When I was searching the web for information on the Hawaiian term hakalama for my post on the Hawaiian Kanji Syllabary Design, I came across an interesting sample of writing in the Ni‘ihau dialect of Hawaiian, which is both (at least in one respect) more conservative and (by definition) less standardized than Standard Hawaiian, having been continually spoken by the isolated community of native speakers on that privately owned island. Standard Hawaiian grew out of the Hawai‘i (Big Island) dialect at the other end of the archipelago, the dialect of King Kamehameha the Great, who conquered the other islands and established the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau were the last islands to join the Kingdom.
The writing sample comes from an online newsletter by Kumu Leimokihana Kanahele, who was teaching Hawaiian at Kekaha Elementary in the Waimea district of Kaua‘i in the spring of 2001. The page title is Nu hou no ta matou papa, which in Standard Hawaiian would (I think) be spelled Nūhou no kā mākou papa ‘News of/for our class’.
I don’t know enough Hawaiian to translate it fully or accurately. It describes two students practicing their writing lessons (na haawina hakalama). But I would like to note a few ways in which the local dialect and standard language diverge and intermix.
Na haawina hakalama
Aloha teia tau mau haumana o Kuulei ame Kamakauliuli te hana nei laua i ta laua hakalama. No ta hoomaamaa ana i ta katau ana i na hua palapala ma ta uhai ana i na hua palapala maluna o ta laua pute. Hana laua elua pelu o ta la. Hoomaamaa mau laua i teia haawina i mea e maitai ai ta laua katau ana. Mahalo Nui!
Missing symbols – This sample contains no marks for either the glottal stop (‘okina) or vowel length (kahakō). All of the double vowels in the sample above are pronounced with intervening glottal stops. They do not represent long vowels. I suspect the absence of the ‘okina and kahakō is as much due to technical limitations on the part of the school staff trying to publish on the web in early 2001 as it might be due to any linguistic limitations of the writer, who almost certainly learned Ni‘ihau dialect first at home, and not in a classroom, before becoming familiar with Standard Hawaiian.
UPDATE: On the other hand, the traditional Hawaiian Bible uses the same sort of underspecified orthography, which is quite sufficient for people who already know the language well. Standard Hawaiian writing with full diacritics is much more important for those who are learning how to speak the language, not just how to write it. And, at this point in time, second-language learners of Hawaiian far outnumber native speakers. For their benefit, a project is now underway to respell the old Baibala Hemolele, as well as to produce an audio version.
Preserving *t – Perhaps the main reason for branding Ni‘ihau dialect as conservative is that it preserves Proto-Polynesian *t as /t/. Throughout the eastern end of the archipelago, *t had changed to /k/ by the time Hawaiian was first reduced to writing. If perchance Captain Cook had landed first on Kaua‘i (spelled Atooi on some early charts), and then some great chief from that island had managed to unite the archipelago under his rule, perhaps we would now call the 50th state Taua‘i and the Tauaian spelling system the halamana. The consonants of the hakalama occur in English alphabetical order (ha ka la ma na pa wa [‘a]), so a spelling system based on the western dialects would omit ka and add ta (ha la ma na pa ta wa [‘a]). And the indigenous peoples of New Caledonia might call themselves Tanat instead of Kanak. (At least a maitai would still be a maitai!) Anyway, that’s not how things turned out, but I think it’s kind of refreshing to see Hawaiian spelt with t in place of k.
Mixing t and k – Of course, the writing sample contains both t and k. In general, k is an unequivocal marker of Standard Hawaiian, as in the names of the two students and in the focus of their exercise, hakalama. At the same time, t is a marker of Ni‘ihau Hawaiian. But pute here seems to be a localized back-formation from Standard Hawaiian puke ‘book’, and I’m not sure what to make of the word katau, which seems to straddle the fence.
It looks like the earlier Polynesian source for Standard Hawaiian ‘ākau ‘right (vs. left)’, but I don’t see a corresponding hema ‘left (vs. right)’. The Standard Hawaiian equivalent is kākau ‘to write’ (mahalo to ‘Iona Ua‘iwa in the comments), from Proto-Polynesian *tātau, the same root from which English tattoo derives.
