On Hawaiianization of foreign words, 1869.

The Hawaiian language, when the Islands were first discovered by Europeans, was of course adapted only to the simple wants of the people. With the introduction of new facts to the knowledge of the people and the development of new ideas, it was necessary to get words to express them—as for instance, pepa, was merely the word “paper,” spelled on the phonetic plan. Another reason for the change in some of the words thus imported into the language, was the difficulty, which the Hawaiian found, in enunciating some consonants, and the necessity—or a convenience, perhaps—in  the minds of the teachers, of conforming the spelling to the corrupted pronunciation, and especially in the particular of ending a word with a vowel. In addition to this, the first teachers of the people, with great wisdom, did not trouble the with learning more characters in their alphabet, than would suffice to express the sound, as the ordinary Hawaiian organs could enunciate it. Thus, “cent” became keneta, as the native could not give the soft sounding C, or pronounce the final T, without adding a vowel after. California became Kaliponia. The effect of this upon some words and names, particularly in geography, appears somewhat ludicrous. The inhabitant of San Francisco would hardly think that Palekiko was meant to designate his city, and was the same word as Francisco.

How often have we seen a foreigner and a native trading for a few fish, and the foreigner, as he inquired for the pihi—fish—flattering himself that he was talking very good Hawaiian, while the native was quite pluming himself on his proficiency in English, as far as that word went, each imagining that he was talking the language of the other. This idea of Hawaiianizing English words seems to be quite a favorite one with some, and would seem to be pushed to an unnecessary extent, scarcely calculated to enrich the Hawaiian. In a discussion about Christmas day, the anniversary is denominated Krikimaka—a mere corruption of Christmas—all the more unnecessary, as the native has always been taught  to call the sacred title of our Saviour Kristo—which he easily and habitually pronounces—and there is not the smallest difficulty in translating “ka la hanau o Kristo,” the birh-day of our Saviour. Or, if it is desired to be more critical, and at the same time to keep before the people the fact, that the day of Christ’s birth is not certainly known to be the 25th of December—then, “ka la i kapaia ka la hanau o Kristo.” the day called the birth-day of our Saviour. So likewise, we have seen the word lede, as signifying one’s wife, lately, as for instance: “Governor of Oahu, a me kana lede.” This is a corruption for “lady,” and what peculiar and educative ideas are conveyed to the Hawaiian mind by it, we do not know. How it is any improvement on  wahine, is not apparent. There is no other word in English to express the lawful relation of a married woman to a man, than the unequivocal word “wife,” though some men prefer to call one’s wife, his lady, or to make use of the still more equivocal phrase, his companion, who would think it very odd to hear a woman speaking of her husband, as her gentleman, and if she should speak to him as her companion, might ask her if she had not married him. But this is a digression.

We are at a loss to know how the Hawaiian language will be improved by importing the word into, and writing it lede, instead of “lady.” If it is necessary to express the idea—it must be to the educated Hawaiian—and is it not just as well to spell it rightly as wrongly. Would it not be better to write the name of countries, as they are known to some civilized nation, and if it is necessary to bring in words, to bring them in unchanged, or as little changed as possible. Instead of writing Sepania, for “Spain,” why not write it Hispania, and write “England,” as it is. If the child cannot pronounce it, let him get it as near as he can, or where they  have become used to the corruption, print the name alongside of it. As education is now spreading from year to year, and the young are becoming more and more accustomed to the use of the English language, it certainly does not seem necessary to barbarize words, and make the native language ridiculous by the process.

(Hawaiian Gazette, 1/27/1869, p. 2)


Hawaiian Gazette, Volume V, Number 2, Page 2. January 27, 1869.

1 thought on “On Hawaiianization of foreign words, 1869.

  1. It is interesting to take Hawaiian language classes today as much of what is taught gets tangled in the division between “old” Hawaiian and that growing out of exposure to non-Hawaiian languages. The challenge of a living language!


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