Sunday, January 29, 2017
Homework: An Interdisciplinary Approach to American English
This semester I started my masters in American studies, which is the reason why I had so little time to write for the blog. Now I had one class in particular that was very entertaining (fine, they all were!!) as we discussed as a group 'language' as a live entity, someone who could be sitting there with us. This approach helped us understand the changes from a historical point of view as well as see the that a language can have and has a character. I always enjoyed seminars much more at the university, and I was never very smart or interested when it came to linguistics. This class, however, got me involved in ways that were unprecedented. I was lucky, because the teacher was very open minded and I could write my essay on something that is very close to my heart: Hawaiian Creole English. Hawaiian culture has been slowly embedding itself in my heart and I try to learn Hawaiian on my own for no other reason then my amusement of the structure of the language. So when it came to my original topic, regional dialects, I couldn't help but notice that maps and research barely covered the 50th state and so I decided to finally gather all that knowledge I had accumulated over the years into one big paper. My teacher pointed out two main elements that were missing, a few examples when I discussed the grammatical structure of the creole (for which I suggest looking up the sources you'll find at the end of the essay if you are interested!!); and a view of the people of the island of their own language. To be honest, I hope I can research this on the spot one day, and then I'll be able to include it :) Until then, enjoy this first version of my paper!
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Examining Hawaiian Creole as a Regional Dialect
The official language of the United States on a national level is English; however, this English varies greatly in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, around the country mostly due to geography. Because of its the immense territory it has become harder and harder to delineate the regional dialects spoken in the country, but it is easier to observe the English spoken in Alaska and Hawaii as they rejoice in a physical distance from continental USA. This distance is also negative since as a result they are not included among maps that showcase the differences in vocabulary use in different regions of the country. Linguist Hans Kurath tried to classify regional dialects into Northern, Midland, and the Southern area (Kövecses 63). But this classification has been tested and proven to be only superficial over the years. In a recent study conducted by Ph.D student Joshua Katz from North Carolina State University, words with the same meaning were listed and people could vote on the variant that they used to showcase dialectal differences in the various states (Hickey). This experiment had already been conducted several years ago by asking people to say which expression they used for “carbonated soft drinks”, and the results showed many variants (Kövecses 72). Katz’s research had the intention of drawing up maps in order to help see the different dialects and how hard it is to point out where one begins and the other one finishes as they are not based on state lines. But Alaska and Hawaii were left out, although when it comes to the composition of the English spoken on the territory, they are regions themselves that had natives living on the lands and whose language was influenced by settlers a great deal. “American English is characterized by both uniformity and variation and heterogeneity” (Kövecses 73), and overall about two thirds of the population actually speak the same dialect. This very isolation factors in as it is capable of causing much greater divide among the dialects of a given language.
Hawaii in particular, being one of the most famous tourist destinations is always exposed to the newer and newer variants of the English language. When talking about regional dialects, by definition, we are talking about “a regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a variety of speech differing from the standard literary language or speech pattern of the culture in which it exists” (“regional dialect”). When starting a research based on the definition above stated, both the 49th and the 50th state should be included and as such it is the aim of this paper to dissertate Hawai’i Creole English as one of the regional dialects of the United States. First, the dialect itself will be analyzed, followed by the historical background and a description of the substrate that influenced it. Afterwards the current state of this dialect within the state will be given, amidst examples of the American character’s presence in this regional dialect. In the essay the term “Hawaiian” will refer to the native tongue of the indigenous or aboriginal people of the islands, while Hawai’i Creole or Pidgin (with capital letters) will refer to the Hawaiian Creole English spoken today.
Hawai’i Creole is hard to define because it has a very intense history. We speak of dialects when the language “of a group of speakers shows systematic differences but these speakers can nevertheless understand each other” (Kövecses 52), such is the case with this dialect as “Hawaiian Creole English is pretty much mutually unintelligible with standard English” (Wilton). What is considered Standard American English also comes from a dialect-based variety that was spoken on the continent. Because it was used by newscasters, soon enough it was the one spoken in the Midwestern area that became the standard (Kövecses 202). On a geographical level Hawai’i Creole English does not only exist in the isolation of the islands of Hawaii, but can be found outside as well: speakers of it can occur within Florida, in the Orlando area; within Nevada, around Las Vegas; and mainly the west coast. The majority of speakers are, however, situated in Hawaii, as out of the population of 600,000 (according to a census from 2012), only 100,000 live in continental America (Lewis, Simons and Fennig). This dialect has no subdialects, just variations because of the vast amount of other tongues spoken on the islands.
