Ling Fridays: Awai-Jennings on Pidgin use in Hawai`i

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@ 3:00 pm

Da Kine Tawk: Identity and Social Meaning Through the Use of Basilectal Pidgin in Hawai`i

Clint Awai-Jennings, Ohio State University

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In the State of Hawai`i, there are over 600,000 speakers of Hawai`i Creole English, known to its speakers as Pidgin.  Pidgin emerged from the sugarcane plantations in the Hawaiian Kingdom during the last part of the 19th century.  The English-based creole contains elements from the ancestral languages of its speakers – Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Tagalog, and many others.  Though there is a large speech community, Pidgin is a language of family and friends.  Pidgin is not taught in schools, not used in workplaces, and not found in many public spaces.  Pidgin has no dictionary, and only a small grammar book.  Despite all these facts, Pidgin has persisted in use, not bowing to English, but instead continues to evolve and remain a major part of the identity of its speakers.


Because of the historical situation in the Hawaiian Islands and the language ecology, speakers of Pidgin must make a multitude of language-based decisions every day.  They need to calculate whether to speak English, Pidgin, some mixture of the two, or even some other language.  This is dependent on factors like public vs. private space, the background of the listener, the domain (e.g., work, school, 7-11, a bus stop), and even the demographics of the neighborhood.  On top of this speakers need to consider their in-group status and whether they’re willing to cross boundaries into the English-dominant sphere.


My work focuses on the social meaning behind the use of Pidgin.  More specifically, the use of basilectal Pidgin to signal almost an “in-group of an in-group” status, a kind of inner circle.  The use of key phrases like da kine, li’dat, or the use of the Pidgin tense markers, are ways to signal their Local-ness in their everyday social transactions.  I will be looking at how Pidgin speakers navigate through this language situation, as well as the motivations for their choices.