Talking the talk: languages of Fiji

October 18, 2019

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.

 

Spoken Fijian

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

 

Written Fijian

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.

Vowels

a     as in       father

   as in       met

    as in       Fiji

   as in       or

u    as in       flu

 

Consonants

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.

 

bula               hello

moce             goodbye or goodnight

io                 yes

vinaka           thank you

 

I would love to answer any questions from readers about Fiji, or indeed about my books. Just leave me a message on bmallsopp.com or email me at bernadette@bmallsopp.com.

 

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 Bernadette

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