According to ‘Aha Pūnana Leo (the Hawaiian Language Nest Movement, whose bureaucratic acronym is ‘APL, not ‘PL, because there is no capital ‘okina), Kekaha is now the site of one of three special state charter schools that encourage use of Hawaiian throughout the school, not just in the classroom.
Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha [whose name is in Standard Hawaiian], in Kekaha on the island of Kaua‘i is open to all native speakers of the Ni‘ihau dialect of Hawaiian. It strives to develop a total Ni‘ihau dialect speaking teaching and support staff.
I hope they can keep the dialect alive, even while reviving the standard language.
UPDATE: When the Far Outliers took our road trip in May (about which I promise a few more blogposts), one of the books I took along to read was set in Ni‘ihau shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor: East Wind, Rain: A Novel, by Caroline Paul (HarperCollins, 2006). (“Based on a little-known true event, East Wind, Rain is a provocative and compelling debut novel of people thrust unwittingly into a war — not only of nations, but of American identity — with devastating and irrevocable consequences for them all.”) I don’t have much to say about the book, other than that it does a good job of trying to imagine the context and motivations of people on Ni‘ihau and Kaua‘i at the time. Nor did I find any appropriate passages to excerpt—not for lack of good writing. But I did want to comment on one use of language in the book. The author throws in quite a few words of Japanese and Hawaiian. She clearly did her homework, but she seems not to be aware of how divergent the Ni‘ihau dialect is. One of the key phrases she cites is a bit of Standard Hawaiian that fits the description of the phrase itself: mea mai ka ‘aina ‘e ‘something from the land beyond/other/strange’.
29 responses to “Writing Niihau Dialect of Hawaiian”
I am interested in transcribing Standard Hawaiian into the Ni’ihau usage. The texts are Catholic prayers. Whom should I approach?
I would click on the Kekaha Elementary School link and contact the principal or some other administrator there to find the name of the current Hawaiian language teachers. I think the Ni’ihau Hawaiian school is attached to Kekaha Elementary for administrative purposes.
Im currently using standard Hawaiian here on Oahu while I continue to learn from the Kealaleo program. My Kumu told me to learn standard Hawaiian first and then use Ni’ihauian Hawaiian after the standard is pa’a. So that my ability to speak to Hawaiian speakers will not be limited since most of them don’t understand the Ni’ihauian Dialect. In that case Wish me luck on this because I hope to be a fluent speaker till the end. Mahalo nui. I mua na Po’e Hawaii.
I agree with Ka‘imilani. Learn “Standard” Hawaiian first until pa‘a, then continue with learning the Ni‘ihau dialect, and more importantly, the Ni‘ihau intonation. A good place to start is with the ‘APL’s online program which can be accessed via my website link.
“standardized” Hawaiian unfortunately was influenced by the missionaries in the 18oos when they took a vote to eliminate the letters T and R. even niihauns use to use the letter R instead of L.
there is an ancient chant you can view on the Internet entitled He Motu Ta`ura – Hura O Niihau by nona Beamer. I’m in favor of returning to the original, true purist form of the hawaiian language changing the letter L back to the orginal R.
I doubt there was one “original, true” Hawaiian. Others have rightly noted that there was a rich continuum of Hawaiian dialects spoken across the islands. Early transcriptions – such as those produced by the missions – suggest that standard Hawaiian, which I understand to be based on the Kaʻū dialect of Tūtū Pukui’s upbringing, strongly favors “K” (even if it occasionally uses “T”). So if your family comes from Niʻihau, then by all means use “T”. But please, not all of our kūpuna spoke that way. Also, the dialect that has become standard – in part because of Pukui and Elbert’s dictionaries and grammar – is not only spoken by people who have been taught Hawaiian in school. Anyway, those are my manaʻo. Mahalo to everyone for sharing.
For better or worse, all of the Hawaiian dialects were influenced by the missionaries. That includes Niʻihau where the people are very religious and their Hawaiian has been strongly influenced by the Hawaiian Bible – consider all of the borrowed words and phrases and concepts that they use.
Also, the vote to eliminate the letters T and R (and V) was meant to represent the majority usage of Hawaiian spoken around the various missions.
