808Aliens Blog

Hawai’i Pidgin

Ava Rose 

Hawai’i Pidgin, the Second Official Language of the islands

What many visitors, transplants, and students don’t know about Hawai’i is about Hawai’i Pidgin. Some background history, the first sugarcane plantation was established in 1835 and of course, the plantation owners were usually white American businessmen. Hawaiian Creole English (Pidgin) developed in the late 1800s- early 1900s. Thousands of laborers came from Hawaii, China, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, Russia, Spain, the Philippines, and many other countries. With all these cultures, there needed to be a common language thus pidgin was established. 

As more immigrant families moved to Hawai’i to work, the next generation learned English in school along with other languages. Now, modern Pidgin carries all the traces of its past. While English forms much of the vocabulary basis of Pidgin, Hawaiian has had a significant impact on its grammatical structures. Cantonese and Portuguese also shape the grammar, while English, Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Japanese influence the vocabulary the most.

Pidgin Vocabulary

Very often students will hear Hawaiian Pidgin and ask me what language it is and what it means. After explaining the meaning and origin they are often surprised to find out that it’s the language spoken by those born and raised in Hawai’i. Below are a few Pidgin words students have asked me about.

Common Pidgin Words

Vocabulary WordDefinition
Howzit Hello (how is it?) 
ShootzOkay, cool, sounds good, see you later 
Chee huuCelebration cheerAwesome, great, woo hoo! 
Hana hou One more time, repeat, again, encore
Pau hana Finished workAfter work celebration mealHappy hour 
K den Okay, then.See you later. Bye
Tankz Thanks 
Chicken skinGoosebumps
ChokeA lot of something
Da kineWhen referring to literally anything you can’t remember the name of

Adapted from L.W

There are many others like haole, shi-shi, and ‘onolicious but the above are what my students commonly hear. This has led me to start teaching a mini-lesson on Hawaiian Pidgin to the class during Thanksgiving week, and if it comes up very often I might have a mini-lesson on Fridays after the test.

Mini-lesson

I want to disclaim that I am not an expert in Hawaiian Pidgin or speak it fluently like many locals, but I have learned it through my friends and from listening to locals speak and interact. The mini-lesson I teach in class is a combination of my coworker’s PDF and media I’ve found. I usually start my lesson by asking students if they’ve heard of Hawaiian Pidgin before and we compile a list together. Keiki, wahine, kāne, ʻohana, and kamaʻāina are common ones on the list, though they are Hawaiian, they are borrowed words used in Pidgin. Students have a difficult time understanding that Pidgin is a combination of many languages and also its own language simultaneously.

After compiling the list we then watch a YouTube video Tourists Try to Guess Hawaiian Pidgin Slang then I have them try to guess the meaning of the Pidgin in the video. Students have a fun time but are also frustrated because they know the English words and their meanings individually but don’t understand them with the Pidgin words.

After the video, I hand out the document my coworker has compiled of common Pidgin words, which I’ve included an excerpt above. While going over the document, students will get an ‘ah ha’ moment when they recognize other words they have heard.

What’s your experience with Pidgin?

As I mentioned I learned Pidgin mostly through my friends. It took me at least a good three years to truly understand the vocabulary and what is being said around me. I don’t speak it but I will use some vocabulary in my daily life such as da kine, shoots, pau, and a few others. What’s your take on Pidgin as a transplant? Exchange student? International student? Have you tried speaking Pidgin? Or are you a local? What are your thoughts on Pidgin being taught to English language learners? Spoken by non-locals?

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Hawai’i Pidgin

Hawai’i Pidgin, the Second Official Language of the islands What many visitors, transplants, and students don’t know about Hawai’i is about Hawai’i Pidgin. Some background history, the first sugarcane plantation was established in 1835 and of course, the plantation owners were usually white American businessmen. Hawaiian Creole English (Pidgin) developed in the late 1800s- early […]

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