Pidgin Grammar Interview w/ Kent Sakoda & Jeff Siegel of the U of Hawaii
Interview by Dmae Roberts, Recorded by Jennifer Dunn
DMAE: Hi, it’s Dmae.
JENNIFER: Hello. So I have Kent Sakoda and Jeffrey Siegel.
JENNIFER: Jeff, yes, are both here.
DMAE: Good afternoon, I guess.
BOTH: Good afternoon.
DMAE: It is afternoon, oh good. I think Jennifer filled you in on our project, that I’m interested in talking further about your book and also about the development of Pidgin English and some of the history and maybe some samples……if you could just indicate to her, since there’s two of you, when you have, if somebody wants to take the questions just to raise a finger or something so she can get the mic over to you? (Sure.) That would be…so great! Why don’t we start off first with each of you introducing yourselves and naming the title of your book.
KENT: Okay. I’m Kent Sakoda, and the title of the book is Pidgin Grammar.
DMAE: Kent? Can you start again?
KENT: Yeah. I’m Kent Sakoda and the book is Pidgin Grammar, oh, an introduction to Hawaii’s Creole, sorry, is the full…
DMAE: I don’t know if it’s me, but I’m hearing a creak of some sort.
KENT: It’s the table.
DMAE: Is there a way to avoid that?
KENT: We’ll try not to lean on it.
DMAE: Move the table so there’s no temptation to lean on it or…
KENT: It’s an enormous table.
DMAE: An enormous table?
KENT: It’s a round table. It’s hard to…
JENNIFER: We can just scoot back a little bit from the table.
DMAE: Cuz I heard that so it will get on there. I’m sorry. So just start again and say I’m, like I’m Kent Siegel, so start off with I’m.
KENT: I’m Kent Sakoda and the title of the book is Pidgin Grammar, an Introduction to the Creole of Hawaii.
DMAE: Can you do that again because I was talking over, you have to wait until I finish the question. So start again. I’m.
KENT: I’m Kent Sakoda and the title of the book is Pidgin Grammar, an introduction to the Creole Language of Hawaii, it’s a long title, sorry.
DMAE: It’s okay, we got your name. Jeff, do you want to do yours?
JEFF: Hello, I’m Jeff Siegel, I’m co-author with Kent.
DMAE: Okay. I need you to say I’m Jeff Siegel and then say the title as well.
JEFF: Okay. I’m Jeff Siegel, and the title of the book is Pidgin Grammar, an introduction to the Creole Language of Hawaii.
DMAE: Great. Now, I’m hearing through the speaker phone it’s sounding a little weird, but you’re not getting any of me on the speaker phone, Jennifer?
JENNIFER: It’s possible that your voice. I think that your voice is picking up on the mic in between their responses, but I’m not hearing any kind of noise from the speaker phone when they’re actually speaking.
DMAE: But they’re sounding good.
JENNIFER: Yeah, they sound good.
DMAE: So let’s start. Tell me background of why you wrote this book.
KENT: This is Kent. Actually, I was quite resistant to writing a book like that to begin with. I felt that the Creole being an oral language shouldn’t have a grammar that was standardized to begin with, but after much debate between Jeff and I and other members who were interested in the language, we decided to go ahead and do a book on Creole. Maybe Jeff can comment more on this.
JEFF: yeah. This isn’t a grammar in the traditional sense of telling you how to speak the language, what’s right and what’s wrong. This is a grammar in the sense that linguists use the word now, which is really a description of the way people use the language, and I think that’s what convinced Kent that it would be all right. So we don’t say there’s a right way or a wrong way, we just describe how people use the language. And even though a lot of people think it’s just broken English, it does have a lot of its own rules that speakers have subconsciously and that what’s we’re really describing – how people speak the language. And there’s ways that people sound just normal when you’re speaking the language and if someone tried to speak the language who didn’t know it they would sound a bit funny.
DMAE: Did you think that there was a need for this book?
KENT: Yes, definitely. I think people in Hawaii especially need to be aware that there’s this other language. I think for many years as Jeff mentioned there’s been a mistaken idea that this language, this Creole was in fact some kind of a broken English or bad English or bastardized English or all of those kind of adjectives that people have been using for years. So definitely a book like this has been long coming.
DMAE: When you say Creole language, can you explain that?
