Monday, February 11, 2019

Oxford English Dictionary all hemajang

"Chee, you seen Kaipo? He had karang da reef on his face. Ho, all hemajang. Was uji."

I was reminded of the wonderful Hawaiian pidgin word hemajang when the Oxford English Dictionary announced it was putting the word hammajang on its extensive list of "real" words.

There is, of course, no standard spelling for most pidgin words. And I was concerned the English dictionary OED would create a standard where none existed. I was concerned, because if you were to find a standard, it might not be hammajang.

I wrote OED this email:

I note that you have added a word, hammajang, to the dictionary.

I am a lifelong journalist in the Hawaiian Islands and want to suggest another spelling, which is often used, is pronounced in the same way, is more attuned to the word’s Hawaiian language roots, and doesn’t violate Hawaiian pidgin spelling rules in the way that hammajang does.

The more appropriate spellings, from my perspective, are hemajang, or perhaps hamajang or even hemajeng or hamajeng.  But not hammajang.

I have no thoughts on the origin of “jang, but hema may be from the Hawaiian word hema meaning left or south (used in the sense that English uses sinister, as left but also wrong, odd or unfortunate). Or perhaps hemo, which can mean loose or undone.

The Hawaiian language reduplications, hemahema and hemohemo, emphasize these definitions.

Hemajang is Hawaiian pidgin, meaning it is a spoken and not a written language. There is no consistency in spelling. But one rule is this: As in the Hawaiian written language it doesn’t use double consonants.

This word is sometimes spelled hemajang, my own preferred spelling, which is also the preferred spelling of the classic Hawaiian creole book, “Pidgin To Da Max,” which dates to 1981. I’m not sure whether hemajeng was in the first edition, but it was in later editions of a book that now claims more than 200,000 printings.

And sometimes hemajeng (,

And sometimes hamajang (

If you’re going to stick with hammajang, please at least concede that there are other spellings. But I suggest that hammajang is a nonstandard spelling and that hemajang is the one that gets the most currency.

Pidgin is very personal to folks, and I know that the pidgin I learned on west Molokai is different than the pidgin of Kalaheo and of Makawao and Kunia and Papakolea. There really isn't one pidgin. It changes (at least words, although not so much grammar) with the ethnicities of the community.
I will concede that there are occasionally double consonants in pidgin (but not Hawaiian). Like buggah. And slippa. At least in these cases, the double consonants are a function of English words repronounced as pidgin, bugger and slipper.

I will further concede that some folks in the Islands have used the spelling hammajang. The website does, but then, with all due respect, they also spell hanabata as hanabaddah and uji as ujee. Maybe that's an O`ahu thing.

There are places where a voyage is something on which she went go, where other places she had go.

Certainly, there are a lot of communities that don't use some pidgin words that are common elsewhere. Take tantaran or borot. Some places you hear them, others not so much. (Incidentally, if you can have a conversation about the difference between someone who's tantaran and someone who's borot, you’re up in pidgin master's degree territory.)

And back to the subject at hand, when a European publication decides to decide how to spell a Hawaiian pidgin word. 
That's hemajang.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2019

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