You might hear it when walking
to classes, in malls, or at the bus stop…Pidgin, of course.
It’s everywhere in Hawai‘i. People of all ages
speak it (and maybe you’re one of them). Now HPU is giving
you a chance to experience more Pidgin than ever. First, HPU
hosted a reading with Hawai‘i’s Pidgin Guerrilla,
Lee Tonouchi, April 29. And this summer, HPU will offer Pidgin
courses that have never been offered at any university.
ENG 1801 Beginning Pidgin, will
be taught by Kent Sakoda, co-author of the recently published
Pidgin Grammar: An Introduction to the Creole Language of Hawai‘i.
And ENG 3806 Pidgin Literature will be taught by the Mastah
of Comic Disastah himself, Lee Tonouchi.
I told my grandmother how wonderful I thought it was that times
were changing and that society was coming to accept Pidgin
as a language like English. She replied, “No make sense you
take dis class. No good you not goin’ learn anyting.”
I couldn’t believe she was using Pidgin to lecture me about
Pidgin’s lack of value.
Pidgin is a language. Doesn’t language evolve? We accept
that people use many different languages to communicate, so why
can’t we accept Pidgen as one of them?
I needed to know more about Pidgin, so I decided to talk to
Lee Tonouchi, whom the Honolulu Weekly has called “one of the
state’s most outspoken and revolutionary rebel theorists.” Founder
and co-editor of Hybolics, a journal that features Pidgin writing,
Tonouchi is the author of Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin
Culture. His short story collection, Da Word, won the 2002 Ka
Palapala Po‘okela Award from the Hawai‘i Book Publishers
What is Pidgin Literature?
I tink I more hardcore than oddah guys. I wuz axing around,
seeing wot oddah teachers might consider for be Pidgin literature,
for kinda see. Seems like most would include anyting dat had
Pidgin dialogue as one part of Pidgin literature. For me, I
tink das da old school definition—maybe if we wuz making dis
class 30 years ago, den we would be hard up for material so we
might haff to include stories dat had Pidgin dialogue for decoration
and maybe some poems wit little bit Pidgin sprinkle insai. But,
new school is we get planny materials now wea da WHOLE TING stay
in Pidgin. We can afford for be mo’ choosey. Basically
so long as da ting stay predominantly in Pidgin den get chance
I might use ‘em. And by predominantly I mean way mo’ than
What authors will you cover this summer?
Of course, since dis Pidgin, I cannot in good conscience
not have any audio/visual material. Cuz Pidgin is very
performance oriented. So da class going get one mix of materials
like Booga Booga, Darrell Lum, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Bradajo,
Andy Bumatai, Da Pidgin Guerrilla, all kine.
How do you think non-Pidgin speakers will do in the class?
Wen I wuz going up da university, I wuz English major, so I
had for take lotta British Lit courses. I not British, but
I got “A.”
Growing up I was taught that Pidgin was a language used by
the uneducated, and I was strongly discouraged from using it.
are a lot of people are going to be surprised to see Pidgin
taught at a university?
I tink slowly da times is changing. Wen I went UH, I encountered
my first Pidgin poem. Dis wuz around 1991 or 1992 around. Wuz
for one 200-level survey of literatures class. Up till den,
I nevah even know had guys who wuz writing in Pidgin. I wuz
away. I thought WOW, we studying Pidgin. And we studying ‘em
in college. Ho, you gotta be smaht for learn Pidgin. Since dat
time I seen local literature grow. Get Hawai‘i Writers
classes. Get Pidgin Creative Writing, of which I wuz part of
da first graduating class. And now I doing my paht for help ‘em
grow sa’more. Dis da first time evah dat we going get
Pidgin Literature and Pidgin language classes offered anyplace.
Kent for teach da Pidgin language one.
Do you think Pidgin will change in the university setting?
Naturally. Wenevah anyting in da wild is captured, da ting
going change. I tink so long as Pidgin exists both in da
wild and in
captivity, den should be okay. Captivity going help for ensure
da survival of da species.
Humor and childhood are strong themes in Hawai‘i’s
literature; is it the same with Pidgin literature?
For lotta Hawai’i people dey associate Pidgin wit small
kid time and hanabata days. I tink dis cuz for those people who
make dat association, for dem, dey made conscious effort in their
lives for try lose da Pidgin as dey wuz growing up. Ass why from
their perspective, Pidgin is not someting das part of grown up
peoples’ lives. But I dunno how much you can get rid of
someting dat wuz once truly one part of you. One time one reporter
wen tell me, “I don’t talk Pidgin.” So I toll
her, “Das Pidgin, ah?”
Any advice to Pidgin speakers who might feel ashamed or hesitant
to speak Pidgin in public?
No sked, chance ‘em.