This Creole developed from Pidgin English spoken on the sugar and pineapple plantations and has a mixture of words of Japanese and Portuguese origin in it as well. Pidgin is a combination of expressions and phrases and because of that it is recognizable for speakers of it, but for the foreign listener it might come off as slang (Wong). Pidgin was needed to help the communication among two different tongues, but once that version is taught as a native language then it becomes a creole (“Definitions”). Contact between English and other languages always gave rise to new variants; it was the same when it came to the islands. When the previous language of Polynesian origin came into contact with the settlers’ English, the new variant was born which evolved over the years into what today is known as Hawai’i Creole English (“Major Regional Dialects”). It should be pointed out that both creole and pidgin are technical terms, and while linguist use them to differentiate an official tongue from an unofficial one, the speakers of the given dialect may prefer one over the other; such is the case with Hawaiians, who refer to their English variant as “Pidgin” (“Definitions”). This Pidgin became more stable around 1896, when the first generation of locally born speakers grew equal to that of the speakers of the superstrate language ("Substrate Influence").
To understand how this Pidgin works, there is necessity in examining the language from multiple angles. First, a historical background to the origins of the variant of English spoken on the islands of Hawaii has to be established. The archipelago in question is a group of eight islands: Hawai’i, Maui, Kaua’i, Lāna’i, Moloka’i, Ni’ihau Kaho’olawe, with the capital Honolulu residing on O’ahu (Riley 64). The islands, being in the North Pacific Ocean, were an important stop both strategically and geographically during colonization. The first settlers arrived towards the end of the 18th century and over the decades a lot of different nationalities have come and gone. These included China, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Spain, and even the Philippines before the English arrived around 1820 (Delaney and Hargrove, Sakoda and “Definitions”). It was estimated “that there were 683,000 Native Hawaiians on the island in 1778, when British explorer Capt. James Cook arrived” (Goo). Second, what is considered the standard Creole on the islands today “is part of the Western dialect family but shows less influence from the early New England dialect than any other American dialect” (Delaney). The inflections in the language are simplified using Hawaiian accents and many times the intonation remained Polynesian. Testament to the latter is that intonation rises in the middle of the sentence and then falls, rather than rising at the end as it does in English (Wilton).
American English can be said to be informal in pronunciation and spelling (Kövecses 220), not only that but it is also very inventive. The only reason why these pidgins could come to life in the first place is due to the fact that there is flexibility in how English is used and created. American English can easily be said to be the most innovative in its nature, and that can be demonstrated in the grammar of Hawaiian Creole as well (253). The grammar of the language is quite easy, as the tongue uses tense and aspect markers when conjugating, otherwise the verb without any marker is used to talk about things that happen all the time or are not defined in time. For past events the Hawaiian uses wen before the main verb and for future events go, gon or gona. For events that are in progress the language borrowed from the English, as many times it can have an -ing ending. Otherwise the auxiliary ste is put before the verb (Hargrove, Sakoda and Siegel). Sentences that give location also use the word ste, stay; to say there is/are the word get is used, while the past tense uses haed. Hawaiian Creole many times does not require any verb for a sentence to be correct, which is a quality it shares with other languages, rather than with English (Hargrove, Sakoda and Siegel). When it comes to verb negation the word neva is put in front of the main verb in the sentence (Thompson).
It has to be underlined that this is not redundancy in the dialect, as the spelling of the words changed because it wished to be faithful to their pronunciation (Kövecses 179). As a matter of fact, the grammatical composition in the Pidgin is a testament to the economic nature of American English, which wished to simplify the British English variant spoken in the thirteen colonies. This process of simplification began immediately after the War of Independence. Linguistic economy seeks to eliminate or avoid redundancy and superfluity (Kövecses 185). American English always prided itself in the differences from its British counterpart, by dropping extra vowels or irregular forms of verbs; it became easier for foreign learners. This economic nature is deeply embedded in the Hawaiian dialect: not only does it come from the simplicity of the Hawaiian native language, but it even managed to simplify an already easy English variant.
