Academic journal article College English

Pidgin as Rhetorical Sovereignty: Articulating Indigenous and Minority Rhetorical Practices with the Language Politics of Place

Academic journal article College English

Pidgin as Rhetorical Sovereignty: Articulating Indigenous and Minority Rhetorical Practices with the Language Politics of Place

Article excerpt

So there it is


The Answer to which will tell you

If I was one snob, one slut

one nerd, one geek

one lez

The question I don't want to answer

The question that sets me apart

A violation of protocol

What kine local you, no like answer

-Noelle M. K. Y. Kahanu

This excerpt, taken from Noelle Kahanu's poem "The Question,"1 is written in a hybrid of Standard English (SE) and Hawai'i Creole English (HCE), more commonly known in Hawai'i as Pidgin (as it will be referred to throughout this article). If unfamiliar with Pidgin, one might be inclined to read the entire passage as being written in only SE (that is, "The Answer to which will tell you") and some form of slang or regional dialect; this might lead to a reading of the poem as a resistance piece (which, as I will argue later in this essay, it is). However, failing to recognize the Pidgin in the poem-as in the construction of "one nerd, one geek" and "what kine local you, no like answer"-or the implications of a Native Hawaiian writing in Pidgin,2 as Kahanu is, elides a more complex reading in terms of that resistance, a reading that takes into account rhetorical strategies that embody particular experiences and ways of knowing. Although both languages used in the poem are politically charged, this article focuses on Pidgin.

Pidgin is a marginalized language most commonly associated with "Local"3 culture in Hawai'i-a culture that began taking shape during the plantation era (beginning circa 1850). While scholarship on HCE or Pidgin has attended to factors of ethnicity, culture, and language with respect to immigrant groups, the fact that many Hawaiians adopted Pidgin when their own language, 'o-lelo Hawai'i (Hawaiian), was supplanted by SE as the language of instruction, commerce, and eventually most social interactions has been less discussed, and consideration of Pidgin as an Indigenous linguistic resource remains underexamined. Tracing the language politics in Hawai'i illustrates exactly how Pidgin can be considered both a minority language- the language identified with the settler Local culture-and an Indigenous linguistic resource adapted as an act of what Ellen Cushman calls "cultural perseverance" (71).

Although there is an impressive body of poetry written in Pidgin by both Hawaiian authors and those who claim Local as an identity marker, often these works are viewed collectively as falling under a singular umbrella of "works written in Pidgin," and there is no clear demarcation of the rhetorical implications of reading such works as Indigenous versus minority texts. As Brandy Na-lani McDougall and I have noted elsewhere, in terms of scholarship on Pidgin, this conflation "highlight[s] the general lack of understanding of the complicated relationship between Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians who reside in Hawai'i" (100). I further posit that approaching this body of work collectively as representing any unified cultural experience denies opportunities to explore the rich cultural histories that are both connected and distinct to the Indigenous people of Hawai'i and the minority settlers who share the Pidgin language.

Kahanu's poem provides a perfect vehicle for analysis to articulate these differences. The poem is published in the third volume of 'O-iwi, a journal dedicated to "the revival of the rich literary heritage of the Indigenous people of the Hawaiian archipelago"-all authors and artists featured in the journal, as well as the entire editorial team, are Hawaiian (O - iwi). Through its mission, content, and production process, the journal itself represents "rhetorical sovereignty," a term coined by Scott Richard Lyons, who articulates that for rhetorical sovereignty to be enacted, Indigenous people must be the determiners of the communicative modes and goals. As an author who submitted her work to the journal for publication, Kahanu is actively participating in and building upon the rhetorical sovereignty enacted by the journal. …

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