KENT: Jeff, you want to do that?
JEFF: Okay. A Creole language is a new language that develops in a multilingual situation. In Hawaii we had a plantation economy for a while and people came from many different countries speaking many different languages. From Portugal, Japan, China, Philippines, Scandinavian countries, Puerto Rico, lots and lots of countries and people didn’t have any common language when they first arrived. The only thing they had in common was a little bit of English vocabulary they learned on the plantations. And eventually a new language came out and this is called, the technical term in linguistics is called a Pidgin language. So it’s a new language that people use as a second language to communicate with other people. But then sometimes a pidgin language becomes the mother tongue of a community. That’s what’s happened in Hawaii and so technically the language in Hawaii is a Creole language, which is a Pidgin language which has become the community’s mother tongue. It’s a bit confusing here in Hawaii, because everybody calls it Pidgin. After, I guess from Pidgin English. So people call it Pidgin but linguists call it a Creole language, and it’s a Creole language like other Creole languages for example, in Jamaica, and in some of the French speaking ex-colonies.
DMAE: So you started to talk about how it was developed with all these nationalities, can you elaborate that and give some examples?
KENT: Let’s see. The situation, it’s called a language-context situation here and as people who speak different languages come into contact with each other they tend not to learn each others language and learn the language of power – it was usually the colonial language. But their knowledge of the language, the prestige language, is usually very limited. And lots of times the speakers of the prestige language also simplified the language as well, so you really get a filtered-down kind of language. But they would use that language as a common means of communication. And over time that filtered language developed as a kind of pattern and that’s the Pidgin. And the Pidgin is stabilized and establishes grammar.
DMAE: So in your book, in the grammar book…
…what I’m thinking is in the book you give specific examples, for instance of the Chinese word or a Portuguese word, you see what I’m saying? Of how a lot of the languages influenced and went into Pidgin? Can you give some examples of what some words might be?
KENT: Neither of us have the book in front of us right now. Let’s see. There’s a lot of words that were borrowed from other languages. Like, I guess the language that a lot of words came from, other than English, in Hawaii was the Hawaiian. And in the Hawaiian, both in the influence in the Pidgin and in the Creole there were many Hawaiian vocabulary included. But there’s some differences. As these words get borrowed into the Pidgin and Creole they also go through some changes as well. Let me just give you an old example, and many people think it’s a word that comes from Hawaiian, but it originally comes from Chinese Pidgin English and it’s the word used in Hawaii is called ‘cao cao’. And ‘cao cao’ means either to eat or food itself, and it actually comes from Chinese pidgin English brought over by the sailors and it gets Hawaiianized and since Hawaiian doesn’t have a ‘ch’ sound, the original word was ‘chouchou,’ the same word we use in American slang, ‘chow.’ But it was brought over by the sailors to Hawaii and ‘chouchou’ then becomes ‘caocao’ and it becomes incorporated into the language.
JEFF: Yeah, there’s…you have to remember that maybe 80 or 90% of the words are actually from English, in the language. Some of these are used just like in English but some of them have changed their meaning a bit. For example, the word ‘spark’, it’s not used much these days but ‘spark’ meaning to look at somebody or to see something. But then there’s quite a few words from Hawaiian but they’re commonly used in English in Hawaii. These are words like lanai for veranda. Or mauca, in the direction of the mountains, or pilikea, trouble. So there’s quite a few Hawaiian words and there’s a few, there’s very few words from other languages, like Portuguese, there’s malasada, which is a kind of donut, and probably the next biggest language that donated vocabulary was Japanese, and maybe Kent can give you some examples from Japanese.
KENT: Yeah. There’s a number of words. A lot of the vocabulary that’s borrowed from other languages are food items. People would share the food items and you would ask what is that called and they would say what those were. But several words, let’s see. Let me think. Taco is octopus, is a Japanese word. I’m trying to think of other kinds of words. There’s an interesting word we use here called habut. And habut, the meaning is, to pout. And it actually comes from a Japanese word habuteru. But it’s interesting, most of the Japanese people who come here won’t know the word because it’s a dialectal word from a certain region of Japan, mainly around the Hiroshima area, and they use the word but it’s not a standard Japanese word so it’s not known to a lot of Japanese nationals living here but the immigrants, the Japanese immigrants who moved here are quite aware of the word. It’s habut and it’s also a clipped form habuteru so it’s a short form as well. So there are many words like that.
