A Tricky Language

Children learning their native language in Hawaii don’t study their ABCs. For one thing, there is no “B” or “C” in the Hawaiian alphabet. In fact, their are only twelve letters in all—the same five vowels we have and seven consonants. Then, too, there is the okina, or glottal stop, which looks like a single apostrophe. You can see it in the above illustration next to the Hawaiian flag.

The sparseness of the alphabet could be the reason there are so many long words in the language. For instance, my favorite Hawaiian singer, the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole has a name that is virtually unpronounceable to us haoles (i.e., mainlanders). When Bruddah Iz, as he was called, died in 1997 at the age of 38, he was well over 700 pounds. The flag of Hawaii flew at half mast—the only non-governmental-official to be so honored. He had the voice of an angel. I own several of his albums on CD and regard them among my most treasured possessions.

As a rare treat, here is Iz singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow”:

The video also shows his funeral, when his ashes were scattered in the Pacific.

Here are just a few Hawaiian street and neighborhood names in Honolulu. Imagine trying to pronounce them aloud to a native after you’ve had a few drinks::

  • Kaka’ako
  • Kekeaulike
  • Kalakaua
  • Kawaiaha’o
  • Nu’uanu
  • ’Aihualama
  • Pu’uohi’a
  • Likelike
  • Kapahulu
  • Kapi’olani

Sadly, the Hawaiian language is endangered, with most natives reverting to Pidgin, which I discussed in an earlier post.

Hawaiian Pidgin

In Hawaii, there are two official languages—English and Hawaiian—and one unofficial one. I am speaking about the Hawaiian version of Pidgin English. Although it is thought of as being lower in status than the two official languages, it is becoming ever more prevalent as a kind of native slang. It contains bits of English, Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, and Japanese. According to one website:

The local patois (Hawaiian slang) was originally developed by Chinese immigrants to make business transactions easier. They created an easy-to-understand lingo and named it “pidgin,” which literally translates to “business.” These days, natives on the islands have adopted this as a means of short-hand speak, as well as a way to mess with tourists.

I can vouch for Pidgin as a way of messing with tourists. Consider the following expressions:

  • Broke Da Mouth – What delicious food does
  • Your Kokua Is Appreciated – Your assistance, compliance, or contribution is appreciated
  • This Buggah is Pau – Your car is finito
  • Da Kine – Watchamacallit, Thingamajig
  • B-52 Bombah – Giant flying cockroach
  • Grinds or Grindz – Food
  • Hamajang – Something that is messed up, out of whack, disorderly, or needs tending
  • Kanak Attack – The feeling you’ve eaten way too much
  • ’Ono – Tasty, delicious
  • Slippas – Flip-fops or sandals

There is an amusing (and very detailed) YouTube video illustrating how Hawaiian Pidgin is pronounced:

Have fun! And don’t be lolo!