Covert Ideologies in Pidgin-English Translation Humor
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Several studies (Romaine 1999; Meyerhoff 2004) have explored ideologies about
Pidgin (or Hawai‘i Creole (English)) through surveys and questionnaires. For example,
Romaine (1999) conducted an informal survey on attitudes towards the use of Pidgin in
education, and Meyerhoff (2004) examined attitudes to Pidgin use through respondents’
evaluations of the terms moke and tita (moke and tita are social categories that
prototypically denote Pidgin-speaking locals of Polynesian descent). However, language
ideology is only partly captured in self-reports: people’s talk about language is often less
nuanced than their practical understandings manifest in language use (Keane 1997:98).
Focusing on translation jokes circulated in print and electronic media, this study goes
beyond self-reports to investigate ideologies about Pidgin embedded in language use.
Translation jokes, which often rely on stereotypes for creating humor, serve as an ideal
site for the investigation of ideology (Rickford and Rickford 2000:209-214). In Pidgin-
English translation jokes, a Pidgin and an English text are juxtaposed against each other.
While the core meaning of the texts is kept roughly the same, the intertextual gap is
manipulated for comic effect. In our corpus of translation jokes, Pidgin and English are
often taken to represent ‘local voice’ and ‘haole (i.e., white) voice’ respectively. To
uncover ideologies about Pidgin and English, this study (1) examines how the two voices
are linguistically constructed in translation humor; and (2) investigates how the portrayals
of Pidgin speakers and English speakers in translation humor are interpreted by people
from Hawai‘i and by people from the mainland. We focus on the first question in this
paper. We are currently conducting a reception study to address the second question.
We have analyzed the two websites and the two books to examine translation humor
circulated in print and electronic media. All four sources aim to introduce Pidgin words
and expressions in a humorous way. The website Full on Pidgin is intended for tourists
from the mainland. There were 64 entries of Pidgin words and expressions as of March 1,
2007. Visitors of this website are encouraged to learn Pidgin and have fun at the same time.
The website e-Hawaii’s Searchable Pidgin English Dictionary appears to be intended for
local people in Hawai‘i, since its self-introduction page starts addressing “Eh, Howzit
Hawaiian!” There were 311 entries as of March 1, 2007. The goal of this website is to
introduce Pidgin in a humorous way: readers are warned that the content may be offensive
to some, but it is meant to be funny. For each word/expression, the two websites provide:
(i) a definition; (ii) a sentence in which the word/expression is used; and (iii) a rough
English translation of the sentence.
The two books Pidgin to da Max and Pidgin to da Max Hana Hou are sold in
bookstores and in souvenir stores all over Hawai‘i. Pidgin to da Max was first published in
1981. It covers 294 words and expressions. Pidgin to da Max Hana Hou was first
published in 1982. It covers 295 words and expressions. Both books were originally
intended for local people in Hawai‘i, but the author is well aware that they may be read by
people from the mainland. They are quite possibly the most popular books about Pidgin.
Many local people in Hawai‘i have heard of them before. To introduce a Pidgin
word/expression, Pidgin to da Max and Pidgin to da Max Hana Hou provide: (i) a
definition; and sometimes (ii) an example sentence in which the word/expression is used.
But an English translation of the sentence is not usually given. When an English
translation is provided, it is often indicated as something said by a haole (i.e., a white
person), whereas the Pidgin sentence is marked as an utterance from a local. Many of the
words and expressions introduced in these two books are illustrated with cartoons.
We have also analyzed translation humor in local comedians’ skits. Our sources are
performances from two comedians published on CDs: (1) Brain Child (Bumatai 2003) and
(2) Silva Anniversary: 25 Years of Comedy (De Lima 2001). Both Andy Bumatai and
Frank De Lima are from Hawai‘i, and they are known for their use of Pidgin. Andy
Bumatai has been a stand-up comedian for almost thirty years. He is well known in
Hawai‘i. Bumatai also created a number of TV specials for Hawai‘i’s KGMB-TV, notably
School Daze and All in the Ohana. Bumatai also recorded a number of comedy albums.
3. Translation Humor Circulated in Print and Electronic Media
In translation humor circulated in print and electronic media, the opposition between
Pidgin/‘local voice’ and English/‘haole voice’ is underscored through several strategies.
