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Hawaiian Pidgin

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Hawaiian Pidgin
Hawaiʻi Creole English
Native toHawaii (Hawaiʻi), United States
Native speakers
600,000 (2015)[1]
400,000 L2 speakers
English Creole
  • Pacific
    • Hawaiian Pidgin
Language codes
ISO 639-3hwc
External audio
audio icon There is a video of Hawaiian Pidgin English on this news report HERE

Hawaiian Pidgin (alternately, Hawaiʻi Creole English or HCE, known locally as Pidgin) is an English-based creole language spoken in Hawaiʻi. An estimated 600,000 residents of Hawaiʻi speak Hawaiian Pidgin natively and 400,000 speak it as a second language.[2][3][4][5] Although English and Hawaiian are the two official languages of the state of Hawaiʻi,[6] Hawaiian Pidgin is spoken by many residents of Hawaiʻi in everyday conversation and is often used in advertising targeted toward locals in Hawaiʻi. In the Hawaiian language, it is called ʻōlelo paʻi ʻai – "hard taro language".[7] Hawaiian Pidgin was first recognized as a language by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015. However, Hawaiian Pidgin is still thought of as lower status than the Hawaiian and English languages.[2]

Despite its name, Hawaiian Pidgin is not a pidgin, but rather a full-fledged, nativized and demographically stable creole language.[8] It did, however, evolve from various real pidgins spoken as common languages between ethnic groups in Hawaiʻi.

Although not completely mutually intelligible with Standard American English, Hawaiian Pidgin retains a high degree of mutual intelligibility with it compared to some other English-based creoles, such as Jamaican Patois, in part due to its relatively recent emergence. Some speakers of Hawaiian Pidgin tend to code switch between or mix the language with standard English. This has led to a distinction between pure "heavy Pidgin" and mixed "light Pidgin".[9]


Hawaiian Pidgin originated on sugarcane plantations in 1835 as a form of communication used between Hawaiian speaking Native Hawaiian residents, English speaking residents, and foreign immigrants.[10][3] It supplanted, and was influenced by, the existing pidgin that Native Hawaiians already used on plantations and elsewhere in Hawaiʻi. Since such sugarcane plantations often hired workers from many different countries, a common language was needed in order for the plantation workers to communicate effectively with each other and their supervisors.[11] Hawaiian Pidgin has been influenced by many different languages, including Portuguese, Hawaiian, American English, and Cantonese.[citation needed] As people of other backgrounds were brought in to work on the plantations, Hawaiian Pidgin acquired even more words from languages such as Japanese, Ilocano, Okinawan and Korean.

The article Japanese loanwords in Hawaii lists some of those words originally from Japanese. Hawaiian Pidgin has also been influenced to a lesser degree by Spanish spoken by Puerto Rican settlers in Hawaiʻi.[citation needed] As there were eventually more immigrant families who brought their children to the plantations, these children learned the language from their parents as well as English at school.[12] Over time, a new pidgin language developed from all of the different language backgrounds which became many of the children's first language. This was the origin of Hawaiian Pidgin, which was used and is still used by many Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian people who live there.

Hawaiian Pidgin was created mainly to provide communication and facilitate cooperation between the foreign laborers and the English-speaking Americans in order to do business on the plantations.[13] Even today, Hawaiian Pidgin retains some influences from these languages. For example, the word stay in Hawaiian Pidgin has a form and use similar to the Hawaiian verb noho, Portuguese verb ficar or Spanish estar", which mean "to be" but are used only when referring to a temporary state or location.[citation needed]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Hawaiian Pidgin started to be used outside the plantation between ethnic groups. In the 1980s, two educational programs were established which were taught in Hawaiian Pidgin to help students learn Standard English.[14] Public school children learned Hawaiian Pidgin from their classmates and parents. Living in a community mixed with various cultures led to the daily usage of Hawaiian Pidgin, which caused the language to expand. It was easier for school children of different ethnic backgrounds to speak Hawaiian Pidgin than to learn another language.[12] Children who grew up learning and speaking this language expanded Hawaiian Pidgin as it was their first language, or mother tongue.[15] For this reason, linguists generally consider Hawaiian Pidgin to be a creole language.[16]

