Hawaiian Standardized as a Written Language
Until early 1826, the culture and traditions of the people of Hawai`i were transmitted orally from generation to generation. American missionaries arrived in 1820 and soon formulated a written Hawaiian language based on the sounds they heard. Hawaiians quickly adopted written literacy following the introduction of printed primers, grammars, books of the Bible and other textbooks. Hawaiian was the primary language of all islanders until the late nineteenth century.
In its written form, the language uses an alphabet of thirteen letters: five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and eight consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w) including the 'okina or glottal stop. The "sound" of the 'okina is similar to the vocal break made when pronouncing "oh-oh." Omission of the 'okina, as with the omission of any other letter, changes the meaning of the word. Both the 'okina and the kahako, or macron, are diacritical marks employed primarily as an aid to proper pronunciation. The kahako or macron indicates a stressed and elongated vowel.
The teachers at the one-room Olowalu School taught in Hawaiian until 1890, at a time when there were many non-Hawaiian speakers in the community. Soon after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, the government issued a prohibition against non-English languages, a ban that was not lifted until 1986. Today, the State of Hawai`i recognizes two official languages, Hawaiian and English, established by the State Constitution of 1978.