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About Fijian Language

Fijian is an Austronesian language of the Malayo-Polynesian family spoken in Fiji. It has 450,000 first-language speakers, which is less than half the population of Fiji, but another 200,000 speak it as a second language. The 1997 Constitution established Fijian as an official language of Fiji, along with English and Hindustani, and there is discussion about establishing it as the "national language", though English and Hindustani would remain official. Fijian is a VOS language.

Standard Fijian is based on the language of Bau, which is an East Fijian language.

The national language debate

In May and June 2005, a number of prominent Fiji Islanders called for the status of Fijian to be upgraded. It was not an official language before the adoption of the 1997 Constitution, which made it co-official with English and Hindustani. It is still not a compulsory subject in schools, however; the present Education Minister, Ro Teimumu Kepa, has endorsed calls for it to be made so, as has Great Council of Chiefs Chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini. Similar calls came from Misiwini Qereqeretabua, the Director of the Institute of Fijian Language and Culture, and from Apolonia Tamata, a linguistics lecturer at Suva’s University of the South Pacific, who both said that recognition of the Fijian language is essential to the nation’s basic identity, as a unifying factor in Fiji’s multicultural society.

Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry also endorsed the call for Fijian to be made a national language and a compulsory school subject, provided that the same status be given to Hindi—a position echoed by Krishna Vilas of the National Reconciliation Committee.

David Cargill (1809-1843), a scottish missionary and pioneer in the study of the Fijian Language, devised a way of writing Fijian with the Latin alphabet based on the Ba'u (Bauan) dialect. He came up with several spelling systems, noted the reactions of the Fijians to them and abandoned the ones that didn't work. At first he represented sounds like /mb/ and /nd/ with two letters: mb and nd, but the Fijians read these as two separate sounds. Eventually he hit upon a spelling system that made sense to the Fijians and which has been in use ever since.

 

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