Talking Story about Pidgin
Exploring the creole language of Hawai‘i
Talk Story about Pidgin
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Materials for Educators: Section III

Lesson 1: Social Relations on Plantations: The Origins of Pidgin

Objectives: To use language as a lens for describing the political, social and economic effects of the plantation system on life in Hawai‘i , including ethnic tension and the evolution of Hawaii Pidgin English, the school system, and the establishment of labor unions. For this task, students will be required to put themselves into the position of researching what life was like for a specific ethnic group in Hawai‘i during the beginning of the plantation era.

To help students brainstorm ideas, show students the following clip from Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai`i


1. Assign groups of students ethnic group identities. Consider the following as key ethnicities to assign (they appear in order of historical migration):

  • Hawaiian
  • Chinese
  • Portuguese
  • Japanese
  • Caucasians from the United States
  • Filipinos


2. Tell students that they need to learn about their assigned ethnicity in order to think about why a pidgin language began to develop on plantations. Emphasize that they need to think about the social relations among different ethnicities as a way to understand why a pidgin developed

3. Distribute questions students must research. Encourage them to use the timeline on the website


a. What were the main time periods that your group came?

b. What other kinds of people (ethnicities) would your group have interacted with?

c. Why would you have interacted with these groups? What kinds of social networks would this have led to?

d. Where would your group have interacted with people from other ethnicities/language backgrounds?  Think about adults, teenagers, and children.

e. Why wouldn’t your group have learned other group’s languages?

f. Think about how speakers would try to communicate by simplifying their language. What languages would they have tried to simplify? What languages might they have used as a common resource?

g. Why didn’t Hawaiian become the shared common language?

h. Why did or didn’t your group maintain your language over time?  Is it still spoken today in Hawai‘i? How do past social relations on plantations explain why or why not your group speaks their language in 21st century Hawai‘i?

4. Have students report on what they have learned to the rest of the class. 

Notes for the teacher: It’s important to point out that Hawaiian was spoken to some degree by the Chinese immigrants who first came to Hawai‘i, starting in the 1850s. Many Chinese men married Hawaiian women, and bilingual families were likely the outcome. It is likely that Chinese and Hawaiian people developed a Pidgin Hawaiian when Portuguese workers arrived in the 1870s. At that time, most Portuguese, haoles, and some Chinese learned a little Hawaiian, but they didn’t fully acquire the language. Hence, a Pidgin Hawaiian language developed to allow for intercultural communication. Pidgins develop when there is a common language available to all the groups (such as Hawaiian or English), but the exposure to the common language is relatively limited.

Another important fact that explains why Hawaiian did not become the link language is that the population of native Hawaiians was reduced to a mere 70,000 by 1860 due to the measles and whooping cough, thus making it more difficult for others to have access to, and learn, the Hawaiian language. In addition, Hawaiians did not commonly work on plantations, preferring to live off the land instead.

The Reciprocity Treaty in 1875 had a big impact on the shift of Pidgin Hawaiian to Pidgin English. The greater free trade led to more English speaking Americans, and also to more English-medium schools. After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, English became the only official language for education, and schools became central in the development of the English-based Pidgin that eventually evolved into Hawai‘i Creole. When Japanese children began to attend public schools in the 1880s, the need for a common language led most children to speak Pidgin English as their primary tongue. When the second generation of plantation workers were born, they developed this pidgin language into a fully-fledged creole, which is the language we (confusingly) refer to today as “Pidgin.”

See Sakoda, Kent & Siegel, Jeff (2003) Pidgin grammar: An introduction to the creole language of Hawai‘i (Bess Press) for more information


Additional Activity

Watch portions of the film Hawai‘i’s Last Queen as a way to bridge students’ understanding of why the Hawaiian language was not the medium of communication on plantations.

Lesson 2: Pidgin Across the Generations: Your Linguistic Family Tree

Objective: The goal of this lesson is to encourage students to connect language with historical and social change across time. To do so, they will examine the languages spoken by their own families and they will consider the historical and political reasons for language shift, loss, and maintenance.

