OK, this is the deal on Hawaii: Pronunciation. I get pronunciation. My last name, Burck, gets pronounced as Burch, Buick, Buck, and when people try to be faithful to every letter, Bursick (never Burkick), When people hear that my name is pronounced like Burke from Ireland and see that it is spelled in a way they couldn’t possibly guess, they often spell it right. But many also fall back into Burk or Burke, even Bourque. And today, Monday, April 12, 2010, Bruck.
Our two tour guides in Oahu put me on to the issue of pronunciation. Our Monday, Apr. 5th, tour guide, Loretta O’Hara, drove us up to the Polynesian Culture Center in Laie on the North Shore. Before she got to pronunciation, she brought us up to speed on Aloha, as in ah-LOW-HA. It’s a spiritual word, to be said from the heart and center of one’s being. All together now, ah-LOW-HA. As in, “Is everybody having fun?” “Yes.” “I can’t hear you.” “YES.” “Ha” means breath. Ha is the name of the big Polynesian show at the Polynesian Culture Center and it directs our attention to the unending breath of life. This show is quite stunning, with beautiful music, strong drumming, and powerful dancing.
Loretta said that lots of people pronounce Honolulu as if the first two syllables were the same as the town, Hana, that she hails from, which is at the end of a famous road on Maui. She just happened to have been born and raised in Hana, so she knows the difference between Hana and Honolulu. She has just built a home in Hana, from which she plans to commute to work in Oahu. She says that people who come to Hawaii say Hanalulu. Oh, no. The o’s are long, Hoe-know-lulu. As we progressed toward Laie, another nice practice round, Hoe-know-lulu.
Our Sunday tour guide was Kenoe, for short. I don’t think she pronounced her whole name, but she did write it out on the sticky label that we wore to identify us as part of her tour group. Both she and Loretta emphasized that one doesn’t say Hawaii, with a “w.” Speaking properly, one says Havaii, as if the “w” were like a German “w,” as Volkswagen.
We’re now in Kauai. All during our trip round-the-island of Oahu, I kept hearing our tour guide pronounce Kauai in some way I couldn’t quite replicate, except that the vowel, “i,” was pronounced as in Hawaii—a long “e.” I’ve been saying Kauai the way that I think is prettiest: kuh-WEYE. Yes, it’s not so pretty to see. This is the pronunciation that I used most with people in the know about speaking Hawaiian. Correct speakers quietly, unobtrusively, but always, repeated it back to me as I should have been saying it. Earlier I had tried COW-a-i and co-WOW-i. WRONG. Finally, I heard it correctly and could say it correctly. You say Kauai just like Hawaii, without the “v”: Ka-WA-e.
Next week we’re on to Molokai. As long as I can remember, this island has been named mow-low-KEYE. Uh-uh. Not at all. After a number of false starts and true corrections by Hawaiians, I finally heard it: mow-low-KAH-e.
© J. Russell Burck, 2010