The Fijian language spoken in Fiji is a type of Austronesian langauge and is part of the Malayo-Polynesian family. The Austronesian languages are normally found among islands in continental and Southeast Asia along with islands in the Pacific. However, less than half of Fiji’s population (450,000) speak Fijian as their primary language, while 200,000 speak it as a second language.
Fijian has many dialects, though the official one is the speech of Bau. Along with Bau Fijian, the other official languages in Fiji are English and Hindustani. The Fijian people have constitutional rights to communicate in any of the three official languages, though the primary language in Fiji is English. It is also the main language used in the courts, the educational system and in business and association.
History of the Fijian language
Fijian was first introduced in Fiji 3500 years ago by the islands’ earliest inhabitants, who either originated from an island in Vanatu or from the Solomons. For a long time, it was the only spoken language in Fiji. Early missionaries residing in the country felt that it was very important to use the local language in all their work. In 1835, two Methodist missionaries developed a written version of the language, and by 1840, missionaries had invented a Fijian spelling system and had published various books in different dialects of the language. When it was decided that a standard dialect was needed, Bao Fijian was chosen.
Even though English eventually replaced Bao Fijian as the main language of Fiji, the Fijian language never had to struggle too much to remain in existance, unlike some other Pacific languages, such as the Hawaiian language. Since Fijian independence in 1970, the Fijian language has been increasingly used in schools, on the radio and in books and newspapers.
However, it did not become an official language in Fiji until it was declared so in the 1997 Constitution, along with English and Hindustani. Then in May and June of 2005, several prominent Fijian figures petitioned for an upgrade to the status of Fijian. Though Fijian is still not considered a necessary subject in schools, numerous leaders, such as the current Fijian Educational Minister, Ro Teimumu Kepa, and the Fiji Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, are working to change that.
A look into the Fijian language
The Fijian alphabet is made up of all the English letters excluding the letter “x,” though the letters “h” and “z” are also rarely used and primarily are only found in borrowed words. Most of the consonants are pronounced the same as they are in English, except for the letters b, c, d, g and q.
Rules of pronouncing the following consonants:
B- “mb” as in member
C- “th” as in bother
D- “nd” as in Monday
G- “ng” as in singer
Q- “ng” (including the hard “G” sound) as in finger
Vowels are mostly pronounced as they would be if they were spoken in Spanish, Italian and German:
A as in bother
E as in day, though without the glide at the end (which also goes for the other following vowels)
I as in me
O as in bow
U as in zoo
Other letters to keep in mind are k, p and t, which are generally pronounced the same as they are in English, except that there is not the sound of a slight breath that usually follows, so “t” would sound like “ch” when it is behind the letter “i.” Also, “j” is pronounced like the “ch” is said in loch and “v” is pronounced with a short “ve” sound, like in verify.