DMAE: How many people speak Pidgin in Hawaii?
KENT: The number’s been estimated at about 600,000. don’t ask me where the number comes from, it appears magically, but I think it’s about right. I would say about half the population.
DMAE: Hawaii has how many people?
KENT: Over a million now. I believe at the last census, 1.2 million. I think.
DMAE: So are you both from Hawaii?
KENT: I am. Jeff is actually from Chicago by way of Australia. He’s been living in Australia a while now.
DMAE: I’m just wondering, have you grown up speaking Pidgin English?
KENT: Yes, I have.
DMAE: And how did you know that?
KENT: That’s my native tongue so it’s not a process of learning, it’s a process of acquisition. You grow up speaking it.
DMAE: So you’re saying that your family spoke it.
KENT: Yes. My parents spoke it.
DMAE: Do you think that’s normal for most people who speak Pidgin?
KENT: Sure. Yeah. My parents were second generation, meaning that my grandparents were the immigrants to Hawaii. So my parents would have been the first generation in my family to speak the Creole and then I’m the third generation so I picked that up.
DMAE: Was it difficult in school though?
KENT: In what sense?
DMAE: Is it taught in school?
KENT: No, it’s not. It’s…they have a very negative attitude about it in the school system.
DMAE: That’s what I want to find out about. What is the attitude?
KENT: Oh. Basically, that it’s not a language. That it’s actually some kind of a broken form of English or bastardized form of English so as we grew up people tried to discourage us from speaking it.
DMAE: How did they do that?
KENT: Oh, by telling us. Well, in my generation, when I started going to school, we were just told constantly, we were constantly reminded, oh, don’t speak Pidgin, don’t speak bad English. You have to speak good English. So if you asked the teacher ‘Can I go toilet?’ or something she would say ‘No, you cannot go toilet, you may go to use the restroom.’ They would correct you like that and oftentimes withholding permission and things of that sort. Earlier generations were punished for speaking it.
DMAE: Jennifer, I’m sorry. I heard some rustling. I’m hearing things like clothes rustling. You have to listen for things like that because if I’m hearing it then the mic’s picking it up. Sorry. Sorry, Kent. I’m going to ask you again about the school experience because I think that’s very important. So there are no schools at all that teach Pidgin or incorporate Pidgin in Hawaii?
KENT: Not officially. I’m sure there are teachers who use it, perhaps purposely or maybe unconsciously use it. I’m sure there are a lot of native speakers of Pidgin who are teachers in the school system here and being superficially very close to English that I’m sure there are cases where they would use the forms and not realize that they’re actually using that.
DMAE: So let’s go back to…I’m going to ask you again and if you can just pretend like you didn’t tell me anything. What was your experience like when you were growing up and you spoke Pidgin?
KENT: Okay. Let’s see.
DMAE: The differences between Pidgin and what the school was teaching, or just being reprimanded. What was your earliest memory of that?
KENT: We were told that it was just bad English and so I guess I grew up thinking it was just a bad habit that we had, and not realizing it was a language. And oftentimes there were things like we would ask to use the restrooms, we would say “I can go toilet” and they’d hold the permission until you got the English part of that correctly, and those things can be problematic. But as children we just see these as things we were constantly reminded of or reprimanded for. I think it builds up – these negative effects do build up and they’re..
DMAE: Can you say that? … I heard something…
JENNIFER: Just start over.
KENT: I forgot what I said! We were often reprimanded for these things and as children it just goes with the territory, with things like…but I guess there’s a kind of a build-up over time that we become very reluctant to speak out. Is one of the results of the years of negative attitudes. There’s also, I believe in the early days, I’ve heard stories from my parents and even the third generation, my older brothers and things were also punished, might have been physically punished for using it in the school system. Not so much during my time, but at least in the years prior to my going to school.
DMAE: Is it looked down upon?
KENT: Oh yes. Well, yes and no. In a certain way it has covert prestige in it’s an identity marker. It’s a local identity marker. It has a long history of this covert prestige.
DMAE: What do you mean by covert prestige?
