Hawaiian Creole language

Hawaiian Creole Language

E komo mai – Welcome

Hawai‘ian Creole, inaccurately called Hawai‘ian Pidgin English, or simply Pidgin, is based on English and a number of other languages spoken in Hawai’i. It is not the same language as Hawai’ian, an Austronesian language spoken by the indigenous inhabitants of the islands. Hawai‘ian Creole is spoken by Hawai’ian-born residents on all Hawai’ian islands as well as on the U.S. mainland.

Hawai‘ian Creole grew out of the Pidgin Hawai’ian originally used as a common language in the sugar and pineapple plantations by workers who came from a variety of language backgrounds. As a result, it was influenced by many languages, including English, Hawai’ian, Portuguese, Spanish, Cantonese, Ilocano, Korean, Okinawan, and Japanese. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Hawai’ian Pidgin spread from the plantations into urban areas and became the primary means of communication among different ethnic groups. Public school children learned it from their classmates, and eventually it became the primary language of most people in Hawai‘i, replacing their original languages. For this reason, linguists consider Hawai’ian Pidgin to be a creole language.



Although English and Hawai’ian are the two co-official languages of the State of Hawai‘i, most people raised in Hawai‘i can speak and understand Hawai’ian Creole to some extent. It is widely used by Hawai’i’s residents in a variety of situations. Many speakers code-switch between Standard American English and Hawai’ian Creole, depending on the situation. Some speakers, particularly those at the lower socio-economic levels, speak Creole only, whereas the speech of others closely approximates Standard American English. Hawai’ian Creole at the lower boundary is generally considered to be substandard, and its use is usually associated with low socio-economic and educational status. It is often perceived as an obstacle to success in education and in the workforce. Its role vis-à-vis standard English in the schools of Hawai‘i has been a subject of continued debate. Nevertheless, some knowledge of Hawai’ian Creole is thought by many to be an important part of being considered a kama’aina ‘local’.



Hawai’ian Creole is a continuum of dialects ranging from creole to Standard American English.



Sound system

The most notable features of Hawai’ian Creole are the following:

  • It has syllable-timed rhythm which means that all syllables have approximately the same length (similarly to Spanish, Italian, and many South Asian languages). Standard American English, on the other hand, has stress-timed rhythm which means that stressed syllables are longer than unstressed ones.
  • The sound /θ/ as in thin and the sound /ð/ as in then are replaced by /t/ and /d/ respectively, e.g., thin is pronounced as /tin/ and then is pronounced as /den/.
  • The article the is pronounced as /da/.
  • The sound /r/ after vowels is dropped, e.g., better is pronounced as /beta/.
  • Questions are marked with a falling intonation unlike Standard American English where questions are marked with a rising tone.



The grammar of Hawai’ian Creole also differs from Standard American English in several ways, a few of which are outlined below:

  • The copula verb to be is dropped when referring to inherent qualities, e.g., Da baby cute ‘the baby is cute’.
  • The verb stay is used in place of to be when referring to temporary states or locations, e.g., Da book stay on top da table ‘The book is on top of the table’.
  • Prepositions are often dropped, as in the example above on top da table ‘top of the table’.
  • Past tense is represented by wen ‘went’ before the verb, e.g., Da baby wen cry ‘The baby cried’.
  • Future tense is represented by the word goin ‘going’ before the verb, e.g., Da baby goin eat ‘The baby will (is going to) eat’.
  • Verb negation is expressed by the word neva ‘never’ in front of the verb, e.g., Da baby neva like poi ‘The baby didn’t like poi’.” This can be confusing because it can also mean ‘The baby never liked poi’.
  • Fo ‘for’ is used instead of ‘to’ after verbs, e.g.,Go click fo go to da page ‘Click to go to the page’.



Hawai’ian Creole vocabulary is based on English but it has absorbed words from many languages.


Here are a few examples of loanwords:

From Hawai’ian
akamai clever
hana work
lanai porch
lei flower garland
mahalo thank you
ohana home, family
ono good
pau finished
puka hole
pupu appetizer
wiki fast
From Portuguese
malasada small doughnut without a hole
From Spanish
paniolo cowboy (from Español, i.e., Mexican vaquero)
From Japanese
bento lunch box
musubi triangle-shaped rice ball
wasabi horseradish paste
zori sandal, thong
From Filipino
kalamungay horseradish
lumpia Filipino egg roll
pancit egg noodles

And finally, the ubiquitous da kine which ranges in meaning from ‘kind of’ to ‘whatchamacallit’ whose origins remain unknown.



Hawai’ian Creole is written with the standard English alphabet. There is no standardized spelling since it is primarily a spoken and not a written language. In recent years, Hawai’ian writers have written poems, short stories, and plays in Hawai’ian Creole. Among them are well-known Hawai’i authors such as Japanese Hawai’ian poet and novelist Lois-Ann Yamanaka and Lee Tonouchi. Several theater companies in Hawai’i produce plays written and performed in Creole. The most notable of these companies is Kumu Kahua Theater.


Did You Know?

A number of Hawaiian words have entered the American English lexicon, principally through Hawaiian Creole. Below are just a few of them.

aloha ‘hello, goodbye, love’
haole person of European origin
hula an ancient Hawaiian dance that tells a story through movement.
kahuna Hawaiian priest or wizard; also used in the slang phrase ‘big kahuna’
lei flower garland
luau Hawaiian-style feast
poi thick paste made from the fermented corm of the taro plant
ukulele a musical instrument; literally ‘jumping flea’
wiki ‘fast’, as in Wikipedia



Language Difficulty

questionHow difficult is it to learn Hawai’ian Creole?
There is no data on its difficulty for speakers of Standard English.