The tongue has a syllable-times rhythm, so the syllables have approximately the same length, like in Spanish and Italian. The sound // as in and the sound // as in are replaced by /t/ and /d/ respectively, e.g., is pronounced as /tin/ and is pronounced as /den/. The article is pronounced as /da/ and finally the sound /r/ after vowels is dropped, e.g., is pronounced as /beta/ (Thompson).
It is important to remember that the composition of Hawaiian Creole cannot be reduced to two steps, as it is the case with many Neo-Latin languages. Those tongues developed with a substrate language spoken on the territory that was then overwritten by a superstrate language. Although there is some similarity, as Hawaiian spoken by the natives on the islands is considered the substrate that influenced it, English cannot be considered the one and only superstrate language. As it was demonstrated so far, most grammatical and pronunciation features of Hawaiian Creole do not resemble English in any way. The stability of this Pidgin, as stated before in the paper, was solidified at the end of the 1800, what followed was the beginning of the 1900, which saw a rise in second generation locally born speakers of the dialect. These included men of Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese descent (“Substrate Influence”). These three, more than any other tongue, can be found repeatedly in the etymology of Hawaiian words. The composition of this tongue has several levels, and even if ultimately it was dubbed an English dialect, initially it was influenced mostly by other languages. In the end it was justifiably considered an English dialect not for its vocabulary or grammar, but for its character. Another testament to that is the straightforward notion of this dialect. Just like American English, the idea is to make sure that language is easily followed and understood by all speakers (Kövecses 186). Alaska and Hawaii are special for another reason when discussing regional dialects: they have enforced and kept most of their native cultural traits alive as much as it was possible over the years. On continental America there is a social-psychological reason which enforced unity among the states, and even if many of these were adapted even outside of the country, it is still mostly uniform only within the continent (Kövecses 73).
In this second part of the essay the substrate, Hawaiian native tongue, will be analyzed in order to help understand how their Pidgin is constructed. Ultimately, language is, without question one of the key components to get to know someone’s culture, and it was this that motivated Joshua Katz to compile the maps on regional dialects. He said: “To me, dialect is a badge of pride; it's something that says ‘this is who I am; this is where I come from’”, and the speakers of the native Hawaiian tongue had greatly diminished over the years. Today it is considered one of the world’s endangered languages, as there are only about a thousand native speakers, and the majority are over 70 years old (Wilton). Native Hawaiian is a recognized racial classification and in “the 2010 Census: 527,077 people reported that they are Native Hawaiian alone or of a mixed race that includes Native Hawaiian” (Launia) out of the 1.4 million population of Hawaii. “U.S. Native Hawaiian population today, 36% identify as two races and 26% identify as three races; only a third – 33% – identify as only Native Hawaiian” (Goo), which is around 8000 people.
When settlers arrived, besides their own language, they also brought diseases which significantly decreased the population of native speakers on the islands (Hargrove, Sakoda and Siegel). What followed was the prohibition of the language at the end of the 19th century for native speakers in schools, and soon enough in their homes as well (“The Language of Ni‘ihau”). It was here that isolation resulted in the salvation of the language as each island was treated differently. The island of Ni’ihau escaped the near extinction of the language, but this also brought about a different dialect, leaving the island the only one that uses Hawaiian as its first and only language (“The Language of Ni‘ihau”). Thankfully the language had a renaissance era and today “thousands of people study the Hawaiian language and other aspects of Hawaiian culture” (“Hawaii's Languages”). The Hawaiian dialect is closely related to many others of Polynesian origin, among them Tahitian, Maori, Marquesan, Rarotongan, Samoan and Tongan.
During the 1800s the island of Hawai'i became one of the most literate nations in the whole world, with 90% of its population able to read and write and was the first one western of the Rocky Mountains to have its own newspaper. As always printed press helped the learning of the language, and oppression of the language, as stated earlier in the paper, did not become into full effect until 1898, leaving older generations able to pass on their language (“The Language of Ni‘ihau”). The country, previously a monarchy, was known for its rich oral history, but due to the pages of their newspaper still available today and the propaganda to establish written materials helps in the study of the language. These were written with the standard English alphabet, the same way Pidgin is written today (Thompson).
