Hawaiian Pidgin

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Not to be confused with Pidgin Hawaiian.
Hawaiian Creole English
Native to Hawai‘i, United States
Native speakers
600,000 (2012)[1]
English Creole
  • Pacific
    • Hawaiian Creole English
Language codes
ISO 639-3 hwc
Glottolog hawa1247[2]
Linguasphere 52-ABB-dc

Hawaiian Pidgin English, Hawaiian Creole English, HCE, or locally known as simply Pidgin, is a creole language based in part on English – spoken by many residents of Hawaii. Although English and Hawaiian are the co-official languages of the state of Hawaii,[3] Hawaiian Pidgin is used by many Hawaii residents in everyday casual conversation and is often used in advertising targeted toward locals in Hawaii. In the Hawaiian language, Hawaiian Creole English is called "ʻōlelo paʻi ʻai", which literally means "pounding-taro language".[4]

Despite its name, Hawaiian Pidgin is not a pidgin, but rather a full-fledged, nativized, and demographically stable[5] natural language. It did, however, evolve from various real pidgins spoken between ethnic groups in Hawaii.


Hawaiian Pidgin originated on sugarcane plantations as a form of communication used between English speaking residents and non-English speaking Native Hawaiians and foreign immigrants.[6] It supplanted, and was influenced by, the existing pidgin that Native Hawaiians already used on plantations and elsewhere in Hawaii (see this article). Because 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.[7] Hawaiian Pidgin has been influenced by many different languages, including Portuguese, Hawaiian, American English, and Cantonese. As people of other language backgrounds were brought in to work on the plantations, such as Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans, Hawaiian 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 Puerto Rican settlers in Hawaii. Hawaiian Pidgin was created mainly as a means of communication or to facilitate cooperation between the immigrants and the Americans to get business done.[8] 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.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Hawaiian Pidgin started to be used outside the plantation between ethnic groups. 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, also causing the language to expand. Children growing up with this language expanded Hawaiian Pidgin as their first language, or mother tongue.[9] For this reason, linguists generally consider Hawaiian Pidgin to be a creole language.


Hawaiian Pidgin has distinct pronunciation differences from standard American English (SAE). 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].
  • L-vocalization: Word-final l [l~ɫ] is often pronounced [o] or [ol]. For instance, mental /mɛntəl/ is often pronounced [mɛntoː]; people is pronounced peepo.
  • 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 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 Oceanic languages, including Fijian and Samoan.

Grammatical features[edit]

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

Hawaiian 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 behbeh cute. (or) Cute, da behbeh.
The baby is cute.

Note that these constructions also mimic the grammar of the Hawaiian language. In Hawaiian, "nani ka pēpē" or "kiuke ka pēpē" is literally "cute, the baby" and is perfectly correct Hawaiian grammar meaning in English, "The baby is cute."

  • 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 (literally 'to stay').
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) in front of the 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 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. (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.

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


The language is highly stigmatized in formal settings.[10]

Many tourists find Hawaiian Pidgin appealing. Local travel companies favor those who speak Hawaiian Pidgin and hire them as speakers or customer service agents.[11]

Literature and performing arts[edit]

In recent years, writers from Hawaii such as Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Joe Puna Balaz and Lee Tonouchi have written poems, short stories, and other works in Hawaiian Pidgin. A Hawaiian 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 Hawaiian Pidgin "twelf nite o' WATEVA!"[12]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hawaiian Creole English at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Hawai'i Creole English". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Hawaii State Constitution
  4. ^ "paʻi ʻai". Nā Puke Wehewehe ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi [Hawaiian Dictionaries]. Retrieved October 18, 2012.  External link in |work= (help)
  5. ^ Ethnologue
  6. ^ Collins, Kathy (January–February 2008). "Da Muddah Tongue". www.mauinokaoimag.com - Maui nō ka ʻoi Magazine. Wailuku, HI, USA. OCLC 226379163. Retrieved October 18, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Hawai`i Creole English". Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "Eye of Hawaii - Pidgin, The Unofficial Language of Hawaii". Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ Pidgin and Hawai‘i English: an overview
  11. ^ "Hawaiian pidgin - Hawaiʻi's third language". Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  12. ^ F. Kathleen Foley (May 31, 1995). "THEATER REVIEW : 'Twelf Nite' a New Twist on Shakespeare". LA Times. Retrieved 29 December 2015. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Sally Stewart (2001-09-31). "Hawaiian English". Lonely Planet USA Phrasebook. Lonely Planet Publications. pp. 262–266. ISBN 1-86450-182-0.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • 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., and 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 (01): 83–96. doi:10.1017/S0142716400006020. 

External links[edit]