Three Months of Fijian – Half-Way Reflection

In late January I heard that I might be spending the summer in Fiji (or, at least, a part of it).

As a result of being lightly disappointed with the fact that I put off studying Burmese until I got my visa to Myanmar for my Spring 2017 venture (something I should have NOT done, I should have begun studying Burmese as soon as the idea became entertained), I decided to do the opposite this time and invest in Fijian (and Fiji Hindi) as QUICKLY as possible, despite the fact that there is a possibility this trip may not happen at all.

One Lonely Planet book, many songs, and one-half of the 30-Day Speaking Challenge later, I find myself in a good place with Fijian, one that significantly surpassed what I was able to do with Burmese in May 2017.

Granted, part of this is likely due to the fact that (1) Fijian isn’t the first Austronesian language I’ve studied (I did some flirtation with Tongan in 2017 and committed myself to Gilbertese in January) (2) the fact that there is no new alphabet to learn and (3) the fact that there are more English loan words in Fijian than in many languages dissimilar to English.

Within the past week I’ve done away with my problems with numbers, leaving dates and time to be my biggest weak point, not also to mention getting vocabulary to “stick”.

I’ve also had issues in getting a steady stream of Fijian-language material.

For one, English is the lingua franca of Fiji (given that there are the iTaukei, the indigenous Fijians who speak “Na Vosa Vakaviti” as their first language, as well as the Fiji Indians who speak Fiji Hindi as their first language).

Second, SBS Australia (Special Broadcasting Service, in case you were curious) discontinued its Fijian-language programming last year, leaving me with the archives and nothing else.

Third, even on those broadcasts there sometimes is a significant portion of dialogue that can happen in English.

Fourth, it’s easier to find material from languages spoken in the developed world for too many reasons to count (The sheer rich variety of material in languages Finnish and German seemed to make their difficulty almost vanish, in a sense).

I’ve noticed that my accent in Fijian is getting better despite the fact that I’ve made no deliberate efforts to improve it. That said, I do have some issues with the r (which is rolled deliciously in Fijian). Another thing to keep in mind about Fijian pronunciation is the fact that the s is pronounced with extra spice. The word “boys” spoken by a Fijian speaking English would be pronounced like “boyce”.

My listening comprehension does need to improve (and I’ll go on recording say that Lao was the easiest dissimilar-from-English language to comprehend as a beginner. I honestly have no idea why.) Fijian, much like many other languages of Oceania, is spoken quickly although it did not leave me as “flattened” by its sheer speed the way that Gilbertese did. I have no intention on slowing down my audio but instead celebrating my small victories in listening to broadcasts (“Wow! I know what they’re talking about!”)

Where do I go from here?

My new CleartheList for Fijian:

– Dates and Time (new video coming soon, most likely!)
– Possessive suffixes and pronouns FULLY MASTERED
– Create Memrise Course with vocabulary from the Lonely Planet Phrasebook
– Get more music! (All music is appreciated!)

ALSO! Important for learners of Fijian! If you are looking for music, broadcasts, material, etc, don’t forget to use both “Fijian” in some searchs and “iTaukei” in others.

“iTaukei” literally means “indigenous”, and as a result of Fiji’s most recent constitutional changes it refers to the indigenous inhabitants of Fiji, whereas Fijian refers to all inhabitants of Fiji. Hence, Fiji Indians would be Fijians but not iTaukei.

(If you know anything about iTaukei / Findian relations, let me know!)

I’m so grateful I’ve decided to do this.

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But not so complicated it can’t be done, mind you!

Next week for Lee Morrow’s Project Polyglot, I’ll be presenting on a self-learning!

Read more about it / register here!

The Tongan Way

It was my life’s dream to begin learning languages of the Pacific since I was a kid. The fact that I haven’t done so for decades is confusing to me, but perhaps one reason I started it this late was because I needed to hone my techniques and confidence, both of which are required in greater depth if you want to take on languages that virtually no one you know of is likely to learn or speak.

Granted, I have been speaking Tok Pisin since 2014 and Bislama and Solomon Islands Pijin since 2016. What I mean when I say “Pacific Languages” are those truly indigenous to the region, and this year brought me into the arms of three of them specifically: Palauan, Tongan and Kiribati / Gilbertese. I’ve been extremely fascinated by all of them (and I would say at this juncture that Palauan is the hardest and Kiribati the easiest).

But today I’m going to talk about Tonga, because today is Tonga National Day.

Tonga is a country that continues to hold very strongly to its traditions, being an absolute monarchy even today, as well as one in which Christian identity is taken very seriously. What’s more I would venture that most people learning the Tongan Language might be doing so because they are missionaries.

The language itself is fascinating on every level and works unlike any other language I’ve seen. Let’s hop in!

The pronunciation, like many Austronesian languages (or “Languages of the Southern Islands” which stretch all the way from Madagascar to Easter Island / Rapa Nui) is extremely straightforward. You have a, e, i, o and u, pronounced virtually the EXACT same way as they would be pronounced in Spanish. If you see a line over any of these vowels, hold it a little bit longer. This principle, thanks to Finnish (which employed lengthened vowels very similarly but uses “aa” instead of “ā”, was not foreign to me.

Tongan also has a glottal stop, noted as the “ ‘ “ character. This is trickier, and it is pronounced with something like the breathing sound in the middle of “uh-oh”. (In singing this is extremely difficult to hear!)

Now let’s introduce you to what is probably the most commonly known Tongan word abroad, an interjection that literally serves ALL purposes (surprise, joy, anger, excitement), “ ‘oiaue!” Yup, all of the vowels and a glottal stop. Also super fun to say!

The consonants will not be slurred and, much like in a language like Hebrew, always have the exact same pronunciation! Given how similar they are to English that’s not something you need to worry about.