3.1. Everyday Words vs. Big Words
First, while common, everyday words are used in Pidgin texts, ‘big words’ and
elaborate expressions are used in corresponding English texts. For instance, under the
entry of Futsetta in the website Full on Pidgin, the example Pidgin sentence used is “If
you no be good, Futsetta going get you!” The regular translation would be something like
“If you’re not good, Futsetta is going to get you.” But the English translation the website
provided was, “If you exhibit poor behavior, the Boogie Man’s Mother will enforce
extreme measures of discipline upon you!” The simple everyday expressions ‘not being
good’ and ‘get you’ are replaced by formal literary expressions ‘exhibit poor behavior’
and ‘enforce extreme measures of discipline’ respectively.
FUTSETTA (Full On Pidgin)1
1 In the present paper, (i) a definition of the Pidgin word/expression is introduced as “a.”; (ii) a
Pidgin sentence in which the word/expression is used as “b.”; and (iii) a rough English translation of
a. Boogie Lady – Boogie Man’s Mother
b. If you no be good, Futsetta going get you!
c. If you exhibit poor behavior, the Boogie Man’s Mother will enforce
extreme measures of discipline upon you!
(2) is the other example from the book Pidgin to da Max where common, everyday
words are used in Pidgin texts but ‘big words’ and elaborate expressions are used in
corresponding English texts. For the entry Haaah? which is defined as ‘Sorry, I didn’t
hear you,’ the book provided the cartoon strip where the local looking man is mumbling
something and the other man cannot hear what he is saying. The haole voice goes, ‘I’m
sorry, I didn’t catch that, could you please repeat it?’ whereas the local Pidgin voice
simply goes HAAAAH??
Cartoon strip for HAAAH? (Pidgin to da Max)
I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that, could you please repeat
3.2. Euphemisms in English Texts Replace Profanities in Pidgin Texts
The second strategy we recognized is that Euphemisms are used in English texts to
replace profanities and other offensive words in Pidgin texts.
MAKI DIE DEAD (Full On Pidgin)
a. Extremely dead, way dead
b. We wen jump out a da airplane Burtrum wen pull his ripcord. Da bugga
He MAKI DIE DEAD!
c. While we were in a free fall skydiving, Burtrum tried to open his
parashoot. Unfortunately, his shoot failed to work. He didn’t make it.
In the example (3), euphemisms for death are used in the English texts but not in the
Pidgin texts. Under the entry maki die dead which is defined as “extremely dead”,
the Pidgin sentence provided to show the use of the expression goes, ‘He MAKI DIE
DEAD!’ It should be translated as ‘He is extremely dead’ following the definition that the
website gives, but the English translation goes; ‘He didn’t make it.’
Euphemisms are also used in the English texts to replace potentially offensive terms
of reference as in (4).
HAOLE (e-Hawaii’s SEARCHABLE Pidgin English Dictionary)
a. Slang term used to describe an individual of Caucasian descent
b. Damn haole!
c. I wish that Caucasian individual would understand me for once!
the sentence or the utterance provided as white haole ‘white’ voice is introduced as “c.” Spelling
and emphasis using capital letters are as appeared in the corpus.
For instance, the entry haole is defined as “a slang term used to describe an individual
of Caucasian descent.” In the Pidgin sentence, it is used as in ‘Damn haole!’ using
moderately profane word ‘damn.’ But the English translation provided by the website does
not use any profane words and paraphrases the whole sentence fragments with the
sentence ‘I wish that Caucasian individual would understand me for once!’
Also, sexual euphemisms are used in the English texts but not in the Pidgin texts as in
OKOLE (`OKOLE) (e-Hawaii’s Searchable Pidgin English Dictionary)
a. Hawaiian word for the gluteus maximus [sic.] region
get one sweet `okole!
must work out.
The Pidgin example sentence in (5) goes ‘Hoo, dat wahine get one sweet `okole!’ The
regular translation would be something like ‘Wow, that woman has a sweet butt/ass.’ But
the English version provided goes, ‘That attractive woman must work out.’ In another
example (6) from Pidgin to da Max, under the entry fo which is used instead of to, while
Pidgin sentence goes, ‘Ah was on’y tryeen fo’ touch you’ body,’ haole voice says, ‘I was
only trying to get to know you’ using sexual euphemism.
FOR, FO’ (FOAH) (Pidgin to da Max)
b. Pidgin: Ah was on’y tryeen fo’ touch you’ body.
c. Haole: I was only trying to get to know you.
3.3. Imperatives in Pidgin Texts Replaced by Indirect Forms in English Texts
The third strategy is that imperatives in Pidgin texts are replaced by indirect forms in
English texts: while some are recast as mitigated statements, others are reframed as
requests and take the form of interrogatives. There are several strategies to construct
imperative sentences in Pidgin grammar. First, as in English the verb appears first in the
sentence in imperatives in Pidgin as in the sentence (7).
