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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 many families or exchange students which speak the language of their home countries.

Hawaiian

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

Aloha
Traditional Hawaiian Greeting. Photo: Nathan Brown

"giving the gift of the breath of life" the Pacific Island greeting of sharing a breath. In modern times the word can be used as a greeting, a term of love of endearment, ect. Having the "Spirit of Aloha" is usually a welcoming, hospitable culture which makes an individual feel very welcome and honored.

Haole
Foreigner. Can be a simple description of an individual or could be derogatory depending on the context.
Malihini
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.
Paniolo
Hawaiian Cowboy, with a very strong culture in Waimea. According to gohawaii.com in 1832 King Kamehameha l "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 ment to rope and ride a generation before their American counterparts in the 'Wild West'."
Kapu
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.
Pau
(sounds like "pow") Finished, done, complete. Not to be confused with a Pa'u skirt or Pahu drum or Kaʻū district near South Point.

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Pidgin

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 which reside here in the islands. It was originally created in 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 eachother.

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

auntie
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?
brah
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.
grind
Eat.
howzit
A greeting, equivalent to “How are you?” or “How is it going?”
rubbish
Trash, garbage.
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.”
shoots
Equivalent to saying “OK” or “I strongly agree”: Shoots, I’ll take some of dat free kau kau!
sistah
The feminine equivalent of brah.
slippahs
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.
uncle
Masculine equivalent of auntie.
wagon
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 relationship 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

  • Japanese
  • Chinese
  • Korean
  • Tagalog - Phillippines
  • Samoan
  • Yapese - Yap (Micronesian)
  • Chuukese - Chuuk (Micronesian)
  • Fijian - Fiji
  • Belauan - Palau (Micronesian)
  • Ilocano - (Austronesian), Philippines
  • Swedish
  • French
  • Norwegian

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