How to correctly pronounce “Ukulele” ??? My epic battle with Jake!

So I was all prepared to get into a fist fight with ukulele superstar Jake Shimabukuro. You see, I came across an online video and article with the headline:

Watch Jake Shimabukuro explain how to pronounce “ukulele.”

Oh, my.

Instantly:

–My dander was almost up.

–My goat was nearly gotten.

–My fly was was very close to off the handle.

Because I KNOW how to speak English, and, while the word is Hawaiian in origin, ukulele is now (also) an English word.

  • I'm not “mispronouncing” the word Germany when I don't pronounce it Deutschland. Because I'm not speaking German.
  • I'm not mispronouncing the Dutch artist when I say his name, Van Go, instead of making that icky kitten-with-a-hairball sound at the end. Because I'm not speaking Dutch.
  • And I’m not mispronouncing ukulele when I don’t pronounce it like Jake. Because I’m not speaking Hawaiian.

I am speaking English, and I am using the English words for the things that also exist in other languages.

Because, as the kids say–Duh–we have different words for the same things in different languages.

So that headline had me ready to fight.

After exercising and limbering up my clicking finger, I clicked to start the video.

And what a let down.

First of all, that's NOT what the video was about. Nine-tenths of it is Jake playing a song on the ukulele. Only the first tenth is him answering the question about how to pronounce the word.

And, damn his eyes, he doesn't come out swinging, a guy with a chip on his shoulder, shouting about cultural appropriation…

He very sweetly says something like, “Well, in Hawaii it's pronounced like this…”

And that, my friends, is the right answer.

When in Hawaii, or if you're Hawaiian, say it the way they do in Hawaii. If you're not, or you're not, you don't have to. In fact, you might avoid sounding pretentious, like a show-off in cheese shop ordering “how-da” instead of “goo-da” if you don't.

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You can learn to “pronounce” the trickiest chords–E, Eb, and D–in video mini-course,Defeat the E.” I’m in the underground bunker finishing up the videos right now, so the grand opening will be soon! More info here.

7 thoughts on “How to correctly pronounce “Ukulele” ??? My epic battle with Jake!

  1. Danno… Do you really feel this passionate about defending your mainland pronunciation of Ukulele…??? I would offer, as a Ha’ole boy who spent a decade on the Islands, playing the Uke and immersed with Polynesian Culture, one can’t help but say ‘oo-ku-lay-lee’.. (Jake’s way). Singing the Island repertoire requires attention to the ‘correct’ pronunciation… If you’re using the instrument to play Tin Pan Alley ditties and such, (as it appears you are), it’s understandable to stick to your (mainland) pronunciation.. (Otherwise “Ukulele Lady” is all messed up)… I took up my father’s Uke way back in the 50’s, but fell right into the Island pronunciation when I arrived in the land of it’s origin., and I bring that pronunciation back with me to the states…. I feel much more in tune with my instrument now after having experienced their culture, and the importance the Ukulele plays in their lives, and prefer to defer to their pronunciation in tribute to my love of this instrument that they gave to us… OK, you can go back to your ditties now…

    • Hi, Lenny, I am with you all the way! As I said in the article, “When in Hawaii, or if you’re Hawaiian, say it the way they do in Hawaii. If you’re not, or you’re not, you don’t have to.”

      • Aloha Danno… Your article is considerably more vituperative than your reply would lead me to believe … I would add to our dialogue the interesting conundrum of writing about Ukulele, as based on pronunciation preference, one would write either “a Ukulele” (Mainland), or “an Ukulele” (Hawaiian)… BTW… Many, many ‘Islanders’ are not actually ‘Hawaiian, and so the Term ‘Islanders’ is more inclusive of their residents…. Lastly… I’m also a red-head… Malama Pono

      • Mr. Sullivan,

        Then a man of different languages, I should pronounce your name as Soo-lee-von… looks Korean, but more correctly pronounced phonetically using Romantic sounds.

        I’ve always had a beef with mispronouncing a word that originates in the original language. It’s speaks of being phonetically lazy.

        I will use my own name as an example as to offend no one.

        The most gross is adding the invisible “Ah” at the end of my name, yet when they spell it (occasionally) correctly, they clearly spelled it with no “A” on the end.

        So you can see my pet peeve, as I do respect yours and make no qualms on other pronounciations of ‘ukulele, ukulaylee, uke.. or whatever. Taking up arms on the pronunciation of a fun instrument is nonsensical and should just be dropped and just go have fun strumming with a bunch of other uke strummers.

        A Native Hawaiian with no beef on ‘ukulele pronunciations.

        M Kamai

        • I had a charming exchange with John Cleese once, who pronounced my last name “Sullibatow.” It may have been a joke–after all, it was John Cleese. On the other hand, maybe it was his English accent. Either way, I was pleased.

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