Skeet Shares
stuff I find interesting
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Local kine talk
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, auntie.”
“Tree? Kimo, Lino … oh, oh, oh … Keo dat oddah one!”
“Him, yeah. Got him one hapa girl, she hapai. Make me uncle.”
“Fo real?”
“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.”
“Can auntie.”
“Boy, what dey call you?”
“I Ekeka.”
“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

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Anonymous Osman said...
that's really interesting!! Wow! Thanks for sharing and giving the example. You should consider lucky for that! But i am sure there are people who wish not to live in a place where many languages are spoken. Are they? :)


Blogger Crunchy Carpets said...
I love is like the cockney of England.
Or the Scots terms that I don't understand the half of.

What an amazing place.

We have Koreans next door and they are great...very tolerant of our noisy lot and really sweet.

The Japanese down the road always bring sushi to the block party!

Blogger Meander said...
hey there...just stopping by to say has been awhile. i just love your writing and your overall philosophy. i am very happy i have had the pleasure to meet you this year!

Blogger whimsicalnbrainpan said...
I really enjoyed that. Thanks for sharing that with us Skeet!

Anonymous Sigmund Gnome said...
I dropped in after finding your so sweet comment on the Wizard's blog. (Gnome Istoo Luvim "found" a Dell notebook somewhere, so we now have access to the web in our little hollow in the enchanted forest. GIL does lean toward the Dark Side, so we don't ask where he "found" it...)

Many years ago I had a distant cousin ("Island Gnomad")who lived near the leeward coast of Oahu - that is a fine land for gnomes, by the way. Anyway, it brought back such happy memories to read her beautiful language again.

I hope to see you on your next visit to the Wizard's forest.

Blogger The Wizened Wizard said...
Tanks, Skeet. Heah you write hapai post - you da kine. You one good boy Skeet. Akamai. Ah come back bumbye.

Blogger Allan said...
this is great, very observant. Langauge is a mutation, I think, it's always changing to meet it's environment. What an interesting neighborhood too, cool beans on that!

Blogger skeet said...
I had fun writing this. I've wanted to do it for a while, but hesitated because I don't really know how to communicate in pidgin. I hope I've managed to convey some of its magic.

Mahalo and tanks to you all for enjoying it with me! Especially the gnome ... I don't get many visits from gnomes, you know. I feel all tingly & special! You know, da kine!

Anonymous hyphen eight said...
My folks taught us to speak standard English but that there's nothing *wrong* with pidgin - the trick is to be able to function in both! I don't normally speak pidgin but it depends who I'm talking to. The vocabulary and especially the inflection can slip in very easily.

Hawaiian pidgin (or as they taught us in linguistics class - Hawaiian Creole English) is mostly oral, and writing it is tricky stuff. It's one of the things that trips up a lot of the people who try to write books set in Hawaii.

You did good, sistah! Me, I no can spell pidgin fo' nottin.. I remembah small kid time I wen meet dis kotonk girl - she tink she so smaht. She wen make fun of me cuz I say sometin wen have one puka and she go "Wat dat?" Wen I say it one hole she tink she mo bettah dan me - plenny attitude!

Blogger skeet said...
And THAT, my friends, is how it's done! Fer true!

I've always contended that folks who speak pidgen are bi-lingual, or tri- or quadri-, depending on the cultural input in their homes. That's something to be very rpoud of. All they need is some early learning on the appropriate circumstances for each language.

Did you study with Lee Tonouchi? If so, I'm gonna drop dead right here from envy. I just dug out his Da Kine Dictionary to look up kotonk. That's a new one for me.

Eh, tanks fo' inject da real kine pidgin. Is mo bettah for da peeples could spahk one local wahine do dat, yeah no?

I've wanted to do this post for a while. What held me back was my fear of being seen as assuming, or worse yet, usurping something that is not mine. I wanted to share the beauty and fun and function of pidgen in this place, and not to offend. I hope I've succeeded.

Anonymous hyphen eight said...
I figure I can say kotonk because my dad's one - he was born in California and lived there until he was 7. My primary reference is the Pidgin to da Max books.. but I also have a copy of bradajo's chaloookyu eensai somewhere. :)

Anonymous Osman said...


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