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About Hawaiian Pidgen Language

Hawaii Pidgin English, Hawaii Creole English, HCE, or simply Pidgin, is a creole language based in part on English used by many, if not most, "local" residents of Hawaiʻi. Although English and Hawaiian are the co-official languages of the State of Hawaiʻi, Pidgin is used by many Hawaiʻi residents in everyday conversation and is often used in advertising toward Hawaiʻi residents. The new ISO 639-3 language code for Hawaiʻi Pidgin (Hawaiʻi Creole English) is hwc. In the Hawaiian language, "Hawaiian Creole English" is called "ʻōlelo paʻi ʻai," which literally means "hard-taro language."


Pidgin (or Hawaiʻi Creole) originated as a form of communication used between English speaking residents and non-English speaking immigrants in Hawaiʻi. It supplanted the pidgin Hawaiian used on the plantations and elsewhere in Hawaiʻi. It has been influenced by many languages, including Portuguese, Hawaiian, and Cantonese. As people of other language backgrounds were brought in to work on the plantations, such as Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans, Pidgin acquired words from these languages. Japanese loanwords in Hawaiʻi lists some of those words originally from Japanese. It has also been influenced to a lesser degree by Spanish spoken by Mexican and Puerto Rican settlers in Hawaiʻi.

Even today, Pidgin retains some influences from these languages. For example, the word "stay" in Pidgin has a form and use similar to the Portuguese verb "estar", which means "to be" but is used when referring to a temporary state or location. Sometimes the structure of the language is like that of Portuguese grammar. For instance, "You like one knife?" means "Would you like a knife?". The reason why the word "one" is used instead of "a" is because the word "um" in Portuguese has two meanings: "um" translates to "one" and "a" in English. The way people use the phrase "No can" ("não pode") is Portuguese grammar, as well. In Portuguese, the phrase "Você não pode fazer isso!" comes out in Pidgin as "You no can do dat!", and in English as "You cannot do that!"

Pidgin words derived from Cantonese are also seen in other parts of America. For example, the word "Haa?" is also used by Chinese Americans outside of Hawaiʻi. The meaning is "Excuse me?" or "What did you say?". Another word is "chop suey", a popular dish throughout America. In Hawaiʻi, it can also mean that someone is a variety of ethnicities. Another word in pidgin that was derived from the Chinese which is also seen in America is "lie dat", which means "like that" but in Hawaii it is pronounced "li'dat".

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Pidgin started to be used outside the plantation between ethnic groups. Public school children learned Pidgin from their classmates, and eventually it became the primary language of most people in Hawaiʻi, replacing the original languages. For this reason, linguists generally consider Hawaiian Pidgin to be a creole language.


Pidgin has distinct pronunciation differences from standard American English (SAE). Some key differences include the following:

  • Pidgin's general rhythm is syllable-timed, meaning syllables take up roughly the same amount of time with roughly the same amount of stress. Standard American English is stress-timed, meaning that only stressed syllables are evenly timed. Some Western languages, including English, are stress-timed, while most Romance and East Asian languages are syllable timed. Many pronunciation features are shared with other colloquial language forms or pidgins/creoles from other parts of the world. Even when a person is speaking Standard English, they will tend to pronounce syllables in the same manner, and this is often considered as having a "local" or "Hawaiian" accent.
  • The voiced and unvoiced th sounds are replaced by d or t respectively—that is, changed from a fricative to a plosive (stop). For instance, that (voiced th) becomes dat, and think (unvoiced th) becomes tink.
  • The sound l at the end of a word is often pronounced o or ol. For instance, mental is often pronounced mento; people is pronounced peepo.
  • 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 languages, including Fijian and Samoan.
  • The distinctive pronunciation of Hawaiian Creole is sometimes called Portagee. The exact reason for this is unknown, as the full extent of the Portuguese contribution to local pidgin modes of speech and vocabularies was probably not great, compared to the Chinese, Hawaiian or Japanese inputs over the years. The Portuguese arrived rather late to The Islands compared to others, and Pidgin was well established by then, especially in the countryside. One possible reason may be the position of authority the Portuguese often had in plantation life as overseers and so on, although what exactly this connection may have been is unclear.

Literature and performing arts

In recent years, writers from Hawaiʻi have written poems, short stories, and other works in Pidgin. This list included well-known Hawaiʻi authors such as Kent Bowman, James Grant Benton, Lois-Ann Yamanaka and Lee Tonouchi. A 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 Pidgin "Twelf' Night, or Whateva."

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

Grammatical Features

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 baby cute. (or) Cute, da baby.
  • 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."


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