Hawaiian Pidgin is said to have since been decreolized (Romaine, 1994), especially in Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi which holds the largest population of the islands.[17] This is due to capitalism and economic changes on the islands that were implemented by the United States.[17] Furthermore, tourism and technology have made the English language more utilized in Hawaiʻi, which has led to the endangerment of Hawaiian Pidgin.[17] Hawaiian Pidgin was also not taught in public education nor does it have its own writing system.[17] Consequently, Hawaiian Pidgin was thought of as a "low social status" and is only a memory of the plantations that many want to forget.[17] This brought upon racial discrimination to those who spoke the language, which excluded children from school who spoke Hawaiian Pidgin.[17] Even though people were against Hawaiian Pidgin, the language has since been strengthened and supported by young people who honor Hawaiian Pidgin and its origins.[17]

Demographics and status[edit]

A five-year survey that the U.S. Census Bureau conducted in Hawaiʻi revealed that many people spoke Hawaiian Pidgin as an additional language. As a result of this, the U.S. Census Bureau in 2015 added Hawaiian Pidgin to the list of official languages in the state of Hawaiʻi.[2]

In the last few decades, many residents of Hawaiʻi have moved to the US mainland due to economic issues.[18][19] As a result, thousands of Pidgin speakers can be found in the other 49 states.[20]

Historically, teachers and policymakers have debated whether growing up speaking Hawaiʻi Creole English hinders the learning of Standard English.[21]


Hawaiian Pidgin has distinct pronunciation differences from standard American English (SAE). Long vowels are not pronounced in Hawaiian Pidgin if the speaker is using Hawaiian loanwords.[22] Some key differences include the following:

  • Th-stopping: /θ/ and /ð/ are pronounced as [t] or [d] respectively—that is, changed from a fricative to a plosive (stop). For instance, think /θiŋk/ becomes [tiŋk], and that /ðæt/ becomes [dæt]. An example is "Broke da mout" (tasted good).
  • L-vocalization: Word-final l [l~ɫ] is often pronounced [o] or [ol]. For instance, mental /mɛntəl/ is often pronounced [mɛntoː]; people is pronounced [pipo].
  • Hawaiian 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 British 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.
  • Hawaiian Pidgin has falling intonation in questions. In yes/no questions, falling intonation is striking and appears to be a lasting imprint of Hawaiian (this pattern is not found in yes/no question intonation in American English). This particular falling intonation pattern is shared with some other Oceanic languages, including Fijian and Samoan (Murphy, K. 2013).
  • In certain words, the sound /ts/ assimilates to /s/. Examples include: what's [wʌts] becoming wass [wʌs] and it's [ɪts] becoming iss [ɪs]. This feature is also found in African-American Vernacular English.
Front Central Back
ʌ ɝ o
ɑ Low

Others include: /ü/, /ʉu̠/, /aɔ̠/ /aɪ/ /öɪ̠/ /ɑu/ /ɔi/ and /ju/.[23]

Pulmonic consonants[24][25][26]
Labial Alveolar Postalveolar/Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p b t d k g ʔ
Nasal m n
Fricative f v s z tʃ dʒ
Approximant ɹ l j w

Grammatical features[edit]

Inscription in Hawaiian Pidgin (Gospel of Mark 1:9-11)

Hawaiian Pidgin has distinct grammatical forms not found in SAE, although some of them 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 behbeh cute. (or) Cute, da behbeh.
The baby is cute.

These constructions also mimic the grammar of the Hawaiian language. In Hawaiian, "nani ka pēpē" is literally "beautiful the baby" retaining that specific syntactic form, and is perfectly correct Hawaiian grammar with equivalent meaning in English, "The baby is beautiful."

  • When the verb "to be" refers to a temporary state or location, the word stay is used (see above). This may be influenced by other Pacific creoles, which use the word stap, from stop, to denote a temporary state or location. In fact, stop was used in Hawaiian Pidgin earlier in its history, and may have been dropped in favor of stay due to influence from Portuguese estar or ficar (ficar is literally translated to English as 'to stay', but often used in place of "to be" e.g. "ele fica feliz" he is happy).
Da book stay on top da table.
The book is on the table.
Da watah stay cold.
The water is cold.

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

  • To express past tense, Hawaiian Pidgin uses wen (went) before the infinitive form of the modified verb.
Jesus wen cry. ("Da Jesus Book", John 11:35)
Jesus cried.
  • To express future tense, Hawaiian Pidgin uses goin (going), derived from the going-to future common in informal varieties of American English.
God goin do plenny good kine stuff fo him. ("Da Jesus Book", Mark 11:9)
God is going to do a lot of good things for him.
  • To express past tense negative, Hawaiian Pidgin uses neva (never). Neva can also mean "never" as in Standard 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. (or) He didn't like that.
  • Use of fo (for) in place of the infinitive particle "to". Cf. dialectal form "Going for carry me home."
I tryin fo tink. (or) I try fo tink.
I'm trying to think.

