Hawaiian Pidgin

Hawaiian Pidgin

Hawaii Pidgin English, Hawaii Creole English, HCE, or simply Pidgin, is a creole language based in part on English used by most "local" residents of Hawaii. Although English and Hawaiian are the co-official languages of the State of Hawaii, Pidgin is used by many Hawaii residents in everyday conversation and is often used in advertising toward Hawaii residents. The new ISO 639-3 language code for Hawaii Pidgin (Hawaii Creole English) is hwc.


Pidgin (or Hawaii Creole) originated as a form of communication used between English speaking residents and non-English speaking immigrants in Hawaii. It supplanted the pidgin Hawaiian used on the plantations and elsewhere in Hawaii. It has been influenced by many languages, including Portuguese, Hawaiian, and Cantonese. As people of other language backgrounds were brought in to work on the plantations, such as Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans, Pidgin 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 retains some influences from these languages. For example, the word "stay" in Pidgin has the same meaning as the Portuguese verb "ficar", meaning "to stay" when referring to a temporary state or location. Sometimes the structure of the language is like that of Portuguese grammar. For instance, "You like one knife?" means "Would you like a knife?". The reason why the word "one" is used instead of "a" is because the word "um" in Portuguese has two meanings: "um" translates to "one" and "a" in English. The way people use the phrase "No can" ("não pode") is Portuguese grammar, as well. In Portuguese, the phrase "Você não pode fazer isso!" comes out in Pidgin as "You no can do dat!", and in English as "You cannot do that!".

Pidgin words derived from Cantonese are also seen in other parts of America. For example, the word "Haa?" is also used by Chinese Americans outside of Hawaii. The meaning is "Excuse me?" or "What did you say?". Another word is "chop suey", a popular dish throughout America. In Hawaii, it can also mean that someone is a variety of ethnicities. Another word in pidgin that was derived from the Chinese which is also seen in America is "lie dat", which means "like that" but in Hawaii it is pronounced "la'dat".

In the 19th and 20th centuries, 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 Hawaii, replacing the original languages. For this reason, linguists generally consider Hawaiian Pidgin to be a creole language.


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. Some Western languages, including English, are stress-timed, while most Romance and East Asian languages are syllable timed. Many pronunciation features are shared with other colloquial language forms or pidgins/creoles from other parts of the world. Even when a person is speaking Standard English, they will tend to pronounce syllables in the same manner, and this is often considered as having a "local" or "Hawaiian" accent.
  • The voiced and unvoiced th sounds are replaced by d or t respectively—that is, changed from a fricative to a plosive (stop). 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.
  • Pidgin is non-rhotic. That is, r after a vowel is often omitted, similar to many dialects, such as Eastern New England, Australian English, and English English variants. For instance, car is often pronounced cah, and letter is pronounced letta. Intrusive r is also used. The number of Hawaiian Pidgin speakers with rhotic English has also been increasing.
  • 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.

Grammatical Features

Pidgin also has distinct grammatical forms not found in SAE, but some of which are shared with other dialectal forms of English or may derive from other linguistic influences.

Forms used for SAE "to be":

  • Generally, forms of English "to be" (i.e. the copula) are omitted when referring to inherent qualities of an object or person, forming in essence a stative verb form. Additionally, inverted sentence order may be used for emphasis. (Many East Asian languages use stative verbs instead of the copula-adjective construction of English and other Western languages.)

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 (see above).

Da book stay on top da table.
The book is on the table.

Da water stay cold.
The water is cold.

For tense-marking of verb, auxiliary verbs are employed:

  • To express past tense, Pidgin uses wen (went) in front of the verb.

Jesus wen cry. (DJB, John 11:35)
Jesus cried.

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 particle "to". Cf. dialectal form "Going for to carry me home."

I tryin fo tink.
''I try fo tink."
I'm trying to think.

  • Popular phrases:

A variety of phrases are present in the language of local Hawaiians, including:

"Ho, cuz, I like sample" translates to "Could I have some?"

"You like try dat?" = "Do you want to try it?"

"No can" = "I can't"

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 Hawaii have written poems, short stories, and other works in Pidgin. This list included well-known Hawaii authors such as Kent Bowman, James Grant Benton, Lois-Ann Yamanaka and Lee Tonouchi. A Pidgin translation of the New Testament (called Da Jesus Book) has also been created, as has an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will, titled in Pidgin "Twelf' Night, or Whateva."

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 Hawaii use American Sign Language with some local signs.

See also

External links


  • Da Jesus Book (2000). Orlando: Wycliffe Bible Translators. ISBN 0-938978-21-7.
  • Sakoda, Kent & Jeff Siegel (2003). Pidgin Grammar: An Introduction to the Creole Language of Hawaii. Honolulu: Bess Press. ISBN 1-57306-169-7.
  • Simonson, Douglas et al. (1981). Pidgin to da Max. Honolulu: Bess Press. ISBN 0-935848-41-X.
  • Tonouchi, Lee (2001). Da Word. Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge Press. ISBN 0-910043-61-2.

Further reading

  • Sally Stewart Lonely Planet USA Phrasebook. Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 1-86450-182-0.
  • Speidel, Gisela E. "Language and reading: bridging the language difference for children who speak Hawaiian English". Educational Perspectives 20 23–30.
  • Speidel, G. E., Tharp, R. G., and Kobayashi, L. "Is there a comprehension problem for children who speak nonstandard English? A study of children with Hawaiian English backgrounds". Applied Psycholinguistics 6 83–96.


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