In his “Da State of Pidgin Address,” Hawaii author and former University of Hawaii professor Lee Tonouchi includes a 63-line poem entitled “Dey Say if You Talk Pidgin You No Can …”

The poem’s lines complete the sentence. Some examples:

be one doctor . . .
go mainland school . . .
work customer service . . .
write a ‘proper’ sentence. . .

“Ho, from reading dis poem look like you pretty much useless, good fo’ nahting den, if you talk Pidgin,” writes Tonouchi, the self-proclaimed “Pidgin Guerrilla.” “Destined for be da kine deadweight to society.”

hang loose

The poem is the result of an exercise Tonouchi did with his students in which he asked, “Try tell me all da tings dat people told you ova da years dat you CAN-NOT do wit Pidgin.”

Like it or not, Pidgin — the local creole language that traces back to Hawaii’s plantation era — has no place in the professional world, critics say. They argue that students need to speak English to get by in life.

“Our education system should be shooting to help our kids to be well-informed, well-educated people who can go into the community” and get good jobs, said former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, who has repeatedly said that Pidgin should be eradicated from Hawaii classrooms.

Teachers who allow classroom Pidgin aren’t doing enough to ensure their students realize their fullest potential, he said. Cayetano grew up in Kalihi and graduated from Farrington High School.

But Pidgin advocates like Tonouchi — who got his master’s in English from UH — say that belief is nothing but a product of deep-seated discrimination. And the emphasis on so-called “standard English,” they say, disregards Hawaii’s cultural diversity.

“To say you should only have one language is restrictive,” said Ermile Hargrove, a Pidgin advocate and Hawaii Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development executive director. Standard English is “an artificiality that doesn’t even exist.”


Photo Credit: thegirlsny on Flickr