurate, and it fails to take into account the influence of word stress on syllable containing the “w”.
    I noticed another interesting variation on “Hawai‘i” when doing my MA research (comparing pronunciation of Hawaiian as spoken and sung). My subject, John Kameaaloha Almeida, always sang it “Ha-wa-i–‘i”, with the primary stress on the first “i”. Normally the “wai” glides smoothly from the a to i, and stress is placed on “wa”. After observing that in Almeida’s singing, I listened to other native speakers singing “Hawai‘i” and their pronounciation was the same as his.
    I finally got around to translating my thesis into English and submitted it for inclusion in the Yearbook For Traditional Music (ICTM’s journal). If it makes the cut I’ll point to it. The thesis is already on the web, but in Hawaiian only at this time.

  13. Thanks for your comprehensive and knowledgeable contributions to the thread, and I look forward to the English version of the thesis if it becomes available online!

  14. Keola’s observations about the wordstress on the first i in native-speaker renditions of Ha-wa-‘i-i would seem to be supported by the etymology of the name, from the Proto-Polynesian placename *Sawaiki (reflected in the Samoan island of Savai‘i), if the name once meant something like ‘Little Sawa’, or was folk-etymologized as ‘Little Hawa’. Pukui and Elbert say reflexes of *Sawaiki usually name the underworld or ancestral home in other parts of Polynesia, but not in Hawai‘i. However, chances would seem pretty good that the Big Island of Hawai‘i was the first in the archipelago to be settled, and that early Hawaiians spread northwest from there.

  15. Re: Sawaiki/Hawaiki, I thought about that, too. I tend to hear Hawaiki (Māori) pronounced with the stress on the first “i” as I heard in the sung pronunciation of “Hawai’i”. Almeida’s spoken pronunciation was different, with the stress back on the “wa” as is most commonly heard today. There were quite a number of other examples of shifting stress in sung pronunciation, and it always involved a move from the first vowel of a diphthong (as spoken) to the second (as sung) in a stressed syllable, most commonly in the penult.

  16. “Batrachophilic”! What a great word in this context.

  17. Heh. I was wondering if anyone would notice. (Actually, I invented it and hoped it actually existed, which it turned out it did.)

  18. Incidentally, I think I would use an uvular r. (But now I’m interested in the question, it’s difficult to know how I’d pronounce it spontaneously. A fire in a wooden stove indeed.)
    Actually, in the native pronunciation, is Chartres one syllable or two? It’s been a while since I studied French.

  19. Depends. In contemporary colloquial pronunciation it’s one syllable, with the r a quick-fading rasp at the end, but culturally/historically it’s two, and in reciting poetry or just speaking emphatically it’s two clear syllables: char-trə.

  20. Thanks – that’s pretty much what I thought. The French syllable is a curious thing.
    I was going to say that I’d make an effort to pronounce Chartres monosyllabically in English even if I used my normal r, but I wanted to check that this wasn’t a hypercorrection.
    Sticking with the French, pain au chocolat is another one that causes problems. I’ve heard irritation expressed with the tendency to pronounce it in “a strong French accent”, but it’s not clear what the nativised English pronunciation should be. (And as a widely-available foodstuff, it’s a strong candidate for nativisation, otherwise.)

  21. Well, a lot of places seem to call them “chocolate croissants”, despite their rectangular shape.

  22. Yeah, the true English equivalent is “chocolate croissant,” but people who know that the French don’t call them croissants often prefer to use the original phrase (as I have myself done on occasion), and my best approximation to a non-obnoxious anglicization is “pan oh show-co-LAH.”

  23. That’s how I say it too, though I may let the final “t” sound depending on whether I’m ordering one before or after I’ve sipped from its accompanying coffee.

  24. As an Anglophone haole living on O’ahu, with respect to pronouncing or omitting the ‘okina in “Hawai’i”, I have to say that my own experience is that the choice is as often political as anything else — that the pronunciation of Hawaiian words can be used to align the speaker with a particular stance on Hawaiian culture. I find the same to be true of the a-sound in Hawaiian, which affects the pronunciation of personal names like Maui and Ka’ahumanu. In practice (and now I’m betraying my lack of linguistic training) it’s somewhere between the open “ah” sound that English speakers usually guess and a more closed schwa.
    Similarly, I have a gut-level feeling that choosing the more “Hawaiian” pronunciation (leaving aside the question of whether I’m actually saying things right) is pretentious and therefore inappropriate when traveling on the mainland, where people aren’t aware of the political and social valences of that choice. And yet I find that by habit I still maintain the stress positions of Hawaiian names, which are a little bit non-obvious if you haven’t encountered them before: principally, that an initial “ka” or “ke” is not accented because it’s an article. (Hence Ka’ahumanu is ka-A-hu-MA-nu, not KA-a-hu-MA-nu, which is what I’ve heard from visitors.)
    Anyway, that’s just one person’s experience, fwiw.

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