KENT: It’s. well, I don’t know.. yeah, Jeff can…
JEFF: Usually we think of a language as having prestige because it’s the standard language and it’s the language that you need for getting a job or getting a college education. And so you’d think it’s the language that everybody wants to speak this prestige language for those reasons. But here in Hawaii and also with African American vernacular English, the language has another kind of prestige. It’s like the language of the community and it’s something that you’re proud of because it shows your identity. So in Hawaii, speaking Pidgin is one of the things that shows that you’re a local. You’re from here and you’re not just one of these tourists who hopped off the plane. So that way it’s a very important language and that’s why I think it’s stayed alive all these years despite the experience that Kent was talking about where teachers were trying to drum it out of the poor students.
DMAE: Are there definite class distinctions then between people who speak Pidgin and people who don’t?
KENT: I think there is a perceived class difference. Back in the…historically back in the 30s and 40s there’s a middle class, well, even earlier than that there was a middle class established in Hawaii and a lot of people moved off the plantation. Laborers moved to the urban areas because there’s a lot of money that was funneled into transportation and commerce and other kinds of industries within the urban setting, within Honolulu. And so a lot of people moved off the plantation to those areas and established as a result they established kind of a middle class situation so there was a perceived…there was some kind of perception that Pidgin was associated with the working class. It’s a language that was enough to do menial kinds of labor on the plantation, but in the urban setting for the middle they thought that that wasn’t appropriate. That you had to speak English, standard English to get ahead. And this is when you have I think a dichotomy occurring, a class dichotomy. But it’s not the case of the middle class people, the people moving away from the plantation that speak it. It’s just a perceived difference. So yes it is…there is a class distinction, however there are a lot of people I think who are in upper class or certainly old-timers here who have very high positions and stuff who take a lot of pride in being able to speak it or use it.
DMAE: Do you think, let me just ask Jennifer, are the levels okay? You’re a little kind of fuzzy. With the publishing of your book, do you think there might be some resurgence of pride in Pidgin?
KENT: That’s a hard question.
DMAE: Are most people comfortable with it? You say that more than half of the population speaks it. Is that what Hawaii’s known for or one of the things?
KENT: yes. Well, I don’t know that Hawaii’s known for it by outsiders but certainly within the community people use it. It’s a bit schizophrenic I would say, that as we mentioned before, the idea of the covert prestige, an identity thing. We will use it, or oftentimes we’re reminded by friends or people in the community if we don’t use it at times we’re put down as someone fresh off the boat or someone from the mainland or something, so certainly we like to use it and yet we’re oftentimes embarrassed when we do use it, so it’s often both ways.
JEFF: Your question resurgence of pride implies that it was dying out and people were getting ashamed of it, but I don’t think that there’s been any sort of great resurgence or that there will be because people are very proud of Pidgin and recently, like in the last 25 years there’s been a large amount of literature in the language and there’s always been comedians doing their comedy routines in it and I guess one reason we wrote the book is not to try to prop up the language, but mainly we were thinking of the education system, to inform teachers, especially newcomers to the state, but also some teachers from here that it is a language, it’s not just broken English and to try to get them to accept the way that kids speak and try to get them to be bi-dialectal or bilingual, accept the fact that they can speak Pidgin because that’s part of their identity. But at the same time they have to learn standard English for college and employment but that they can have both. And we’re trying to get teachers not to have these negative attitudes towards the language which get internalized by the students. And even to use the language in the classroom to help the students see the differences between Pidgin and standard English.
DMAE: Are they doing this? What you just said?
JEFF: We’ve had a bit of correspondence. I don’t think they’re all rushing out to buy the book but I think a few are and a lot of people have said it’s really helped them to understand why their students talk the way they do, and a lot of them have used not only the grammar parts but the history parts and some of the suggestions we make at the end of the book for bringing Pidgin into the classroom and yeah, a few of them have been doing it.
DMAE: Do you know of any that I could…when I come to Hawaii is it possible to record a conversation with kids or teachers who are using the book? I think it would be interesting to follow it up and see how they respond to it.
KENT: Not offhand. I’m not sure. We could check. Offhand…
DMAE: If there’s an opportunity, if you know a teacher who might have used the book, that would be interesting. Another thing I was curious about…
JENNIFER: I think Jeff had one more comment on that.
