I'm an English teacher, but I have a confession to make. I don't speak English. Okay, okay..I do speak English, but contrary to what most people think, it's not exactly my first language. Okay, okay...so strictly speaking, "English" sort of is my first language, that is of course, if you consider what linguistics refer to as Hawaiian Creole English as being English, then yes, I speak English as my mother tongue.
Legally speaking, the official languages of Hawai'i are English and 'Olelo Hawai'i (Native Hawaiian.) However, 'Olelo Hawai'i as a native language is only spoken by about 24,000 people. As for English, although 74% of residents in Hawaii reportedly speak English at home, the form of English being spoken is debatable.
What many people fail to realize is that, although Standard American English is the official language of the islands, it is not the commonly spoken language of the locals who are born and raised there.
Of course, this situation isn't unique to Hawai'i alone. In many countries around the world, the official language is not necessarily what you would hear spoken on the streets. In Taiwan, for example, Mandarin Chinese is the official language, but if you find yourselves on the streets of southern cities such as Tainan or Kaohsiung, you will hear Taiwanese being spoken instead.
The same can be said in other countries, like the Philippines, Indonesia and many others; the street languages there are different from the official languages.
As locals in Hawaii, many of us are raised speaking Pidgin at home. From when we are kids, this is what we use to speak with our mom, dad, grandparents and siblings. But when we start attending school, Standard American English enters into our world. For 12 long years of our young lives, we are fully indoctrinated into the world of "How to Speak English Like an American."
This means the majority of us born in Hawaii, especially the younger generations, can speak both Pidgin and English fluently, and we speak English as fluently as any other American. We learn when to turn it on and off depending on the circumstances and surroundings, and we may often switch from speaking one to the other and back in the same conversation.
There are even different dialects of Pidgin spoken on other islands, and differing levels of Pidgin that we may use according to the situation or the people we are speaking to. Sometimes our conversation turns out to be something somewhere between deep/pure Pidgin and Standard English, not fully one or the other.
Recently, one of my friends here said, "Your mother language is the one you use when you are arguing." Without a doubt, for me that's Pidgin. This, of course, poses an interesting dilemma, one that I rarely speak of at work.
The work dilemma for me is that, as an English teacher in Asia, the parents and employers are only interested in hiring native English speakers. They don't want someone who speaks English as their second or third language, and they certainly don't want their young ones learning how to speak a form of pseudo-English 'tainted' by islander lingo.
What makes this even more complicated is that I can speak Standard American English as fluently as any native speaker, so my island pidgin-ness can fly under the radar and for the most part go virtually undetected. To the untrained ear, my English accent is as American as apple pie.
What this means is that, when I am at work, I almost exclusively find myself having to hide my Pidgin away, and trying to sound as All-American as possible. It stinks, but in Anglocentric Asia it's a necessary evil. Thankfully, because of my 'classic' American education and 4 years of living in New York, masking my true islander accent is something I can easily get away with. But it's all just a facade. Deep down inside, my words and thoughts are Pidgin.
So there you have it. My dirty little secret. I speak Hawaiian Creole English. Pidgin, if you prefer.
But students and bosses, if you are reading this, PLEASE rest at ease. I assure you, when I am on your clock, on your time, all you ever hear from me is Standard American English, the language of Hollywood movie stars, pop artists and White House politicians.
However, I will admit, there are days when I'm in a classroom full of screaming, crying, bawling children, and instead of yelling, "Please be quiet!" I'd rather just say, "Eh! Try shut yo guys mout!!" I mean, come on, don't you think that would work so much better?!
Maybe one day, if I ever open a Pidgin101 class...
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