Speaking Pidgin


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Speak Pidgin

Pidgin, A Taste Of Local Language

by Douglas Bowser


Pidgin is Hawaii’s language. Well, it’s one of many actually. In fact, because of all the languages in Hawaii, pidgin was born. It’s different from say, the Caribbean or African creole’s blending of languages. It has a special kind of creative fun to it. Delivery is everything though. Said with a laugh or a whisper and it can change the meaning of the words.

I’ve lived on Maui for over 16 years. It took me about 3 years to learn it. Another 7 to pick up all the slang and another couple for all the jokes. The different ethnic groups speak it differently also, so it’s a constantly evolving thing. When a local Hawaiian is speaking pidgin it usually is with a loud, high-pitched laugh. Local Japanese pidgin is a lot quieter. 

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The translation of it is somewhat difficult though. I know this because when my pidgin-speaking friends post on Facebook in pidgin, it reads like a badly broken typewriter. (remember those?)

Anyway, I’ll attempt to give some examples of everyday pidgin in case you visit and have a chance to overhear some locals on the beach or in the stores. I’ll substitute regular English so it’s more readable, but keep in mind it’s pronounced differently than spelled.

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So this big local Hawaiian guy sees an old friend in a parking lot and says“Ho bruddah, howzit!” (they smash a handshake between their chests with a hug and a slap on the back) “I never see you plenty long time. You still over with your mother guys?”(re: living with your mom. Also, adding “guys” to the end of any name means friends and family included) “Aw naah”, says the local Japanese Filipino guy, (by the way, everybody in Hawaii describes each other by their ethnic background) “I’m over south side now” “I stay cruzin the beach with Jimmy Boy guys” (if “Boy” is at the end of a name, it usually means that person is at least 2nd oldest in the family) “Aw Naaah” the Hawaiian guy loudly exclaims, “Jimmy Boy over there? Ho bra, that guys nutz! Last time I seen him he was all jagalag(drunk) and was pass out cold in the bushes. His cousins came and wen (re: they went and) throw him in the back of the truck. He lands like one sack of clams”. They both start laughing and the Japanese Filipino guy says “true that.” 

Now of course there are the tried and true pidgin words known by locals and visitors alike. You may have heard them before, like “da kine” and “howsit” (greeting- “how you doing”). There is also pidgin philosophy, an example of which is “if can, can. If no can, no can”, which means, if I get to it, great, if not, no big deal. 

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Now the next level of pidgin can get complicated because of the addition of Hawaiian words. Example: Hawaiian guy, “Hey brah, you still get da kine truck?” (the word da kine is often followed by a “da kine what?” Since it is used for everything, it really describes nothing.) Japanese Filipino guy, “Oh, you mean the Toyota? Yeah, I still get um, but the thing all buss up” (busted up, broken). “I was out Kanaio (rugged mountain area of Upcountry Maui), and now the front end is all kapakai. (kapakai – re: in disarray, broken, disorganized). I never fix um yet.” Hawaiian, “My other brother’s cousin’s uncle is the da kine you know.” JF, “da kine what?” “Mechanic”, says the Hawaiian. “Shoots brah, he can fix em up garens ballbarens (guaranteed solid as ball barrings), and he’s way akamai” (akamai-re: very knowledgable, proper). I stay going (oxymorons are always fun with pidgin) over there bumbai (tomorrow) so I’ll tell him.”

So there you have it. A small but hopefully helpful example of Hawaii pidgin. I wouldn’t suggest trying to speak this way to locals, as you’ll probably sound more like you don’t know what you’re talking about, but add a few of these words to your regular way of speaking, and you’ll get an idea of how fun it really is to live in Hawaii. 

If you feeling kapakai, try wait bumbai! (rhyming pidgin words is always cool)!

-Aloha Nui Loa