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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.
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How do you say Hawai'i? - Eavesdropping Traveler #1

121 Folder Collection
Caurora published on March 1, 2019
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