Regional varieties[edit]

The grammar and vocabulary of Hawaiian Pidgin is largely uniform though there are slight changes depending on the region it’s spoken in.[9]

For instance, while standard Pidgin uses “wen” as a past tense verb marker, Kauai speakers are more likely to use “had”.

She had go awready. (Kauai)
She wen go awready. (Standard)
She went already.

Another example is shave ice being “ice shave” on the Big Island.


The language is highly stigmatized in formal settings, for which American English or the Hawaiian language are preferred. Many researchers believe the continued delegitimization of this creole is rooted in the language’s origin story and colonial past, as it was once a plantation language.[27] Therefore, its usage is typically reserved for everyday casual conversations.[28] Studies have proven that children in kindergarten preferred Hawaiian Pidgin, but once they were in grade one and more socially conditioned they preferred Standard English.[14] Hawaiian Pidgin is often criticized in business, educational, family, social, and community situations as it might be construed as rude, crude, or broken English among some Standard English speakers.[29] However, many tourists find Hawaiian Pidgin appealing – and local travel companies favor those who speak Hawaiian Pidgin and hire them as speakers or customer service agents.[30]

Most linguists categorize Hawaiian Pidgin as a creole, as a creole refers to the linguistic form "spoken by the native-born children of pidgin-speaking parents".[31] However, many locals view Hawaiian Pidgin as a dialect.[32] Other linguists argue that this "standard" form of the language is also a dialect. Based on this definition, a language is primarily the "standard" form of the language, but also an umbrella term used to encapsulate the "inferior" dialects of that language.[33]

The Pidgin Coup, a group of Hawaiian Pidgin advocates, claims that Hawaiian Pidgin should be classified as a language. The group believes that the only reason it is not considered a language is due to the hegemony of English. "Due to the hegemony of English, a lack of equal status between these two languages can only mean a scenario in which the non-dominant language is relatively marginalized. Marginalization occurs when people hold the commonplace view that HCE and English differ in being appropriate for different purposes and different situations. It is this concept of 'appropriateness' which is a form of prescriptivism; a newer, more subtle form."[34] These Hawaiian Pidgin advocates believe that by claiming there are only certain, less public contexts in which Hawaiian Pidgin is only appropriate, rather than explicitly stating that Hawaiian Pidgin is lesser than Standard English, masks the issue of refusing to recognize Hawaiian Pidgin as a legitimate language. In contrast, other researchers have found that many believe that, since Hawaiian Pidgin does not have a standardized writing form, it cannot be classified as a language.[35]

Literature and performing arts[edit]

In recent years, writers from Hawaiʻi such as Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Joe Balaz, and Lee Tonouchi have written poems, short stories, and other works in Hawaiian Pidgin. A Hawaiian Pidgin translation of The Bible (called Da Good an Spesho Book) has also been created, in 2020, by Wycliffe Bible Translators, Inc. Also an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will, titled in Hawaiian Pidgin "twelf nite o' WATEVA!"[36]

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

The 1987 film North Shore contains several characters, particularly the surfing gang Da Hui, that speak Hawaiian Pidgin. This leads to humorous misunderstandings between the haole protagonist Rick Kane and several Hawaiian locals, including Rick's best friend Turtle, who speaks Hawaiian Pidgin.

Hawaiian Pidgin has occasionally been featured on Hawaii Five-0 as the protagonists frequently interact with locals. A recurring character, Kamekona Tupuola (portrayed by Taylor Wiley), speaks Hawaiian Pidgin. The show frequently displays Hawaiian culture and is filmed at Hawaiʻi locations.

Another film that features Hawaiian Pidgin is Netflix’s Finding ‘Ohana, a film that depicts the story of a brother and sister duo from Brooklyn who embark on a journey to reconnect with their Hawaiian heritage, this includes learning about Hawaiian Pidgin, as it was integral to their family history.

Milton Murayama's novel All I asking for is my body uses Hawaiʻi Pidgin in the title of the novel. R. Zamora Linmark employs it extensively in his semi-autobiographical novel Rolling the R's; two of the major characters speak predominately in Pidgin and some chapters are narrated in it. The novel also includes examples of Taglish.

Two books, Pidgin to Da Max and Pidgin to Da Max: Hana Hou, humorously portray Hawaiian Pidgin through prose and illustrations.

