The apostrophe in Hawai'i


Previously, I've talked about the scifi/fantasty love of the apostrophe and how, in most cases it's meaningless but in some cases can be useful in separating vowel sounds.

It certainly looks cool which is why I use it in the word Hawai'i where I thought it made sense to separate the diphthong ai from i. In printed (Ancient) Greek you'd similarly mark the separation with a diaeresis: Hawaiï.

My girlfriend is in Hawai'i at the moment and, on the phone, I told her that I like to spell it with an apostrophe. "Oh," she said, "they always spell it that way here".

Turns out the reason is that it is pronounced as a glottal stop and the glottal stop in many Polynesian languages is distinctive: its existence or absence changes the meaning. So "Hawaii" is a different word to "Hawai'i".

Also, it's not an apostrophe, it's actually called an 'okina and is ╩╗ or Unicode U+02BB which is more like an opening 6 quote and may or not work in your browser.

The original post was in the category: linguistic_observations but I'm still in the process of migrating categories over.