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Hawaiian Pidgin English: Wea’ Come From?

March 11, 2016, 3:03 PM HST
* Updated March 11, 9:27 PM
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pidginHawaiian Pidgin English or Pidgin English, where did it come from?

The first thing to know is that it is simply known as Pidgin to the locals. It is a creole language based on many different languages: Hawaiian, English, Portuguese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and Spanish to name a few. When the sugar companies hired workers from different countries, a common language was needed to help the workers communicate effectively with each other and their supervisors. Also, interracial marriages not only created a whole new beautiful melting pot of mixed ethnic people, but it also added to the mixing of languages, thus the birth of the language affectionately known as Pidgin.

It is not uncommon to hear actual words from the different languages in the same sentence. For instance: Come bocha my hale wen you pauhana. Bocha is taken from the Japanese term bocha-bocha, which means to splash as the Japanese did before entering their furos. It has been cut in half and adapted to mean bath or bathe. Hale is the Hawaiian word for house, and pauhana means done working. So that sentence means “Come take a bath at my house after you’re done working.”

Here are a few pointers in pronunciation and help in understanding the language.

  • “Th” are pronounced simply as “t” or “d”
    • Example: Thing is pronounced as “ting” or that becomes “dat”
  • “L” or “le” at the end of a word often becomes an “o”
    • Example: People becomes “peepo” and mental is pronounced “mento”
  • “R” at the end of word after a vowel is usually dropped and sounds like “ah”
    • Example: Far is pronounced “Fah” or better becomes “betta”

Although most of the pidgin spoken throughout the Hawaiian Islands is the same, each island has its own variations and each area within an island has some of its own characteristics. As with the local treat known to many as Shaved Ice in the islands, it is not uncommon to hear it called shave ice or even ice shave.

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The truncation of many words and mashing together of words is often found in the language as well. Like the word “wasamatta,” which is the words “what’s the matter.”

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The most common, or should I say ultimate, pidgin phrase is “da kine,” defined as “the kind”. It could literally mean anything! The amazing thing about that phrase is that when it is used in a conversation between local people, the person hearing it often knows what “da kine” is without the person speaking telling them.

For example, here is a typical conversation in my own home:

Me: Bradda you had cook da kine?

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Son: Yeah ma, I pau!

That was me asking my son if he is done cooking rice for dinner, and his reply is “yes, I’m done!”

Here are a few pidgin words and their meanings:

Choke: A lot of something, anything.

  • Get choke peepo at da concert. (There are lots of people at the concert.)

Foa or Fo’: For, replaces the word “to”.

  • Moa easy foa buy um’ made, cause hahda fo’ make um. (It’s easier to buy it already made, because it is harder to make it.)

Howzit: How are you?

  • Howzit, sista, how da ohana? (How are you, girlfriend? How is your family?)

Kay den: Alrighty then or all right.

  • Kay den fine go be li’dat! (Alrighty then, be that way!)

Pau (pau): Finished or done.

  • I pau cook da rice! (I am done cooking the rice!)

Shootz: Goodbye, see you later.

  • I gotta go! Shootz! (I need to leave, see you later!)

Although it is often hard for a newcomer to the islands to understand, it’s not long before they will find themselves picking up and using a few of the words themselves, which only testifies to the truth of how and why the pidgin language was born and thrives here in the islands over a hundred years after it was first used.

Kay den, I pau wit’ dis’ story now I gotta go da’ kine! Shootz!

This article is part of a new weekly BigIslandNow.com series by KAPA Hawaiian FM personality Darde Gamayo.

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