“Keoni, go insai dea anʻ peel da lights foʻ Aunty one fass one.” was my Auntyʻs request for me to go into the house and quickly turn off the lights. “Ho, I tink dat buggah crack block aʻready” was my cousinʻs reasoning about someone who had lost their mind. And my personal favorite…“And Wot?! Hah?! Like troʻ?! We go brah?!” was how someone would suggest that we engage in a physical fight. This is the Hawaiʻi I grew up in. Hawaiian Pidgin English is what we speak. I never thought much about itʻs origins. I accepted it because I heard it all around me. Nevertheless, nothing happens without reason. And recently, I became compelled to discover what had led us to speak in Hawaiian Pidgin English.
SMALL KINE STORY ON TALKINʻ PIDGIN (A brief synopsis about Hawaiian Pidgin English)
The etymology of pidgin can be traced to the early Chinese trades with East European merchants. Given the language barrier, pidgin was developed in order for the two groups to conduct business. This form of pidgin is usually restricted to business and differs from the plantation pidgin we here in Hawaiʻi have been exposed to. Plantations across the world normally consisted of foreign laborers, but none as diverse as early Hawaiian plantations. There were Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Filipinos and Koreans. Most plantation owners and managers were english speaking. With english as the superstrate, the colorful pidgin language of plantation life in Hawaiʻi was born from necessity.
It is considered by linguists to be a creole language by way of nativization. Nativization is “the process whereby a language gains native speakers.” Basically, when pidgin that is used by adults as a secondary language, becomes the primary language of their children, it is known as nativization. Pidgin migrated from the plantation camps into the public school classrooms thanks in part to the children that grew up on or around plantation communities. Eventually, pidgin was widely used as a means of communication for the majority of “kamaʻaina” (locals) throughout the 19th and 20th century, continuously evolving into the present-day vernacular. It is precisely this process of events that separates Hawaiian plantation pidgin from the pidgin english mainly used in trade and business.
Hawaiian Pidgin English can also be viewed as a “slang” language. Most of the words and phrases are derivatives of the languages from ethnic groups that resided in plantation camps. For example: “Aisus, I went to da babah shop, buggah wen geev me one chawan cut! Auwe! I no moʻ time foʻ fix ʻem, I gotta bocha befoʻ my hot date tonight!” This sentence contains a mixture of Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese and Japanese words. It exemplifies how pidgin served a significant role in shaping modern Hawaiian culture, beginning as a platform of correspondence between foreign groups, and developing into a native language uniquely all itʻs own. But with the advancement of educational curriculums that were implemented throughout the years, how has pidgin maintained itʻs purpose?
FOʻ WOT YOU LIKE TALK PIDGIN? (The benefit of speaking in pidgin)
I can recall that the elders in my family spoke the plantation pidgin they were accustomed to. Most of them were from large families, and had dropped out of school to work in the fields and contribute to the household. The generation before me was forbidden to speak pidgin and encouraged to complete their education. Yet, they still spoke it. Some fluently, some sparingly. Elders and English teachers would have conniptions when we spoke pidgin, it was a “broken” english language. We were expected to speak proper english and that required hundreds of mundane lessons with our noses buried in outdated, oversized textbooks and countless hours of writing assignments that had to be grammatically perfect. What was wrong with how we already spoke?
By speaking in pidgin, one can briefly express themselves without using complete sentences while still retaining its meaning. For instance, instead of saying, “Oh my gosh! I wonder who ate ALL of the food in the refrigerator!” You can simply say in pidgin, “Eh, who wen cockroach da icebox hah?” Or instead of exclaiming, “Someone broke into my house and stole my television set!” You can say, “Brah, dey wen harvest my T.V.!”
Many of the old time pidgin speakers I grew up around, spoke quickly. In a relatively short amount of time, they were able to cover more content in a conversation than most proper english speakers could. I theorize that pidgin was tailored for laborers on plantations that worked long hours with brief breaks in between. The exact method of speaking pidgin survives in itʻs consistent form today; abbreviated and direct.
“Wot Randall, howz ʻtings?” “Ah, my chick geevin me heat.” “Hah? Foʻ wot?” “Brah jʻlike she catch her ragz, everyʻting hamajang.” “Oh nah?! Unreal! Ah nevah mind, we go pound drinks aftah.” “Shoots, We go!” Now allow me to transpose that into a “haole” (person of white ancestry) conversation: “Hey Randall! How is everything going with you?” “Oh it could be better, my girlfriend is really upset with me though.” “Really? What is she upset with you about?” “Well my friend, Iʻm not sure, itʻs like sheʻs on her menstrual or something and it isnʻt looking good for us right now.” “Wow! Thatʻs unbelievable! Well, do you want to have some drinks later to get your mind off of things?” “Sure! Okay Iʻll meet up with you later.” Unorthodox, but effective, pidgin is meant to be simple. No act, saves time ah? The pidgin conversation conveyed the same message as the haole conversation, however, much more condensed. As much as we despised having to learn proper english, we deeply despise when “malahini” (new-comer) attempt to speak in proper pidgin.