JEFF: Yeah. I’d have to go back and look at my email messages, but I’m sure I could dig out names of people who have written to us and put you in touch with them if you come to Hawaii.
DMAE: That’d be great. Or give them to Jennifer and we can figure something out. (Okay) Great. So I know you don’t have the book in front of you but would you happen to be able to give me an example of a Pidgin conversation at all? Because you have a lot of it written down in the book. But I’m just wondering if it was possible to do that and dissect it as far as translating what the conversation is, like you do in the book.
KENT: I guess that falls on me, since I’m the native speaker.
DMAE: Well, if I come…is it easy to find people who can do Pidgin conversations, or would they think that was weird?
KENT: Yeah, I think at first they would think it would be quite weird.
DMAE: I just think since it’s radio…
KENT: Let me just give you a real classic sentence, oftentimes used in my class as well. Let’s see. There’s a real, that’s a sentence that everyone, if they’re local knows what it means. It’s go stay go, mumbayo goin’ stay come, mumbayo goin’ be late. Did you get that?
DMAE: I didn’t understand that.
KENT: You shouldn’t.
JENNIFER: Can you say that one more time?
KENT: Yeah. Go stay go, mumbayo goin’ be late. Oh wait, I’m sorry. It’s go stay go, mumbayo goin’ stay come, mumbayo goin’ be late.
DMAE: Can you say it one more time but slower?
KENT: Okay. Let me see… Go stay go, mumbayo goin’ stay come, mumbayo goin’ be late.
DMAE: And what does that mean?
KENT: Let me break it down for you. Go stay go, is basically. Let me give you a situation – a context in which you would use this. Let’s say a bunch of friends and I were going to go to some function, maybe a movie or something that’s close to where I’m living and they come by to pick me up and I’m not ready, I’m in the shower yet, and I’ll yell out to them, go stay go, mambayo goin’ stay come. So you be going and later I’ll be coming, mumbayo goin’ be late, otherwise you’ll be late.
DMAE: Wow. It’s very complex.
KENT: Yeah, it is a language. That’s the whole point of the language. We’re talking about a language that has a grammar.
DMAE: If you were going to say that I guess in ‘white English’ or whatever it would be, so what is the actual translation of that in ‘proper English.’
KENT: Well let me correct you there. We’re not speaking ‘improper English’ so we’re speaking another language. Let’s just call the other language English and this one Pidgin.
DMAE: Okay. Thank you.
KENT: How’s that? Okay.
DMAE: So how would you translate that into English?
KENT: Let’s see. ‘Go stay go’ means ‘you go ahead, you be going’ because the stay there is sort of the progressive marker, what we call the progressive marker in Pidgin. That would be the ‘ing’ form of the verb ‘go’ so ‘stay go’ means ‘going.’ So ‘go stay go’, you be going. ‘Bambye’ means later. It’s from the English ‘by and by’ which is hardly ever used these days but ‘bambye’ means later. ‘I going stay come,’ so ‘I will be coming.’ And then there’s a second use of ‘bambye’ which appears a little later in the development of the creole, and that ‘bambye’ means ‘otherwise,’ so it’s a connector between the first part of the sentence and the second part. ‘Bambye you going be late’ so ‘otherwise you will be late.’
DMAE: I hate to ask this of you but do you have one more sample, or phrase.
JEFF: While he’s thinking, let me give you a little grammar lesson here. So the way that this language marks tenses in the verb is quite different from English. So in English for example you’d say “I’m talking” for present and “I will talk” for future and “I talked” for past, but this language uses a small particle word before the verb. So this might help you understand Kent’s examples. So if you want to say ‘I am talking’ you’d say ‘I stay talk.’ I’m not a very good speaker, sorry about my accent. So ‘I stay talk’ would, so putting ‘stay’ before ‘talk’ would be the present progressive and ‘I goin’ talk’ would be the future and ‘I when talk’ would be the past. So it’s a very different system from English. So anyway, I’ll put on Kent now for his example.
