Friday, April 18, 2014

Pidgin - Hey, It's Now Considered a Real Language in Hawaii

Many people in Hawaii think of pidgin was as a mish mash language, a broken up version of English, complete with bad grammar. It’s a language that developed during the heyday of the plantation era. People from all different countries were brought to Hawaii to work on plantations, and no one could understand each other. So over time, they cobbled together this language that borrows words from Hawaiian, English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Samoan, and the languages of the Philippines.

A Hawaiian pidgin bumper sticker. It makes sense to an English speaker, but the grammatical structure is that of pidgin.

Now, linguists are saying that pidgin is a real language and have analyzed it to find consistent rules of grammar and usage. Some linguists believe there are more than 600,000 native pidgin speakers. For some people in Hawaii, it is the first language they learn. But it is not the language of business, of education, or of higher classes.

This video "Sh*t People From Hawaii Say" may not make any sense, but you might hear people in Hawaii talk this way. 

During my childhood, pidgin was frowned upon. Teachers didn’t like pidgin in the classroom because they feared their students would never speak proper English or get real jobs. 

While I understand some pidgin, I was not allowed to speak it. You could say, pidgin was kapu (forbidden). My mother flipped out when I came home from school speaking pidgin. (In pidgin, you might say “her mass wen drop” like “her mouth (jaw) went dropped.”) So I never really learned it. I’ve always been a bit sad about that because I was a bit of an outsider growing up in Hawaii and knowing more pidgin would have made things easier. Thank Goodness for books like Pidgin to da Max which help fill in the gaps. This is a wildly popular book in Hawaii, and a must-read for anyone who lives here.

A classic book on Hawaiian pidgin (and it's pretty funny too).

Important Note: Pidgin, to me, is a language of insiders. If you do not know pidgin and try to speak pidgin with most locals, they may laugh at you or worse yet, take offense. There are classes for pidgin and it may be ok to practice with other students or with good friends, but not everyone.

Another post on pidgin: Kathy "Tita" Collins shares Hawaiian ghost stories in pidgin, These videos are easier to understand than the one above. 

P.S. If you are blog hopping from the A to Z challenge, please include your link if you comment! I try to reciprocate comments as quickly as I can, though I did lag behind last year, especially towards the end.

P.P.S. I am running two mini-contests during the A-Z Challenge (and into part of May). Here's how to enter


  1. It wasn't until I visited Hawaii the first time that I learned the Daddy spoke Pidgin. He'd lived in Hawaii for about 20 years and that's where he learned to speak English.
    The View from the Top of the Ladder

  2. Fun and informative post. I've always been curious about pidgin and like it's sometimes playful context. Visiting from A-Z. Happy Writing!

  3. Uh oh, found this comment in my comments folder, but it didn't post. via

  4. Uh oh, found this comment in my "comments folder" but for some reason it didn't post:


  5. Susie, not sure why this comment didn't post, but thanks so much!


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