How is the English Language reflected in Hawaii Creole English?

Term Paper 2004 18 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background information about the Hawaiian Islands

3. Hawaii Creole English
3.1 Consonants
3.2 Vowels
3.3 Intonation and Phonology
3.4 Grammatical Features
3.5 Semantics and Pragmatics

4. Hawaiian vs. Hawaii Pidgin English vs. Hawaii Creole English

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

7. Appendix

8. Plagiatserklärung

1. Introduction

“Pidgins and Creoles are not full or real languages.”[1]

Pidgins and Creoles seem to have negative connotations. Like Mühlhäusler argues in his abstract, the history of examining pidgin and creole languages can be seen as a consequence of this view. “Rather they are broken English/French (the popular view), marginal languages (Reineke), ‘Ludersprachen’ (prostitute languages – an expression used by Nazi linguists), parasitic systems (Chomsky).”[2] Nowadays, this opinion Mühlhäusler criticized is nevertheless disproved and antiquated. The Encyclopaedia Britannica once described Pidgin English as “an unruly bastard jargon, filled with nursery imbecilities, vulgarisms and corruptions”.[3] But it no longer uses such a definition. Recently, for example scholars recall that pidgins mirror human creative linguistic ability.[4]

Now this course work should deal with Hawaii Creole English, starting with a short definition of pidgin and creole languages and then turning to some background information about the Hawaiian Islands, which is quite important to understand the context of language developments. Afterwards, Hawaii Creole English[5] is examined with regard to consonants, vowels, intonation as well as phonology, grammar, semantics and pragmatics. Furthermore, it is compared with Hawaiian, the original language of Hawaii, and Hawaii Pidgin English. As a conclusion, one could summarize the use of studying pidgin and creole language with the help of a few new aspects, and briefly discuss the feature of decreolization in Hawaii, if there is some. The aim of this course work should be to evaluate the sociolinguistic approach of Hawaii with the linguistic facts of HCE, noting also the expansion of the language.

To turn first to pidgin languages, it is generally accepted that these embody speech-forms which do not have native speakers, and are therefore mainly used as communication channels among people who do not share a common language.[6] Pidgins are structurally simplified compared to the lexifier language, especially in their morphology, and have a more analytic structure. But not all simplified languages are pidgin. A definition of a pidgin should include that pidgins have no first language speakers; they have to be learnt. Moreover, they have structural norms, are used by at least two groups, and they are usually incoherent for speakers of the language from which the lexicon derives.[7]

Turning to creoles, one striking difference from pidgins is that creoles do have native speakers. When children start learning a pidgin as their first language and it becomes the mother tongue of a community, it is called a creole.[8] Therefore, extended pidgins begin to attain native speakers, actually this occurred in urban environments, where speakers from different ethnic groups have contact with each other and then the pidgin becomes the town language. This expansion process is known technically as creolization.[9] Concluding, creole languages are different from usual languages in coming into existence at some point of time.[10] Like a pidgin, a creole is a distinct language which has taken most of its vocabulary from another language, the lexifier, but has its own unique grammatical rules. Unlike a pidgin, however, a creole is not restricted in use, and is like any other language in its full range of functions. By the way, the terms “pidgin” and “creole” are technical terms used by linguists, and not necessarily applied by speakers of the language. For example, speakers of HCE call theirs “Pidgin” with a capital P.[11]

2. Background information about the Hawaiian Islands

Since 1959 they have been the 50th state of the United States, with their capital Honolulu on the Island of Oahu. English is the administrative and general language of the state, and has been the language of education for over a century.[12] Hawaii’s population of about one million is of mixed backgrounds, most of them are descendants of Asian immigrants: Caucasian, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese and Chinese.[13] Referring to some statistical data, Reinecke estimated in 1935 that 20% of the islands’ population (then 380,000) were not native speakers of English and were thus expected speakers of pidgin; 20% to 30% spoke creolized English, 30% to 40% spoke a post-creole dialect, while some 15% spoke Standard English. 70 years later, almost all of the state’s inhabitants speak either the dialect or Standard English or both.[14]

Hawaii was first visited by Europeans in 1778 with the arrival of an English explorer, Captain James Cook, who named this place the “Sandwich Islands”, after the Earl of Sandwich. He also observed in 1789 that the Hawaiians spoke their language to the English omitting conjunctions and articles when talking to each other, what indicates that this was rather foreigner talk than pidgin.[15] At the beginning of the 19th century, New England whalers began to make Hawaii available. Afterwards, the first sugarcane plantation was established in 1835, and the rapidly expanding industry brought again thousands of labourers from other countries like China, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, Russia, Spain or the Philippines.[16] Thus, the population started mixing.