Amene to that point 👉, I agree to bring it all back! The language barrier would be key in bridging our people closer & closer together again! Communication is vital in all relationships growing. I also recall listening to a you tube clip where big island Hawaiians spoke with the T also if I’m not mistaken! That really got my attention. If we could start a program that could connect us, the one’s wanting to learn the other dialect with the “T’s” & “R’s” perhaps with the actual Hawaiians from ni’ihau or big island who spoke this style fluently, I believe big progress could come on both ends & awareness on a whole new level would inspire every Hawaiian in all island’s to strive again to make our people as 1.
Hawaiian motives were not all unitary or pure and missionary motives were not all unitary or evil. It’s a false dichotomy. Nor has there ever been one true “pure” form of any living language–only of reimagined languages, including to some extent all “standardized” school-taught languages.
If the missionary-influenced orthography was so inappropriate, why did Hawaiians adopt it with such enthusiasm and produce such a huge body of written records in it?
but Niihauans use the “T” predominetely over the “K” so they obiously didnt conform, ironically the chose the english “L” over the traditinoal “R”
Hanau Ni’ihau he ‘aina, he motu,
Born the island of Ni’ihau,
he ‘aina i ke a’a i ka mole o ta ‘aina.
the land that is the stem of all the islands.
aloha mai e hanale owau teia o hiipoi he tii teia o ta aina o niihau pa’i ia mai kauai mai aloha no a hui hou
Ua hana wau i papa olelo i loko o to’u papa. Hana ia ta hua palapala hakalama maluna a malalo. I na katahiaka apau, e noonoo na haumana i na olelo a lakou i maopopo mua ai, a takau ia maluna o ketahi pepa ta olelo a lakou i haawi mai ai mai to lakou noonoo ana i ketahi olelo a lakou i lohe mua ai. A i ketahi manawa, hootomo wau i na olelo a lakou i maopopo ole ai, a katau lakou i teia mau olelo apau i loko o ta lakou pute. I na katahiaka apau, e hoomaamaa mau matou i teia mau olelo, a hootomo hou matou i na olelo hou maluna o ta papa olelo.
linguist Joseph Finney (Finney: p. 1) and mythologist Reiaroha Perkins.
Aloha to all. You would have to study or have a basic understanding of how Polynesian languages work to understand the writing system. One thing that all must understand is, Polynesians never had a written language until the arrival of the missionaries. In all Polynesian languages, all these markings were not included. If you study Samoan, Tongan, Tahitian, you will find that the “kahako” and the “okina” were not part of everyday writing. You, being proficient in the language, should know where the stresses and the glottal stops belonged. When the Hawaiian language was standardized, these marking were made part of the alphabet and made sure that it was placed to aid those speaking and learning due to the fact that the language was stripped away from the natives. Hawaiian is the only Polynesian language that has the okina as part of the alphabet!
I hope I’m not too late but this is one solid discussion going on.
But to reiterate what you said about okina and kahako. My wife is Hawaiian but not very knowledgable of her culture or language. I took her to Samoa to visit my parents and sisters. Interestingly, my wife commented on the missing okina and kahako from the words on all the stores, street signs, schools, etc. I told her exactly what you mentioned. When the language is spoken often context is all you need to differentiate which word is being used.
aloha. my grandpa told me that each island had its own dialect. like my great grandparents spoke to each other with t’s and r’s(rarely), but it wasn’t fast-spoken like the ka ‘olelo ni’ihau. my great grandparents from hana, maui spoke to each other like they were actually singing a poem. now that’s the type of hawaiian i’m willing to learn. oh and katau in ni’ihau is kakau(to write) in standard hawaiian. aloha ke akua a me kona mau pomaika’i. mahalo
This is Dante again after so many months! I happened to be editing the Hawai’ian texts I mentioned above and decided to go back to this site. My informant, a mixed Filipino-Hawaiian-Ukrainian, told me ‘l’s and ‘r’s are usually interchanged, so are ‘k’s and ‘t’s. He also used another term for “keiki” (nopu’u) and some phrases are shortened. Can someone enlighten me on this, and perhaps edit our work? Mahalo!
I would like to know if the usage of this dialect of Hawaiian is vigorous in the island of Ni’ihau. Mahalo!
You will always find dialects or variants from island to island. You will have a certain select set of people who have different terms for the same thing. I know that in Hana they speak nothing but Hawaiian there. I admire that. I still feel that the way that standardized Hawaiian is spoken is too “haole.” It doesn’t sound right. It sounds as though it’s being forced. Try listen to other Polynesians and how fluid it comes out. I wish we could do that as the Ni’ihauans do.
