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Unique in the nation, Hawaii has two official state languages: English and Hawaiian.


Hawaii is part of America and people speak English here. As one of the two official languages, English is the language commonly employed by the state, business, education, and perhaps even the mind.


Hawaiian remains the language of the heart and soul. The language sways like a palm tree in a gentle wind. Its words are as melodious as a love song. Hawaiian is a Polynesian language spoken throughout the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. In the nineteenth century it became a written language and was the language of the Hawaiian government and the people. With the subjugation of Hawaii under the rule of the United States in 1898, Hawaiian was supplanted and English became the official language.

Nawahiokalaniopuu Hawaiian immersion school
Nawahiokalaniopuu Hawaiian immersion school.
Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

Hawaiian was a dying language. Fortunately, today it is experiencing a rebirth through courses of study and the Hawaiian people's general interest in their roots. In 1978, Hawaiian was re-established as an official language of the State of Hawaii and, in 1990, the federal Government of the United States adopted a policy to recognize the right of Hawaii to preserve, use, and support its indigenous language.

Since 1970, "Olelo Hawaii", or the Hawaiian language, has undergone a tremendous revival, including the rise of language immersion schools. The cultural revitalization that Hawaiians are now experiencing and transmitting to their children is a reclamation of their own past.

Source: Kualono


Pidgin (capital 'P') is the language of the people, the emotions, and life. A true reflection of Hawaii's ethnic mix created by Hawaii's immigrants as a simplified language for communication between peoples speaking different languages.

A pidgin is generally learned as a second language. When Hawaii was first visited by Europeans in 1778, it quickly became an important stopover for ships involved in whaling and trading with Asia. Some of the expressions from the Pidgin English of China and the Pacific were introduced to Hawaii. In the 1800's with the establishment of the sugar plantations, thousands of laborers were brought from China, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, Russia, Spain, the Philippines and other countries. 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.

In the 1870's immigrant families began to arrive and more children were born on the plantations. Children learned their parents' languages and picked up English at school. The kind of English they spoke on the playground 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.

By the turn of the century a new Hawaii Pidgin English began to emerge with features from all these sources. It also reflected the supplantation of the Hawaiian language with English and the attempt suddenly of a public, earlier accustomed to communicating in Hawaiian, to now speak in English.

This pidgin became the primary language of many of those who grew up in Hawaii and children began to acquire it as their first language. When children start learning a pidgin as their first language and it becomes the mother tongue of a community, it is called a creole. This was the beginning of Hawaii Creole English. By the 1920's, it was the language of the majority of Hawaii's population. Today, Pidgin has evolved into becoming the unofficial language of Hawaii.

Source: Pidgin and Education

Pidgin is not a stagnant language, it's kept alive by hip new words.
Thick pidgin can be incomprehensible to the untrained ear (that's the whole idea).

Visit a Pidgin Glossary

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