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Apparently some parts of the US routinely pronounce the name of our island state as 'Hawaya.' At first, I thought this was just incorrect, but apparently it's a regional usage. Where do they call it Hawaya?

  • Not in the Pacific Northwest. I've never heard Hawaii pronounced any other way than Ha-why-ee. Anywhere. – Cyberherbalist Oct 31 '13 at 7:58
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    Do you have any more information about Hawaya? Or have you just heard (or heard about) it? – Peter Shor Oct 31 '13 at 12:38
  • Never heard anything but Hə-wa-ee. I'm in India :) – mikhailcazi Oct 31 '13 at 13:04
  • I guess in the original language, each vowel is a separate syllable: Ha-wa-ee-ee. That's why there are two successive i's, a combination otherwise rarely found in English. – GEdgar Nov 2 '13 at 14:13
  • I'm vaguely recalling that "ha-wa-ya, ha-wa-ya, ha-wa-ya" was a catch-phrase used by some TV personality back in the 50s, and there seemed to be a play on words between "how are you" and "Hawaii" when the phrase was used. I would not be surprised if many folks older than about 65 picked up the pronunciation from that. – Hot Licks Jun 17 '17 at 1:24
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It seems to me that it might be the same small group of Midwesterners—my grandmother, from Illinois, was one of them—who say Missoura, Miama, Cincinatta. I don't know what the rule is for which place names to do this with. They are perfectly capable of pronouncing an /i/ at the end of a word ... they say happy rather than happa.

I was also under the impression that there are very few people who do this with any word other than Missoura nowadays, but I don't live near the part of the Midwest this pronunciation is from, so I could be wrong about that.

Added: In fact, Googling seems to confirm this; e.g. see this book.

This pronunciation definitely exists in Missouri (called Missoura by a large fraction of its inhabitants), but from looking through the few results for "Hawaya" on Google, it seems that some people from Illinois and Ohio also use it.

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    My grandfather—born in 1903 and raised in the southwestern corner of Kentucky, very near the Mississippi River, pronounced Hawaii "Huhwahyuh" throughout his later life. He also called Missouri "Muhzurruh" (he attended the University of Missouri in Columbia). I believe it is not uncommon for people in Kentucky to refer to their state's largest city as "Loo-uh-vul." – Sven Yargs Jun 17 '17 at 1:27
  • @SvenYargs - The proper pronunciation is "Luh-vuhl". – Hot Licks Jun 2 '18 at 1:15
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    @SvenYargs - I was told, by someone from Timonium, that it's "Balmer". – Hot Licks Jun 2 '18 at 1:57
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    @SvenYargs - Seriously, someone with a trained ear can fairly accurately guess which part Louisville someone is from, based on how they pronounce the city's name. There are several different pronunciations used by residents of the city. – Hot Licks Jun 2 '18 at 1:59
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    @HotLicks: phonemically, it's definitely Balmer. But some Baltimoreans tend to turn their /l/s into /w/s after vowels, meaning you get something that sounds vaguely like Bomr. – Peter Shor Jun 2 '18 at 4:30
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I think that it is less of a regional difference than an age difference. As several others have pointed out, they hear older people pronouncing it 'Hawaya'. While I can't speak for the other words people have mentioned, the native pronunciation of Hawaii is quite unusual for English speakers. First is the ai diphthong, followed by a glottal stop (a sound not really used in the middle of English words too much, an exception is 'uh-oh'), with a word final e sound that doesn't have a real solid consonant sound before it. The difficulty for English mouths means that when the word was first encountered, people would morph it to fit what they could comfortably say, and only once we became used to the peculiarities of the word did people start to say it more like the native pronunciation.

Recently I was listening to a podcast that mentioned this specific pronunciation, around the 15 minute mark at 14:05 is when the discussion of Hawaii begins (warning - profanity in the beginning of the podcast, as it also discusses the use of profanity in old cartoons.) The podcast can be found here

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  • Also note my comment about "hawaya, hawaya, hawaya" being a catchphrase used by some TV personality (whose name I cannot remember) back in the 50s. This would imply that anyone older than about 65 would likely have been exposed to this pronunciation. – Hot Licks Jun 17 '17 at 2:42
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    +1 the podcast mentions the pronunciation at 14.05, and provides an audio clip from Tin Pan Alley, 1940, the song Haiwaii is sung by Alice Faye and Betty Grabel, see YouTube Video youtube.com/watch?v=OLAguaFhIbA – Mari-Lou A Jun 17 '17 at 3:13
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It is from the Mid-Atlantic dialect. This dialect was popular all over the US because most movie stars of the 30’s and 40’s were trained in speaking by voice coaches from the “finishing” schools back east. It was thought to be “cultured” speech and so upper middle class speakers were drilled in it.

Some diphthong sounds are common with southern and mid-American accents. Missouri Ohio and Indiana are mid-American so those answering with those states would be correct.

The dialect gradually died out with that generation with the advent of television and more natural speaking styles as realism became popular in the movies. Broadcasters also spread a homogenized general American style created by the late Arthur Lessac and taught in many schools.

Finally, native Hawaiian speakers often use the V sound for the W - Ha Vwah hee. The Hawaiian language was not a written language until English speakers created one using spelling rules based on English. If you are saying a Hawaiian word by reading it on the page, you’re probably saying it wrong.

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My mother, 70+ years old, is from Alabama and she pronounces it with the "ya" sound. She said that this way of pronouncing it was taught to her in elementary school.

I think it was just an example of Alabama's educational system. Especially, since I've lived in several states (except Alabama) and have always heard it pronounced with the "e" sound.

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