Aloha mai kakou! As you know, there are two current dialects today in Hawai’i Nei, the Ni’ihau dialect and also Hawai’i dialect. My kumu kula Kalani Meinecke told me it is right to learn the standardized language of Hawai’ian and then when you are fluent in the language, you can start dropping letters, or interchange k’s with t’s, same goes with l’s and r’s. The Hawaiian language sound totally different when it is fast-spoken. For instance, “Kahalu’u” would be pronounced as “Kahalu'” dropping the last ‘u’. Pua’a would be pronounced as Pu’a. ‘A’ole would be pronounced as ‘A’ale. “‘A’ole au i ‘ike i ka’u mau keiki” would be “‘A’ale au i ‘ite i ta’u mou keiti.” Although majority of Hawaiian texts are in standardized Hawaiian, people during the monarchy era read Hawaiian newspapers, even though it is in standard Hawaiian, would pronounce SOME words with ‘t’ even though the text are with ‘k’s. Also everyone knows that Ke Ali’i ‘o Liholiho would rather be called Rihoriho and scolded the maka’ainana for pronouncing his name wrong. Remember, each island had their own dialects, but know one wants to carry on the true dialects of the island and would switch to the standard Hawaiian today. Dialects close to the island of Hawai’i would use mostly k, l, and v’s as you can hear the native speakers in Ka’u, Hawai’i. Dialects near Kaua’i would most likely use t, r, and w’s. I give missionaries much credit for trying their best to attempt to make Hawaiian a written language. By the way, Nga Tangata Maori LOVE our language because our language sounds very peaceful. The Maoris would call their language the “booch” language because it is so manly and war-like language. Laki no kakou e na Kanaka Hawai’i. Do not forget that we are not the only Polynesian language who interchange letters. Samoans, also interchange ‘t’ with ‘k’ and ‘r’ with ‘l’. Same goes with the Tongan language. Also, do not pay attention to the old names of the Hawaiian isles. For instance, “Atooi” is not pronounced as ”Ato’oi.” Hewa loa kela inoa o ka mokupuni ‘o Kaua’i. Atooi was James Cook’s pronunciation of ‘O Taua’i. Try and say ‘O Taua’i very fast. Sounds similar. Fascinating isn’t it? It is up to you guys to bring back the old dialects of Hawai’i Nei. E ninau ‘oe i ko ‘oukou mau kupuna (kuakahi pu paha) a e loa’a i kona mau pane ‘ana. A hui hou a e marama i tou kino. Aloha.
Dont forget Kamehameha who signed his own name as Tamehameha so even in hawaii, maui, etc we see instances of the T & R and don’t forget the famous Tuahine o Mânoa
I have seen many publications in Hawaiian; catechisms and prayer books at the U of H Manoa. There is one book (19th c.) wherein all the “k”‘s and “l”‘s are printed “t”‘s and “l”‘s. All the other letters are as they are printed today (I did not notice the “w”‘s and “v”‘s. I hate to be reiterative but I wonder which dialects are divergent (polar ends, so to speak)?
My dad is from Puuwai, Niihau and unfortunately I was never taught how to speak in the Niihau dialect.
I love attending family events where you’ll hear them all speak to eachother; I hope I have the honor of learning, at least before my dad is no longer here so I can have the honor of passing such a wonderful gift over to my children!
Just to remind everyone, please do not teach your children these greetings, “aloha kakahiaka, aloha awakea, and aloha ahiahi.” Those are NOT Hawaiian greetings. Please use “aloha mai kaua/kakou.” And for when you leave, “e noho la” to someone you are leaving from and “e haele la” to someone that is leaving you. Borrowed those from the Maori since we do not know ours. And for goodnite, “po malie.” For those who are struggling the pronouns of all Polynesian dialects, take notice of “kaua” short for “kalua” having the number “two” in the words. Same goes with Maua and Laua. For “kakou” is short for “kakolu.” Same goes for makou/lakou. Remember this saying, “Ka-In, O-You, Ma-Ex, La-They.” “Come In, Oh you, my ex, lady!” Ka/Inclusive; O/You; Ma/Exclusive; and La/They. Aloha
I am looking for my missing relatives who are ancestors of Nihoa. I can give you my names. I also have chants and a mele left to me dating back to 1660. The language is similar to Niihau. I was able to translate it because I spent my childhood between Kaua’i, Tahiti (Hitiaa) and Rarotonga. Later after school, I went to New Zealand to work and spent some time on a Maori Pa. This is how I was able to translate this most unusual dialect. Please I would like to find my missing links. Atete
I am looking for my family, decendants of Nihoa. I have chants and a mele from 1660’s left to me. I have translated them because of my youthful experiences living in Tahiti, Rarotonga and Kaua’i. It is an unusual dialect.
