Sarah Roberts, a sociolinguist studying Hawai’i Creole English, has begun a language blog, Namu Pa’i ‘Ai, which

will chiefly concern itself with the linguistic situation in Hawai’i (as it is my area of expertise), but it will also cover news and research concerning other pidgin/creole varieties around the world… I will be writing mostly for a linguist and language specialist audience but I hope this blog will interest non-specialists as well — especially Pidgin speakers and those who take an active interest in the language.

She’s posted on Polari (see here for description and Bible translation) and girls being punished for speaking pidgin, among other things. A promising start!

If you’re wondering about the name of the blog:

Although “Pidgin” is the usual English name for the language, in Hawaiian it is also known as ‘ōlelo pa’i ‘ai, which literally translates as “hard taro-root language”. This term was originally used in the 19th century to refer to Pidgin Hawaiian (a Polynesian-based pidgin spoken especially on the plantations), Hawai’i Pidgin English (the direct ancestor of HCE), and a mixture of the two languages. Namu pa’i ‘ai is a variant of this name and was first attested in a newspaper article in 1887. Namu is Hawaiian for “gibberish”, from which the Pidgin Hawaiian word naminami “to talk, converse” was derived. The “hard-taro” metaphor latent in the name is especially obscure and is open to various unsatisfactory interpretations, which nicely evokes the state of affairs in pidgin and creole studies regarding the obscure origins of contact languages and the often unsatisfactory attempts to understand them.

(Via Semantic Compositions.)


  1. Um, your link to Namu Pa’i ‘Ai seems to be self-referential.

  2. Aargh! Reminder to self: always check links on preview.
    Fixed, and many thanks for letting me know.

  3. Tanks foa da kine link, brah!

  4. ktschwarz says:

    I was surprised to find a good article on language in, of all places, an airline magazine: My Native Tongue by Mitchell Kuga, who grew up in the Hawaiian creole continuum. The plantation history is downplayed as “less than ideal conditions”, but that’s the price of reaching a captive audience (worth it, imho). Kuga just touches on grammar and vocabulary, concentrating on sociolinguistics, where he ticks a lot of familiar boxes* : parents punished in boarding school for speaking Pidgin; fluid code-switching between basilect at a construction site and acrolect at home; an ambitious kid going to college on the mainland, coming back “talking haole” and having a hard time switching back to home language; an activist generation rising in the ’90s, writing literary novels in Pidgin and teaching in universities, even as the transmission of Pidgin to children is faltering. The conclusion:

    On a recent visit home, I went to the beach. Oahu’s North Shore is a disorienting mix of sunburnt tourists and the very local; having lived in New York for more than seven years by that point, I imagined I looked like a cross between the two. As I sat in front of the crashing waves, a tanned surfer with sun-bleached hair approached me apprehensively to ask for a bottle opener. “Try wait,” I said, rummaging through my beach bag.

    It was barely perceptible, but his face flashed with the comfort of recognition: He was talking to a kama‘aina, a local. After I handed over the bottle opener on my key ring, he had one more question. “You like one beer?”

    That struck me: as a native speaker of Standard English, I’ll never have that small-group linguistic intimacy. Tradeoffs of privilege.

    * Not meant as dismissive, rather as black humor on how language marginalization is so damn ubiquitous.

  5. Thanks, a great quote! (And I am mildly bemused and a bit sad to see that the blog I linked to gave up the ghost after one more post: “I would like to thank Semantic Compositions and Language Hat for spreading the word about this weblog. It is rather remarkable how quickly it has appeared on the proverbial ‘map’. Not a bad start for a first week.” Its first week was its last…)

  6. John Cowan says:

    good article on language in, of all places, an airline magazine

    My experience is that good articles are often (well, relative to the general standard of magazine articles) found in airline magazines. The writers tend to be good at explaining the destination’s cultural differences in a way accessible to tourists.

Speak Your Mind