Those of you who have perused my Hawai‘i posts may have noticed a few diacritical marks here and there, specifically the ‘okinas (glottal stops) and kahakōs (macrons). If you happen to be using an OS earlier than Windows XP or Mac OS 10.2, you may not see the kahakōs; e.g. instead of a letter “o” with a horizontal line above it, you may see a hollow rectangle because the fonts in some older operating systems don’t support the Hawai‘ian language.
Also, unfortunately, unlike the Mac OS, Windows XP doesn’t really support ‘okinas in its base fonts. So I have instead had to simulate them in my posts, using the left single quote. Ideally, for an ‘okina you would use the character entity reference
ʻ (which should render as an upside-down curly apostrophe). In some fonts,
‘ renders the same, but not in Verdana, this site’s primary font, but…it’s close enough (e.g. Hawaiʻi versus Hawai‘i).
So why the bother? Don’t normal people just spell Hawai‘i, O‘ahu, and Waikīkī as Hawaii, Oahu, and Waikiki?
Well, as any of my long-time readers or long-time acquaintances may have realized, I’m far from normal. :-)
Actually, though, language fascinates me sometimes, and being the cunning linguist that I am, I couldn’t resist learning a bit more about this one, especially since extinction threatens Hawai‘ian; its speakers only number in the thousands. Also, attempts to preserve usage of the proper spellings has been a source of some debate in Hawai‘i’s state legislature in the past few years.
Here’s a few random bits I picked up—there are only 8 consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w, and the ‘okina) and 5 vowels (a, e, i, o, u), and the kahakō stresses and elongates a vowel. This makes for only 162 possible syllables in Hawai‘ian. (No wonder all the street names sounded the same.) It was a spoken-only language until 19th century missionaries needed a way to transcribe the Bible into Hawai‘ian, so they used Latin characters.
Here’s a Wikipedia entry and a convenient list of character entity references.