The Hawaiian Department of Transportation announces that they will add diacritical marks of the ʻokina and the kahakō to highway signs along the Pali Highway. This is part of the Pali Highway Resurfacing Project, and for many, it’s been a long time coming. The proposal seeks to amend the following spellings:
● Ahipuʻu St
● Nuʻuanu Ave.
● Pūʻiwa Rd.
● Nuʻuanu Pali Dr.
● East Waikīkī
● ‘Akamu Pl.
● Laʻimi Rd.
● Hīnalo Pl.
What are Diacritical Marks?
The diacritical marks are an important part of the Hawaiian language and even more important to keeping the language alive. There are two symbols that make up the diacritical marks. The glottal stop (ʻokina) and the macron (kahakō). These two symbols help differentiate the subtle nuances of the language. More importantly, they help non-native speakers understand the differences in the words. For instance,
- pau = completed
- paʻu = soot
- paʻū = damp, soaked
- pāʻū = woman’s skirt
A Brief History of the Hawaiian Language
All of these words could look very similar without the use of diacritical marks. Without them, non-speakers may confuse the words. The Hawaiian language was first translated into the written word in the 1820’s. A committee of seven missionaries who helped translate Tahiti’s language took the task of helping Hawaii.
They decided that the language would consist of 12 letters. With the limited number of characters, the diacritical marks were important for making the distinctions in the language. However, it wasn’t until 1978 when the ʻAhahui ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi published “Recommendations and Comments on the Hawaiian Spelling Project” that standardized the ʻokina and kahakō.
Is this Going to Help?
Fluent Hawaiian speakers naturally speak the nuances. With the addition of these marks on road signs, it will be easier for natives to help guide tourists through the islands. Tourism and hospitality are still Hawaii’s number one economic boosters. Any help to distinguish the language and help tourists understand the difference is a welcome change.
The project will start on the Pali Highway, but many want the changes to happen in more places around the islands. There are still a countless number of signs with misspellings and missing marks. It’s an undertaking that has no end in sight but will be a constant endeavor taken on by the transportation department.