Foreigner’s Guide to Hawaiian Pidgin – Kaimana Larson

A view of the ocean from a Hawaii Highway

The English language is open to interpretation. Whether a man is looking for the loo or the john, you know to direct him to a restroom. And if a large, muscular fellow tells you to put up your dukes, you know you are in for a beating and should probably run in the opposite direction. But what if that same muscular fellow asks, “Eh, like beef?”  What would you say? If you were hungry or were planning on having a barbecue later that day, you might say, “Beef? Why, yes please!” And then to your horror, he would punch you in the face over and over again.

If only you had known that to some English-speaking people, “like beef” is equivalent to “I am ready to punch your face in.” Perhaps you could have avoided this terrible situation, if only you had read this article earlier.

Some English languages have been altered so much that they no longer can be called English. In Hawaii, this new language is simply called pidgin. Upon your initial arrival to Hawaii, pidgin can be offsetting though still navigable. It is not a completely foreign language, more like an incredibly thick accent. Many visitors often find it frustrating, that despite their struggles to comprehend the local speech, the locals in turncan understand their speech perfectly.

I have two pieces of advice. Firstly, do not be intimidated by pidgin. Sooner or later you will easily understand it. And now heed my second, more important, piece of advice. Once you do get to the point of understanding it, do not make the mistake of thinking you can speak it as well. Locals secretly ridicule a person who adopts pidgin behind his back. It is like being an American in Australia for a few months and then suddenly speaking in a thick Australian accent; no one will take you seriously. So when you are vacationing in Hawaii and someone tells you, “Eh, you stay one blala,” do not reply with, “Eh braddah no act, you stay one blala too!”

Concerning the grammatical structure behind pidgin, all I can tell you is that less is more. Past tense in pidgin is only present tense with the word “went” placed in front of the verb that you wish to make past. For example, if your mother asked why you didn’t buy the groceries yesterday, you would answer, “I drove to the store, but you didn’t tell me that it is closed on Mondays.” A pidgin equivalence would perhaps be, “I went drive to the store, but you never went tell me that it is closed on Mondays.”

In pidgin all forms of the present tense “to be” is replaced with the word “stay”. Continuing with the example above, the reply to your mother would now be, “I went drive to the store, but you never went tell me that it stay closed on Mondays.” Finesse the sentence by making all th- words into d- words and all -er words into -ah words: “I went drive to da store, but you nevah went tell me dat it stay closed on Mondays.”

Congratulations, you have just successfully translated a typical English sentence into an acceptable pidgin reply!

The Hawaiian Pidgin Dictionary with English Translations

broke da mouth: very delicious
“My ma went make me one Loco Moco (traditional local favorite consisting of white rice topped with a beef patty, gravy, and a fried egg) and it went broke da mouth!”
English translation: “My mother cooked me breakfast and it was so delicious!”

da kine
: used when the speaker cannot think of a certain word; used as any part of speech
“Ho, ‘membah when we went da kine at da kine’s place; it was so da kine, yeah?
English translation: “Hey, remember when we went to that thing at what’s-his-name’s place; that was so you know, yeah?”

lolo: stupid, slow
“Eh lolo, you went leave da keys in da truck an’ da door stay locked!”
English translation: “Hello Einstein, you locked the keys in the car!”

bumbai: otherwise; or else
“You bettah take off your slippahs ‘fore you come inside da house bumbai you make da carpet dirty!”
English translation: “Please remove your shoes before you enter the house or else the carpet will be filthy!”

: a girl that is very tough and masculine (male version: moke)
“You bettah watch out Joonyah, dat girl stay one tita.”
English translation: “Listen sonny, don’t make that girl angry because she will definitely beat you up.”


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