The Hawaiian native language itself is famous for having the fewest number of letters, only twelve: five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and seven consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w; Riley 5). The language itself if full of glottal stops which are called ‘okina, and they are signaled with a stress mark in writing (‘). ‘Okina occurs between two vowels. Many guides and dictionaries, as well as grammar books of the language count this glottal stop among the consonants, making the alphabet of all together thirteen letters (5). In Hawaiian the vowels have two sounds, based on whether or not they are stressed or unstressed, and if there is a line above them, called kahako (eg. ā, as in the island of Lāna’i) they are pronounced by drawing out the sound. These, however, “should not be confused with the bar or macron that is used to differentiate an English ‘long’ vowel from a ‘short’ vowel, as in the words hate and hat, respectively” (“Hawaii's Languages”), because in Hawaiian the usage of kahako means a difference in meaning as well (akau - right; ākau - North). The vowels can merge into diphthongs, which is quite common in the language (Riley 6).
As there was no written form of the language when the missionaries arrived, they had a hard time learning and annotating the language. Once they did write down testimonies and collections of words and expressions, they did so without the ‘okina or the kahako, which was no problem for the natives, but it would be for anyone wishing to learn the language. This is the reason why today there are so many variants, both without and with the proper markings; the simplest example is the island of Oahu which, for natives, is written as O’ahu, but the one without the ‘okina is so widely spread that it sometimes overwrites the correct one (“Hawaii’s Languages”). There is also a difference as the state of Hawaii is not the same as the island of Hawai’i, which is one of the eight in the archipelago. The latter, written with the ‘okina, is also used to denote the Creole spoken on the islands; in order to underline that the second “i” does not merge into the one preceding it when pronouncing the word the ‘okina cannot be omitted. Even the name of the state should be pronounced as such; although the spelling has no ‘okina those pronouncing it as [hə-wä′y] instead of [hə-wä′ē] are doing it incorrectly (“Hawaii”).
The Hawaiian Islands are listed among the top tourist destinations today and their language has contributed to the vocabulary of standard American English over the years. One of the major reasons this was possible was through Hollywood, as several movies after and because of the Second World War were shot on the islands. Many, at first, just used the natural beauties it had to offer, but soon enough movies discussed the cultural heritage of the 50th state. Before this dialect was recognized, the residing children, many still of Portuguese descent, until the last quarter of the 19th century, were taught Hawaiian, and English was taught as a foreign language ("Substrate Influence"). Meanwhile they spoke a form of pidgin at home and it was the mixture of all of these that influenced the vocabulary of today’s Hawaiian Creole English (Hargrove, Sakoda and “Definitions”). Because Hawaii was just a territory of the U.S. for over a hundred years, it did not have in the same rights as other states, and as such there the American’s rejoiced in supremacy. This is one of the reasons why natives and their tongue could be cast aside and English could be enforced. Hawaii only became a state in 1959 (Goo), years after the Second World War and years after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The latter is considered one of the greatest tragedies of American history.
There are several words from this dialect that have embedded themselves in the English language and are now of everyday use. The most well-known is the greeting aloha, followed by the common abbreviation of brother, brah (in slang it is most commonly used for friend). Others include haole, a non-Hawaiian, Caucasian person; hula referring to the dance performed by natives which is taught not only on the continent outside of the islands but everywhere else in the world as well; kahuna meaning priest, healer, or sorcerer, and as such it often refers to someone who was power over others; lei, for the garland of flowers; luau, an outdoor feast by fire light; poi, a dish made from fermented taro root and ukulele, the four string instrument (Wilton). Later on the ending of ukulele would be used for another instrument: banjolele, which is a miniature banjo with four chords like its name giver. This is a typical example of backformation in which the new word is made by removing the ending of another word (Kövecses 263), the ending –lele did not signal the size of the instrument, nonetheless the ukulele is widely considered as a smaller version of the guitar, thus the name speaks for itself. This language also originated the name of one of the most famous contemporary websites: the word wiki means fast, so the compound word Wikipedia alludes to a fast way to get the same amount information we would get from an encyclopedia (Thompson).
