How do you pronounce "ukulele" ...


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Mar 21, 2011
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Good morning, everyone!

I was recently taken to task for pronouncing "ukulele" wrong in a video i made:

"May I PLEASE, please ask you to learn to pronounce ukulele correctly!. I live in Hawaii and have been married to a Hawaiian for 48 years and it's like fingernails on a chalkboard to hear our beautiful language mispronounced."

As i've been digesting what was said, i have to admit, it almost feels presumptuous FOR ME to pronounce ukulele "the correct way" because it's so inconsistent with the way i ordinarily speak. On the other hand, "nails on a chalkboard" is pretty strong language, and i certainly don't want to offend anyone with seemingly abrasive pronunciation.

I'm just wondering how people feel about this issue. The writer wasn't being unkind, i don't think. He or she just obviously feels strongly about the topic. They further explained:

"In 1879, the ‘ukulele, which was called a Braguinha (a 5-string instrument, with tuning similar to our modern ‘ukulele) came from Braga, Portugal, and made the long voyage to Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Hawaiians loved it and called it ukulele or jumping flee

Ukulele is a Hawaiian word. There is no Y in the Hawaiian alphabet so it can’t be Yukalele

There are only 5 vowels and it's very simple.
to learn and pronounce Hawaiian words.
a “ah”
e “eh” (or " a")
i “ee"
o “oh”
u “oo"

There are 7 consonants in the Hawaiian Alphabet. Here are their names and pronunciations:

he ~ pronounced and written like an English H
ke ~ pronounced and written like an English K
la ~ pronounced and written like an English L
mu ~ pronounced and written like an English M
nu ~ pronounced and written like an English N
pi ~ pronounced and written like an English P
we ~ pronounced like a very soft V , or, a cross between a W and a V."

uku-leh-leh. Or i say ukulele. But i do like the Hawaiian pronunciation.
Well it may be presumptuous of me, but as she says she lives in Hawaii and is married to a Hawaiian, I assume she's not actually Hawaiian herself.

Sounds like she's making a huge deal out of it to make a point. I might ask her how she pronounces aluminium...

Just my tuppenceworth.
English is my second language. So I did not initially using English pronunciation on this Hawaiian word.
I say in the Hawaiian way (or nearly) which is what I learnt from the beginning.
There are some previous similar threads. Take it easy, we all love Ukulele. No matter how we call it.
In Hawaii -- to be respectful of the correct pronunciation -- I try to always say "ooh koo lay lay" or "ooh koo leh leh," but admittedly in the mainland, when I have done that most people look at me like I'm nuts and so I will often say "you ka lay lee" so they understand what I'm talking about.
Don't worry about it estreya. I'll bet this pronunciation fanatic can't pronounce even one Japanese car manufacturer's name correctly. I know I can't.
River_driver, so interesting! Thank you for the link. And apparently, there were prior discussions here as well that got a little more heated. I didn't realize this issue had the potential to be divisive. We live and learn ...
Oh, more responses came in as i was reading River_driver's link ... thank you, everyone, for your comments.
TheOsprey, tuppenceworth. What a fantastic word (or merged words, as the case may be)! For me, this perfectly illustrates that at times, the communication behind the word is more important than the word itself. Sheer profundity, right? :)

Hammond, you're so right. The ukuele is an easy instrument to love, regardless of how it's pronounced.

Wickedwahine11, you have a more flexible mind than i do. I think i'm going to call it a "uke" from now on. :)

Bill Mc, i think it's kind of nice, actually, that he or she takes so much pride in their language and culture. It was more "food for thought" than anything else.

Thanks again for the link, River_driver. It was both interesting and reassuring.
In Hawaii -- to be respectful of the correct pronunciation -- I try to always say "ooh koo lay lay" or "ooh koo leh leh," but admittedly in the mainland, when I have done that most people look at me like I'm nuts and so I will often say "you ka lay lee" so they understand what I'm talking about.

