Some time ago I found out that every Hawaiian sentence must have a head and a center. If you have those two, you can pretty much say anything a toddler would say – “I am happy”, “She is old”, “This is my dog”. But if you’d like to communicate on a little bit more advanced level, your sentences will need an addition of a tail.
Hawaiian is a language with verb-subject-object word order, which means that it requires some getting used to. You have to remember that the person carrying out the action is not a focal point of a sentence, as is the case in English for example. In short and simple sentences, this doesn’t pose any problems. You kind of do it automatically. However, when you start adding more words, it can get somewhat confusing.
In the beginning, when you learn a new grammar rule, everything seems to be child’s play. Especially if you have a good teacher or a good textbook. I have the latter; written by the former. Kahikāhealani Wight – the author of “Learn Hawaiian At Home” – is an excellent tutor. She can explain the intricacies of the Hawaiian language so well that you think you had known them even before you read her words.
So thanks to Kahikāhealani Wight I have learnt – actually, it wasn’t very hard to guess – that the tail section of a sentence is there to simply add additional information, like where or what or why. What’s important is that the whole tail section begins with a tail announcer (there are lots of announcers in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi!) – “i”. The author says that it means “in”, “on”, “to”, “at”. Apparently, there are also other kinds of tail announcers – which I am yet to learn – but for now “i” is enough.
Armed with this knowledge, I can now form sentences like “I work in this hotel.”; or “My cat watches TV.”; or “We run in the morning.”. Pretty cool, right? And, that’s not all. I can do even better than this. I can say “I worked in this hotel.”; and “My cat is watching TV.”; and “We will run in the morning.”. Because apart from learning about the tail section, I have managed to learn how to modify verbs to indicate tense and aspect. I am quite certain that what Kahikāhealani Wight included in her book is just a simplified version, but again, that’s enough for now. Let me share with you what I know.
Unlike in English, Hawaiian verbs do not change their forms to show past, present, or future. All you need are special verb markers, which you place before and after your verb.
To indicate a past action, you use “ua” followed by the verb. You want an example? Here you are: “I worked in this hotel.” – “Ua hana au i kēia hōkele.”. To say that something is happening right now, you use “ke + verb + nei” structure. So the sentence “My cat is watching TV.” looks like this – “Nānā koʻu pōpoki i ke kīwī.”. Finally, to talk about the future, you use “e + verb + ana”. Do you want me to translate “We will run in the morning.” for you? No problem! “E holo kākou i ke kakahiaka.”.
If I didn’t know better, I would probably write that this is all very simple; or that Hawaiian is the easiest language to comprehend. But I won’t do it. I won’t do it because I am also learning Marshallese, and I am well aware of the challenges that I will have to – sooner or later – face. No language is simple. Just as no language is difficult. Everything comes down to time. You won’t master a foreign tongue in one year. You won’t make any progress if you have no time to study it. Patience, determination, and hard work – you don’t have these, you can forget about being a polyglot.
There is, however, one thing I can tell you at this very moment – I really enjoy learning Hawaiian. It is completely different from Marshallese. And discovering those differences is a truly fascinating experience. It’s like exploring two different words at the same time. If you haven’t tried it, I recommend you do!