Spock um out. (e-Hawaii’s Pidgin-English Dictionary)
‘Take a look at that. [Our translation]’
is put before the verb to form negative imperatives as in (8):
No even go ovah da Pali, get choke cars. (Full on Pidgin)
‘Don’t even go over the Pali. There’s a lot of traffic. [Our translation]’
can be used to soften commands as in (9), but it is not as strong as please (Sakoda
and Siegel 2003: 86).
‘Try wait eh? I goin’ call Boogah.’ (e-Hawaii’s Pidgin-English Dictionary.)
‘Please wait, okay? I’m going to call Booger. [Our translation]’
First-person plural imperatives take the same form as first-person plural declaratives
as in (10).
we go grind den.’ (Full on Pidgin)
‘Oh, let’s go eat then. [Our translation]’
In the example (11) below, softened imperatives are used in the English texts through
the use of please. Under the entry of bulai, Pidgin example sentence uses the bare
imperative as in ‘No bulai you.’ But English version uses softened imperative using please
as in ‘Please don’t lie to me.’
BULAI (e-Hawaii’s SEARCHABLE Pidgin English Dictionary)
a. Liar; lies
b. No bulai you.
c. Please don’t lie to me.
Some imperatives are recast as suggestions as in (12). Although the Pidgin sentence
simply uses a bare imperative, the English version recasts the imperative as suggestion
saying ‘I don’t think it is a good idea to eat in that restaurant.
no eat ovah deah. How cum? CHOKE kakaroaches.
I really don’t think it is a good idea to eat in that restaurant. Why?
Furthermore, some imperatives are reframed as requests as in (13). Simple bare
imperative is reframed as a polite request using the expression ‘would you mind Verb+ -
SEARCHABLE Pidgin English Dictionary)
a. An endearing way to call somebody younger than yourself; also used at
the end of a sentence
b. Eh boy, go get yo daddy one beeyah.
c. Hey son, would you mind getting a drink for your dear father?
As for this strategy regarding imperatives, we quantified all the examples in our
corpus to see how often this strategy is used. In the Pidgin texts, there are 55 bare
imperatives and 8 imperatives with try. They correspond to 21 bare imperatives; 15 soften
imperatives (with please); 4 declaratives (suggestions); and 23 interrogatives (requests) in
the English texts. The quantification reveals that this is a frequently observed strategy in
Pidgin-English translation humor.
3.4. Contextualized Pidgin Texts vs. Decontextualized English Texts
Another strategy we recognized is that contextualized language is used in Pidgin texts,
but decontextualized language is used in corresponding English texts. In contextualized
language, shared knowledge and situational cues play a prominent role in meaning
construction. In decontextualized language, however, meaning is conveyed through textual
cues (e.g., explicit vocabulary, complex grammatical constructions). For instance, in
example (14), in English texts, complete sentences are used to replace sentence fragments
in corresponding Pidgin texts. Pidgin sentence that consists of sentence fragments ‘Wat
HAPAI?’ is replaced by a complete sentence ‘Is she pregnant?’ in English translation.
HAPAI (Full on Pidgin)
b. So I wen turn da corner, an dere she was standin’ in da street, beeg as a
c. So right around the corner, there she was, right in the middle of the
street. She was as big as a house. Is she pregnant?
Secondly, complex syntactic constructions are used in English texts but not in
corresponding Pidgin texts. For instance, in example (15) while Pidgin sentence simply
employs sentence fragment ‘Some AKAMAI!’ to refer to the Physics Professor. However,
the corresponding English sentence goes ‘He is the most intelligent man I have ever
known!’ using the relative clause with that omitted.
a. Someone who is very smart
b. You know my Feezicks Professah, you know da bolo head one? Some
c. You know my Physics Professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa?
The one with the shinny bald head? He is the most intelligent man I
have ever known!
(16) is another example where complex syntactic constructions are used only in
English texts but not in Pidgin texts. The adverbial clause introduced by the subordinating
conjunction as is used in English to express the reason whereas in Pidgin there are two
NO CAN (e-Hawaii’s SEARCHABLE Pidgin English Dictionary)
a. Cannot; it is not possible
b. Wot? Yeah right! No can brah! I gotta help tutu dakine, move.
c. Are you kidding me? I will not be able to go with you as I have to
help my dear grandmother move out that day.
