Ainokea: pidgin polysemy

One of the basic properties of words is that they are polysemous: they have many meanings. Take the word get: you can get a table (meaning procure or reserve a table) and you can get sick (meaning become ill).

People also make moral judgements about language–we expect that people express their beliefs and attitudes towards the world through language, and we judge people based on how they talk.

Enter Ainokea.

For those of you not from Hawaii, Ainokea is a Hawaiianized/Pidginized version of “I no care,” which at first glance seems to be the pidgin “translation” of “I don’t care.”

[Note: This Hawaiianized/Pidginized rendering of the Pidgin phrase could be described as Pidgin written in Hawaiian orthography, as it matches the sounds of Pidgin if they had been written in the Hawaiian language. It also matches the Odo orthography (a writing system used by some linguists to describe Hawaiian Creole English or “Pidgin”). The Odo orthography more closely represents the sound of Pidgin than “I no care,” but we could discuss other aspects of the choice to “Pidginify” or Hawaiianize the spelling: does it represent a separatist attitude between Pidgin and English? Is it simply word play? The choice of adding the Hawaiian islands seems to evoke a kind of local-ness, but that’s a post for another day.]

Ainokea t-shirts started popping up about 5 years ago around Hawaii, leading to a sort of moral panic. Some of my teacher friends from the mainland banned the t-shirts in their classrooms saying “in this classroom, we care.” Similarly, the first response I saw was characteristically Christian:

Aikea: I do what HE like (note that the pastor was giving a sermon on “Ainokea”).

Ainokea became shorthand for all kinds of social ills: lack of respect and self-centeredness; meth-heads and lazy localspolitical and social indifference; a “beavis and butt-head” attitude; lack of engagement with the outside world; lack of empathy; the loss of aloha. Even the mayor putting his feet on the desk signified his ainokea attitude. Here are some examples:

Some helpful folks are planting aloe and mother-in-law’s tongues at the base of trees where the ainokea crew dump their hot coals.

The City’s attitude: “We don’t care what the Mainland is doing,” Honolulu Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka said. Ainokea is right Mr. Yioshioka. For the record, I see the numbers and Aikea (emphasis added).

But here’s where the polysemy comes in. I was out with some friends trying to decide where to go for dinner, and the response? Ainokea, it’s all good. So I started asking my pidgin-speaking friends “what does Ainokea mean to you?” The majority emphasized that it meant you were easy going and flexible. The same T-shirt company prints this definition:

ai-no-kea 1) free from worry or doubt 2) relaxed or casual in style or manner 3) the state of being unrestricted 4) hakuna matata Hawaiian for “carefree”

For most speakers, “care,” has both the meaning to look after/feel affection for as well as concern and anxiety. The T-shirt company and many of the defenders of the shirts argue that the shirt is concerned with the second meaning; critics argue the first meaning (and some of the people wearing the shirts have this opinion).

Either way, Ainokea often references certain kinds of localness. From the Hawaiian islands on the logo, to the localized spelling, it evokes localness, though whether that means carefree and easygoing or lazy and selfish is contested. This yelper invokes several resources: heineken, skankin’ to island reggae, slippahs, flower–all marks of a certain kind of local-ness, though one that only someone very familiar with Hawaii (and who may even sometimes identify as local) would choose to use.

I still don’t get the whole “Ainokea” concept and why it was or is so popular. I think it’s stupid, personally. My girlfriend gave me a Ainokea tank top for my birthday. Seriously. When was the last time she ever seen me sport a pua in my ear, two different color slippahs, a heine in one hand and a pitcher in the other, skanking to “it’s a two person party tonight”?

What is interesting to me is that many of the criticisms of ainokea are by locals. So we have a contested form of polysemy–when we see this T-shirt, we see different meanings. But is it the case that the more “pidgin” you are, the more you see the latter and the less you see the former? In Hawaii, Pidgin and English are rarely mutually exclusive–they influence and shape each other. So after all the talk surrounding ainokea, has that meaning changed?

and then there’s this:

(“I no more hair” would translate as “I don’t have any hair”)