Talking Story about Pidgin
Exploring the creole language of Hawai‘i
Talk Story about Pidgin
Check out Hawai‘i kine Pidgin
What is Pidgin?

The Origins of Pidgin



(grammar, vocabulary)

bocha (bathe),
(rock-paper-scissors game),
shibai (lie, play acting),
tako (octopus)


(grammar, word order, intonation, vocabulary)

Kanani, akamai ‘oe.
E Kanani smart you
“Kanani, you are smart”

pau (done), niele (curious), ohana (family), hemo (remove)


(reinforcing grammar patterns)

Yáuh yāt ga chē jó-jyuh go chēut-háu.

have one car blocking exit-mouth

“There‘s a car blocking the exit.”



Most Pidgin words are derived from English, but some have shifted meaning

lawnmower (lawnmower, to mow), pear (pear, avocado), broke (broke, broken, tore, torn), cockaroach (steal), stink eye (dirty look), try (please)


(grammar and vocabulary)

estar (stay)
João está alegre.
John stay happy

Malassada (doughnut),
Babooz (idiot)

Click on a Language to Learn about the Origins of Pidgin

Pidgin (with a capital P) is the common way of referring to what linguists call Hawai‘i Creole, the creole language that emerged on sugar plantations in Hawai‘i during the middle to late 19th and early 20th centuries.

What’s the difference between a pidgin and a creole?

The terms pidgin and creole (note the lack of capitalization) are technical terms that linguists use to distinguish between two very different forms of speech. The terms can be confusing to some people since they are also used to refer to the names of languages (such as Kriol, spoken in Australia), groups of people, foods (such as Louisiana cuisine), and cultures. For linguists, pidgins are simplified languages that develop as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common. Many pidgins have been developed around the world because of trade, plantation systems, and maritime activities.

People who speak pidgin also speak another language as their mother tongue. In contrast, creoles are the languages that are developed by the children of pidgin speakers. As the children grow up, they expand the vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar so that they can use it as their main language of communication. For example while pidgins are often limited to a vocabulary of about 300 words, creoles typically have at least 1000 to 3000 words. We consider this generation to be native speakers of the creole language.

The history of Pidgin

In the 19th century, indentured laborers from China, Portugal, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and many other nations were brought to work on plantations alongside Hawaiians that were owned and operated by Caucasian North Americans. Pidgin Hawaiian was the first pidgin to develop on plantations in the 19th century, for Hawaiian was the main language of interethnic communication in schools and society until 1875, when the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States was signed. The resulting free trade conditions allowed for a great number of Americans to do business on the islands, and during this time, the number of Hawaiians also declined to fewer than 50,000 because of sicknesses and diseases contracted from the foreigners. From 1878-1888, many English-medium schools were built, and as more laborers‘ children attended these schools year after year, the language of plantations more influenced by English, and the pidgin shifted from Pidgin Hawaiian to Pidgin English. During this time, the vast majority of the population was at least bilingual, for they used Pidgin English on plantations and in interethnic interactions, and they spoke ethnic languages such as Hawaiian, Cantonese, Japanese, Okinawan, Tagalog, Ilokano, and Portuguese in their homes and in ethnically-homogeneous communities.

The role of Pidgin English changed, however, in the beginning of the 20th century, when the second generation of locally born speakers emerged and became equal in number to the foreign-born population. Use of Pidgin English also increased as a result of the high numbers of locally born Japanese who began to attend public schools in the early 1900s. It was likely easier for Hawaiian, Chinese, and Portuguese speakers in schools to communicate in Pidgin English with Japanese than to acquire another language. For this second generation, then, Pidgin English was the dominant language of the school, home and community, and as these children grew older, the language developed into the creole that linguists have labeled Hawai‘i Creole, the language that was and still is referred to commonly as “Pidgin.” Modern Pidgin carries all the traces of its past. While English forms much of the vocabulary basis of Pidgin, Hawaiian has had a significant impact on its grammatical structures. Cantonese and Portuguese also shape the grammar, while English, Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Japanese influence the vocabulary the most.

Further readings

Roberts, J. M. 1995. Pidgin Hawaiian: A sociohistorical study. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 10, 1-56.

