In a continuing series of features from our authors, Albert Tucher shares what he has learned about a local Hawaiian language called Pidgin in an article he titles, “Da Moke Wen’ Karang My ’Alas.”
In late March 2017 the Shotgun Honey imprint of Down & Out Books published my novella The Place of Refuge, which is the result of a dozen visits I have made to the rain forest side of the Big Island of Hawaii. The region known as Puna struck me from the beginning as a natural setting for noir crime fiction. It is home to marijuana farmers, meth cookers, fugitives, survivalists and Sixties holdovers. The Hawaii County Police are stretched thin over this enormous island, and much of the time Puna feels barely under control.
The place can also sound strange to mainland ears because of the local language called Pidgin. While many people in Hawaii call it endangered, and it is increasingly rare to find people who speak only Pidgin, I have met several speakers in their twenties. Some of them have been eager to share the finer points with me.
Despite its name, Pidgin is more of a creole. As I understand it, a pidgin is an improvised language with limited vocabulary and simplified grammar that serves a specific purpose, often trading goods or giving instructions to laborers. A creole is a full-fledged language that grows out of a pidgin over time. Haitian Creole is a well-known example.