One aspect in which Tongan has really caused me to enter a word of mental gymnastics is the fact that, instead of indicating a tense with changing a verb, you use a “tense marker”.

Let’s give an example. “ ‘oku” is a present tense marker, so if you see it, a verb that follows it will be in the present tense. And PRONOUNS also change with tenses accordingly!

 

Ou -> present “I”

Ku -> past “I”

U -> future “I”

 

‘oku ou -> I am (lit. present-marker I-present)

Na’a ku -> I was (lit. past-marker I-past)

Te u -> I will be (lit. future-marker I-future)

 

You put verbs afterwards

Now there’s yet ANOTHER version of “I”, one that is utilized when it goes at the end of the sentence after a verb. “au”

 

‘Oku ‘alo ki kolo ‘a au. = I am going to town.

Present-marker go all-purpose-preposition town verb marker I-post-verb-version

 

The various pronouns in Tongan are all calibrated in various ways according, complete with exclusive and inclusive versions “we” as well as a singular / dual / plural system.

 

Much like some other languages, Tongan also has an interesting way of asking “what” you ask “Ko e hā e meʻa” = “what is the thing …”

It can be set up in other ways:

 

Ko e hā e lea faka-Tonga ki he _____?

What is the Tongan Word for _____?

 

The word “ko” is translated in so many ways and used is so many constructs that it’s dizzying to even think about how I would begin to describe it on paper. After all, I just got into Tongan a few months ago.

But you probably noticed something about “faka-Tonga”, which translates to “the Tongan Way”, something that is, obviously, at the center of the country’s national identity. Lea faka-Tonga, speaking in the Tongan Way, refers to the Tongan Language (of course).

Faka- as a prefix can also turn any noun into an adjective of the noun. Tonga is, of course, the Kingdom we all know and love (or, at least, we NOW know it and love it!). faka-Tonga turns it into an adjective. Not just Tongan, but an adjectival word that encapsulates everything that is the Tongan Way.

Another thing I didn’t find on the internet so far was how to say “why” in Tongan. That would be “ko e hā … ai” (and it is a sentence construction, with the thing you are asking the “why” about goes in the area with the three dots).

In summary:

  • Pronunciation is extremely easy
  • Verbs don’t really change but you note the tense of a sentence with a word that indicates tense.
  • Pronouns also change for tense too, they also can change depending on sentence structure (there are four forms of the word “I” covered above suited for different situation)
  • I didn’t touch upon it here, but possessives come in two classes. Read more about it on Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongan_language#Possessive_pronouns
  • Idiomatic differences and learning what constitutes a “natural” construct will be your biggest obstacle in learning Tongan (more than anything else would be.

 

What’s more, Tongan also (unsurprisingly) has a lot of English Loan Words, and much like in Japanese, they will be adopted to local spelling conventions. This includes NAMES sometimes!

 

David – Tēvita

Mary – Mele

Science / Scientist – Saienisi

 

Tonga has great music that makes you feel as though you’re on an island (no, REALLY!) as well as a history that features it on center stage locally many times (it has been described as “expansionist”). Pieces of Tongan culture have been featured on the global stage, with the national drink, Kava, having its name COME from Tongan, as well as having costumes from Disney’s Moana / Vaiana modelled after the dress from the Tongan Royal Family, not also to mention it having been a playable mini-civilization in a mode of Civilization V (No joke!!!)

Polynesia as a whole (not to mention the Pacific Island cultures as a group) has been featured in many aspects of both American and Japanese popular culture (it was the colonial frontier for both of them!) As a result, many aspects of any of these cultures will be oddly familiar to you, given how both American and Japanese popular culture have impacted the world.

I have a long way to go with speaking the Tongan way, but it’s been SUPER fun (as well as challenging!) and I can’t wait to see how well I speak Tongan in a year’s time!

And now a song that will get stuck in your head!

Happy Tonga Day, world!

LEA FAKA TONGA

The Top 5 Catchiest Songs I’ve Heard in My Whole Life to Date (March 2017 Edition)

 moving forward 1

Today is Purim, a Jewish Holiday that does involve costumes, celebration and the reversals of fortune.

Interestingly, it occurs to me that it may be the closest thing to a “troll holiday” that really exists in the Jewish calendar.

My identity, especially my Jewish identity, is something I struggle with a LOT more than I should.

But that’s a story for another day.

True to the spirit of reversal on Purim (vnahafokh = Ancient Hebrew for “and it was reversed”, referring to the denouement of the Book of Esther which you should read one fine afternoon, if you haven’t heard it already today or yesterday evening), I ain’t gonna be writing about language learning.

I’m going to be posting the catchiest songs I’ve heard. Ever.

Actually, what am I thinking? Does this have anything to do with Purim? No, it probably doesn’t. There isn’t even any Jewish performer on this list (as far as I can tell…sorry)

But I hope all of you regardless of background or level or anything else can enjoy this playlist.

Want the lyrics? Leave a comment. Didn’t include them because I thought it would clutter this post more than message. I didn’t include commentary for the same reason. You came to hear catchy songs, not a lecture.

So more music, less wordz!

  1. Basshunter, “Boten Anna” (Swedish)
  1. The Tokens, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (English)
  1. Daniel Bilip “Mangi Mendi” (Papua New Guinea / mostly in Tok Pisin)
  1. SUSSAT! “Sila Qaamareerpoq” (Greenlandic)

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Staysman and Lazz, “En Godt Stekt Pizza” (Norwegian)

Juan Magan, «Mal de Amores» (Spanish [Spain])

Marc Fussing Rosbach, «FIIST!» (Greenlandic)

And now for the first place you’ve all been waiting for…

  1. Keatly Kalulu, «Kava» (Bislama [Vanuatu])