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Hawaii is like no other state in America thanks to the Hawaiian people and the many cultures that have migrated to the islands over the centuries. The unique melting pot of people has created a unique language called Hawaiian Pidgin. Here are 15 Hawaiian Pidgin phrases to help you get around during your vacation.
First, the Hawaiian language is called ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i and is spoken by the kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians). Pidgin is not ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i but a Hawaii Creole English spoken by about 600,000 residents of Hawaii.
During your Hawai’i vacation, you will hear grindz, da kine, shoots, talk story, and many more Pidgin phrases. The language is what makes a visit to Hawaii feel so special.
In the 19th century, indentured laborers from China, Portugal, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and other countries were brought to Hawai’i to work the sugar cane plantations. The Hawaiian Pidgin language was born as a simplified language between the groups who did not share a common language.
As a visitor, learn these Hawaiian Pidgin phrases before you land to help you find the correct bathroom at a minimum.
Where to Learn ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, Not Hawaiian Pidgin Phrases
I’d be remiss not to point you in the direction of learning the proper Hawaiian language. The language started to go extinct in the 20th century but has been revived thanks to a renewed emphasis on preserving and protecting the culture of the Hawaiian people.
Children educated in Hawaii can participate in Hawaiian immersion schools or at a minimum, learn the basics of the Hawaiian language in their day-to-day classes.
For adults and visitors to Hawaii, online courses provide a wonderful means to learn the language. Simple online courses will help you pronounce road signs, towns, historical places, and locations with ease.
By law, all roads in Hawaii must be a Hawaiian word or phrase. So to get around Hawaii, it is helpful to know how to pronounce Hawaiian words.
- Olelo Online is a wonderful online classroom for learning the language through virtual classrooms, online worksheets, and audio tests.
- Duo Lingo is a fan-favorite as anyone can download the free app to start learning Hawaiian. They pride themselves on featuring such a unique and rare language.
- Ka Hale Hoaka (a local Hawaiian company) provides virtual classrooms to beginner online courses offered over three products.
The Hawaiian language (ōlelo Hawai’i) is all about pronouncing vowels like they are consonants. That doesn’t mean it’s easy as Erica and I are always working to speak Hawaiian words and phrases correctly in our Hawaii Vacation Guide YouTube channel. In fact, I remade one of our earliest videos as I would cringe at how I pronounced popular snorkeling spots. It is a journey.
Luckily, Hawaii Pidgin phrases are far more forgiving by design compared to ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i.
We have no affiliation with any of the Hawaiian language programs above. But visiting Hawaii can be more rewarding when you can pronounce Wai’anapanapa, Kamehameha, or Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.
Popular Hawaii Resources:
- 35 Things to Do on Kauai
- 33 Things to Do on Maui: Leave the Crowds Behind
- 40 Things to Do on Oahu: We Will Surprise You!
- 21 Things to Do on Lanai
Hawaiian Pidgin Phrases
Don’t ask me to do a Pidgin (Hawai’i Creole English) accent. I lived in London for six years and can’t do an English accent. These Hawaiian Pidgin phrases are easy to say and be understood. Even if you don’t speak them, you will be able to read and understand them.
There is much to know about ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i and Hawaiian Pidgin but let’s keep this simple with some common and fun phrases for your vacation.
Da Kine: an all-purpose substitution word like thing or the kind. “He wen to da kine to get some da kine.” You probably heard of the Hawaii apparel brand called Dakine. They sell da kine.
Shoots: slang for okay or an acknowledgment. Our Haleakala sunrise tour guide on Maui had everyone on the bus replying with shoots by the end of the trip.
Talk Story: phrase meaning talking amongst friends.
Grindz: food or a meal out. You will see signs advertising local grindz.
‘Ono: delicious or tasty. “Hey, dat’s ‘ono grindz!”
Broke Da Mouth: very delicious food. “Hey, da ‘ono grindz broke da mouth!”
Hana Hou (ha-na-oh): To do again, like encore.
Pau Hana: pau means finished or completed and hana means work. So, pau hana means work is completed. Also used to denote time for happy hour.
Howzit: a greeting, as in “How’s it going?”
Keiki: child or children. You will find a keiki menu at restaurants.
Slippahs: flip-flops or sandals. Remember to leave slippahs at the door before you enter a local’s home.
Malihini: newcomer or visitor to Hawa’i.
