Steven Businger: How many people reading this short article are surprised to find out that the spelling for Mauna Kea should likely be Maunakea, and for Mauna Loa, we’d be more consistent to spell it Maunaloa. Are you surprised?

Frankly, I was surprised when I learned this from Puakea Nogelmeier, the founding director of the Institute of Hawaiian Language Research and Translation. To be honest I am not the best speller and computers have both helped and hindered my middling proficiency with their autocorrect feature.

Case in point, when I type Maunakea, my computer flags the name as misspelled and when I google Maunaloa, it comes back Mauna Loa. So I challenged Puakea and told him about the widespread use of these two-word spellings in the scientific literature as well as the general digital world. He easily set me straight, or at least provided a longer perspective than the recent computer age.

Photographer works near the Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea. 9 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A photographer works near the Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea … er, Maunakea.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The point of this piece is to allow a broader audience to share this longer perspective and to raise awareness that the names of these revered mountains deserve to be referenced thoughtfully, consistent with the Hawaiian Language, Hawaiian pronunciation and the Hawaiian culture.

Puakea Nogelmeier: In an article that Steven and I co-authored with several others, I edited the spellings of the Hawaiian words, and Steven questioned my request to combine both Maunakea and Maunaloa as one-word names, citing a long list of modern sources. I explained that there are other resources, including the recommendations of the 1978 language convention of the ʻAhahui ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (recapped in Guidelines for Hawaiian Geographic Names).

That landmark convention of teachers and speakers had generated the consistent spelling rules that have been widely used by the Hawaiian language community in classrooms, publications and communications for almost 40 years. I showed him that those recommendations were based upon a century and a half of published Hawaiian-language material.

Now that much of the historical corpus of published Hawaiian language is on line, it is relatively easy to track historical usage. The online database developed by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, www.papakilodatabase.com allows one to search through 75,000 pages of newspaper published in Hawaiian, where the spelling Maunakea generates 5,719 hits, while the two-word form, Mauna Kea generates 1,071. Both spellings have been in use throughout the history of Hawaiian literacy, but Maunakea is over five times more common in writings by speakers of the language. 

Both spellings have been in use throughout the history of Hawaiian literacy, but Maunakea is over five times more common in writings by speakers of the language.

The ʻAhahui ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi did not have access to all of today’s resources when the guides were established, but the collective experience of the teachers and speakers who worked to generate those guides proves to be historically founded. The 1978 recommendations included twelve sets of guides about modern use of the ʻokina and kahakō, word division, capitalization and spelling norms. Several of the guides addressed proper nouns and names, calling for a single initial capital, even if proper names were in a name (Waikāne, not WaiKāne), and for the single-word spelling of any name, thus Maunakea and Maunaloa.

The 1978 recommendations of the ʻAhahui ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi did not gain traction in all segments of our community, but have been widely used in college and high-school classes, immersion schools, Hawaiian publications, and throughout the broader Hawaiian language community (not to say there is no disagreement, but…).

Businger and Nogelmeier: Decades of media explosion have empowered other segments of the community far more than the small Hawaiian-speaking circle, so inconsistent spelling of Hawaiian words is widespread, and the broader community is not certain where to turn for credible answers.

While individual schools and language circles guide and affirm themselves, little is available to the general public. The ʻAhahui ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, which has held a low profile for over decade, is now attracting a new and highly-motivated membership that may well provide new resources for the Hawaiian-language community and the general populace as well. The expanding interest in “proper” use of Hawaiian language calls for ready access to such resources (e.g., Hawaiian digital library and dictionary site).

I mua kākou (Onward we go).

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

About the Authors

  • Puakea Nogelmeier
    Puakea Nogelmeier is a professor of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he has taught for over 30 years. He is founder and executive director of Awaiaulu, a nonprofit translation training entity and is also the director of UH's Institute of Hawaiian Language Research and Translation
  • Steven Businger
    Steven Businger is professor and chair of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Hawaii Manoa. For the past 30 years he has been active in researching the evolution and structure of destructive atmospheric storms, resulting in fundamental contributions to our understanding of cyclogenesis in cold air streams and in the subtropics.