Oh, you grammar mavens are cringing over the possibility of an ‘ukulele, I just know it. But while you’ve probably known this tiny four-stringed instrument as a you-ka-lay-lee, that’s an anglified version of a Hawaiian word. The Hawaiian pronunciation is oo-koo-ley-ley. Pronounce it Hawaiian style, and ‘an ‘ukulele’ sounds just fine.
It’s a problem for someone like me, who writes frequently about Hawaii. If I write it so that it feels comfortable to me, my editor will likely think I’ve skipped Grammar 101. When I do write about ukuleles* I present the issue of pronunciation to my editor. Invariably, ‘an ‘ukulele’ is trashed for the more common ‘a ‘ukulele.’ Editorial license trumps my comfort zone.
I prefer to use the Hawaiian pronunciation because, well, it’s just more accurate. It feels right. Just as a San Franciscan may cringe to hear their city called ‘Frisco,’ I’m sure folks from Hawai‘i find ‘you-ka-lay-lee’ to be a little hard on the ears.
Some people find the Hawaiian pronunciation to be snobbish. I can’t quite follow that train of thought, myself. It seems more respectful to me since the word is Hawaiian in origin. Of course, if you want to continue playing the you-ka-lay-lee, that’s fine by me.
It’s a contentious subject, though. My 17-year-old son is the editor and webmaster of Live ‘Ukulele. Via email, he interviewed a gentleman who used the term ‘a ‘ukulele.’ In his capacity as editor, my son changed the verbiage to ‘a[n] ‘ukulele’ to suit his editorial style. The man in question was not happy about this and things got a little unpleasant. I understand that the changes must have felt awkward to someone who’s used to the corrupted pronunciation, but again with the editorial license. It’s like to-may-to, to-mah-to. No matter how you say it, it’s good stuff.
And as if that isn’t enough controversy for an ‘ukulele, there’s the whole question about how to properly spell the word. I’ll let Aunty Anuhea address that one for you, though.
*Technically, that plural ‘s’ shouldn’t be there, but we’ll push one envelope at a time, ‘kay?
(Photo: Flickr user Runder)