what letters are missing in the hawaiian alphabet

When you think of alphabets, you probably envision a set sequence of letters that form the basis of a language. But what if I told you that the Hawaiian alphabet is missing some familiar letters? Yes, that’s right! The Hawaiian alphabet has undergone significant changes over time, resulting in the omission of certain letters.

Originally derived from the English alphabet by American Protestant missionaries in the early 19th century, the Hawaiian alphabet consisted of five vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and seven consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, W). However, to simplify and optimize the teaching and learning of the Hawaiian language, some letters were eliminated, and the alphabet evolved into its current form.

So, which letters are missing from the Hawaiian alphabet? Can you guess? Take a moment to reflect, and then dive into this article to uncover the truth behind the missing letters and explore the fascinating history of the Hawaiian alphabet.

Origins of the Hawaiian Alphabet

James Cook European Voyage

The origins of the Hawaiian alphabet can be traced back to British explorer James Cook’s visit to Hawaiʻi in 1778. During his time in the islands, Cook encountered the rich Hawaiian culture and language. In his records, Cook spelled the name of the islands as “Owhyhee” or “Owhyee,” which sparked interest in the development of a writing system for the Hawaiian language.

It wasn’t until 1822 that the development of the Hawaiian alphabet began. American Protestant missionary Elisha Loomis, inspired by the New Zealand Grammar, worked to create a writing system that would enable the translation of religious texts into Hawaiian. Loomis printed the first Hawaiian Bible using this newly developed alphabet.

The original Hawaiian alphabet consisted of five vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and seven consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, W), as well as seven diphthongs. However, the missionaries soon realized the need for a simpler and more efficient writing system to facilitate the teaching and learning of the Hawaiian language.

As a result, certain letters that represented functionally redundant interchangeable sounds were eliminated. This decision brought the Hawaiian alphabet closer to the ideal state of one-symbol-one-sound, making it easier for both the missionaries and the native Hawaiians to communicate and comprehend the language.

Original Alphabet Modified Alphabet
A, E, I, O, U A, E, I, O, U
H, K, L, M, N, P, W H, K, L, M, N, P, W
(F, G, S, Y, Z)

The Importance of the ʻOkina

glottal stop

In the early stages of developing the Hawaiian alphabet, the missionaries recognized the need for the glottal stop, a sound represented by the apostrophe. Since words with different meanings could be spelled alike, the missionaries used the ʻokina as a way to distinguish between words. However, it wasn’t until 1864 that the ʻokina became a recognized letter in the Hawaiian alphabet. Even today, it is an essential part of the language and is included as a consonant in the modern Hawaiian alphabet.

The ʻokina, also known as the glottal stop, plays a vital role in the pronunciation and meaning of words in the Hawaiian language. It represents a brief pause or catch in speech and can completely change the interpretation of a word. For example, the word “aloha” can mean both “hello” and “goodbye,” but with the addition of the ʻokina, it becomes “alo-ha,” meaning “affection, love, and peace.”

The use of the ʻokina is particularly crucial in the Hawaiian Bible, where accuracy and clarity are of utmost importance. The glottal stop is indicated by the ʻokina symbol in the text, ensuring that readers correctly pronounce and understand the words as intended. Without this important diacritic, the meaning of Hawaiian words could be misunderstood or lost entirely.

Furthermore, the ʻokina is often used in Hawaiian words and place names, preserving the cultural heritage and identity of the Hawaiian people. It is a symbol of respect for the language and its unique sound patterns.

Here is an example table showcasing the use of the ʻokina in the Hawaiian alphabet:

Letter Pronunciation Example Word
A ah aloha
E eh ʻekahi
I ee hawaiʻi
O oh mauna
U oo lāʻau

The ʻokina is an integral part of the Hawaiian language, preserving its unique sounds and meanings. Whether in the written form or spoken word, the inclusion of the glottal stop adds depth and authenticity to the language and reinforces the cultural significance of the Hawaiian alphabet.

The Role of Kahakō

The Role of Kahakō

Another important aspect of the Hawaiian alphabet is the use of macrons, known as kahakō, which differentiate between short and long vowels. Macrons are horizontal lines placed above vowels to indicate a longer pronunciation. This diacritical mark plays a crucial role in the correct pronunciation and understanding of the Hawaiian language.

The use of macrons can be traced back to the early 19th century when missionary Hiram Bingham utilized macrons in handwritten transcriptions of Hawaiian vowels. By incorporating macrons, the Hawaiian alphabet was able to represent the distinctions between short and long vowels more accurately and clearly.

Today, the Hawaiian alphabet includes five vowels with macrons: Ā, Ē, Ī, Ō, Ū. These vowels with macrons are alphabetized separately from unaccented vowels and are crucial for conveying the correct pronunciation and meaning of words in the Hawaiian language.

