Hawaiian Pidgin

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Hawaiian Pidgin English, also known as Hawaiian Creole English or simply Pidgin, is a creole language based on English that is widely used by residents of Hawai‘i. Although standard Hawaiian English is one of the official languages of the State of Hawai‘i, Pidgin is sometimes used in everyday conversation, but is rarely used in radio and television.



Pidgin English originated as a form of communication used between native and non-native English speakers in Hawai'i. It supplanted the pidgin Hawaiian used on the plantations and elsewhere in Hawai'i. It has been influenced by many languages, including Portuguese, Hawaiian, and Cantonese, one of the Chinese languages. As people of other nationalities were brought in to work in the plantations, such as Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans, Pidgin English acquired words from these languages. Japanese loanwords in Hawaii lists some of those words originally from Japanese. It has also been influenced to a lesser degree by Spanish spoken by Mexican and Puerto Rican settlers in Hawaii.

Even today, Pidgin English retains some influences from these languages. For example, the word stay in Pidgin has the same meaning as the Portuguese verb estar, meaning "to be" when referring to a temporary state or location. (Sakoda & Siegel, 2003, p. 1-13)

In the 19th century and 20th century, Pidgin started to be used outside the plantation between ethnic groups. Public school children learned Pidgin from their classmates, and eventually it became the primary language of most people in Hawai‘i, replacing the original languages. For this reason, linguists generally consider Hawaiian Pidgin to be a creole language.


Today, most people born or raised in Hawai‘i can speak and understand Pidgin to some extent. At the same time, many people who know Pidgin can code-switch between standard American English and Pidgin depending on the situation. Knowledge of Pidgin is considered by many to be an important part of being considered "local," regardless of racial and socioeconomic background. For example, the Hawaii-born CEO of one of the largest banks in the state said of the Mainland-born CEO of a competing bank, "Anytime he wants to debate in pidgin on 'local,' I'm available." [1] (http://starbulletin.com/2003/04/18/news/story2.html)

However, Pidgin is considered by some to be "substandard," or as a "corrupted" form of English, or even as broken English. As a result, it is widely believed that use of proper standard English is a key to career and educational success, and that use of Pidgin is a sign of lower socioeconomic status. Its role in the schools of Hawai‘i has been a subject of controversy, as critics of Pidgin blame its widespread use for poor results in standardized national tests in reading and writing. In 1987, the state Board of Education implemented a policy allowing only standard English in the schools; this sparked an intense debate. There have been similar debates since then.

Highlights of grammar and pronunciation

Pidgin has distinct pronunciation differences from standard American English (SAE). Some key differences include the following:

  • Pidgin's general rhythm is syllable-timed, meaning syllables take up roughly the same amount of time with roughly the same amount of stress. Standard American English is stress-timed, meaning that only stressed syllables are evenly timed.
  • The sound th is replaced by d or t depending on whether or not it is voiced. For instance, that (voiced th) becomes dat, and think (unvoiced th) becomes tink.
  • The sound l at the end of a word is often pronounced o or ol. For instance, mental is often pronounced mento; people is pronounced peepo.
  • Linguistically, Pidgin is non-rhotic. That is, r after a vowel is often omitted, similar to the New England dialect. For instance, car is often pronounced cah, and letter is pronounced letta.
  • Falling intonation is used at the end of questions. This feature appears to be from Hawaiian, and is shared with some other languages, including Fijian.

It also has distinct grammatical forms not found in SAE:

  • Generally, forms of English "to be" are omitted when referring to inherent qualities of an object or person. Inverted sentence order can also be used for emphasis.
Da baby cute. (or) Cute, da baby.
The baby is cute.
  • When the verb "to be" refers to a temporary state or location, the word stay is used.
Da book stay on top da table.
The book is on the table.
Da water stay cold.
The water is cold.
  • To express past tense, Pidgin uses wen (went) in front of the verb.
Jesus wen cry. (DJB, John 11:35)
Jesus cried.
  • To express future tense, Pidgin uses goin (going) in front of the verb.
God goin do plenny good kine stuff fo him. (DJB, Mark 11:9)
God is going to do a lot of good things for him.
  • To express past tense negative, Pidgin uses neva (never). Neva can also mean "never" as in normal English usage; context sometimes, but not always, makes the meaning clear.
He neva like dat.
He didn't want that. (or) He never wanted that.
  • Use of fo (for) in place of the infinitive "to".
I tryin fo tink.
I'm trying to think.

For more information on grammar, also see Sakoda & Siegel (References, below) and the Pidgin Coup paper (External links, below).

Literature and performing arts

In recent years, writers from Hawai‘i have written poems, short stories, and other works in Pidgin. This list included well-known Hawaii authors such as Lois-Ann Yamanaka and Lee Tonouchi. A Pidgin translation of the New Testament (called Da Jesus Book) has also been created.

Several theater companies in Hawaii produce plays written and performed in Pidgin. The most notable of these companies is Kumu Kahua Theater.


Pidgin has its own sign language, called Hawaiian Pidgin Sign Language. Most users of Hawaiian Pidgin Sign Language are between the ages of 70 and 90. Ethnologue lists it as "nearly extinct," as most deaf people in Hawai‘i use American Sign Language with some local signs. [2] (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=HPS)

External links



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