Rant & Rave

By Jason Fong

Tuesday, July 27, 1999

Pidgin taken to da max

FOR the first 17 years of my life I was under the impression that I spoke English. Although I am not yet competent enough to teach 19th-century English literature, I do know enough about the language to have graduated from high school and maybe someday read a book.

While Hawaii's multicultural environment did not shape me well enough to join B.A.T.H. (Blalahs and Titahs of Hawaii), I began to incorporate pidgin words like "pau," "choke" and "da kine" into my vocabulary.

Eventually, I grew up assuming the words, tone and sentence structure I used was for the most part, English. You can imagine the shock I felt during my first year of college on the mainland. Apparently, kids from Hawaii not only use an entirely different grammatical structure from other students, but we also -- get this -- have an accent!

I took this into consideration beforehand and formulated a plan that would prevent my mainland peers from thinking I lived in a grass hut and rode dolphins to work. If I simply omitted the obvious pidgin words when I talked, I would be able to communicate with my nonlocal friends.

Instead of "pau" I would use "done." Instead of "choke" I would use "a lot." And instead of "da kine" I would use "whatchamacallit." I could feel the haolefication starting before I even left the islands.

DURING the first month of college, I began to realize pidgin went far beyond vocabulary. When I met my roommate's family, his sister told me I had a cool accent and was curious about its origin. My mainland friends even noticed my excess use of the word "yeah," as in "The food in the cafeteria taste like dog food ------." Any statement of fact can be transformed into a question by placing a "yeah" in the blank.

As the year went by, I noticed the more inconspicuous pidgin irregularities. Believe it or not, "You like order one pizza," "I never wen study" and "Eh, try see if the R.A. coming" are all grammatically incorrect.

As shocking as it was to discover my English was worse than I believed, the real shock was that I did not do a single thing about it. Parents have this mistaken belief that their kids will return to the islands speaking proper English, but from what I observed, this didn't happen to a single local kid. The reason is simple: Mainland kids love pidgin. Before I knew it, all my friends were speaking pidgin. Whenever they saw me, they would say, "Eh, howzit brah!" or "Oh, you know da kine."

They got such a kick out of it that I brought up my old "Pidgin to the Max" book when I came back from Christmas break. Their reaction was pure rapture! They crowded around the tattered yellow book like adolescent boys who found a stash of dirty magazines.

I chuckled when my haole friends would recite old '70's pidgin nobody uses anymore. They took a liking to terms I had never heard people use in my entire life, such as "cool head main ting" and "futless."

Some of my more audacious friends formed sentences using multiple pidgin terms. However, this often led to disastrous pidgin aberrations. This was the case when my friend Mike proudly announced: "Eh brah, who wen fut? It stay so hanai (I assume he meant hauna)!"

Ironically, I came back to the islands speaking more pidgin than I had before I left. You can imagine the reaction my parents had when they discovered they had spent thousands of dollars to have their boy transformed into a moke on the mainland. They weren't angry or anything, but last night I overheard them discussing UH for some reason.

Jason Fong is a 1998 graduate of McKinley High School
and will be a sophomore a t the University
of Oregon in the fall.

Rant & Rave is a Tuesday Star-Bulletin feature
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