Unaccented Vowels Vowels with Macrons (Kahakō)

The inclusion of macrons in the Hawaiian alphabet is crucial for accurate pronunciation and understanding of the language. By differentiating short and long vowels through the use of macrons, the Hawaiian alphabet ensures that words are pronounced correctly, preserving the integrity of the language and its cultural significance.

The Modern Hawaiian Alphabet

The current official Hawaiian alphabet consists of 13 letters, including five vowels and eight consonants. The alphabet reflects the evolving linguistic heritage of the Hawaiian language.

The official Hawaiian alphabet includes the following:

  1. Vowels: A, E, I, O, U
  2. Consonants: H, K, L, M, N, P, W, and ʻokina

The order of the letters in the Hawaiian alphabet differs from the traditional Latin order. In Hawaiian, vowels come before consonants. Additionally, vowels with macrons (kahakō), which denote long vowels, are alphabetized immediately after unaccented vowels.

While the ʻokina, which represents a glottal stop, is not considered for alphabetization purposes, it is included as a consonant in the modern Hawaiian alphabet. The ʻokina is a significant part of the language, distinguishing words that would otherwise have the same spelling but different meanings.

Vowels Consonants

Pronunciation and Sounds in the Hawaiian Alphabet

The Hawaiian alphabet is distinct in its pronunciation and sounds. The letter names in the Hawaiian alphabet were specifically created for the language and do not follow traditional European letter names in most cases. For example, the names of M, N, P, and possibly L were likely derived from Greek, while W is derived from the deleted letter V.

In Hawaiian, each letter has a unique pronunciation. The vowels have specific sounds attributed to them, emphasizing their importance in the language. The consonants also have distinct sounds, contributing to the overall phonetic beauty of the Hawaiian language.

Furthermore, the Hawaiian alphabet includes several diphthongs. Diphthongs are combinations of two vowel sounds that come together to form a single sound. These diphthongs are an integral part of the Hawaiian language and add complexity and richness to its pronunciation.

Understanding the pronunciation and sounds of the Hawaiian alphabet is crucial for learning and speaking the language fluently. By mastering the unique sounds attributed to each letter and becoming familiar with the diphthongs, you can engage in conversations and express yourself accurately in Hawaiian.

Learning the Hawaiian Alphabet and Language

Learning the beautiful Hawaiian language is an enriching experience that allows you to connect with the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii. One of the first steps in this journey is mastering the unique features of the Hawaiian alphabet. It is essential to understand the use of the ʻokina, which represents the glottal stop, and kahakō, or macrons, which differentiate between short and long vowels.

Another key aspect of learning Hawaiian is building your vocabulary. By familiarizing yourself with Hawaiian words and their meanings, you can effectively communicate in the language. Remember, Hawaiian sentence structure follows a specific pattern, with adjectives typically coming before nouns, and the verb “is” often implied. By embracing these linguistic characteristics, you can form meaningful sentences in the Hawaiian language.

Pronunciation is also a crucial element when learning the Hawaiian alphabet and language. The Hawaiian language has its distinct consonant and vowel sounds, and the pronunciation of words may differ from English. By practicing the correct pronunciation, you can accurately capture the essence of the language and communicate with clarity.

By devoting time and effort to studying the Hawaiian alphabet and language, you can embark on a rewarding journey of cultural exploration. Gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the linguistic heritage of Hawaii as you learn how to read, write, and speak this beautiful language. Immerse yourself in the vocabulary, sentence structure, and pronunciation, and unlock the doors to the fascinating world of the Hawaiian language.


Q: What letters are missing in the Hawaiian alphabet?

A: The letters F, G, S, Y, and Z are missing from the modern Hawaiian alphabet.

Q: What is the origin of the Hawaiian alphabet?

A: The Hawaiian alphabet originated from British explorer James Cook’s visit to Hawaiʻi in 1778 and was later developed by American Protestant missionary Elisha Loomis in the early 19th century.

Q: Why is the ʻokina important in the Hawaiian alphabet?

A: The ʻokina is important in the Hawaiian alphabet because it represents the glottal stop sound and distinguishes between words with different meanings.

Q: How does kahakō differentiate between vowels in the Hawaiian alphabet?

A: Kahakō, represented by macrons, differentiates between short and long vowels in the Hawaiian alphabet.

Q: What does the modern Hawaiian alphabet consist of?

A: The modern Hawaiian alphabet consists of 13 letters, including five vowels (A, E, I, O, U), eight consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, W, and ʻokina), and vowels with macrons.

Q: What are some unique aspects of the pronunciation and sounds in the Hawaiian alphabet?

A: The Hawaiian alphabet has unique letter names and specific sounds attributed to vowels, consonants, and diphthongs.

Q: How can one learn the Hawaiian alphabet and language?

A: Learning the Hawaiian alphabet and language involves understanding its unique features, such as the use of the ʻokina and kahakō, and familiarizing oneself with Hawaiian vocabulary and sentence structure.