Monday, July 6, 2015

Pidgin English Is Hawaii's Common Language



Dear Readers,

A few readers have asked if I can "speak" the Hawaiian language? And yes, there is one reader who asked when was it that English became the "common language of the islands?"

Her term the "common language of the islands" started me thinking about my family's history in Hawaii starting in the mid to late 1800s.

Starting this, I have to admit that I didn't think doing an article on how people in Hawaii speak would be very tough. After all, I'm from Hawaii and my roots there go pretty deep.

My grandfather told me that his great-grandfather was part of a ship's crew that arrived in Maui in the 1840s. He arrived during the height of the whaling spree and stayed in Maui.

By the early 1870s, my great-great-grandparents arrived, all brought over to Hawaii as "Contract Labor," Indentured Servants, from Portugal -- specifically from the Azores and Madeira.

According to my grandfather, by the 1870s the unofficial language of the island was changing from Hawaiian to something else more multi-national. And yes, that was especially true for the island's working class.

He said that while his grandfather in Maui was fairly fluent in Hawaiian, he could only speak a little Hawaiian. He said growing up in the country in Maui in the early 1900s, Hawaiian was spoken very little among families and almost nonexistent among the working class when he was a young boy working in the fields.

He said Pidgin English, just as today, was commonly spoken among working class people by the 1920. He said hardly anyone spoke Hawaiian in conversation form.

According to him, by the 1920s and 1930s, there simply weren't very many people who knew how to hold a "conversation" in Hawaiian. Besides, with who were you to talk with?

By 1927, even the last Hawaiian language newspaper stopped printing because of lack of circulation. That was the same year that the island's last Portuguese newspaper stopped as well. And frankly, since there were still Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and even Filipino newspapers in Hawaii for years after the Hawaiian paper died, was it a case of disinterest?

Fact is, by the 1930s, the Hawaiian language had already been replaced almost 50 years earlier among the island's working class with Pidgin English.

Pidgin English grew out of necessity in the 1870s and 1880s since there were so many different nationalities being exported to Hawaii to work the fields and the mills and such,

A common language was needed. Out of the necessity for a common language, Pidgin English formed all on its own and soon took over as the language of the islands.

So no mater how fluent someone was in Hawaiian or even English, by the early 1900s, the children of Hawaii's immigrants were already unable to make whole sentences in the Hawaiian language.

Hawaiian Pidgin was created mainly as a means of communication to facilitate cooperation between the immigrants and the English speakers who ran the plantations -- all to get things done.

It wasn't long before Pidgin replaced Hawaiian as the language of Hawaii.

Seasoned with words from the many nationalities that worked on the sugar and pineapple plantations, Fact is the plantations brought in thousands of laborers from all sorts of countries, and through the many varieties of nationalities, a common language was created. All so that the melting pot of the Pacific would be able to communicate with each other in an effective manner.

As many of us from there know, Pidgin English is "seasoned" with words from many of the different nationalities brought to the islands during the days of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Locally known simply as "Pidgin," it is a created language, an accent, a dialect, that is based in part on English, but it is influenced by Hawaiian, Portuguese, Cantonese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, German, and even to a lesser degree Spanish spoken by Puerto Rican laborers brought to Hawaii.

Hawaii's Pidgin was born on the plantations. But before anyone knew it, Pidgin left the plantations and was everywhere.

Although today English and Hawaiian are the co-official languages of the State of Hawaii, I believe both take a backseat to Pidgin which is used by most of Hawaii's residents in everyday casual conversation.

Since children learn their parents' languages, as well as they do in school. The type of English they spoke on playgrounds is Pidgin.

Yes, just like how children who grow up sounding like their parents and friends who speak using words and terms and a drawl restricted to the Southern states, in Hawaii the children grow up speaking Pidgin. Yes, Pidgin is their "first language."

When I came to California, even though I took English courses in grammer and high school in Hawaii just as everyone is required to do, I had to "learn" to "speak proper" English in the way that others speak it on the Mainland. 

And yes, just for the record, like Texans whose Texas drawl gets deeper around other Texans, I find that I slip into my "first language" when I get around others from Hawaii. 

Frankly, during those times I am not so self-conscious about how I pronounce certain words or if my syntax is not quite right. The reason is that most likely their's isn't either. Yes, during those times, I can sort of allow myself to be more comfortable when "talking story".

"Talking story" means "chewing the fat" in Hawaii.

Today, Hawaii's Pidgin English is learned in the very same way that I learned it in that it is something learned as a way of life. Hawaii became the "melting pot of the Pacific and was influenced others and their languages. All their first languages.

For me, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to express a point to others who speak a different language, or trying to understand someone who doesn't speak a common language with me.

While Americans in the South have their drawl, and those in the North have their slow speech, and the people in Southern California have their suffer dude/valley girl dialect, people from Hawaii speak a dialect of English which our great-grandparents created and is simply known as "Pidgin."

Pidgin English spoken in Hawaii is considered Hawaiian Pidgin. It should not be mistaken for the Hawaiian language nor for a dialect of English.

So yes, Pidgin English is the common language of Hawaii. It was created by locals and replaced Hawaiian as the "common language of the islands". That took place long before any of us were born, and that's the way it is today.

And frankly, no matter what changes come or go, I don't see Pidgin English in Hawaii going anywhere.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa


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