I have been “seriously” learning Hawaiian for almost three months now. Like a proper student I have my book (colour-coded for ease of use), a CD (much needed if you want to learn pronunciation), and a lot of zeal (which basically is the most important thing of all) – in other words, I am fully equipped to start making some progress.
After thirteen weeks with Duolingo, I began learning from the book “Learn Hawaiian At Home”. This slim volume is absolutely perfect for total beginners, as it explains everything as simply as possible. What you need to know, you will know – I can assure you of that.
The first three lessons have taught me a few dozen words – mainly nouns and adjectives, so I can now say that I am happy, sad, healthy, tired, etc. They have also taught me some useful phrases, such as “Good morning”, “Good noontime” (yes, “good noontime” exists in Hawaiian!), “How are you?”, “See you later”, “Take care”. But the most important – in my opinion – is grammar. I finally begin to understand how to build a simple (very, very, very simple) sentence in ‘ōlelo Hawai’i. And that’s because I have learnt that such sentences have the head and the center.
This is what the author of my textbook calls a “descriptive sentence pattern”. We use it – no surprises here – when we want to describe a trait, quality, or characteristic of a person, thing, or place. The “head”, which is the very first part of the sentence, is where your adjective goes. In English, you always start with a subject. You say: “She is happy”. But in Hawaiian you will start with the word “happy”. There is an interesting explanation for that, which Kahikāhealani Wight shares in her book: “Hawaiian was an oral language for thousands of years. Our kūpuna didn’t get a ‘second glance’ at the sentence; the first words they heard told them the most essential information.”. If you think about it, that’s quite logical. When talking about your new boyfriend, for example, you want to share with others that he is kind, caring, committed, handsome, etc. This is what’s important. Believe me, everyone will know that you are talking about your sweetheart (and not about his best friend), so “he” doesn’t have to be the first word in the sentence.
Now, enough about the “head”. Let’s move on to the “center”, which tells us who or what the sentence is about. This is the section in which you would place your boyfriend, so you would say: “‘Olu‘olu ‘o ia.” (“He is kind.”).
There are three kinds of center subjects. The first type – and the simplest one – is a pronoun. I know only 6 pronouns: I, you, he / she / it, we / all of us, you all, and they / them, and I think that’s sufficient for me at this point. I am able to tell you that “hau‘oli au” (“I’m happy”) and that “wela kēia lā” (“It is hot today”). Not bad for a beginner, huh?
The second kind of subject is the name of a place or a person. You have to remember that all names must be preceded by “‘o”. It’s a name announcer, and it’s not translated into English. So if we wanted to say “Honolulu is pretty”, we would say “Nani ‘o Honolulu”.
The third type of subject is the noun announcer plus noun combination. You may ask what a noun announcer is. Well, just like names, Hawaiian nouns require a special “guardian” – a word which is placed right before them. I’m not sure if you are aware, but noun announcers exist in English too, only they are called demonstratives or possessives. In Hawaiian we have “ka” and “ke” (that would be “the” in English); “kēia” (“this”) and “kēlā” (“that”); and “ko‘u” (“my”), “kou” (“your”), “kona” (“his”, “her”). They are very easy to remember and so often used that there is absolutely no chance not to memorize them.
So this is what I have learnt so far. I don’t want to say that Hawaiian grammar isn’t difficult, because I may regret it later. But I can tell you one thing – I really enjoy learning ‘ōlelo Hawai’i. It is a fantastic language!