Tag Archives: Hawaiian Language

PIDGIN: Help or Hindrance?

 “Every time we close the door on pidgin, we close the door on culture.”               ~Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Hawaii Author

Pidgin, or Hawaii Creole English as experts call it, began as a form of communication used between non-English speaking immigrants who came to work on the plantations, and the Hawaiian and English speaking residents.  Pidgin has been influenced by the many languages of settlers in Hawai’i which included Portuguese, Cantonese (Chinese), Japanese, Filipino and Korean, as well as Spanish, Mexican and Puerto Rican.

Pidgin started to be used outside the plantation between ethnic groups in the community, and school children learned pidgin from their classmates. Eventually it replaced their original languages and became the primary verbal communication of most of the people in Hawai’i.

Hawaiian Creole English borrows vocabulary and syntax from Hawaiian.  Most place names are retained from Hawaiian, as are some names for plants or animals.  For example, tuna fish are often called ahi.   Some expressions, such as brah and da kine, have found their way to other places.  Syntax often follows that of Hawaiian.  Certain words can be dropped if their meaning is implicit.  For example, instead of saying “It is hot today, isn’t it?,” a pidgin speaker is likely to say simply “stay hot, ah?” Grammatically, pidgin follows an English translation of the Hawaiian language.

In the classroom however there was intolerance of pidgin by Hawai’i’s teachers and administrators as it was considered to be a hindrance to learning standard English.

But in the 1970s, linguists studying the varieties of Creole English throughout the world came to consider these dialects to be languages in their own right and advocated their use in the classroom as a means of reaching pidgin-speaking students who could not understand the teachers.

Many Hawai’i children grew up speaking standard English in the classroom and at home, then switching to pidgin, or Hawaii Creole English,  in the playground and neighborhood. Those who can switch between two languages have an added skill and are known as ‘code switchers.’

“They have a clear advantage in that they can negotiate in different situations,” says Walter Wolfram, a North Carolina State University linguist.  In a 2004 study published in the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers determined that bilingual speakers are better able to deal with distractions, and that may help offset age-related declines in mental performance.


Hawaiian culture has many signs and omens still observed today. Rain and rainbows are considered blessings from the gods.

Ua is the Hawaiian word for rain. But that’s just the beginning.

Entwined within Hawaiian song and poetry, rain may signify joy, life, growth, greenery, the presence of gods or royalty, sexual relations, beauty or hardship.

Light rains and mist might be a sign of good fortune, and heavy rains may be indicative of grief, sorrow and tears.

In the richness of the Hawaiian language, every type of rain has it’s own name and meaning, and is often associated with particular places:

  • kili, much beloved rain
  • ko’iawe, light moving rain
  • kili hau, chilly rain
  • ua nāulu, showery rain
  • ua hō’e’ele, drenching rain
  • ua lani pili, rain downpour
  • ua ho’okina, continuous rain
  • ua hekili, rain with large drops
  • ua hikiki’i, slanting rain
  • ililani, unexpected rain
  • uakoko, rainbow-hued rain
  • kuāua hope, spring rain
  • ka ua ‘awa, bitter rain (grief)

Ua Like Nô A Like (My Heart’s Choice)

~Words & music by Alice Everett

Ua like nô a like (It is like the rain)

Me ka ua Kanilehua (That produces the lehua blossom)

Me he ala e `i mai ana (It seems to say to me)

Aia i laila ke aloha  (Love is there)

‘OLELO HAWAI’I – The Language of Hawai’i


The arrival of American Protestant missionaries in 1820 marked a new phase in the development of the Hawaiian language. In order to achieve conversion of Hawaiians to Christianity, the missionaries developed a successful alphabet for Hawaiian. By 1826, they had taught Hawaiians to read and write the language, published various educational materials in Hawaiian, and eventually finished translating the Bible. Missionaries influenced King Kamehameha III to establish the first Hawaiian-language constitutions in 1839 and 1840.

During the 1800s, Hawai‘i became one of the most literate nations in the world with over 90% of the population able to read and write.

 “The people were amazed at the art of expressing thoughts on paper. They started back from it with dread, as though it were a sort of enchantment or sorcery.”  ~ Sheldon Dibble, Missionary and Historian from The Voices

King Kamehameha III proudly declared,“He aupuni palapala ko‘u” “I have a kingdom of education”.


In February 1834, the initial edition of Ka Lama Hawaii was the first newspaper to be printed west of the Rocky Mountains. It was printed at Hale Pa`i, on the campus of Lahainaluna School on Maui. Eventually, there were over 100 Hawaiian language newspapers in print.

But the Hawaiian-medium school system established by the Kingdom of Hawai`i in the early 1820s, was abolished in 1896, and 2 years later use of Hawaiian in Territorial schools was forbidden. Children were summarily punished for speaking Hawaiian in school. However, Hawaiian language newspapers were published for over a hundred years, right through the period of the supposed ban.

In 1957, Mary Pukui and Samuel Elbert wrote a new Hawaiian dictionary that introduced an era of increased attention to the language.  “Immersion” schools are now open to children whose families want to introduce Hawaiian language for future generations.

Today there are over 27,000 speakers of Hawaiian.