language as virus
“Language is a virus” it’s been said, and nothing proves this point more clearly than a short YouTube I posted in 2006. Kathy Collins was performing her character “Tita” at a local benefit, a short, humorous set that relayed the history of the Hawaiian creole language spoken by many of the local islanders. I’d been living on the island of Maui for a couple of years but hadn’t understood the nature of the dialect known as Pidgin. In just a few minutes Tita explained Pidgin’s origin, a still evolving language, and by a fluke I caught it on camera. There was nothing yet like it on YouTube so I wanted to share.
The longer I lived in the islands the more I came to respect and appreciate Pidgin, which to me sounded musical and poetic while being straight forward and no nonsense. Learning to love Pidgin opened my ears to language in a new way and helped me develop a deeper respect for the local Hawaiian culture. I was thrilled to recently learn that Tita has her own blog where she shares stories in Pidgin both in text and audio. Listening now to Tita reminds me of my time in Hawaii and her stories continue to educate me about the history and culture of the islands and her peoples.
I’ve also learned a lot by following the conversation that Tita’s video performance inspired. What seemed at the time I posted the video as simple fascination and awe, I now understand as the seedlings for how important cultural stories are shared and developed. And if language is a virus, then it can be said too that whomever controls the stories of culture and history exerts immeasurable influence over their perception. In the case of Pidgin this could mean people being told and believing they were uneducated for speaking it when in fact they are living within the heart of a new and beautiful language.