The Fascinating History and Unique Features of the Hawaiian Alphabet


Have you ever heard of an alphabet with only 12 letters? The Hawaiian alphabet is one of the rare examples of such an alphabet in the world. In this article, we will explore the history and unique features of the Hawaiian alphabet, including why it has only 12 letters and its cultural significance.

“Do you know how many letters are in the Hawaiian alphabet? The answer may surprise you.”

The Hawaiian alphabet consists of only 12 letters, which is remarkably smaller than the English alphabet, which has 26 letters. The reason behind Hawaiian’s limited number of letters is due to the small number of phonemes in the Hawaiian language. Phonemes are distinct units of sound that differentiate words in a language.

Hawaiian has only eight consonants and five vowels, and they are pronounced uniquely in the Hawaiian language, unlike other languages with the same letters. For instance, the letter “w” is pronounced as “v” in Hawaiian, unlike in English. Thus, Hawaiian does not require as many letters as English because several sounds can be represented by a single letter.

“Why the Hawaiian alphabet has only 12 letters.”

The Hawaiian language was orally transmitted using a system of chants and songs until early Christian missionaries arrived in Hawaii in 1820. Missionaries introduced a written form of the Hawaiian language to communicate religious texts and teach Hawaiians to read and write.

The missionaries used the Latin alphabet, which consisted of 17 letters, to transcribe the Hawaiian language. However, they discovered that some letters were not necessary because they did not correspond to specific Hawaiian sounds. As a result, they condensed the Latin alphabet to 13 letters, omitting the letters B, D, R, T, and Z.

However, in 2012, the 13th letter, known as the ‘okina, was added to the Hawaiian alphabet in an effort to preserve the Hawaiian language and be more consistent with the language’s sound system.

“Uncovering the unique history behind the 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet.”

The Hawaiian alphabet consists of 13 letters: A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, W, and ‘okina. The letter ‘okina represents a glottal stop, a sound made by the closing of the vocal cords.

The other 12 letters of the Hawaiian alphabet were chosen by King Kamehameha III in 1826 under the guidance of the Christian missionaries. The missionaries modified the Latin alphabet to correspond with the Hawaiian language’s unique sounds. They chose the letters H, K, L, M, N, P, and W because they corresponded directly to Hawaiian consonants.

The vowels A, E, I, O, and U are used in Hawaiian just like in other languages. However, their sound is unique to Hawaiian. For example, the letter “A” is pronounced like “ah” in Hawaiian, which is different from the way it is pronounced in English.

“Breaking down the pronunciation of each letter in the Hawaiian alphabet.”

The Hawaiian language’s unique pronunciation can be tricky, but with practice, anyone can master it. Below is a guide to pronouncing each letter in the Hawaiian alphabet:

  • A – pronounced as “ah” like in “father”
  • E – pronounced as “eh” like in “bed”
  • I – pronounced as “ee” like in “beet”
  • O – pronounced as “oh” like in “code”
  • U – pronounced as “oo” like in “pool”
  • H – pronounced as “h” like in “hill”
  • K – pronounced as “k” like in “kit”
  • L – pronounced as “l” like in “life”
  • M – pronounced as “m” like in “milk”
  • N – pronounced as “n” like in “nice”
  • P – pronounced as “p” like in “pie”
  • W – pronounced as “w” like in “wet”
  • ‘Okina – pronounced as a glottal stop (closing of the vocal cords)

Examples of Hawaiian words include Aloha (hello/goodbye), Mauka (towards the mountains), and Mahalo (thank you).

“Exploring the cultural significance of the Hawaiian alphabet’s limited number of letters.”

The Hawaiian language plays a significant role in preserving Hawaii’s cultural heritage. The Hawaiian alphabet is an integral part of preserving the Hawaiian language and culture. The use of the Hawaiian language is declining, and the functional use of the language is limited to a few expressions in everyday life, including Aloha and Mahalo.

The Hawaiian alphabet’s limited number of letters is a significant advantage when it comes to learning the language. It makes it easier to learn because of the fewer sounds to master. It also promotes appreciation for the language and encourages the preservation of the language and culture.

“How to learn the Hawaiian alphabet quickly and easily, despite its small size.”

Learning the Hawaiian alphabet can be a fun and rewarding experience. Here are some tips and tricks to help you learn the Hawaiian alphabet quickly and easily:

  • Listen carefully to the pronunciation of each letter
  • Practice writing the alphabet by hand
  • Use flashcards to memorize the letters
  • Watch videos or listen to audio recordings of Hawaiian words being pronounced
  • Practice speaking Hawaiian words aloud
  • Find a language partner or take a course to improve language skills

Resources like Duolingo, Memrise, and Rosetta Stone all offer online courses that allow learners to practice the Hawaiian language. Websites like Ulukau and Wehewehe offer dictionaries and language resources that learners can use as a reference.


The Hawaiian alphabet’s rich history and unique features make it an interesting subject to explore. The alphabet’s limited number of letters is just one of its distinct features that differentiate it from other alphabets worldwide. It also plays a significant role in preserving the Hawaiian language and culture. The Hawaiian alphabet offers an exciting opportunity for learners to understand the intricate culture of Hawaii. We hope that through this article, you have gained a better understanding and appreciation for the Hawaiian alphabet and the role it plays in preserving the Hawaiian language and culture.

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