Being another dialect of the English language, just as it is in other regional dialects, some word combinations have different meanings, like stink eye means “dirty look” and chicken skin can mean “goose bumps”. This dialect also shares words that have completely different meaning than in the English: choke means a “vast amount”, so the definition choke cars would translate to “heavy traffic”; while grind means “to eat”. Another example is the word beef, which in the sense of “to have a beef with someone” can mean a disagreement in AmE too, but in Hawaiian Creole English it literally means “fight” (Hargrove, Sakoda and Siegel). In Hawaiian the words have no plural form, to pluralize them a “nā” is put in front of the word (book – puke, books – nā puke); as such any and all words that are of Hawaiian origin but have the standard -s ending to signal the plural have been added from the English variant of the language (Riley 6).
A little over a year ago Hawaiian Creole English was accepted as the national language of Hawaii, which means that it is no longer considered just a dialect. Although it is considered and accepted as a national language, defining it is still problematic because there are over 100 other languages spoken on the islands all together (Laddaran). Even the speakers of this language define it as “the local, slang-sounding vernacular” (Wong). Slang can be defined as a variety of a language that goes against the norms of the standard in order for the speakers of it to differentiate them, and as such this Creole does count as slang rather than a separate language (Kövecses 119). The problem comes with integrating Pidgin as a language. In order to enforce it education has been encouraged to introduce it in schools to help students find the grammatical differences between it and standard American English at an early age, in order to be able to grasp it much better later on (Wong). The language itself is blooming as the literacy rate according to the 2012 census is between 66%-75%, with it being taught as an elective for native and nonnative children, and also in primary school. It is also used for radio and television programs (Lewis, Simons and Fennig).
The fact that it has been accepted as a separate tongue could mean changes in the way African American Vernacular English or Chicano English are looked at (Wong). It is important to remember that although English is the national language of the United States, it is not the language stipulated on a federal level. As a matter of fact, speakers whose mother tongue is other than English are becoming the majority in the U.S. just in the past two years (Burgen). This also alludes to the idea that perhaps the word creole or pidgin no longer do justice to denoting the language, still, it has to be differentiated as Hawaiian language is that of the native indigenous speakers of the island. An inconclusive research conducted from 2009 to 2013 found that those who spoke Hawaiian Creole English used it generally as a second language, but a language nonetheless (Wong). Calling the individuals who participated in the research bilinguals elevated this dialect into a tongue spoken by majority of the residents of the islands. This Creole became a nationally accepted language at the end of 2015, which means that it is young as far as languages are concerned, but it is very old as a pidgin, even older than the United States.
In conclusion, when studying regional dialects of the United States, each region has to be looked at closer, not just the ones on continental America. The aim of this paper was to demonstrate that Alaska and Hawaii are always taken aside, and for good reason, but their history and the birth of their dialect shares a lot in common with what is considered today the standard American English. When looking at regional dialects pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary as well as geography play an important role in defining them. The Hawaiian Islands, prior to becoming a state, were visited by several countries seeking colonies in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The islands had a tongue of their own, which served as a substrate that influenced the language spoken today. There are over a 100 languages spoken there and these continually influence the Pidgin of the island. Although this Pidgin originated from the encounter of Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, before the addition of English, it still possesses those character traits that are typical of American English. It is economic in its nature, somewhat informal, thus straightforward, and it is considered to be a form of slang by its speakers as well. The majority of residents of Hawaii were deemed bilingual in 2015 which elevated the Pidgin to national language of the 50th state of the U.S.A. English in America is just a national language, it is not accepted on a federal level and this means that Hawai’i Creole does not clash with the standard, and now other Pidgins spoken within the country could be elevated to the status of language. The aim of this paper was to demonstrate that despite the distance of the archipelago of Hawaii, it was still incredibly fruitful in its history and contribution to what is considered standard American English. Hawaii should be included and studied among the regional dialects, rather than be neglected, precisely because of its isolation. The distance from the continent emphasizes the differences; however, on a closer look it seems that there are a lot of similarities that justify its classification as an English dialect.
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