Talking the talk: languages of Fiji
Updated: Jan 12
Three official languages
Fiji has a population of about 900,000 spread over 300 islands, yet has three official languages: Fijian, Fijian Hindi and English. Most of the population speak two of these fairly fluently but only a minority have full command of all three languages. Today I'll tell you a bit about Fijian and plan to fill you in on Fijian Hindi and English in future. That's because I've studied linguistics so its a real challenge to be brief on this subject.
Until the early nineteenth century, the entire population of the Fiji islands was Melanesian with Polynesian ethnic contributions. They shared a spoken language with dialects which varied somewhat from island to island and region to region. That language, today known as Fijian, belongs to the Austronesian language family which spreads south and east from Formosa (Taiwan) to Easter Island, reflecting the migration path of those intrepid seafarers who first settled Fiji three thousand years ago. However, By the time the islands were ceded to Queen Victoria in 1874, the British recognised Ratu Cakobau of Bau as Paramount Chief and the Bau dialect as the standard dialect for Fiji, which it still is today. While people in their own villages will always speak their regional dialects, all are familiar with standard Fijian through radio and school. Just like the French of Paris, standard Fijian is a strong influence on the other dialects.
Courtesy of Wikitongues, you can hear Mila Speaking Fijian here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFXjD9J-JE0
From 1835, the first Wesleyan missionaries laboured tirelessly to study Fijian and devise an alphabet in order to translate and teach the Bible. This project culminated in 1850 with the publication of an accurate Grammar and a complete Fijian-English and English-Fijian Dictionary, by the Rev. David Hazlewood. By the way, the numerous Hazlewood descendants constitute one of the prominent part-European families in Fiji today. Indeed, there were several Hazelwoods on the staff of the University of the South Pacific while I worked there.
The Fijian alphabet is based on English but it is phonetic, so each sound is always represented by only one letter, unlike English.
a as in father
e as in met
i as in Fiji
o as in or
u as in flu
Most consonants are pronounced roughly as in English, with the following important exceptions.
b = mb as in member eg. bula = mbu-la
d = nd as in tender eg. Adi = a-ndi
g = ng as in singer eg. liga = li-nga
q = ngg as in stronger eg. Beqa = mbeng-ga
c = th as in mother eg. yaco = ya-tho
In my Fiji Islands Mysteries, I like to give readers a taste of the language by using simple Fijian greetings and polite expressions when the characters are speaking Fijian.
moce goodbye or goodnight
vinaka thank you
I look forward to hearing from you!