Pidgin across the generations: The story of Theresa Lau

Activity 1: Show the students the segment of Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i  that features Teresa Lau’s personal story. Ask them to keep track of Teresa’s family tree of languages (including her parents and her children) and to listen for the reasons that explain the loss of language in her story. It will be helpful if the students can draw a diagram and fill in spaces in the diagram as they go. Ask the students to make sure not to forget Pidgin as one of the languages to pay attention to.

Notes for the teacher: In telling her story, we learn from Teresa Lau that her mother spoke Chinese and her father spoke Hawaiian as their first languages, and to communicate, they used Pidgin as a common language. Teresa grew up speaking Pidgin, but when she attended school, she was trained to ‘correct’ her Pidgin with English only. The result of this experience was that she forbade her children from speaking Pidgin at home since she viewed English as the primary language of socio-economic mobility. Her use of English was important to her because of her experiences with schooling, which was English-only. However, we see that Teresa has come to speak Pidgin again in her “old age”, and we also see that some of her children are Pidgin and English speakers.


Activity 2: Ask the students to draw their own family trees which display their own linguistic histories, using the example of Teresa Lau’s family tree. They may need to ask their family members about the languages that they spoke or speak, and why they may have lost them. The students also need to consider who spoke or speaks Pidgin, and why. Questions the students need to answer in this assignment are:

1) What are the past social, political, and historical factors that led their family members to learn, maintain or lose their languages?
2) What are the current social, political, and historical factors that will influence whether the student decides to learn, maintain, or lose her/his languages?

Lesson 3: Language Rights as Civil Rights: Pidgin Goes to Court

Objectives: This lesson connects civil rights issues in Hawai‘i with those normally studied as part of Civil Rights such as Ï v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Students will come to understand language as an ‘inalienable’ right in the same vein as religion, race, gender, and national origin.


  • Watch the video segment in Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i that covers the Kahakua et al. v. Hallgren case (1987), a Hawai‘i Supreme Court case which involved local weathermen who experienced accent discrimination and did not get a promotion because they had a ‘local accent’. Kahakua sued based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  • Discuss the important facts of the case and tell students that they will prepare a mock trial for this event and divide the class into the ‘plaintiff’ and ‘defendant’ groups.
  • Students will be required to research the following US Supreme Court Cases as part of their legal arguments and will use the concept of ‘precedent’ to make their cases
    • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896): ‘separate but equal clause’
    • Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Plessy v. Ferguson overturned
    • To learn more about how these cases relate to Pidgin in Hawai‘i, show students the following clip from Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i

    • Lau v. Nichols (1974): immigrant children must have equal access to education despite language differences
    • Ann Arbor v. Martin Luther King Elementary School (1979): African American children who speak Black English must be provided with equal access to education despite language differences
  • Students will role play lawyers, weathermen, and experts who can testify on the merits of the case. The roles could be:
    • lawyers (plaintiff, defendant)
    • James Kahakua
    • Judge M. D. Crocker, visiting judge from Fresno
    • Dr. Charlene Sato, linguist
    • National Weather Service manager
    • The preparation for the mock trial could include surveying the students in the class about their preferences for accents among newscasters/weathercasters and it could include research on local weathercasters that determines whether or not they have ‘local accents’

Follow up activity/homework

Listen to a weather forecast on the local news. How does the accent used by the weathercaster compare to those described in the Kahakua et al. v. Hallgren case in the film, Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i? Why/why not? Why might it be important for local newspeople to ‘sound local’?

Supplemental information on Civil Rights cases

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
A landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in the jurisprudence of the United States, upholding the constitutionality of racial segregation even in public accommodations (particularly railroads), under the doctrine of “separate but equal”. The decision was handed down by a vote of 7 to 1 (Justice David Josiah Brewer did not participate in the decision), with the majority opinion written by Justice Henry Billings Brown and the dissent written by Justice John Marshall Harlan. “Separate but equal” remained standard doctrine in U.S. law until its repudiation in the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
A landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities. The decision overturned earlier rulings going back to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Warren Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This victory paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.

