Hawaiian Pidgin English by Non-Speakers

Informant: In Hawaii, if you go there, you might find that some people speak… well, not hugely different. It’s still English. But it’s a local slang kind of English. So, like, instead of “hello, how are you doing?” it’s “hey barada, howzit?”

Me: So is it an accent or a dialect?

Informant: It’s just… so unique to Hawaii. Like, there are certain words that are borrowed from some different languages. Because when all the immigrants arrived in Hawaii… there were a lot of immigrants, especially from Asia. Obviously, they don’t know English. They have to find a way to communicate with each other. As they live there, they grasp English, right? But they’re still not good at it. So, words were combined. People started using other cultures’ words, and then it all started getting meshed together, so even when it’s not grammatically correct…

Me: Is it a language you learn or a language you pick up?

Informant: Yeah, if that’s how you grew up. Like, if your family speaks Pidgin English, then you probably grow up speaking it. It’s not spoken by a particular group or anything. I mean, people my age who speak it are usually third generation immigrants. Fourth generation. Cause that means they’re from a line of early immigrants. Or if you’re from a neighborhood where a lot of people speak Pidgin English, then you probably speak Pidgin English. If you wanted to.

Me: Can you slip in and out? Are there people who speak both “proper” English and Pidgin English, and switch between them?

Informant: Yeah, yeah, I know some people like that. Not me, obviously. I mean, I don’t speak Pidgin English. My parents don’t speak it.

Me: Are there different kinds of Pidgin English depending on where you are?

Informant: … I don’t think so? There’s this one phrase, “hey barada, you know da kine?” Even for us, it’s hard to explain what “da kine” is. It’s so generic. We use it… I guess when we want to say, “you know about that thing?”

Me: So, do you use that expression sometimes?

Informant: Yeah.

Me: So even people who don’t speak Pidgin English, they’ll use phrases? They kind of get adopted by non-speakers?

Informant: Yeah, I guess it’s like that.

Me: Do you remember where you learned that phrase?

Informant: I never learned it. That’s the thing. It’s just something people know. They say it all the time. I guess it means “the kind.” It’s just been localified. So it’s “da kine.”

Me: Do you use it in any specific contexts? You know, when would you use that instead of the “proper” English version?

Informant: Oh, I mean, it’s very interchangeable. Sometimes people go into Pidgin English and that’s totally okay. It’s not like “what the heck? Why are you talking like that?”

Me: Do you have any idea why those kinds of expressions are popular? Why do you use it?

Informant: I have no idea. Honestly. I mean, obviously, it’s specific only to Hawaii because of its history and roots. That’s why it’s stuck around this long.

Me: So you use it, even though you don’t speak Pidgin, and it’s just accepted.

Informant: Yeah. I mean, obviously you wouldn’t use it in a school paper. It’s just heard a lot. I guess that’s why people use those phrases. It’s definitely really saturated, and it’s not looked down upon. It’s definitely not a pretentious way of thinking. It’s so casual that it… I guess, because it’s not “proper” English, some people may perceive it as lower.

Me: Is it done mockingly, when you use Pidgin?

Informant: Oh. Well, sometimes, it’s funny. If you don’t talk like that regularly, like me, we’ll use it to be funny. But we’re not mocking it or anything.

Me: Do you use it completely seriously, or when non-speakers do it, is it always to get a laugh?

Informant: It’s not really either. It’s just, sometimes something randomly will just come out.


The adoption of select Pidgin phrases by non-speakers suggests close contact between the immigrant and non-immigrant populations in Hawaii. The fact that most non-Pidgin speakers in Hawaii are familiar with certain phrases indicates that they are frequently and broadly exposed to Pidgin throughout the state. Rather than being kept sequestered in their own communities, Pidgin speakers are accepted and integrated into society, at least enough so as to have been able to pass on these phrases. The way the phrases are used is particularly telling. They are used by non-speakers to be funny, but not to mock. Instead, it is funny because the non-speaker is pretending to speak a language he does not. The non-speakers acknowledge what they consider to be the silliness of the sound of the language, but do so by making fun of how they themselves  make it sound. They are not rejecting the language, but their own inability to speak it. Therefore, it comes across as teasing the Pidgin language to prove their acceptance of it. Rather than making the Pidgin speakers the outcasts, the non-speakers are proving themselves the outcasts and attempting to integrate themselves with the Pidgin speakers. Overall, this indicates a general acceptance of Pidgin speakers and the Pidgin language. My informant mentioned several times that the Pidgin language is uniquely Hawaiian. Hawaiians seem protective of that label; not only do they accept the language, but they want it to be identified with their state and its culture. It is a point of pride for them, even if it is not their language.