As of March 2008, Hawaiian Pidgin has started to become more popular in local television advertisements as well as other media.[22] When Hawaiian Pidgin is used in advertisements, it is often changed to better fit the targeted audience of the kamaʻāina.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hawaiian Pidgin at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c Sasaoka, Kyle (2019). "Toward a writing system for Hawaiʻi Creole". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b Velupillai, Viveka (2013). Hawaiʻi Creole. pp. 252–261. ISBN 978-0-19-969140-1. {{cite book}}: |journal= ignored (help)
  4. ^ "Hawaii Pidgin". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-06-25.
  5. ^ Velupillai, Viveka (2013), "Hawaiʻi Creole structure dataset", Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures Online, Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, retrieved 2021-08-20
  6. ^ "Hawaii State Constitution". Archived from the original on 5 July 2007. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  7. ^ Pukui, Mary Kawena; Elbert, Samuel H. (1991). New pocket Hawaiian dictionary: with a concise grammar and given names in Hawaiian. Honolulu: University of Hawaii press. ISBN 978-0-8248-1392-5.
  8. ^ "Hawai'i Pidgin". Archived from the original on 9 March 2015. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  9. ^ a b Sakoda; Siegel (2003). Pidgin Grammar An Introduction to the Creole English of Hawai'i. Bess Press. p. 108. ISBN 9781573061698.
  10. ^ Collins, Kathy (January–February 2008). "Da Muddah Tongue". www.mauinokaoimag.com – Maui nō ka ʻoi Magazine. Wailuku, HI, USA. OCLC 226379163. Archived from the original on June 5, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
  11. ^ "Hawai'i Creole English". Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  12. ^ a b SIEGEL, JEFF (2000). "Substrate influence in Hawai'i Creole English". Language in Society. 29 (2): 197–236. doi:10.1017/s0047404500002025. ISSN 0047-4045. S2CID 145349103.
  13. ^ "Eye of Hawaii – Pidgin, The Unofficial Language of Hawaii". Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  14. ^ a b Ohama, Mary Lynn Fiore; Gotay, Carolyn C.; Pagano, Ian S.; Boles, Larry; Craven, Dorothy D. (2000). "Evaluations of Hawaii Creole English and Standard English". Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 19 (3): 357–377. doi:10.1177/0261927x00019003005. ISSN 0261-927X. S2CID 145229460.
  15. ^ Department of Second Language Studies (2010). "Talking Story about Pidgin : What is Pidgin?". www.sls.hawaii.edu. University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Retrieved 2017-04-11.
  16. ^ Hargrove, Sakoda & Siegel 2017.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Romaine, Suzanne (1994). "Hawai'i Creole English as a literary language". Language in Society. 23 (4): 527–554. doi:10.1017/s0047404500018182. ISSN 0047-4045. S2CID 146533372.
  18. ^ kamamaluula. "Where the Other Half Live: The Hawaiian Diaspora in the US [Part 1] | Kamamaluula News". Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  19. ^ "Hawaii Isn't The Only Place Where Local-Born People Are Leaving In Droves". Honolulu Civil Beat. 2020-02-21. Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  20. ^ "Hawaiian Creole Language - Dialects & Structure - MustGo". MustGo.com. Retrieved 2020-09-29.
  21. ^ Tamura, Eileen H. (2002). "African American Vernacular English and Hawai'i Creole English: A Comparison of Two School Board Controversies". The Journal of Negro Education. 71 (1/2). Journal of Negro Education: 17–30. ISSN 0022-2984. JSTOR 3211222. Retrieved October 8, 2021.
  22. ^ a b c Hiramoto, Mie (2011). "Consuming the consumers: Semiotics of Hawai'i Creole in advertisements". Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. 26 (2): 247–275. doi:10.1075/jpcl.26.2.02hir. ISSN 0920-9034. S2CID 73520627.
  23. ^ a b Grama, James M., (2015). Variation and chang in Hawai'i Creole Vowels. Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing (3717176)
  24. ^ Murphy, Kelley Erin. (2013). Melodies of Hawai'i: The Relationship Between Hawai'i Creole English and 'Olelo Hawai'i Prosody Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing (NR96756)
  25. ^ Odo, Carol. (1971). Variation in Hawaiian English: Underlying R. Retrieved from Eric.ed.gov
  26. ^ Drager, Katie (2012). Pidgin and Hawai'i English: An Overview Retrieved from E. Journals Publishing
  27. ^ Marlow, Mikaela; Giles, Howard (2008-12-01). "Who You Tink You, Talkin Propah? Hawaiian Pidgin Demarginalised". Journal of Multicultural Discourses. 3 (1): 53. doi:10.2167/md060.0. ISSN 1744-7143.
  28. ^ Drager, Katie (2012-01-01). "Pidgin and Hawai'i English: An overview". International Journal of Language, Translation and Intercultural Communication. 1: 61–73. doi:10.12681/ijltic.10. ISSN 2241-7214.
  29. ^ Marlow, Mikaela L.; Giles, Howard (2010). "'We won't get ahead speaking like that!' Expressing and managing language criticism in Hawai'i". Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 31 (3): 237–251. doi:10.1080/01434630903582714. ISSN 0143-4632. S2CID 143736270.
  30. ^ "Hawaiian pidgin – Hawaiʻi's third language". Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  31. ^ Sato, Charlene J. (1985), "Linguistic Inequality in Hawaii: The Post-Creole Dilemma", Language of Inequality, De Gruyter, pp. 255–272, doi:10.1515/9783110857320.255, ISBN 9783110857320
  32. ^ Fishman, Joshua A. (1977). ""Standard" versus "Dialect" in Bilingual Education: An Old Problem in a New Context". The Modern Language Journal. 61 (7): 315–325. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1977.tb05146.x. ISSN 0026-7902.
  33. ^ "Internasjonal engelsk - Languages, Dialects, Pidgins and Creoles - NDLA". ndla.no. Retrieved 2019-01-06.
  34. ^ Hargrove, Ermile; Sakoda, Kent (1999). "The Hegemony of English". Journal of Hawai'i Literature and Arts. 75: 48–68.
  35. ^ Romaine, Suzanne (1999), "Changing Attitudes to Hawai'i Creole English", Creole Genesis, Attitudes and Discourse, Creole Language Library, vol. 20, John Benjamins Publishing Company, p. 287, doi:10.1075/cll.20.20rom, ISBN 9789027252425
  36. ^ F. Kathleen Foley (May 31, 1995). "Theater Review : 'Twelf Nite' a New Twist on Shakespeare". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 December 2015.