The Bilingual Education Act (1968)
This was the first piece of United States federal legislation regarding minority language speakers. The bill was introduced in 1967 by Texas senator Ralph Yarborough. Its purpose was to provide school districts with federal funds to establish educational programs for students with limited English speaking ability. The bill was originally intended for Spanish-speaking students, but in 1968 merged into the all-encompassing Bilingual Education Act or Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The act encouraged instruction in English and multicultural awareness in the wake of the Civil Rights movement although it did not require bilingual programs. The act also gave school districts the opportunity to provide bilingual education programs without violating segregation laws. The federal funding provided by this act to school districts was used for resources for educational programs, teacher training, development of materials and parent involvement projects. In 1969, $7.5 million was approved for spending on bilingual education programs. Successful programs were guaranteed federal funding for five years.

Lau v. Nichols (1974)
A civil rights case that was brought by Chinese American students living in San Francisco, California who had limited English proficiency. The students claimed that they were not receiving special help in school due to their inability to speak English, help which they argued they were entitled to under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because of its ban on educational discrimination on the basis of national origin. Finding that the lack of linguistically-appropriate accommodations (e.g. educational services in Chinese effectively denied the Chinese students equal educational opportunities on the basis of their ethnicity,) the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974 ruled in favor of the students, thus expanding the rights of limited English proficient students around the nation. Among other things, Lau reflects the now-widely accepted view that one's language is so closely intertwined with one's national origin (the country someone or her ancestors came from) that language-based discrimination is effectively a proxy for national origin discrimination. Lau remains an important decision on the fourteenth amendment, and is frequently relied upon as authority in many cases.

Ann Arbor School District v. Martin Luther King Elementary School (1979)
This case was decided on July 12, 1979 by Judge Charles W. Joiner on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The suit was brought on behalf of black students at the school who spoke nonstandard English, claiming that the school district was not taking the language background of these students into account in their instruction. The court ruled that there was a possible relationship between the students' low reading scores and the failure of the school to take into account the home language of the children. The judge ordered the school district to find a way to identify Black English speakers in the schools and to "use that knowledge in teaching such students how to read standard English". The case is considered to have established an important precedent in the education of African American students who are Black English speakers.

Lesson 4: Resistant Histories, Language, and Music: "Hawaii ’78" and Israel Kamakawiwo‘Ole

Materials: Recording of Hawai‘i ’78 (by Iz and Pearl Jam), Lyrics

Activity 1. Analyzing Music in Performance and Audience
Objectives: practice rhetorically analyzing multimedia texts, critically think about how performances and language use can create different meanings for different audiences


  • explanation of various musical terms and brainstorming of general effects on audience (examples: fast vs slow tempo, repetition of lyrics, etc.)
  • brief background info on Iz and Pearl Jam performances of “Hawaii ’78.” Option:  You could assign this to a few students to research and present to the class.

TASK: After listening to each version, have students describe the differences, focusing on (1) musicality and (2) language. It would be helpful to consider lyrics, pronunciation, instrumentation, repetition, structure, tone, tempo, etc. This could happen in the form of a chart to fill out.

Sample Discussion Questions:

Who is “crying” according to the lyrics? Does this differ in each version?

Who do you think is the intended audience for each song? Is there more than one audience? Give reasons to back up your claim.

What are the effects of all these differences? Do you have a different reaction to each song? Explain.

Would you call any language use in either version “Pidgin”? Why/why not? If yes, what are the effects of using Pidgin on an audience (and also, what kind of audience)?

Activity 2. Filling in the History
Objectives: practice researching Hawaiian history, prepare oral presentation, practice communicating and sharing knowledge, working in collaborative groups. Learn and teach each other pieces of Hawaiian history, with focus on land and Native Hawaiian culture

Prep (optional): Activity 1 “Analyzing Music in Performance and Audience” OR brief background info on Iz’s performance of “Hawaii ‘78”

Exercise: After listening to song, split class up into groups and assign each of group a short research topic connected to the song. They are to present their findings to the class—10 min, with visuals.