My favorite joke from our favorite Road to Hana tour guide was:
What do you call a first-time visitor to Hawai’i? Malihini
What do you call a second-time visitor to Hawai’i? Rich
A common mispronunciation we hear is for the Hawaiian dish of diced raw fish. Poke is pronounced poke-ay, not pokie. Regardless of how you say it, the fish counter guys at Foodland will still scoop some for you without side-eye. Poke means to cut crosswise into pieces.
Another fun fact, the fish ahi means fire in Hawaiian (yellowfin tuna or bigeye tuna). Hawaiians named it ahi due to its fire-colored flesh.
‘Ohana – Food and Family
A popular, even mainstream, Hawaiian word is ʻOhana – meaning family. The meaning extends to the adoptive family and the sense of community.
The word ʻohana is rooted in the taro plant (kalo in Hawaiian). Visitors will taste taro at a luau as poi (poi is an excellent complement to kalua pork). Poi is made by smashing the root of taro into a paste.
Poi is an excellent first food for babies, as our baby Edith got to experience.
The root word of ‘ohana is ‘ohā, referring to the root or corm of the taro plant.
Deeper Meaning #1: As the ‘ohana is the center of life, taro is a food staple in Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures. Hence, taro was a canoe crop for Polynesian voyagers.
Deeper Meaning #2: The ‘ohā is the shoot, the part of the taro plant that is cut and planted to become the next generation in the taro patch. “Ana” in ‘ohana is a conjunctive word connoting regeneration or procreation.
Deeper Meaning #3: Hawaiian legend has it that Haloa was the deformed, first child of Wakea (God of the Sky and ancestor of the Hawaiian people). Haloa was planted in the corner of the house (hale) and grew to become the taro (kalo) plant. The next child born to Wakea was man. Therefore, taro is the older sibling of man.
Diacritical Markings in Hawaiian
You may have noticed that we do not use diacritical markings on Hawaiian words on this website. The main reason is for ease of reading. Also, the necessity of using them is debatable.
Per the ‘Iolani Palace, diacritical markings are pronunciation guides, primarily for non-native speakers. The Royal Hawaiian Monarchy did not write using the markings.
Let’s take a step back. There are two diacritical markings in the contemporary Hawaiian language.
- The ‘ (okina), which is typographically represented as a reversed apostrophe. In spoken Hawaiian, the ‘ (okina) indicates a glottal stop, or clean break between vowels.
- The ¯ (kahako), or macron typographically represented as a bar above the letter, as in ā. The macron over a vowel indicates a longer accentuation in pronunciation of the vowel that it appears over.
I am practicing the glottal stop as it helps me speak slower. Ka’anapali Resorts on Maui has a pause with the ‘okina. Haleakalā National Park has a long ahh sound at the end because of the kahako.
Let’s take a step back. The markings are a helpful pronunciation guide for non-native speakers as ʻŌlelo Hawaiian is an endangered language.
After the coup that led to the overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy on January 17th, 1893, the foreign invaders made English the medium of instruction in Hawaiian schools. Speaking Hawaiian wasn’t illegal but the law created prejudice against the language.
Today, 0.1% of Hawaii’s population speaks Hawaiian fluently. The Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970s is helping to revive the language.
This video on the Pono Pledge includes beautifully spoken Hawaiian.
Hence, the diacritical markings are to help us folks who desire to pronounce Hawaiian places and things correctly. ʻŌlelo Hawaiian was an oral language, ancient Hawaiians did not write.
Let’s take a step back. When Captain Cook landed on Kauai, he found a nation rich in oral tradition but no written language. FYI, Hula dancing is a form of storytelling. The classic outstretched gently rolling arms translates to ocean waves.
When Protestant missionaries landed on Hawaii in 1820, their strategic goal was to complete a translation of the Bible into Hawaiian. They went to quick work to create standard spelling. The current official Hawaiian alphabet consists of 13 letters: five vowels (A a, E e, I i, O o, and U u) and eight consonants (H h, K k, L l, M m, N n, P p, W w, and ʻ)
By 1834, the first Hawaiian newspapers were published. I don’t have the facts on hand, but the number of Hawaiian newspapers was staggering. Hawaiians picked up fast on literacy. By 1853, 75% of the adult population could read.
I hope this quick language lesson helps your Hawaii vacation feel more enriching.
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