Several jokes highlight the multifunctionality of linguistic forms in Pidgin. For
example, bummahs (17) in Pidgin to the Max is defined as “a Pidgin Expression of
disappointment or regret which is good for all kinds of occasions.” In the cartoon strip
provided, three different expressions in English haole voice such as ‘Gee, I’m real
disappointed to hear that!’ ‘I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been sick in bed!’ and ‘It’s too bad
you totaled your Celica!’ are all expressed in the same expression “Wow… Bummahs,
man!!” in local Pidgin voice.
bummahs (Pidgin to da Max)
1 Haole Gee, I’m real disappointed to hear that!
2 Pidgin Wow…Bummahs, man!!
1 Haole I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been sick in bed!
2 Pidgin Wow…Bummahs,
1 Haole It’s too bad you totaled your Celica!
2 Pidgin Wow…Bummahs,
Another example of multifunctionality of Pidgin is the word da kine. Perhaps this is
the most famous Pidgin expression with multiple meanings and functions. Full on Pidgin
defines da kine as “anything to which you are referring when you can’t remember what it
is.” e-Hawaii’s Searchable Pidgin English Dictionary explains da kine as “much like the
word Aloha, da kine has multiple definitions, meanings and uses. Mostly, it is used when
trying to explain something when you can’t think of the words.” According to Pidgin to da
Max, “Da kine is the keystone of pidgin. You can use it anywhere, anytime, anyhow.
Very convenient. What would we do without DA KINE? ‘Ey, I no can da kine if you no
like da kine too!’”
(18) is an example of the use of da kine from Full on Pidgin. Pidgin sentence uses da
kine twice both of which English translation specified its references ‘Susie & Judy’ and
‘pizza & beer’ .
DA KINE (Full on Pidgin)
a. Anything to which you are referring when you can’t remember what it is
da kine wit you fo go pick up da kine? Yah. Oh shoots.
c. So are you going to take Susie & Judy with you to pick up the pizza &
beer? Yes. Good.
Pidgin to the Max provides the cartoon strip where the two local looking women are
communicating perfectly using da kine without specifying what they are talking about as
Da kine (Pidgin to da Max)
2 Da kine?
2 Oh…da kine! Try wait!
6 Woman 2
Bring ‘em back when you pau, yeah?
4. Translation Jokes in Local Comedians’ Skits
In translation jokes in local comedians’ skits, the opposition between Pidgin/‘local
voice’ and English/‘haole voice’ is constructed through the use of similar strategies we
have seen in translation humor circulated in print and electronic media.
Andy Bumatai is a Hawai‘i based comedian and actor. For nearly 30 years, Andy
Bumatai’s island-style comedy has been one of the most popular comedy show providing
a humorous perspective on local culture for residents and visitors.
Accents (Bumatai 2003)
you know they tease us about our
Pidgin but man you go to the Midwest there they speak in complete
sentences. This guy says me,
“Andy, I just thinkin’ about goin on in the kitchen get myself a
ice [a:s]-cold coca-cola an’ while I was in the kitchen I just
wonderin’ maybe you like [la:k] for me to bring you back an ice
[a:s] cold coca-cola for yourself.”
Why, I felt real guilty going, “Nah”
In pidgin the whole sentence would be, “Soda?”
In this skit, just as we have seen in section 3 in the analysis of translation humor
circulated in print and electronic media, very long complete sentence in English from the
line 4 through 7 allegedly said by someone from the Midwest is replaced by a single word
“Soda?” in corresponding allegedly Pidgin texts. Andy Bumatai himself implicitly points
out this strategy in his narration when he says “…you go to the Midwest there they speak
in complete sentences…” and “In Pidgin the whole sentence would be, “Soda?”” This skit
also highlights the multifunctionality of linguistic forms in Pidgin. Taken out of context,
“soda?” can be interpreted as ‘Did you say “soda”?’, ‘Is that a soda?’ or ‘Do you want a
soda?’ Multifunctionality in linguistic forms is often complimented by facial expression
and body movement in Pidgin voice. In the actual standup comedy show, Bumatai forms
his hand as if holding a can of soda and reaches it toward the audience as he says the line
Frank De Lima is known for his ethnic jokes and musical parodies. In his skits, he
often makes fun of the different ethnic groups in Hawai‘i: (e.g., the Portuguese
(‘Portagees’), the Chinese (‘Pake’), the Japanese (‘Buddha heads’), the Filipinos (‘Buk
Buks’), and white people (‘haoles’).) He has published several joke books and produced
numerous CDs and videos of his musical parodies. In one of his performances, Frank De
Lima sang a song called Da Blalla. This song is set to the tunes of La Bamba. Frank De
Lima sang the song in the first part of his performance. In the second part of his
performance, he translated the Pidgin lyrics into English. Excerpt 2 in (19) below shows
the second part of his performance.
Excerpt 2: Da Blalla (De Lima 2001)
No bother me
It is of no consequence [laugh]
industrial district [laugh]
I work body and fender
I’m an automotive design specialist [big laugh]
Stay live my [ma:] a car, my honey’s place, my mother’s house
I have various places of residence [laugh]
I go stay eat tasty broiler
Among my interest is gourmet dining [laugh]
You no go messin’ ma sister
Please do not compromise my female siblings [laugh]
I know but I don’t understand that one either, woo, oh wat dat
siblings? One small plant? Dat’s seedling. One you plant, one you
fight with. [laugh]
In this skit, while common, everyday words are used in Pidgin texts, ‘big words’ and
elaborate expressions are used in corresponding English texts. In line 3, the Pidgin text
‘No bother me’ is translated into ‘It is of no consequence’ in English text rather than the
regular neutral translation ‘Don’t bother me.’ In the similar way, ‘You no go messin’ ma
sister’ is translated into ‘Please do not compromise my female siblings’ using the big
words ‘compromise’ and ‘siblings’ although the regular translation would be something
like ‘Please don’t mess with my sister.’ Frank De Lima himself implicitly mentions this
strategy in the narration by pretending that he doesn’t understand the word ‘siblings’ he
uses in English translation when he says ‘I know but I don’t understand that one either,
woo, oh wat dat siblings? One Small plant? Dat’s seedling. One you plant, one you fight
with.’ In addition, as we have seen in 3.3, the softened imperative in the English texts is
used through the use of please. The Pidgin imperative sentence ‘You no go messin’ ma
sister’ in line 12 is translated into softened imperatives in English ‘Please do not
compromise my female siblings’ in line 13 through the use of please.
In conclusion, the four linguistic strategies discussed above contribute to the linguistic
construction of ‘local voice’ and ‘haole voice’ in translation humor circulated in print and
electronic media as well as in local comedian’s skits. Different audiences may interpret
these strategies differently. Here is the example of possible interpretations of translation
jokes by different audience. For some, everyday words and contextualized language in
Pidgin texts conjure the image of a down-to-earth person, while ‘big words’ and
decontextualized language in English texts evoke the image of a verbose, pretentious
individual. For others, however, the same Pidgin features index unsophistication and
inarticulateness, and the same English features index refinement and precision. Similarly,
different audiences may find the Pidgin speakers’ use of direct expression and imperative
straightforward or rude, and English speakers’ use of euphemisms and indirect forms
roundabout or polite.
Finally, this study demonstrates how translation humor can be explored as a fruitful
site for the examination of language ideologies. It also highlights the inherent ambiguity of
the indexical meanings of linguistic forms. Currently we are conducting a reception study
to investigate how people from Hawai‘i and people from the mainland interpret the
portrayals of Pidgin speakers and English speakers in these translation jokes. We will
report our findings in a later paper.
List of Sources
Full on Pidgin
Retrieved March 1, 2007, from http://www.extreme-hawaii.com/pidgin/
e-Hawaii’s Searchable Pidgin English Dictionary
Retrieved March 1, 2007, from http://www.e-hawaii.com/fun/pidgin/default.asp
Bumatai, A. (2003). Brain Child [CD]. Honolulu: Bluewaters Records.
De Lima, F. (2001). Silva Anniversary: 25 Years of Comedy [CD]. Honolulu:
Simonson, D. (1981). Pidgin to da Max. Honolulu: Bess Press.
Simonson, D. (1992). Pidgin to da Max Hana Hou. Honolulu: Bess Press.
Keane, W. (1997). Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an
Indonesian Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Meyerhoff, M. (2004). Attitudes to gender and creoles: A case study on mokes and titas.
Te Reo, 47, 63-82.
Rickford, J. & R. Rickford. (2000). Spoken Soul. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Romaine, S. (1999). Changing attitudes to Hawai‘i Creole English. In J. Rickford & S.
Romaine, (Eds.), Creole Genesis, Attitudes and Discourse. (pp. 287-301).
Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Sakoda, K. and Siegel, J. (2003). Pidgin Grammar: An Introduction to the Creole Language of
Hawai‘i. Honolulu: Bess Press.
Department of Linguistics
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
569 Moore Hall
1890 East-West Road
Honolulu, HI 96822