Linguistics Senior Research Projects

Document Type


Submission Date

Spring 4-28-2020


Hawaiian Creole English, social status, sociolinguistics, speech style, attitudes


Prior to the rise of tourism in Hawai’i, the Hawaiian economy was largely driven by plantations. As labor was imported to work these plantations, a rich, multiethnic culture developed on the islands, producing a similarly diverse linguistic situation. What began as a pidgin blend of several languages for the purpose of communication between workers and supervisors has since developed into a language unique to the islands: Hawaiian Creole English (HCE). Social status in Hawai’i has long been influenced by a person’s manner of speech, as evidenced by elite Standard English (SE) schools founded to educate children of those in the top tier of Hawaiian economy and governmental efforts to suppress Hawaiian and HCE. This paper explores sociolinguistic aspects of language in Hawai’i and how the way a person speaks influences his or her ascribed social status. Utilizing a review of historic and current literature related to relevant issues, it answers the questions of how speech style influences Hawaiian residents’ perceptions of insider/outsider status and how attitudes of listeners and speakers compare and contrast with regards to speech style. Through modified Grounded Theory analysis of data gathered from long-term residents of Hawai’i in interviews, an attitude assessment, and a reflective journal, this study revealed that language is a critical factor in determining whether someone is considered local or not. While speaking HCE is not required to be considered local, familiarity with it and the unique dialect of Hawai’i largely determines whether someone will be accepted as an insider or not. Race is also a significant factor influencing conferral of social status and attitudes towards speech styles. Overall, locals evaluate whether a person shows respect for the culture and history of Hawai’i, in large part through the way s/he speaks, to determine their status.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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