Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture
by Lee Tonouchi
Review by Amy Nishimura
Lee Tonouchi’s “Living Pidgin: Contemplations on Pidgin Culture” argues that Pidgin speakers are as intelligent as those who use Standard English. Editor of the local journal Hybolics and author of “da word,” Tonouchi, a.k.a. “Da Pidgin Guerilla,” demonstrates a creative edge as he discusses linguistic culture in Hawai’i.
The author’s argument rests on the word “standard” which can be oppositional to Pidgin because it is organic in context. Tonouchi states that Standard English is an “oxymoron” because the language is fluid, not rigid. For example, as we travel from state to state and town to town, “we hear da subtle nuances of language.” The inference here is that language is a continuum reflective of one’s culture. This leads readers to his primary point — Pidgin cannot be categorized easily and it is not a language of the “ignorant.”
While Tonouchi’s argument is important to the local community of Hawai’i, he focuses primarily on the issue of intelligence. Intent on proving what Pidgin speakers “can do,” the author references his own accomplishments. Deconstructing stereotypes of the “ignorant” Pidgin speaker is important, yet Tonouchi seems preoccupied with this point. This is the focus in the majority of his work and many of his fans are waiting for more short stories or poems that extend beyond the fact that Pidgin speakers can obtain jobs and be successful. The local community needs more literature (for those interested read Zamora Linmark’s “Rolling the R’s,” Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s “Wild meat and the bully burgers,” or Gary Pak’s “Watcher of Waipuna”) that convey flawed, humorous and compassionate characteristics of Pidgin speakers. .