Last week, I flew to Honolulu from my home on Kauai. During my travels around the Hawaiian Islands, it’s not uncommon for me to hear and see Hawaiian words sprinkled in conversations and on signs—like “wahine” on the women’s restroom sign and “kane” for the men. And there is, of course, the wiki wiki shuttle that takes passengers to and from the inter-island and main terminals, “wiki wiki” meaning “quick” or “fast.” Over the airport loudspeaker, in between gate agents loading passengers onto the stream of planes arriving and departing the airport, you’ll even hear the pleasant voice of Amy Kalili welcoming visitors in her native tongue, Hawaiian. In Waikiki, you may see tiles in sidewalks with words like “malihini” and “opala.” If there’s Hawaiian music playing, either live or over a loudspeaker, you’re probably familiar with the sound of Hawaiian words.
But what’s rather uncommon in my experience is to find two people conversing in Hawaiian.
And, yet, that is exactly what happened to me on my early morning flight to Honolulu last week. A young man sitting in the seat behind me chatted with a woman sitting across the aisle in the row ahead of me. A conversation—entirely in Hawaiian.
A few years ago, I met a fellow writer, Constance Hale, at a press function, events I usually shy away from, because I’m much more comfortable meeting people on a hiking trail or at a local coffee shop than in more formal settings. My plan was to slip in, give my two-minute spiel, and leave as quickly as possible. But, then, I met Connie, and we, as they say, closed down the place. I remember being deep in a conversation and looking up to see the only remaining people at the event—the hosts—all lined up against the wall.
Turns out, Connie grew up on Oahu’s North Shore. She dances hula. She’s published two books on language. She’s been called “Marion the Librarian on a Harley.”
So, when it came time for someone to write a story on language in Hawaii, I turned to Connie. I was particularly interested in how a person who grows up speaking Pidgin goes on to write two books on grammar. I hope you’ll join me in reading her article, “The Languages in My Heart: A Child of the North Shore Reflects on Her Lifelong Romance with Hawaii’s Many Tongues.