HOW FOʻ TALK PIDGIN (An outline on speaking in pidgin)
There is really no course outline to speaking in pidgin. Itʻs an ever evolving language. There are certain words that are timeless like: bumbai, da kine, howzit, pupus, stink eye, and talk story that are in use today. Over time more words and expressions have been introduced like: boom kanani, auʻrite, meeaan da dope, you nutz ah, all buss, and not even. The first step in speaking in pidgin is to understand the terms and what they mean.
There are many websites that now offer a pidgin dictionary, all you have to do is type Hawaiian pidgin in your search engine and BOOM! You have access to many words and phrases we use in our everyday language. One site I recommend is http://www.e-hawaii.com/pidgin. If you are digitally challenged or spent the bulk of your life off the grid, the book “Pidgin to da Max“ (pictured right) has been a reliable source of pidgin language for many haoleʻs and locals alike. Or if you can find a copy of “Rap’s Hawai’i“ you can actually have an audio demonstration of how pidgin is spoken. When hearing pidgin, you may pick up on a definite cadence to the delivery as well as emphatic expressions like “OH NAAAH?!” that are NOT meant to intimidate you, rather itʻs an excited tone of question or confirmation. Some pidgin speakers even use their entire body when sharing stories. After you have become familiar with pidgin words and phrases, how do you utilize it?
To efficiently master pidgin, itʻs best to listen to others as they speak before you make any ill-attempts. Like any language, if you didnʻt grow up speaking it, then itʻs more than likely that you will butcher it. Keep in mind that Hawaiian Pidgin is just a compressed version of english that uses slang words. Annunciation, placement, and intonation is key. In different parts of the state, you will also encounter “dialects” of pidgin rarely spoken in other areas. The more rural the area, the thicker the pidgin may be. If you do travel to the more “country” locations in the state, you DO NOT want to hear “Wot?! Like beef?!” It is not a friendly offering of steak and hamburgers. It means youʻve offended someone and theyʻre getting ready to pummel you so theyʻre “Calling you out.” Or, “Wot?! I owe you money?” means that unfortunately, you were caught staring and that is frowned upon by locals here in Hawaiʻi. It may all seem ridiculous, but pidgin is an established language that has persevered through generations and appears to be a mainstay for the foreseeable future.
ANʻ DEN? (The future of pidgin language)
Make sense I close dis buggah in pidgin ah wot you ʻtink? Befoʻ time, dey wen tell us, eh no speak pidgin around hea boy, you gon get lickins. My granʻmada dem no fool around. Wot dey say, goes, oʻ else dey gon karang my alas. Me, I listen. I no like catch cracks. But guess wot brah? Wen I stay around my friends thoʻ, HO! We talk up in pidgin. Poho if dey spock us talkin liʻdat. Anʻ das why hard! Moʻ bettah mah-keh baby time dey tell me. Ah, whatevaz!
But you look now days, get one bible in pidgin even! Called Da Jesus Book! I no kid you! Anʻ den get dat author, Aunty Lois-Ann Yamanaka, she geevʻum tryinʻ foʻ push foʻ pidgin to be reckonoticed. I tell you. Foʻ real! Jʻlike up dea in Oakland hah, those guys wen buss ass foʻ ebonics foʻ get attention. Den get all kine books anʻ da kine, t.v. stories about pidgin out dea these days foʻ da keiki foʻ learn from. Suckah perfs! So wot?! Might as well ah, geev pidgin chance!
We wen grow up talkinʻ pidgin coz everybody talk liʻdat ʻass why. Da kane act like mokeʻs anʻ blahlahʻs, anʻ da wahine make like titaʻs. So garans we talk liʻdat too ah. Chee, I know sound all kapakahi, but no can hemo pidgin from Hawaiʻi. Pidgin going stay. So no make any kine hassles ah befoʻ I crank you one! Nah, nah, nah, I just actinʻ. No make liʻdat! Eh, if you haole anʻ live hea, den go learn ʻum, go learn ʻum goooo. No make ass thoʻ ah, bum my trip wen I take you foʻ go cruise anʻ you try foʻ talk pidgin anʻ sound all molepo. My friends gon ʻtink you mento bakatare! Ah assʻarite, bumbai you learn.
But you know wot?! Time foʻ me bag. Tʻanks ah foʻ coming on hea foʻ check out my article. I hope you wen enjoy da stuff I wen share anʻ you moʻ akamai now about pidgin. I had good time researching da topic anʻ maybe I wen teach you somethinʻ about pidgin so you get ʻum. One ʻting good about Hawaiians, we get time foʻ talk story coz we talk fass anʻ get choke foʻ say! Kay-den! Lemme shaka two times, CHEE-HOO supah loud, anʻ jet…A Hui Hou!!!
Basically… Peace, I am out for now… Aloha!