The online game Wordle is a popular hit, inspiring various spin-offs, including a new, locally produced version in Olelo Hawaii.

This Hawaiian language version, called “Hulihua,” was created by Keola Donaghy, an assistant professor of music at University of Hawaii Maui College. He released the game this month as a part of Mahina Olelo Hawaii, an annual celebration of the use of Hawaiian language.

Donaghy also has worked at the UH Hilo College of Hawaiian Language as a technology coordinator, and he has been involved in other computer-oriented projects, including working with Apple, Microsoft, and Google to make it easier for speakers and learners of Hawaiian to utilize technology.

A University of Hawaii professor has developed a local version of Wordle aimed at teaching players the Hawaiian language. Screenshot Wordle/2022

But Donaghy became interested in the Hawaiian language through music, he said, which included him practicing it repeatedly in songs. Thirty years later, he said, it’s his life’s work. He hopes that the Wordle game will encourage people to learn the language and expand their Hawaiian vocabulary.

He was inspired to create the Olelo Hawaii version when he played a Maori version of the game. He then worked on the idea with colleague Noelani Arista of McGill University in Canada, who pointed him to open-source code that could be edited and adapted for his version of the game.

That open-source version of Wordle, which Donaghy used for Hulihua, was created by Hannah Park and later modified by Adian Pine, a linguist and software developer from British Columbia. Pine’s work, Donaghy said, made it easy to create localized versions of Wordle for any language.

“Wordle didn’t start taking off until earlier this year,” Donaghy said, and Mahina Olelo Hawaii provided a perfect opportunity to launch the localized game.

Hulihua has a list of the 400 most commonly used words in Olelo Hawaii, Donaghy said. He chose that list because he said students at UH typically learn 500 to 600 words a semester, including these in the game.

While working on the development of the game, Donaghy said he first identified all five-letter words he knew, then started adding others, such as from Hawaiian language books, such as “The Story of Kekūhaupiʻo.”

In the Wordle game, which was created by Josh Wardle, players have six attempts to guess a five-letter word. Hints are given for each guess when letters match or occupy the correct position in the word of the day.

If the game remains popular, Donaghy said, he will consider adding more words, some of which, he added, “don’t even appear in the dictionaries or text.”

For now, he’s happy the game is gaining popularity.

“I’m really happy that folks are finding it helpful and useful. I enjoy seeing friends sharing the results and frustrations,” Donaghy said.

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