Yep, when I pronounce it, like it supposed to be pronounced (ooh koo lay lay) people look at me confused and say "It's a WHAT?"

In most places, it's a (you ka lay lee).
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I like the Hawaiian pronunciation, but it sounds kinda "stuffy" (know it all) for us to say it that way. How many of us even play Hawaiian music (I'm trying some.)? I usually say Uke.

Just keep strumming! :eek:ld:
Often wondered the correct way myself. But I let my southern, American roots show most the time. I personally use "you-kul-lay-lee", but I have been told the correct way is "Ooo-koo-lay-lee" <shrug> Tomato, Tamato... ;) Same thing with one of my favorite foods, (greek) Gyro. Proper being "your-oe" but I hear it pronounced many times "guy-roe" and even sometimes "Ji-roe" Again, Tomato, Tamato, Mader ...
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I play Hawaiian!!!! And I can not stand calling it a uke. Heck, I can hardly type it. I have no clue why. Nails on a chalkboard thing. And I call it an ooh-coo-lay-lay. I don't care that people look at me funny when I say it. Life's too short to get bent out of shape over it. Just don't make me say uke, please
The purpose of language is communication. If people around you get what you are saying enough to maintain the conversation, then you are doing something right. English, in particular, is full of words that sound different than they are spelled, especially words from other languages, and if somebody says "You-kuh-lay-lee," or "ooh-koo-lay-lay," I suspect most people remotely familiar with the instrument will understand what they mean. Past that, there will always be folks who have agendas and pet peeves. (One of mine is "hopefully," which most people use incorrectly. But i realized that correcting them just makes me look like one of the Grammar Police. I've let that one go ...
Doc_J, that's the way i've been pronouncing it as well, and according to the dictionary, it's one of two technically "correct" pronunciations.

Down Up Dick, "uke' seems like a good compromise to me, and oh yes, i sure will keep strumming! I've come to the ukulele rater late in life and have found it to be quite transforming, as if i've finally found something vital that had long been missing.

Tudorp, now you've done it. I think i need to go get a gyro for lunch.

Sukie, now you have me rethinking the whole "uke" thing! Arg!

Steveperrywriter, bravo! Hopefully, you understand where i was coming from. :)
OK, if you are Hawaiian, or even if you are from Hawaii, then by all means, pronounce it the Hawaiian way, but if you are not, just call it a you-kulele. So for me, you-kulele. I don't want people thinking that I'm pretending to be Hawaiian when I haven't even ever been to Hawaii. It is almost as bad as people in Iowa speaking English and then rolling their Rs when they are ordering a burrito, like they come from Mexico or something. That, to me is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
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Rllink, it's a great point! There's something jarring when a word is pronounced in a way that seems incongruous to the setting.
I'm Hawaiian. My mother is a hula teacher. I've been immersed in Hawaiian culture my entire life.

I have pronounced ukulele every possible way, even changing it in the same conversation. Most times I pronounce it long as oo-koo-leh-leh, but I often shorten it to youk. So if anyone tells you you're pronouncing it wrong, you tell them a bona-fide OHA-card carrying Hawaiian said "I don't care how you pronounce it, just how you play it". :D

Among people who are steeped in Hawaiian culture (i.e., in my Hawaiian music ukulele classes), and in Hawaii, I say oo-koo-leh-leh, even though it's not the way I generally speak. One reason I do this is that in my Hawaiian music ukulele classes, I'm expected to be able to pronounce Hawaiian words properly, and it would seem odd to pronounce words like "onaona" (oh-noun-ah," not "oh-na-oh-nah") correctly but not the word ukulele. I sometimes think of "you-koo-lay-lee" as speaking Hawaiian with an American English accent; when you think about it, many people for whom English is not a first language speak English with their native accents, and in that spirit I suppose that "you-koo-lay-lee" is just another example of someone speaking another language with the accent of his or her native language. I often say "you-koo-lay-lee" when speaking to people who have no connection to Hawaii or its culture.

Whenever this topic arises, I think of this old Saturday Night Live sketch.

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