A Pidgin-Hearted


Why did Lee Tonouchi feel the need to create a dictionary of Pidgin -- also known as Hawaiian Creole English -- to index such words as "babooze," "irkatated" and "macoon"?

"Lotta da old-time pidgin peoples dying off," he said. "By making da book we able for make da kine twin turbo action for both preserve and perpetuate da language."

Wondering what he said? Buy the book -- Da Kine Dictionary.

The Hawaiian college instructor has been a longtime advocate for the island dialect, which evolved on plantations generations ago as people of widely disparate native tongues struggled to communicate with one another. (A "babooze" is a goofy guy, "macoon" means big, and "irkatated" is irked or irritated.)

Pidgin's lingering use has triggered some controversy -- state officials speculated that its casual use in classrooms was the cause of dismal scores on national standardized writing exams. But it's also treasured as a vital part of the culture by many local academics.

Tonouchi's approach, though, has drawn skepticism from other supporters, since his definition of pidgin includes the hip-hop slang that many young speakers now incorporate into it. "You lose that political sense of what pidgin means for the culture," Eric Chock, editor of a University of Hawaii literary magazine, told the Honolulu Advertiser.

Hardly, Tonouchi responded. "Pidgin has always had da ability fo' incorporate other languages into it and call it pidgin, right?"

-- Amy Argetsinger

A page from a Pidgin English book shows some of the words that blend Hawaiian and other languages.