Suggested topics (and helpful resources):

  • Short bio of Iz (Buckaloose by Sam Kong, Facing Future by Dan Kois)
  • History of state motto (History of the Hawaiian Kingdom by Ralph Kuykendall)
  • cultural significance of ‘āina (‘Ōlelo No‘eau edited by Mary Kawena Pukui, Native Lands, Foreign Desires by Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa, From a Native Daughter by Haunani-Kay Trask, )
  • Hawaiian Renaissance in 1970s (Hawaiian Music and Musicians edited by George Kanahele, Ho‘i Ho‘i Hou edited by Rodney Morales)
  • Significant events when song was re-released in 90s (Act of War documentaries)
    • Māhele (Native Lands, Foreign Desires by Lilikalā Kame‘eleihiwa)
    • Hawaiian Homes, blood quantum (Hawaiian Blood by J. Kehaulani Kauanui)
    • Current Land Trusts—Bishop Estate, etc.


Activity 3. Collective Histories
Objectives: connect personal experiences with larger histories, engage with current events, empower students as writers and recorders of history (instead of just readers), share student work with larger communities
Prep (optional): Activities 1 and/or 2 or brief background on Iz’s performance of “Hawaii ‘78”

Prep: Have students watch 3 to 5 personal collage versions of “Hawaii ‘78” on YouTube. Write down the images they see.  Discuss as a class and come up with common themes. Did the images fit the song?

Exercise: Class project:  “Hawaii 2010” art piece (an update/reinterpretation of the song)

  • Have each student bring in a recent image that fits the theme of the song. The images can be from newspapers or other sources, they can refer to larger current events, but they also can be personal stories and pictures that students take themselves.
  • Have each student write 1-2 paragraphs explaining their image and its relevance to the song and idea of Hawaii 2010. As a class discuss the role of Pidgin in these small stories. Does Pidgin connect with the themes of resistance and personal/alternate histories? Would Pidgin be an appropriate or preferable language to use in telling these stories? Why or why not?
  • Have each student mount their picture with their explanation in back.  As the class, collage the pictures together on a large posterboard so that they can be flipped over and the explanation can be read.
  • This artwork can be displayed for a short time in a school hallway along with a recording of “Hawaii ‘78” that plays while people look at the pictures, or in a larger school or community venue

Lesson 5: The Representation of Hawai‘i Pidgin English Hula, Hapa Haole Music, and Humor


  • Explore common stereotypes about Pidgin, particularly the expectation that Pidgin is funny
  • Practice critical thinking about the use of rhetorical strategies like humor. Interrogate humor’s seeming innocuousness and think about more damaging and serious consequences (e.g., the use of humor in racism).
  • Question the boundaries between jokes and “real life” with examples of humor in current events.
  • Learn more about how languages work through practicing translations. Explore the idea of how Pidgin has changed over time.
  • Learn more about the history of the cultural and economic relationship between Hawai‘i and the U.S. by interacting with popular cultural texts like songs, sheet music cover art, and TV shows.

Activity 1: Pidgin English Hula

Historical context for the music in these lesson plans:  Hawaiian music and images have played a crucial role in creating the idea of Hawai‘i as a wondrous paradise.  During America’s “Hawaii Craze” of the early 1900s, recorded Hawaiian music, via song sheets and the new technologies of records and radio, emerged as a hot new commodity madly produced by musicians both on the continental U.S. and in Hawai‘i.

Hapa-haole music—“half-foreign” music that mixed American jazz rhythms and Hawaiian instrumentation with English and Hawaiian language—established itself as a major “promotional tool” for Hawai‘i’s growing tourism industry. Through these exotic songs (and images, i.e., record cover art), Hawai‘i became romantically and nostalgically characterized as a place of grass shacks, lovely hula maidens, and white sandy beaches.

Commonly known today as “Waikīkī music” or “tourist music,” hapa-haole music has largely fallen out of favor, especially among Hawai‘i locals, and been critiqued and dismissed for its propagation of denigrating stereotypes. However, a few strong supporters remain vocal about the value of hapa-haole music [for an example of this, see the Honolulu Weekly article on the Annual Hapa-Haole Music and Film Festival put on by Kumu Hula Vicky Holt Takamine.

