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What is the Proper Spelling and Pronunciation: Lahaina or Lāhainā?

From Hawaii Business magazine, 18 September 2023.

Hawaiian language experts and other sources say the proper spelling and pronunciation may not include diacritical marks.

“If you listen to the older tapes with Native speakers, they say ʻLahaina,’ which if you were to write it out there would be no diacritical markings,” says Hawaiian language scholar and translator Kamuela Yim, who works with organizations on ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi topics.

These older tapes are known as Mānaleo Tapes, which Awaiaulu scholars reference for pronunciations, sentence patterns and even songs. They can be found in the archives of the Bishop Museum and online at the Kani‘āina educational resource.

“The overwhelming majority say ʻLahaina.’ And, that’s the thing, you might find an outlier. If 49 people say ʻLahaina’ and there is one person that says ‘Lāhainā,’ the thing to do is to accept what the critical mass says as the norm,” Yim explains.

“Understanding what the predominant norm is versus the outlier is humongous. To me, that is where the discussion is. Not what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong.’ It’s not to say one is wrong and one is right.”

ʻAʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi – not all knowledge is found in one school – is a Hawaiian saying that ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi speakers use when discussing such matters. They recognize these conversations as complex and multilayered.

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Image from: Encyclopædia Britannica