KENT: I guess if people heard it very quickly they would gather, they would understand some of the English words in it, since it is predominantly English. It has borrowed most of it’s vocabulary from English so they would have a superficial understanding of it but not a deeper understanding, I believe. Should I give you another example? (Yeah, please) Well, let me just give you some more vocabulary examples then. For example, one of the forms we use here is a negative form, negation here is ‘neva’ from English ‘never.’ But it’s a different usage from the English ‘never’ because in English ‘never’ means ‘not ever.’ In the, it’s an adverb in English but in the creole it’s actually, the function is a past negative form. So you how you would translate into English would be the use of ‘didn’t.’ So it would be ‘I neva go,’ means ‘I didn’t go.’ It doesn’t mean ‘I have never ever gone.’ Also there’s other differences in bigger systems. Let’s talk about the negation system. One of the ways that you do negatives in English is to add ‘not’ after an auxiliary and so let’s see…I’m trying to think of a form. So if you say ‘he was going’ and then you say ‘he wasn’t going,’ ‘he was not going,’ then you contract the ‘was’ and ‘not’ into ‘wasn’t’ so ‘he wasn’t going.’ So basically that’s the rule for negation. For forming negation sentences in English. To add a not after the auxiliary. If there is no auxiliary verb then you add one in, like the ‘do’ verb. Then you attach the ‘not’ to that. Pidgin is a little different since we…what we do is there’s things like if you say something like, in English you would say ‘the cat doesn’t eat fish,’ in Pidgin you’d say ‘the cat no eat fish.’ And you cannot say ‘the cat not eat fish,’ that would be ungrammatical in the Pidgin. However, if you say ‘my sistah,’ let’s see, ‘my sister isn’t a teacher,’ in English, you would have to say, ‘my teacher not one teacher,’ sorry, ‘my sister not one teacher,’ in the creole. So in that sentence there you would use a not. So there are sentences in Pidgin where you would use ‘no’ for the negative and sentences where you would use ‘not’ for a negative, and it’s clearly demarcated. This is part of the grammar of local children, that they know how to do negative sentences using ‘not’ or ‘no’ depending on the grammar structure of the language. But they’re different from the English where you would always only use ‘not.’ So this is a good example we can show the complexity of the creole, of the Pidgin.
DMAE: Do you know if there is any move to preserve the language in recording? In audio recording?
KENT: Hm. There’s…I think people do recordings, have made recordings. There’s the oral history project which has been collecting stories. I think their purpose hasn’t been to preserve the Pidgin but to preserve the histories but in talking to people about the history then they have recorded some of the Pidgin as well.
DMAE: But I wonder if people are bilingual if they do interviews if they would use English. So I was just wondering if they were ….into archives.
JEFF: Yeah. People are studying Pidgin not really to preserve it because we don’t realy think that it’s endangered. But for example I’ve got a grant form the National Science Foundation to do a project on modern Pidgin. It has been studied in the past, but the last time someone made detailed recordings was about thirty years ago. So we’ve got native speakers of Pidgin going out and interviewing other people in Pidgin and hopefully that will stop them from switching into Pidgin too much, but often people, as soon as they see a tape recorder they think of a formal situation and they switch into English. So we’re trying to get people to tell stories and forget about the mike. And we’re collecting data on all of the main islands and as well as in rural areas on this island Oahu as well as urban areas, Honolulu. And we’ll be analyzing and just seeing how the grammar has changed in 30 years, whether young people are speaking it in different ways, and we hope to have a very large database in the next couple of years.
DMAE: So you’re doing audio recording then?
JEFF: Yeah, we’re doing audio recordings.
DMAE: How are you recording it? What kind of equipment?
JEFF: We’re not using high-tech equipment. It’s unfortunate but since we had to rely on a lot of field workers who don’t have much training in recording, because of the difficulties in getting naturalistic Pidgin we’ve just had to go with the easiest technology for people to use. And though we have many MD players to offer people, they always choose to go with the cassette recorders.
DMAE: I’m sorry. I’m having a hard time finding things that are a good enough quality…MDs are so easy to use and you can find mike’s that are cheap enough…it’s hard to get good enough quality, that’s just my own opinion.
JEFF: It’s unfortunate. We are digitalizing the recordings for our own study and perhaps they could be cleaned up a bit and made okay.
DMAE: There isn’t much you can do if it’s not recorded the right way.
JEFF: When we started off the project we were going to use all the high-tech equipment but the people that we’re hiring just were quite afraid to use it and really preferred the cassette recorders and we had to make some compromises.