In honor of this complexity, these lesson plans aim to both explore and critique the stereotypes within hapa-haole music without dismissing them entirely.

Warm up:

Assign a few students to research Charles E. King and Hilo Hattie. Have them write a short biography to share with the class.


Break class up into groups and give each group the lyrics to “Pidgin English Hula,” a hapa-haole song popular in the 1930s (copyrighted in 1934 by composer Charles E. King) and still popular today (e.g., Makaha Sons recorded this song on Heke Wale Nō). Have each group translate the song into (1) modern Pidgin and (2) English. Compare translations as a class.
*Lyrics can be found on the online song database.

Sample discussion questions: Did you find this song funny? Why/why not? Who would find this song funny and why? Did the humor translate into modern Pidgin and English? What are some differences in this example of Pidgin from 1934 and the way we know Pidgin today? What are some differences in our translations? What was your experience trying to translate this text?

Follow-up activity:  Have students listen to the Alvin and the Chipmunks rendition of “Pidgin English Hula” (from Around the World with the Chipmunks) that can be found on YouTube

Ask the students to do a freewrite response to this version of the song and share responses with class. What was funny about this song? What kind of audience would find those things funny? Is there anything potentially offensive about this version? What kind of audience might have a problem with this version?

Pidgin English Hula
Words & music by Charles E. King (Lyrics are from this link)

Honolulu pretty girl stop
Too muchee guru looking
Number one sweet
Naughty eyes make, oh, oh,
Oh, oh

You bet I know
You no got chance
‘Nother fella she sweetheart
But today pilikia got
She too much huhu for him


Ah sa mala you last night?
You no come see mama
I t'ink so you no likee me no more
You too muchee like 'nother girl
'Nother fella likee me too
He number one guru look
He too much aloha
Ha ha ha ha
Ha ha ha ha auwe
Ha ha ha ha

Ha ha ha ha auwe, auwe
This funny kine fella
He think this girl no got brain
She too smart, yes
I tell you true, she smart,
Too smart
He feel sick inside
Yes, but what the use
Too late now, she mad like ----,
He go down the knee he like forgive
You know what she been tell him?


I no likee you no more
You no more come my place
Bumby this new one girl you forget
She no allee samee me
Sure I know you going pupule
You pupule loa for me
Your number one sweetheart
Ha ha ha ha
Ha ha ha ha auwe
Ha ha ha ha
Ha ha ha ha auwe, auwe

Source: King's Hawaiian Melodies - Copyright 1934, 43 Charles E. King, 1984 Criterion Music Corp

Teacher’s guide: Glossary of selected terms for “Pidgin English Hula”
Ah sa ma la: Pidgin pronunciation for “What’s the matter [with you]”
Auwe: Hawaiian expression that means “Oh no” or “How terrible” or “Alas”
“Been tell”: Been is used in Pidgin grammar as a past-tense marker. “Been tell” would likely be “told.”
Bumbye: Pidgin word meaning eventually/later. Another meaning is along the lines of “this will result in,” e.g.—“don’t play rough bumbye you get hurt” would mean “don’t play rough because then you might get hurt.”
Funny kine: Kine is a popular word in Pidgin that can mean lots of different things, but in this case it translates as “funny kind of fellow”
Guru: good
The r-sound suggests the speaker’s first language is Chinese or Japanese. The spelling of “likee” (like), “muchee” (much), “allee” (all) and “samee” (same) also point to an Asian identity, or the composer’s play with this stereotype.
Huhu: Hawaiian for angry or upset.
Number one: Pidgin for “the best” or “favorite”
Pilikia: Hawaiian for trouble. Often used in hapa-haole songs to describe a woman.
Pupule loa: Hawaiian words, literally “very crazy.” Perhaps a Pidgin grammar.
She no allee samee me: Pidgin for “she’s not the same as I am”
You no come see mama: In Pidgin grammar, “no” can mean “didn’t” or “don’t.”

