Thursday, March 28, 2013

How to pronounce "ukulele"

In my neck of the woods (northwest Missouri), the common pronunciation of "ukulele" is "yoo-ka-lay-lee".  When I started getting more and more into the ukulele, I discovered that the actual Hawaiian pronunciation is "oo-koo-lay-lay".

So...I started to try to pronounce it "correctly".  To be quite honest, I felt completely ridiculous saying it the right way.  On top of that, if I go to a local music store to ask for "oo-koo-lay-lay" strings, I tend to get a strange look coupled with a reply of, "Do you mean yoo-ka-lay-lee strings?".  So I gave up trying the right way and just settled for the pronunciation that I've always known and heard around here.

I guess my opinion on this would be the same for ordering food from Taco Bell.  I don't order a burrito with a rolled r.  Yeah, I guess either way they would know what I was ordering, but I'd feel ridiculous doing so.  And I highly doubt that any Mexican food purists would chide me...they probably wouldn't be at Taco Bell anyway.

To sum up, I'm not sure that I see any significance in the way "ukulele" is pronounced or mispronounced.  There have always been different pronunciations and mispronunciations of words depending on your global position and/or what generation you grew up in.  For instance, my parents say "warsh" instead of "wash".  Did you know that the first president of the United States was George WARSHington?  According to my mom and pops, that's fact!
Alright, so I really don't need to pick on my parents for saying that word wrong.  It's how they grew up hearing and saying it, and I shouldn't fault them for it.

I guess there are some folks that are very particular about how they'd like "ukulele" to be pronounced, and I guess that's fine too.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion.  But mine, simply put, is it really doesn't make any difference.  It makes me want to make a bumper sticker that reads - "Ukulele - Stop trying to say it and start trying to play it".


  1. Love the Taco Bell analogy! I got fed up with the same issue. Here's my take on it: . Glad to have found a new uke blog to enjoy.

  2. It's because white people just kill and smash and steal, and anything that they don't like - even original pronunciations - are stupid and incorrect.

  3. honestly, i think that mainlanders don't respect Hawaii enough(being an islander and all) if you're all just going to throw our words around like that. Hawaii is actually a part of the U.S. unlike Mexico, a totally different country. I mean at least pronounce the name of the state correctly. I don't blame you because i know if i was a mainlander, i would pronounce it like that too but if you do just so happen to visit, please respect the hawaiian language.

    1. Good points. I don't think that anyone is deliberately trying to disrespect...just the way that we've learned how to say it.

      I remember reading a story about Bob Marley and Eric Clapton in the studio together. They were trying to work on a song but being from very different places, neither could understand what the other was saying. Finally, one of them (can't remember which) said, let's just let the music talk for us. After that, they created a hit!

      I guess my point is that, no matter the language barriers or pronunciation issues, when the music of the ukulele takes over, we all speak the same language!

  4. Americans in general don't tend to respect other cultures, traditions and language!