Are you a decendant of Nihoa?
Aloha Atete, by any chance you have your chant in the dialect of your ancestors? If it is possible to email it to me so I can present it to my Linguistic Teacher who is highly respected in Aotearoa. email@example.com
Aroha, Hi . This is the best blog forum i have heard so far for just the general purpose of understanding this particular subject on “The Standard or Pono way to speak Havaiana” For the issue and response to the above- yes, do learn the standard way so you can learn basics. You will loose the basics when you start adjusting your ear to the R vs. L, T switching with M and so on. I was raised and isolated on Kauai since childbirth for 24 years…I did confuse those who of course started applying the “The Standard Hawaiian” to pidgin and when i did turn on my “Standard American English” Why so? Well, like I argue with my sons father, some of the translations are made from missionaries and journals from captain cook. As a child, I would do the same as the Niihauans and switch the letters to see fit from my memory and not accommodate my listeners or auditors. Now that I am older, I do forget to correct my hospitality and still confuse my listeners who haven’t yet understood the linguistics or culture exchanges. I am getting better at using The Standard Hawaiian, yet it is much harder for me to use with my “Cousins/Hapa” speaking- one speaks fluent Niihauan and the other Hawaiian pidgin and the other standard Hawaiian. You always have to remember to put yourself in an environment of your own knowing that the listener knows so much about the specific “standard”. Eventually I start forgetting it all, and can comprehend words; and add all the words you know to understand the sentence or conversation–if you are those who speak English. Though its not the same for loosing the “tongue” if there are those who speak old english, creole, Brit english, NZ english around you because the phonetics and practice of rolling of tongues. When you start to forget call your Hawaiian speaker all the way from where ever (for me Francois or California ;) ) and speak only with the Hawaiian vocabulary without the Niihauan and Captain Cooke -missionary translation that most people are now finding “true”. But, Cookes translation really isn’t all true, Atooi is Ato’oi (eh-to-oohee ) aka O’taua’i (o, e, i, he are like prefix in front of words). It’s all in the listening (for elongated vowels and tongue rolls).
The best way to learn Niihauan is practice then go to Kupaa in Kekaha and converse with the Niihauan. Listen good, because the source will tell jokes all afternoon and the sentence sounds like one long supercalifradulousdiespialious word (or some what like that.) Good Luck.
Just remember- all islands have a different attitude, outlook and dialect. I learned that from being passive and watch everyone go at it on family gatherings. It is the most funniest thing and one of the best way to learn the language. Your vocabulary will grow because of the topics chosen.