Activity 2: Hapa-haole music, blackface, and racism in popular culture
Note:  This lesson plan attempts to contextualize racialized bodies in Hawai‘i music with a larger U.S. blackface tradition. Unfortunately, this musical connection is just one small instance of the many historical connections between blackface racist images and Native Hawaiian people, as touched upon by sites like

1) Have students explore the images of Hawaiian sheet music archived at
Ask them to look for trends within these art pieces.

Sample discussion questions: 

  • What kinds of images keep reappearing? At what points in history are certain images more popular than others? Why?
  • What kind of Hawai‘i do these pictures ask their viewers to imagine? Describe the people who would populate this Hawai‘i?
  • What kind of effects might these images have on different audiences (think of gender, age, location, ethnicity, etc.)

2) Do a presentation (or have students do a short, researched presentation) on the U.S. tradition of blackface and minstrel shows, focusing in particular on the 1910s, ‘20s, and ‘30s.

Helpful resources on blackface:

Divide class into groups and have students look at the African-American archetypes on Ask them to come up with Hawaiian archetypes based on their exploration of the hapa-haole sheet music image archive. Like the blackface website, each archetype should have a brief description and an example of an image. Have groups share their archetypes with the class and discuss the differences and similarities between the African-American and Hawaiian racial stereotypes they’ve identified. How might these stereotypes and images impact the way these groups of people were treated?

Follow-up activity: Can we imagine spaces of resistance to these stereotypes within hapa-haole and blackface traditions?

Give students the lyrics to “OH, HOW SHE COULD YACKI HACKI WICKI WACKI WOO,” [song written and published by Tin Pan Alley in 1916, lyrics at] and “Malihini Mele,” [a song written and published by R. Alex Anderson in 1934 and meant to make fun of hapa-haole music stereotypes, lyrics at]. Ask students to compare and contrast the way humor and language are used in each song lyric.

Helpful resources on hapa-haole music:
Hawaiian song lyrics:
hapa-haole song site:
song sheet image archive:
published Hawaiian songbook index:
weekly radio show:
Hawaiian Music and Musicians, edited by George Kanahele
Strains of Change: The Impact of Tourism on Hawaiian Music, by Elizabeth Tatar
Hilo Hattie: A Legend in Our Time, by Millie Singletary
Hula Blues, by Gurre Ploner Noble

Other Hawai‘i songs that use Pidgin:

Princess Pupule
Manuela Boy
Mr. Sun Cho Lee
Kanakanui Hotel
Island Style (John Cruz)
12 Days of Christmas, Hawaiian style
Sweet Okole
Who’s the lolo who stole my pakalolo
Pi‘i Mai Ka Nalu (Hawaiian Style Band version)
songs by Sudden Rush


Activity 3: Local humor and mainland representations of Hawai‘i

Warm up: Ask students to bring in an example of Pidgin being used humorously (for example, comic strips, movie reference, commercials (TV or radio), websites, news articles, TV shows, etc.). Ask them to describe the example, explain what was funny (or supposed to be funny) about it, and identify the intended audience for their example. Discuss “local humor”.
Watch the documentaries HKWTPY? and/or PTVH. Talk about how the issue of “Pidgin and humor” is presented in these films.

Activity: Instruct students to watch the Saturday Night Live skit titled “Hawaiian Hotel” and hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (aired March, 2009). This skit can be found online, for example:

Discussion questions: 

  • Was there anything funny about this skit? Why/why not?
  • What were the target audiences for these jokes?
  • How was language used for humor? Were there any examples of “local humor”?

Read the Honolulu Star-Bulletin article about this SNL skit that discusses Lt. Duke Aiona’s opposition to the skit’s characterization of tourism in Hawai‘i.

Discussion questions: 

  • There were many different viewpoints expressed in the article about this particular skit. Who did you agree with and why?
  • Does humor have effects and consequences in the “real world”? How is humor used to talk about problems? How can humor cause problems? How can humor solve problems? Has your definition of “local humor” changed?