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Mele Kalikimaka!

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Happy Holidays from Hawaii!

Gingerbread Shipwreck

Christie Wilcox About the Author: Christie Wilcox is a science writer and blogger who moonlights as a PhD student in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Hawaii. Follow on Google+. Follow on Twitter @NerdyChristie.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Pazuzu 10:48 am 12/30/2011

    “Mele Kalikimaka” is a native Hawaiian rendition of English “Merry Christmas”; how can this be? Hawaiian doesn’t have /r/, so Merry comes out as “mele.” Also, Hawaiian doesn’t have either /s/ or /t/ (coronal obstruents), and they substitute /k/ for either. The language also doesn’t allow sequences of consonants, so when they borrow an English word that has consonant clusters into Hawaiian they insert either an /i/ or an /a/ to make each consonant pronounceable in Hawaiian; similarly, they don’t allow consonants at the end of words, so the final /a/ is inserted. These are among the rules that render loan words from English into native Hawaiian form. They explain why Merry Christmas comes out as Mele Kalikimaka; work out how the rules apply in detail for extra credit! :)

    Pazuzu (retired linguistics professor)

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