DMAE: …training sessions for a group of people and you’d have great people recording stuff but anyway, that’s my other pitch. It doesn’t take much to train people to do it…
JEFF: We tried that. Its quite tricky here, the situation is very tricky.
DMAE: Well, that’s great that you’re doing that. Jeff, for you, it’s just interesting to me. What’s your interest in Pidgin? Do you come from a personal place with that?
JEFF: okay. Myself, I’m a linguist and my main area of interest is language contact and I lived in Papua New Guinea for six years and I’m a speaker of Tocquasin, which is the Pidgin language there, so that got me interested in it. And I actually went to University here in Hawaii and did my masters here a few years ago. But I just came back and was living here again and I just got very interested in the language and I met Kent and we became good friends and we’ve been doing all kinds of things with the language. Not just describing it, but we’ve got an advocacy group here called ‘the Pidgin Coop,’ which has written a position paper about Pidgin in sort of plain English to sort of educate people and Kent and lots of other people are doing workshops for teachers and just trying to promote the language a bit.
DMAE: When you get together and you talk? Can I or Jennifer get sound from that?
KENT: Jeff and I?
JENNIFER: I think she means at the Pidgin Coop.
KENT: Well, there are a few native speakers. Not too many, though. Not within the group. Mostly what we do is we’re a support group for research, for students who want to do research in the area and stuff. And most of the people who joined the group are faculty people. We have a few outsiders but a lot of the people are faculty people, so they’re not actually from here. I’d like to go back a bit. Jeff is a bit modest, but he is actually an internationally renowned creolist. So within the field of pidgin and creole and social linguistics, he’s very well-known.
DMAE: Are there similarities to creole languages? Jeff, have you found that studying so many different languages?
JEFF: There’s lots of similarities amongst creole languages around the world. In fact, this is what put the study of creole languages on the front pages of the newspapers about, over 20 years ago now. Because people were trying to explain why a lot of things in Hawaii creole look like things in Jamaican creole which look like things in French creole, in Maracious. So we had all these similar features in these far-separated languages and people were trying to explain how these originated and a fellow named Derreck Bickerton came up with a theory that the way creole languages were acquired by children was in a situation where they didn’t have access to a fully-fledged language, so they had to draw on their innate sense of language to create a new language and that’s why creoles are similar the world over, because they represent the very basics of human language. So this was a very contrivercial hypothesis and one that got a lot of people interested in creole languages for many years. Unfortunately now it’s been disproved, that the languages aren’t that similar but still they do have some similarities. For example most of them, well, I’d say all of them use a small word to before the verb to show the tense, things like that.
DMAE: What is its future?
KENT: You mean locally here or generally?
DMAE: In Hawaii.
KENT: In Hawaii. Well, let’s see. Future meaning is it dying out, or?
DMAE: It doesn’t sound like it’s dying out.
KENT: There’s a perception by some I think who are starting…
DMAE: Can you start again with there’s a perception…
KENT: There’s a perception by some people that in fact, they believe that the Pidgin is dying. Personally I think that it is changing and that is part of the project Jeff is working on, to study the differences in how Pidgin is used today by younger speakers and how pidgin was used by older speakers. But I think the perception is that it is changing, it is becoming, actually superficially sounds more like English today. Whereas before there were a lot more words that were used from Hawaiian and Japanese and other languages, that seems to be disappearing. But I think…not…just superficially though I think it’s sounding more like English. There is a totally different system underlying it yet.
DMAE: What do you think?
JEFF: I agree with Kent. There is a perception that it’s dying out and I think that it’s not really but it is changing. There are more and more people that are bilingual here. In the past you had a lot of people and the only language they spoke was Pidgin, was the creole. But now especially in Honolulu the majority of people are bilingual and they switch back and forth and I think that this is starting to effect the language. You have people switching so quickly between the languages that you don’t know what they’re speaking sometimes. But there are certain features that people recognize that will always be there, especially some of the sounds, the phonological features, the intonation, and the way certain words are pronounced, and for a lot of people that’s Pidgin, that way of pronouncing words and for other people that’s not really Pidgin without the grammatical features.
JENNIFER: Could you repeat that last sentence one more time.
JEFF: For some people that is Pidgin, if you have the right intonation and pronounce things properly, and for other people that’s not really Pidgin because it doesn’t have some of those grammatical features we were talking about.
