|Did You Know?
The Modern Hawaiian alphabet only has 13 letters
five vowels (A a, E e, I i, O o, U u) and eight consonants (H h, K k, L l, M m, N n, P p, W w, ʻokina). You sometimes hear that the Hawaiian alphabet has only 12 letters -- 7 consonants and 5 vowels -- which represent all the basic sounds, or phonemes, in the language. However, these letters (A, E, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, U, W) only represent the sounds that were easily recognized by the English-speaking missionaries who first implemented the written alphabet. The Hawaiian language contains another phoneme which is treated as a consonant: the glottal stop, or ‘okina. English speakers often don't notice this sound although it is one that we make in the middle of the word "uh-oh" and at the beginning of many words which begin with vowels. Additionally, Hawaiian speakers distinguish between short vowels, which are briefly pronounced, and long vowels, which have a greater duration.
Modern Hawaiian orthography marks these significant sounds by using a "left single quotation mark" (‘) to mark the ‘okina, and a macron, or kahakō, to mark long vowels.