Wednesday, June 13, 2007

So, Who's On First?

Since I didn't yet speak English, I was exercising my speech throughout this time by talking to myself in Hawaiian. I supplied a running commentary to everything I did. My Mother heard all this and started to guess I was speaking Hawaiian. When she told my Father, he didn't believe it.

My Father was very proud of his language skills. Part of his job involved directing civilian workers on base, many of which were Hawaiian natives. But none of them that he knew spoke Hawaiian. Instead they spoke the creole that is usually called Hawaiian Pidgin. Modern Hawaiian itself borrows vocabulary heavily from English and other colonial languages, but the underlying grammar is all Old Hawaiian. Pidgin is more like English with heavy borrowing from Hawaiian, and other colonial languages.

To do his job my Father had a little black pocket Hawaiian-English dictionary that he used to translate individual words and short phrases, to be able to order the Pidgin speaking natives around. Since all the natives he'd encountered had spoken Pidgin and not Hawaiian, therefore in his mind I had to be speaking Pidgin. He guessed that I was getting it second and third hand through neighbor kids.

It started to get on his nerves. He claimed his problem with it was it was keeping me from learning English, but I know it was largely vanity. He couldn't take the fact that I didn't need the black book. He couldn't be cool with the fact that a two and a half year old can learn a language faster than he could. It didn't help that just a year earlier it was looking like I might never speak at all. At learning Hawaiian words he was being outpaced by a retarded kid, from his perspective.

So he started yelling every time I spoke Hawaiian around the house. It was upsetting, but I couldn't see what I could do about it.

Then one day my father was out in the front yard watering the grass with a hose. I was really excited by this because it was one of the first times I'd seen him doing something I knew anything about. Being with Lani and Lono I'd learned all about watering lawns.

In Hawaiian, the word for watering, as with a hose, is just like one of the words kids say "urinate" in English. It's pīpī, which sounds like peepee. It also can mean "urinate" in Hawaiian, but for me it meant to water or sprinkle a lawn, exclusively. In my excitement I shouted out "PīpīDaddy! PīpīDaddy! " so loud all the neighbors could hear.

My Father turned red, grabbed me by the arm and yanked me into the house, where he proceeded to spank me and scream at me all at once. I couldn't keep track of what he was saying.

My Mother intervened. She'd witnessed the whole thing and told him he was being foolish. She informed him that I had never used the word peepee to mean urination, so I must have meant something else. My mother could be surprisingly sharp from time to time, when she put effort into it.

It took a while. He kept yelling, and now he was yelling at her, "You really expect me to believe that shit?" But finally she got him to look in his black book. And, of course, he read that pīpī meant to water, or sprinkle. Like a lawn.

So he calmed down finally, but got all Father Knows Best on me, which in retrospect might have been worse than the screaming. He sat down at the table he worked the budget out at, and laid down a new Law. The new Law was that speaking Hawaiian was OK, but not in the house. There, it was forbidden. He said, "Do you understand?" I nodded yes. "he said, "I want to hear you say it, so I know you understand." So I said, "'Ae, pāpā."

"Yes, I'm Daddy", he said, "but do you understand?" So I said, "'Ae, Hawai'i 'ōlelo pāpā." He said, "Yes, yes, I'm your papa, but you aren't telling me what I want to hear."

We went a couple more rounds like that, when finally my Mother broke out laughing. My father said, "What are you laughing about?"

She said, "I think I just figured out what he means by papa."

He said, "He means Daddy, what else would he mean?"

She said, "Why don't you look it up in your black book and find out?"

He grumbled, but he looked it up, and found out "pāpā" means "forbidden".

No comments: