On my face


So local people who make an effort to enunciate carefully and speak "standard English" are accused by of being "haolefied." In other words, acting like a haole. In other words, acting stuck up. Their poetic pidgin-speaking friends roll their eyes and resent or pity them.
And being a mainland haole I naturally have a standard dull TV announcer accent. The way that I talk, without thinking, all the time, even when I'm mad or half-asleep, or jabbering to an infant, sounds like I'm putting on airs.
It's a quandary. I sound pompous if I just talk like myself. But I don't want to be condescending or ridiculous with an affected pidgin accent.
Last week after playgroup I walked with one of the other moms over to the library. Our cute kids gamboled around each other, darted into the street in front of speeding rental convertibles, got hissed at by the irate vampire librarian. We chatted about local elementary schools, about potty training, about baby talk-- all the usual getting-to-know-another-parent back and forth. But it was a frustratingly stilted conversation. I suddenly realized why when she made a comment about making sure her son learns "correct" English. She explained: she grew up speaking pidgin, but went to college on the mainland, and was terrified to open her mouth for fear of sounding different.
I realized: She was working really hard to talk to me. She was carefully calibrating her intonation and choosing each word. Like when I'm trying to speak polite Japanese, with the fancified verb forms and honorific forms of address.
I wanted to slap my forehead.
"Oh, I think pidgin is wonderful!" I enthused. "It's so expressive, and besides kids are so smart with languages. They can learn to be comfortable in both! Sure he needs to learn standard English, but there's nothing wrong with knowing pidgin, too..." I started trying to authenticate myself-- locate myself in the constellation of local-ness, blathering about "Oh my husband's grandparents spoke the most wonderful pidgin! And I've been lucky that he's been there to translate so much of the unfamiliar stuff for me! And, um, yeah! I think it's great! I read a great book in pidgin! I never dare speak it, but I love trying to write it down!"
She was unconvinced, and the conversation remained overly formal, distant and headachy.
It's been nagging at me since.
Was language really the source of the discomfort? Was it race? Was she ill at ease with me because of my skin color? Was I subconsciously ill at ease with her?
I guess all I can do is just be honest-- really shut up and listen to other people and to the teeny calm voice within myself. Not blather on or overexplain. Then hopefully that honesty will overcome my accent.

Comments

  1. and my Dear Becca, I'm in tears again reading your comments on this "pigin notes". You wrote what I experienced over and over again....through the adjustment of my years there, I did learn to speak pidgin....and the most wonderful compliment I got was from a blind man that Tomasi baptized in Kahana Bay...."irene, what island did you grow up on?" I soooooooo loved that language, the implications....the going up and down the various other islands pidgin...the requirement that a nurse in those days HAD to take a course in pidgin to be a nurse in Hawaii...

    another story. You know the Sproats, okay, here's one for you. When Kaohu (the young man that died early on in his life while flying his helecopter on the Big Island)...when he was 10 years he came home crying to his mother, "mom, I'm not a haole, I'm not a haole am I?"...It came down to this, the kids at Hauula Elem School were saying he WAS A HAOLE because he talked like one. Kapua Sproat taught at BYU-H ....P.E. and other classes. His dad, served his mission in Japan, yet he didn't talk a lot of pidgin either as he was raised in Kohola and his mother taught English and didn't allow pidgin to be used much in the home...generations of "no no pidgin!!" However, those Sproat boys had a language all their own and when I'd be with that family....sometimes over da head....

    Adjusting to places and times and the way back times of when kids were raised and what's "good for them to know is proper english"....well, I was in my happy element, I flunked English over and over again. I hated that study...my mother corrected my spelling till I was 50 years old....When I lived with the "local girls" in the cooking dorm in 1963, I began to learn "their language"....loved it. no rules, no stops, much laughter on their part teaching me....I love that language. there are comic books that tell much more then reg books on pidgin english...

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