Kama’aina's Broken English. Designation of local identity through the use of Hawai'i Creole English

Term Paper, 2015

9 Pages, Grade: 1,3



introduction - history of variety

hawai'i creole english - historical background

being kama’aina - local identity in hawai'i

manner of designating local identity through hawai'i english creole

conclusion - anything but broken

works cited

introduction - history of variety

An integral part of the history of the English language is written in its linguistic varieties. Those varieties are often stigmatized by users of Standard English because of social, cultural, and historical characteristics that accompany their use. Such stigmatization has also arisen towards Hawai'i Creole English,[1] an English-based language that is spoken by the majority of the residents of Hawai'i and exists alongside with Standard English and Hawaiian as the two official languages of the (federal) state of Hawai'i. Remarkably, apart from proponents of Standard English, even those who use HCE in their day-to-day communication often refer to it as 'broken English' and associate it with low educational and socio-economic status. Historically, this negative attitude towards HCE has its roots in social inequalities (cf. Kawamoto 1993: 201). Therefore, it has no linguistic base, but is "socially constructed" (Drager 2012: 12). However, although the stigmatization has influenced even its speakers, HCE remains a means of designating local identity, be it embraced or disdained. Hence, the ability to apply HCE properly is considered to be an essential part of being a kama’aina - a 'local'. This local identity expressed by HCE is based upon cultural knowledge shared by people who were born and raised in Hawai'i (cf. Drager 2012: 8) and has been both reinforced and challenged by the increasing influence of Standard English on self-conception. Within this paper, it will be illustrated that HCE is used to express and maintain local identity by referring to a common cultural knowledge that is shared only by locals. Before being able to finally demonstrate in what manner local identity is confirmed by the use of HCE, it is inevitable to deal with the historical reality in which HCE emerged and illustrate on what local identity is based.

hawai'i creole english - historical background

Hawai'i Creole English emerged as a common means of communication among different immigrant groups and was oriented towards the language of their English-speaking employers. HCE arose in the 1840s when thousands of labourers from around the world came to work in the sugarcane plantations of Hawai'i. Not having a collective language, they communicated by using an amalgam of several tongues. This 'artificial' form of communication between the English-speaking employers, the immigrants, and the natives of Hawai'i was based increasingly on the Standard English of the upper class (cf. Drager 2012: 4). By being used daily among the members of a significantly mixed community, the 'new' language expanded. While this Hawai'i Pidgin English initially appeared as the dominant language of the plantation workers’ children (cf. Tamura 1993: 51), it soon started to be applied also outside the plantations. The offspring of the immigrants spoke their family's language at home, but used the Pidgin when communicating with members of other cultural groups. At the turn of the 20th century, Hawai‘i Pidgin English became the native language of many of those who grew up in Hawai'i. To this second generation - certainly bilingual in Hawai'i Pidgin English and their parents’ native language (cf. Kawamoto 1993) -, Hawai'i Pidgin English was handed on through "intergenerational transmission" (Roberts 2004: 335). From this point on, Hawai'i Pidgin English must be called Hawai'i Creole English (cf. Yule 2006: 201-02) since it had become the first language of many children growing up in Hawai'i by a process known as "nativization" (Wardhaugh 2002: 61). HCE had become the language of the majority of the population of Hawai'i by the 1920s and is used today by approximately 600,000 speakers, many of which speak both HCE and English and freely code-mix and code-switch between the two (cf. Odo 1970; cf. Reynolds 1999). Thereby, speakers of HCE "enlarge the stylistic resources of the creole by switching to a co-existent English system” (Labov 1971[1990]: 36). Although HCE is described as an English creole consisting of 75% English vocabulary, it has its own grammar, orthography, and sounds (cf. Drager 2012: 5).

being kama’aina - local identity in hawai'i

Following the thesis given in the preliminary paragraph that HCE is an important means of designating local identity on the basis of a cultural knowledge that is shared by locals, it has to be explained now what actually is meant by 'local' and how local identity is connected with the use of HCE.

In Hawai'i, the term 'local' (kama’aina) came into existence against the background of the infamous Massie Case of 1931/32[2] and was subsequently used generically with reference to non-White residents born and raised in Hawai'i, the majority of which were descendants of plantation workers and as such revealing a low social status. Apart from this "racial" (look local) aspect (2004/2008: 297), Labrador distinguishes furthermore between "cultural" (act local) and "linguistic" (talk local) features of local identity (2004/2008: 297) that are common only to insiders. The cultural aspect is very much tied to certain values which are appreciated by locals (cf. Yokota 2008: 26). These values - e.g., family, preservation of community by generosity and compassion, rejection of individualism - are based on the life in the sugar plantations and stand in intense contrast to the today's Western way of referring to life, which is regarded by Hawai'i locals as Haole identity and therefore as the very opposite of localness (cf. Pukui and Elbert 2003). Local identity and the contrast to Western values are ideologically highly linked to the use of HCE through which local identity is mainly expressed. To understand this linguistic aspect, it is necessary to respect the series of economic, political, and social threats in Hawai'i (cf. Okamura 1994) which have had a deep impact on local identity and the attitudes towards HCE (cf. Tamura 1996). Replacing Hawaiian, English had become the dominant language in the Hawai'i educational system by the end of the 19th century, excluding all children who were identified as not being able to speak Standard English (cf. Tamura 1993: 54-55). While the wealthy English-speaking minority wished to prepare Hawai‘i’s youth “participation in an American-type community” (Stueber 1964: 144), HCE was regarded by its users as preserving a local identity which comprises "a sense of ethnic identity while at the same time identifying with a larger, more encompassing culture” (Kawamoto 1993: 201). The challenge of Standard English to HCE has provoked mixed feelings of the people of the Aloha state about their HCE. Some consider it to be a significant designation of their rich sociocultural and linguistic history, whereas others see it as a permanent reminiscence of plantation life and American dominance. While Standard English is rated higher in terms of education and upper class affiliation, HCE is thought to be superior concerning solidarity (cf. Ohama 2000: 370-371) and the establishment of a sense of belonging to Hawai‘i by creating a distance from mainland values such as career, individuality, and material success (cf. Yokota 2008: 28-29).

To summarize briefly: The term local identity refers to racial, cultural, and linguistic aspects and identifies 'locals' as non-White descendants of plantation workers, born and raised in Hawai'i, who share values that are emphasised against the background of tensions between insiders (locals) and outsiders (non-locals). This local identity is designated particularly by the use of HCE.

manner of designating local identity through hawai'i english creole

Whereas in the previous paragraph it has been shed light on the connection between local identity and HCE, it is to be illustrated now how local identity is designated semantically and pragmatically through "thought patterns and processes that are unique to the culture using them” (Ohama 2000: 374).

Speakers of HCE designate their local identity by referring (mostly unconsciously) to a certain group knowledge that preserves a sense of community (cf. Kawamoto 1993: 201).


[1] The term Hawai'i Creole English will be abbreviated by HCE within this essay for reasons of readability.

[2] For detailed information, see Stannard, D.E. 2005. Honor Killing: How the Infamous "Massie Affair" Transformed Hawai'i. New York City: Viking Press.

Excerpt out of 9 pages


Kama’aina's Broken English. Designation of local identity through the use of Hawai'i Creole English
Free University of Berlin  (Englische Philologie)
History of English
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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502 KB
hawai'i creole english, Pidgin, Creole, Hawaii, History of English, Language, Local, Identity, Local identity, Standard English, English, designation, idiom
Quote paper
Dominik Jesse (Author), 2015, Kama’aina's Broken English. Designation of local identity through the use of Hawai'i Creole English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/294750


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