Sakoda, K., & Siegel, J. 2003. Pidgin grammar: An introduction to the creole language of Hawai‘i. Honolulu: Bess Press.

Siegel, J. 2000. Substrate influence in Hawai‘i Creole. Language in Society 29, 197-236.

Siegel, J. 2008. The emergence of pidgin and creole languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pidgin (with capital P) da regalah way fo say Hawai‘i Creole, das da creole language dat wen come out da sugah plantation in Hawai‘i in da middle or late 19th and early 20th century.
What Pidgin?
What da difference between one pidgin an one creole?
Da wordz pidgin and creole (look, no more capital lettahz), dey technical kine termz dat linguist kine people use fo tell two real different kine speech apart from each odda. Da termz stay kinda confusing to some people cuz dey also stay used for da names of languagez (like Kriol, one language dey talk in Australia), groups of people, food (like da kine Louisiana style food), and cultures. Da linguist kine people, dey tink dat pidginz iz simplified languages dat wen come so two or more group of people dat no speak da same language can talk to each odda. Plenny pidgins get around the world because people do business togedah, or plantation systemz, and stuff people do wen dey go travel on boats.
People dat speak wan pidgin also get wan nadda language for dere modda tongue. Creoles da languages dat da pidgin speakaz keiki wen make but. Wen da keiki grow up dey mek moa wordz, change how dey say da wordz an da gramma so dey can use um as da dere main language fo talk to each odda. Like wan pidgin usually only get like 300 word but wan creole usually get like 1000, 3000 wordz. Doz keikiz da native spikaz of da creole language.
Da history of Pidgin
19th century, plenny people wen sign contract fo come work wit da Hawaiians on da haole-owned plantationz from China, Portugal, Japan, da Philippines, Korea, an plenny odda places. Wan Pidgin Hawaiian was da firs’ pidgin dat wen come out on da plantationz in da 19th century cuz Hawaiian was da main language people was using in school an everyday kine stuffs in Hawaii until dey wen sign da Reciprocity Treaty with da United States in 1875. Afta dat wen get free trade so plenny American was able for do business Hawaii. Dat time da numbah Hawaiians wen come real low, less dan 50,000 cuz so many ma‘i wen come from all da foreignahz. Wen get plenny English school from 1878-1888, den wen more workerz keiki wen start going dis kine school every year, Enlgish wen come more strong on da plantation aen da pidgin wen change from Pidgin Hawaiian to Pidgin English. Dat time, mos o’ da people was bilingual cuz dey was using Pidgin English on da plantation an’ wen dey wen talk to odda etnicity people, an’ dey wen speak dere own etnic languages like Hawaiian, Cantonese, Japanese, Okinawan, Ilokano, Visayan, and Portuguese at home an’ with dere own etnic community.
Da role of Pidgin English wen change in da early 20th century, but Da second generation Pidgin English speakers was born here an’ came same number as da first generation dat was all born odda kine places as why. Pidgin English wen get used more too cuz real plenny Japanese born ova hea wen start going public school in da early 1900s. Probably was more easy for Hawaiian, Chinese, an’ Portuguese speakaz fo use Pidgin English wen dey like talk to da Japanese ratha den everybody learn one nadda language. Pidgin English was da main language fo use at school, home an’ in da community for dis second generation. Wen da keiki wen come olda da language wen come into da creole dat linguist kine people call Hawai‘i Creole. Us local people we jus’ call um “Pidgin.” Nowadays kine Pidgin get all da stuff from da pas’ inside. Plenny of da vocabulary for Pidgin come from English but plenny stuff in da gramma come from Hawaiian. Cantonese an’ Portuguese wen also help make da gramma, an’ English, Hawaiian, Portuguese, an’ Japanese wen help da vocabulary da mos’.
Furda readingz
Roberts, J. M. 1995. Pidgin Hawaiian: A sociohistorical study. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 10, 1-56.
Sakoda, K., & Siegel, J. 2003. Pidgin grammar: An introduction to the creole language of Hawai‘i. Honolulu: Bess Press.
Siegel, J. 2000. Substrate influence in Hawai‘i Creole. Language in Society 29, 197-236.
Siegel, J. 2008. The emergence of pidgin and creole languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[Insert Pidgin Translation Here]