IPA stands for the International Phonetic Alphabet; a special selection of characters devised by linguists in order to represent every sound, or phone, of all the world's languages. Of course, since many languages share the same sounds only about 100 letters are required, especially since the IPA makes use of diacritics. Just a tiny fraction of the IPA is needed to record the Hawaiian language in particular.

The characters of the IPA derive mostly from European scripts since they are alphabets as opposed to abjads, syllabaries or other systems not suitable for the discussion of individual sounds. Further, many of the major world languages such as English, French and Spanish are written with the Latin alphabet, along with the majority of aboriginal languages from the Americas, Africa and Australia.

All sounds can be mapped out in charts for convenience and consonants are graphed according to two parameters: their place of articulation (the part of your mouth most associated with the sound) and their manner of articulation (the way in which you use that part of your mouth to produce a sound).

For instance, P is similar to M in the sense that both of these sounds both require the lips to move. This would mean their place of articulation is the same. P and M are classified under labials, which means 'lip' in Latin.

In addition, P and K are also similar in that you cannot extend their durations for a long period of time. You can keep making the sound M for many seconds, but when you make a P or K you cannot continue the sound. This suggests that P and K are similar in terms of their manner of articulation. P and K fall under the category of stops because shortly after you start making them you are forced to quit.

With this in mind, each individual sound is identified by both its place and its manner. Thus, since P is a labial like M, but it is also a stop like K, P alone is called a labial stop.

The following chart identifies all of the IPA symbols needed to transcribe Hawaiian consonants:















Notice that on this chart the places of articulation are ordered from the front-most area of the mouth to the back-most area.

Places of Articulation

   • labial: sounds made using both of the lips
   • alveolar: sounds made using the front of the tongue and the alveolar ridge (the roof of the mouth right before the top row of teeth)
   • velar: sounds made using the back of the tongue and the velum (the muscles in the back of the throat)
   • glottal: sounds made using the glottis (space between vocal chords)

Manners of Articulation

   • stop: sounds that cannot be continued
   • fricative: sounds made by a making buzz-like or static-like noise
   • nasal: sounds made by directing airflow out through the nasal cavity (the sinuses)
   • lateral: sounds made by alinging the tongue vertically
   • approximant: sounds made by nearing (but not quite touching) a place of articulation

Vowels in IPA are graphed according to a different set of parameters. At minimum, languages must have at least three vowels, which contrast from one another based on they are produced in the mouth. At the very least, a language will contain these three vowels:








Part of what changes the way vowels sound is the mouth's amount of open space, and, where that open space is distributed. What determines such things is the position of the tongue. Thus, we can pinpoint the place where a vowel is being produced in the mouth as long as we know two things about the tongue; 1) its height; whether the tongue is located in the top or the bottom of the mouth, and 2) its backness; whether the tongue is located in the back or front of the mouth.

For instance, in producing an "ah" sound the tongue is relatively low, so a is called a low vowel. In contrast, when producing the "oo" sound the tongue is relatively high, leaving empty space in the bottom of the mouth. This is why u is called a high vowel.

In addition, the tongue is further back in the mouth when you produce "oo" than when you produce "ee," so u is additionally a back vowel. All things considered, u is a high-back vowel, i is a high-front vowel, and a can vary from being a low-front vowel to a low-central vowel to a low-back vowel.

The following is chart summarizes the IPA symbols used to transcribe Hawaiian vowels. In addition to the High and Low categories, Hawaiian (like English) has a pair of vowels that lie between, which we will call Mid.










Some call high vowels close vowels, and low vowels open vowels. Also, IPA users put a colon - consisting of two triangles - after vowels if they are long; thus a would be transcribed as /aː/ in IPA (right angled brackets, / /, or square brackets, [ ], are placed around the IPA transcriptions, except in tables).

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Last Updated: 9/21/2009