Because our population is such a mixture of cultures I sometimes hear snatches of a half-dozen different languages in a single day. My next-door neighbors on one side speak Samoan at home. On the other side is a Japanese family. They are an older couple and at least second-generation here in Hawaii. They speak English to each other and their kids & grandkids, but I sometimes hear them switch smoothly to Japanese with guests. I have Filipino, Portugese and Tahitian neighbors here on my block. The family directly across the street from me is Hawaiian. They all speak English when out and about, though many speak their national languages at home. English is the language of business and school and strangers who cross ones path. It is the thread that binds our polyglot society into a cohesive whole, but it is the local pidgin that defines “local.” I love its lyrical expressiveness. It soars and surges and captures the imagination. It is the language of complete candor and familiarity. It finds it’s most magical completeness in the children, those young enough to have not yet been told by some authoritarian figure that they should abandon pidgin and speak “correct English.” I contend, along with many others, that pidgin is a vital part of their cultural heritage and it is shameful to try to quash it. Like the “old school” teachers who used to punish left-handedness, there are those who would try to humiliate children into giving up this important part of who they are.
What follows is the closest I can come to sharing an overheard conversation. I’ve probably got spellings wrong and may have selected the wrong words in a few place.
A young boy passes an older woman who is raking up leaves in her yard.
“Auntie, can have one mango?
“Come, boy. Help rake da leaves, I give you five mango.”
“I help, yeah.”
“Whose boy you? I know your mama?”
“Don’t know, auntie. She Lani.”
“Lani works at Tamura?’
“No, not dat one. She work da Rec Centa.”
“Ah, dat Lani. Kauka your Dad.”
“Yeah, yeah, auntie.”
“He still *da kine?
“Yeah, fo evah, I tink.”
“Got two big buddahs?”
“Tree? Kimo, Lino … oh, oh, oh … Keo dat oddah one!”
“Him, yeah. Got him one hapa girl, she hapai. Make me uncle.”
“Fo real, auntie.”
“Heah, boy. One bag fo you carry mango.”
“Got five Auntie. Das good?”
“Going going. Tree big buddahs, one hapai wahine. Need plenny.”
“Ho! Tanks, auntie.”
“Tell your mama come see Auntie Laika.”
“Boy, what dey call you?”
“You one good boy Ekeka. Akamai”
“Tanks auntie. I go. Get lickens come home late.”
“Go, boy. Come back bumbye.”
*Da kine can mean almost anything that all parties in a conversation know and understand. In this case it might mean that he’s still singing in nightclubs, or driving a truck or teaching at the high school. Ekeka and Laika both know what it means, so da kine is effective conversational shorthand.
hapai = pregnant
hapa = mixed race
akamai = clever, smart
bumbye = by and by, some later time
Labels: life in Hawaii, linguistics, pidgin