KENT: Certainly, can I? Yeah, certainly, the perception is more on the urban setting, the home setting where things are changing. On the other islands, especially the far end, the big island of Hawaii and Kauai itself, I think it’s very strong yet. I think people use it more.
DMAE: So Jeff you’re working on this project. Are you two doing more books, or are you continuing to work together more…
JEFF: Yeah. Right now we’re just gathering data and we have to analyze that and somewhere down the line we might write a more detailed grammar and a more technical grammar for linguists. But I think we’ll also try to keep putting out stuff that’s in everyday language so that teachers and newcomers to the islands can learn more about the language. But right now there’s nothing in the works.
DMAE: What has been the response to your book from the general public or reviews?
KENT: The reviews that we were aware of have been good. The sale of thebooks hasn’t been a lot of sales. People, I don’t know, it’s a mix kind of thing. We’ve had comments from people who are important figures wthin the community, peole within the corporate world who liked it and sent us leters about it but the general public are not quite awaere yet that he world is out there.
JEFF: One thing that we thought when we went to publish this book and our publisher thought as well is that there would be a lot of controversy when this book came out, that peole would see the title “Pidgin Grammar” and they would be writing letters to the editor saying Pidgin doesn’t have any grammar, which is what would have happened 5, 10 years ago. And we were surprised there wasn’t any controversy. And our publisher was quite disappointed there wasn’t any controversy because he was expecting that to up the sales. So I think that says something about how attitudes are changing and people are willing to learn more about their language and realize it’s a separate language and not broken English, at least more people than in the past.
DMAE: I just wanted to throw some familiar words that mainlanders would know into Pidgin words. Like ‘stink eye’. Some things I thought oh, well, a lot of people use that and I was wondering if that came directly from Pidgin.
JEFF: I never heard that before I came to Hawaii. Where did you hear it?
DMAE: Oh, I just heard it. There’s a long history in the Pacific Northwest with Hawaiians here, so I think maybe that’s it.
JEFF: So maybe it came to the Pacific Northwest from…
DMAE: Don’t give me the stink eye..
JEFF: That’s very interesting. Because we know some things from Hawaiian have spread to the, as far as Alaska because of the trade that went on in the early days, some Hawaiian words. But we never heard of any Pidgin words being…so that’s very interesting. I’m from the Midwest and if you said that people wouldn’t understand you in Chicago.
DMAE: I used to say that all the time. I guess there may not be too many words. ‘bra,’ that seems familiar to me too, and ‘haole’ of course. I don’t know. If you don’t think there are too many Pidgin words people would be familiar with then..
JEFF: I don’t think so. I think just the Hawaiian words that are used in Pidgin people might know like haole and maybe things like lei for flower lei or…
JENNIFER: Could you start again with ‘I think the Hawaiian..’
JEFF: Yeah, I think maybe Hawaiian words people might be familiar with that are used in Pidgin. Some of the words, like lei, for flower garland or maybe aloha or maybe even lanai for veranda but I don’t know of any other ones. Kent, do you?
KENT: There might be… People who come here to Hawaii might be more familiar with things like Pahana, but I don’t know if that would catch on in the mainland. Hahaho is one, if you go to concerts and stuff, that’s ‘encore.’ Hmm.
DMAE: In the book you have a play excerpt by Catherine Bon. Is that public domain? Were you able to use that or how do we go about getting the rights to that? I don’t know.
JEFF: I don’t know. It’s in the library, that’s where we got it.
DMAE: Did you have to get permission for it?
JEFF: I didn’t get permission for it, perhaps I should have. It’s from a collection of student plays that was made over 30 years ago so I don’t know who would have the copyright or anything on that.
DMAE: I just want to thank you both for your time in talking with me today. And doing it in such a weird way. …
JENNIFER: Thanks it was really good. It was really interesting questions.
DMAE: Are you out of town the week of November 15th? Kent, are you there for followup questions?
KENT: November 15th?
DMAE: I’ll be there through November 18th.
KENT: Yeah, I’ll be here. Jeff resides in Australia, so he’s just visiting here this week and that’s the reason why we did the interview.
DMAE: It’s been a pleasure learning, both of you. Thanks for the book.
EVERYONE: Thanks, you’re great, bye.