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Languages on Island

Yes, Hawaiʻi is a US state and English is the expected language, however there is also Hawaiian, Pidgin, and other languages spoken in the islands.


Hawaiian has multiple dialects ranging from island to island and district to district, all unified over time and due to outside influence and community connections.

Common Terms

A girl and a Hawaiian elder (kupuna) greet by touching their foreheads together
Traditional Hawaiian Greeting.
Photo: Nathan Brown
"Giving the gift of the breath of life:" The Polynesian greeting of sharing a breath. In modern times the word can be used as a greeting, a term of love of endearment, etc. Having the "spirit of aloha" is usually a welcoming, hospitable attitude that makes an individual feel very welcome and honored.
Foreigner. Can be a simple description of an individual or could be derogatory depending on the context.
Newcomer or stranger to the Hawaiian culture. Bear in mind the average population of the islands is around 1 million, vs. the 9 million visiting every year.
Hawaiian Cowboy, with a strong culture in Waimea. According to, in 1832 King Kamehameha I "contracted Mexican vaqueros, experto horsement with plenty of cattle experience. They arrived with boots and saddles... Called ‘paniolo’ by Hawaiians, the skilled cowboys trained local men to rope and ride a generation before their American counterparts in the 'Wild West'."
Kapu, No Trespassing, Keep out Forbidden. If you see this on a sign it would translate to "No Trespassing" or "Keep out." Please be respectful of this.
(sounds like "pow") Finished, done, complete. Not to be confused with a pa'u skirt or pahu drum or the Kaʻū district near South Point.

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Once you hear it you'll never forget it. There is English in it, but you may have no idea what's being said. It is, in fact, an official language, and was created through common terms and slang from many different cultures that reside in the islands. It was originally created during the plantation era. At the time, the languages brought in to work the fields were tossed together like a ingredients in a tossed salad so everyone could understand each other.

How to Live in Hawaiʻi gives an explanation of its history and a list of terms you may come across. Here are a few...

A respectful term for a woman who is of your parents’ generation or older: The aunties have volunteered at the school for many years. A respectful way to address such a woman: Can I help you carry that, auntie?
Short for braddah or bruddah (“brother”). A casual, friendly way of addressing a male: Eh, brah — you wanna go surf?
broke da mouth (broke dah mowt)
Extremely delicious: Dis Potagee soup broke da mouth, auntie!
da kine
A catch-all phrase that is often used to fill in a mental blank when talking, similar to “whatchamacallit,” "thing" or "stuff": Let’s go to da kine place we grind at last week.
A greeting, equivalent to “How are you?” or “How's it going?”
shaka (SHAH-kah)
Hand signal in which index, middle, and ring finger are folded down while thumb and pinkie are extended, with palm facing body. Means “hi,” “goodbye,” or “thank you.”
Equivalent to saying “OK” or “I strongly agree”: Shoots, I’ll take some of dat free kau kau!
The feminine equivalent of brah.
Equivalent to “slippers,” meaning flip-flop sandals.
stink eye
Dirty look: Da tita gimme stink eye when I ask her out.
talk story
To chat or gossip. To reminisce with friends.
Masculine equivalent of auntie.
Shopping cart.

Check out the How to Live in Hawaiʻi website for more examples.

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Multiple Cultures

Hawaiian history tells of sugar barons bringing in Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, and Portugese immigrants to work the fields. As detrimental as this was for all parties involved, the people have adapted and intermarried (see Island Culture demographics chart). Since then, it has been an avenue for which the respective countries built relationships to the local culture. That said, don't be surprised if you hear jokes about "chop suey" or lighthearted jokes poking fun at the current mixture of cultures.

Other Languages You Might Hear Spoken on The Big Island

  • Japanese
  • Chinese
  • Korean
  • Tagalog (Philippines)
  • Ilocano (Philippines)
  • Samoan
  • Marshallese (Marshall Islands)
  • Chuukese (Micronesia)
  • Vietnamese
  • Thai
  • Spanish

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