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[Vol. 21, no. 1]
February/March 2018


Found in Translation 

story by Chad Blair
photos by Guy Sibilla

Resonant. Sonorous. Deep. These words are often used to describe the voice of Puakea Nogelmeier, though none seem to capture the actual auditory effect when he’s speaking directly to me. Sitting in his Kalihi home on a muggy, late summer day, Nogelmeier—a renowned songwriter, Hawaiian language scholar and translator—sounds a little as if he’s speaking underwater while smoking a cigarette.

“I’m the voice of TheBus,” he points out—deeply, resonantly, sonorously—but this is something I already know. Anyone who has taken O‘ahu public transportation in the past five years knows his work: Triggered automatically at every stop, the pre-recorded spots let riders know they’ve arrived at Kapi‘olani Boulevard or Alapa‘i Street. As pronounced properly by Nogelmeier, it’s Kah-pee-oh-la-nee and Ah-la-pah-ee, the ‘okina—the upside-down apostrophe—requiring a cutting off or ending, a glottal stop.

A small distinction, no?

“No,” explains Nogelmeier. “It may be subtle, but it can mean the difference between, say, telling someone ‘I’m going to the bathroom’ as opposed to ‘I’m going to the bedroom.’ Those are very large distinctions.”