We hear you have a linguistics research fellowship this year—what’s the focus
My fellowship is organized by Long Island University and sponsored by the National Science Foundation. My mentor is the director of the Endangered Language Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to preserve under-documented languages in and around the city (there are over 800!).
Through this fellowship, I’ve discovered a deep-seated interest in the documentation of creole languages. I was born and raised in Hawai‘i on Kaua‘i and, naturally, grew up around people speaking pidgin (or, as I’ve learned to call it in academic terms, Hawaiian Creole English). It was only when I came to college that I realized how fascinating and rich Hawai‘i’s pidgin is as a language and how it tells, through its vocabulary and grammar and everything in between, the story of Hawai‘i and its people.
Wow. What aspects of Pidgin interest you most?
My research has been motivated by trying to get other people—academics and pidgin speakers alike—to see what I see in this language: an incredibly diverse history, a complex amalgamation of cultural values, and the contributions of Cantonese, Portuguese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian, and English speakers to the language during its brief but fascinating tenure.
Specifically, right now I am examining the distribution of certain locative prepositions: What are the rules governing pidgin usage of “to” and “at”, among others? How did they develop? What do they tell us about different perceptions of physical relationships in the world? I want to completely eradicate the idea that people who speak pidgin are somehow not as intelligent as people who speak “standard” varieties of English, or that pidgin is somehow “less” of a language in any way, because neither of those things are true. If something can sound wrong in a language, that means there is a functional and living grammar in that language, and pidgin is no exception!
What role, if any, did HPA play in your work?
My HPA teachers patiently helped shape me—as a thinker and a scholar. I wouldn’t know how to write a coherent or grammatical sentence, let alone a paragraph or essay, if not for Jaime Johnson’s English 9 class, the first exposure I had to any kind of structure in writing. The rules she taught me allowed my creative voice to be free. Mollie Hustace’s AP art history class was my first glimpse at critical analysis and the creativity that motivates and enriches academia. Though I don’t think of myself as a math person, Patricia Kassis in her algebra II trig honors class showed me the versatility of thought, how you can approach a problem from a hundred different perspectives and every method produces unique and crucial insight. Sarah Hayslip in her AP comp class forced my writing to be precise and persuasive, and I often hear her voice in my head when I’m writing and editing. These women, in their brilliance, strength, and love, showed me how to be my best student and best self.
Editor’s note: This profile first appeared in the fall 2018 issue of Ma Ke Kula.