  • Da Jesus Book (2000). Orlando: Wycliffe Bible Translators. ISBN 0-938978-21-7.
  • Murphy, Kelly (2013). Melodies of Hawaiʻi: The relationship between Hawaiʻi Creole English and ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi prosody. University of Calgary PhD dissertation.
  • Sakoda, Kent & Jeff Siegel (2003). Pidgin Grammar: An Introduction to the Creole Language of Hawaiʻi. 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.
  • "Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai'i". (2009) Documentary film. Directed by Marlene Booth, produced by Kanalu Young and Marlene Booth. New Day Films.
  • Suein Hwang "Long Dismissed, Hawaii Pidgin Finds A Place in Classroom" (Cover story) Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition, August 2005, retrieved on November 18, 2014.
  • Digital History, Digital History, http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3159 2014, retrieved on November 18, 2014.
  • Eye of Hawaii, Pidgin, The Unofficial Language, http://www.eyeofhawaii.com/Pidgin/pidgin.htm Archived 2018-10-28 at the Wayback Machine retrieved on November 18, 2014.
  • Hargrove, Ermile; Sakoda, Kent; Siegel, Jeff. "Hawai'i Creole English". Language Varieties Web Site. University of Hawai'i. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  • Jeff Siegel, Emergence of Pidgin and Creole Languages (Oxford University Press, 2008), 3.
  • Hawaiian Pidgin, Hawaii Travel Guide http://www.to-hawaii.com/hawaiian-pidgin.php retrieved on November 18, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Murphy, Kelly (2013). Melodies of Hawaiʻi: The relationship between Hawaiʻi Creole English and ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi prosody. University of Calgary PhD dissertation.
  • Sally Stewart (2001). "Hawaiian English". Lonely Planet USA Phrasebook. Lonely Planet Publications. pp. 262–266. ISBN 978-1-86450-182-7.
  • Speidel, Gisela E. (1981). "Language and reading: bridging the language difference for children who speak Hawaiian English". Educational Perspectives. 20: 23–30.
  • Speidel, G. E.; Tharp, R. G.; Kobayashi, L. (1985). "Is there a comprehension problem for children who speak nonstandard English? A study of children with Hawaiian English backgrounds". Applied Psycholinguistics. 6 (1): 83–96. doi:10.1017/S0142716400006020. S2CID 145672793.

External links[edit]