With so many nationalities, a common language was needed on the plantations. At first, this was Hawaiian and Pidgin Hawaiian, but later in the century, a new variety of pidgin began to develop.[17] While the foreign population of Hawaii, mainly American, increased to about 20% of the total population in 1853, the Hawaiian population was reduced to 70,000. This mixed people played the significant role in the creolization of English in Hawaii. Because this English was assorted with Hawaiian words and probably mispronounced by most whites, this jargon was sometimes called hapa haole, which means “half white” or “half-foreign”.[18] While on Hawaiian plantations, as Bickerton claims, “the original plantation language was, and remained for several decades, more or less a pidginized form of Hawaiian”[19], hapa haole was central for Hawaii’s population to communicate with English-speaking overseas. Because the sugar and later also pineapple plantations were socially and linguistically isolated, Holm contends that

Workers were segregated into ‘camps’ by ethnic group; here they maintained their languages, but they needed the pidgin to communicate with foremen and with other ethnic groups. After leaving the plantations, many settled in multi-ethnic urban areas and brought the pidgin with them.[20]

This example shows how the pidgin was spread over the country. But the kind of English they spoke was influenced by the Pidgin English earlier brought to Hawaii, by the Hawaiian spoken by their parents, and by their own first languages, especially Portuguese.[21] By the turn of the Century, a new Hawaii Pidgin English began to emerge with features from all of these sources, and children began to acquire it as their first language. From the 1920s on, HCE, as it can now be called, is the language of the majority of Hawaii’s population.[22]

Most Hawaiians did not have contact with Standard English speakers until after the 1930s, when the depression forced the plantations to cut jobs. Former plantation workers began moving into more skilled jobs and seeking more education for their children.[23] Because of the Second World War, the arrival of a large number of military and civilian employees from the mainland increased the opportunities to use Standard English. Therefore, HCE was considered as a liability on the job market and as an indicator for a lower status.[24]


[1] Peter Mühlhäusler, “What is the Use of Studying Pidgin and Creole Languages?” Language Sciences 14 (1993): 310.

[2] Mühlhäusler 310.

[3] Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman, Nina Hyams, An Introduction to Language, Seventh Edition (Boston, Massachusetts: Thomson Heinle, 2003) 470.

[4] Fromkin, Rodman, Hyams 470.

[5] Constantly abbreviated HCE.

[6] Jacques Arends, Pieter Muysken, Norval Smith, Pidgins and Creoles. An Introduction. (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1995) 25.

[7] Arends, Muysken, Smith 25-26.

[8] Arends, Muysken, Smith 3.

[9] Peter Trudgill, Jean Hannah, International English. A guide to the varieties of Standard English. 4th edition. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) 107.

[10] Arends, Muysken, Smith 3-4.

[11] Da Pidgin Group. “Pidgin and Education,” A Position Paper, November 1999, University of Hawai’i, 23.09.2004 <http://www.hawaii.edu/sls/pidgin.html<.

[12] Tom McArthur, Oxford Guide to World English, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) 402.

[13] McArthur 402.

[14] J.A. Holm, Pidgins and Creoles, vol. II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) 517-518.

[15] Holm 518.

[16] Holm 518-520.

[17] Da Pidgin Group, <http://www.hawaii.edu/sls/pidgin.html<.

[18] Holm 519.

[19] Holm 520.

[20] Holm 522.

[21] Holm 522.

[22] Da Pidgin Group, <http://www.hawaii.edu/sls/pidgin.html<.

[23] Holm 523-524.

[24] Holm 524.


ISBN (eBook)
File size
433 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Münster – Englisches Seminar
English Language Hawaii Creole Seminar Varieties Standard World




Title: How is the English Language reflected in Hawaii Creole English?