Kahanu and Uaiwa is the bomb :) What they say is “all true”…it would be in the great choices or reference books and in lively interactions. “If you want to learn French move to Francois”
hello from waianae oahu, i never knew that our language even had t or v or r till i came across the most beautiful amazing dialect i have ever seen or heard in all of my existence. when i heard that our language was still alive pretty much preserved on niihau i literally went into shock. i looked for what it would sound like, i searched and came up with the most beautiful hawaiian women speaking in the original language and my hair stood up from head to toe all over my body. this woman was just simply teaching a simple lesson on how to make shells in the niihau way and i just stood there listening to her over and over again thinking that this can’t be true, and i almost cried hearing the power and confidence spoken so naturally that it left me with no air in my lungs. i am in my later days just starting to love and care for my hawaiian race, people, and language more & now that i have heard what i possibly would have sounded like a couple of 100 years ago, i feel like a part of me has been fulfilled that i got the privilege to hear what we truly should speak like or sound like in hawaii today. i wish that we could set up recordings of every last word in the niihau language from a to k, r, t, v and every little vowel in between in and out completely reserved unto future generations. it will only be a matter of time before the disease & corrupting influence of this new white world will slowly make its way into the purity of our rare niihau language & slowly suffocate the nutrients from its pure form, until the source is lost to the core & gone forever! i thank the ones who still care about our slowly dying race that is near extinction. i respect all who stand up for whatsoever is true, and those who are fighting to keep the hawaiian race alive in 2016, some of you may have been doing this all your life and i give you all honor and thanks for fighting to preserve what this new white government has worked so hard to eradicate for going on hundreds of years now. we must remain firm in our quest to keep niihau language alive and perfectly unchanged into this western foolish surface style’s of communication. listen to me when i say this, out here i am even starting to witness our own pigeon language slowly dissipate because of the influence of the new white western ways taking root deep into our children & now they to are starting to sound as if they were raised on the mainland and everywhere i go its turning out this way, even in waianae of all places! how much longer will we be able to save our niihau language if our own pigeon broken english is slowly starting to fix its brokenness and make its way back western white, sounding like a young boy who never listened to his mothers instructions and returns to her with his head down low corrected and sorrowful for being disobedient and awaiting either punishment for consequence or to be reinstructed again with purpose. please don’t mind me at all with my descriptions of todays society, for i am only speaking to that of which i see everyday where i been born and raised here in makaha oahu. i would love to be apart and have a part in bringing this knowledge to my family, and people because to me this is sacred and something worth doing more then any thing in this world besides sharing the love of God…. I’m sorry i wrote a book but i couldn’t help my self i was so blessed to come to this website. i appreciate niihau and love you folks out there and want to help you and also my own people to love themselves and there own race into preserving whatever is left before it disappears for good. our people out here are probably completely lost to the knowledge of this language of niihau, either that sorry to say this, or altogether don’t even care about any of this truths of how far lost we are as a hawaiian nation, kingdom, or people. i want to breathe the life back into there hearts and minds again so that they may come to realize what is at stake here, it is our very own identity that is almost gone with the wins of change and they don’t seem to even know its happening right in front of them, or even care if they knew. i love my hawaiian people and i lift up niihau in prayer that God himself will hold there pure ways of life together, last but never the least there power filled language! i truly believe once my people here on oahu get exposed to this power language it will start a wave of awakening so big that it would bring about a massive movement into all of the kingdom of hawaii and then all the world would start to recognize us as a nation coming together for greater purposes in which also God could use for awareness towards others who have all but lost there own identities to, and were forced to suffer the similar destructive consequences brought about by this new western world. we can be a mighty people if we can communicate in our language and become one again and learning of this new powerful language is only one missing part of it. imagine what amazing things we could do when all lost pieces can come together! all we gotta do is come. this is a perfect start…..
As a Polynesian, easier for me to understand the Ni’ihau dialect than standard Hawaiian. Most of, if not the rest of Polynesia retain the T, and the R sounds, except for Tonga, Samoa, Niue (I think). I guess Marquesas is closer to the Ni’ihau dialect in us understanding each other.
One way to think about it is that the writing system that the missionaries developed for Hawaiian in the 1820s lacked systematic symbols for *precisely* the sound contrasts that did not exist in American English. That’s why the missionaries, in general, did not promote ʻokinas and kahakōs (actually, 19th century writers did occasionally use ʻokinas to distinguish words like kou “your” and koʻu “my”). So in a sense, the sounds that these represent are the *most* Hawaiian ones because they are the sounds that exist uniquely in Hawaiian but not English. ;)
My grandmother (born in the 1920’s) was from Kona area, and I was told that she couldn’t understand people who spoke Standard Hawaiian (like my cousins in the modern day), but she could understand people from Ni’ihau. I’m sure that while each island had their own dialect, they were able to communicate with each other for the most part. It just so happens that the dialect was greatly preserved on Ni’ihau. At one point, the language changed and most people adopted the change (to Standard Hawaiian), while others like my grandmother’s family of that time did not. And while I understand that Standard Hawaiian is the practice nowadays, I am also in favor of revitalizing the old Hawaiian (such as use of T’s and R’s). Mahalo nui! I love that we are talking about Hawaiian because at one point our kupuna were not allowed to speak it!