Yes, I know that given that Fiji is in a perpetual state of tomorrow-ness (at least from the vantage point of my Brooklyn apartment) that it isn’t Fiji Day anymore. BUT! It still is Fiji day in many other areas of the globe as I write this, and so let me use this opportunity to share some fun facts about the Fijian Language!
- Among the languages I’ve learned that are distant from English, Fijian has been the easiest.
That said, Fijian does require work in many other ways (especially if you want to get REALLY good and identify and use dialectical and regional types of humor). But concerning the ways in which Western European Languages are considered hard, Fijian has absolutely none of it.
- Verb conjugation is non-existence, verbs change for “transitivity.”
Not surprisingly, this same pattern also exists in Tok Pisin and its relatives as well. For those unaware, Tok Pisin and the other Melanesian Creoles could be described as “English poured into the mold of Melanesian Languages (with bits of other ingredients)”. Given that Fijian is the bridge between Melanesia and Polynesia and has many elements of both, this is unsurprising.
A transitive verb has a direct object (I eat apples). An intransitive verb has no direct object (I’m eating right now).
In Tok Pisin, the –im suffix is used to indicate transitivity. (It is related to the English word “him”). In Bislama it even changes depending on the vowel content of the original word.
Fijian has transitive and intransitive forms that are quite irregular but usually involve a two-word suffix added. Vuli – to learn. Vulica – to learn something. Guileca – to forget. Guilecava – to forget something.
- Fijian has a LOT of English Loan words.
Because of this, it is quite easy to know which animals are native to Fiji and its surrounding areas and which are not. “Vonu”, the turtle (and the name of one of Fiji’s best-known beers) is not only native to Fiji but a commonly found national symbol of sorts. As to the elephant or the tiger, however, they would be “elefade” and “taika” respectively.
Words relating to many specialized fields are also in English as well, such as for government or administration.
An English speaker will therefore feel fairly comfortable with large chunks of Fijian vocabulary even in the absolute beginner stage.
- Fijian Consonants are Very Juicy
The Fijian “s” is a wonder to hear. A book told me that all s’s in Fijian are pronounced like the “ce” in “Joyce”. I remember on my flight to Nadi that the stewards said “excuse us” closer to “excussssssssse usssssssss”. Unfortunately sometimes in my earphones it can be so sharp that it sometimes hurts my ears. And given how common it is (the words “sega”, meaning “no” or “not” predictably shows up a lot),
The k sound also has a very sharp character to is, as does the t. Saying the word “totoka” (beautiful) shouldn’t sound lazy, it should vivacious, in a sense.
The r is also very thoroughly rolled, stronger than in ANY European Language. Those listening to Fijian for the first time will probably say that it sounds very unique but can’t possibly explain why that is.
What’s more, the d is pronounced as “nd”, the b is pronounced as “mb”, the q is pronounced as nG” and the g in pronounced “Ng”.
Hence, the one word that ALL tourists to Fiji will leave knowing is pronounced “mBula”, although spelled “bula”. It means “life” but also “hello”, “cheers!” or anything related to life or flourishing.
- Possessives are “classified” in three categories: things you eat or that are a part of you (ke-), things that you drink (me-), or things that you own (no-).
And further mixing it up. Ice cream is something you drink in Fijian, as is medicine or coconuts. And if you refer to “bia” (beer) as “noqu” this means you intend to keep it in the fridge, and if you refer to it as “mequ” that means that you intend to drink it shortly.
You apply endings on them to indicate who it belongs to. Nomuni – all of yours. Noqu – mine.
And probably the hardest part of learning Fijian (for beginners, at least) is…
- Fijian Pronouns are a True Tangle to Speakers of European Languages – There are Sixteen of them.
In English and in other languages of Europe, we would say “we” (although some languages like Spanish might change it for a feminine form). In Fijian, you have to specify the following we’s:
- The two of us (but not you)
- Me and you
- The group of us (not including you)
- The group of us (you included)
- The big group of us (not including you)
- The big group of us (you included)
The other Austronesian Languages usually have similar things like this but Fijian has been the most intimidating (with Kiribati having the least intimidating). It should also be mentioned that yes, the Melanesian Creoles use the exact same system (Vanuatu’s National Anthem is “Yumi, Yumi, Yumi”, and even if you didn’t know anything about inclusive / exclusive we’s until now, you can probably guess what that means).
I made this a lot less scarier in my video:
- Fijian Music is Legendary AND Everywhere in Fiji
Sitting in a place like the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva and taking in the sounds of singers from all sides of the islands is a divine experience. Fijians will boast to you that they have the most moving songs in the world that can be found nowhere else. I don’t blame them.
And while not too inclusive, http://www.fijianlyrics.com/ is a very useful resources.
- Fijians will Compliment You Endlessly and Help You Learn
In contrast to a lot of Western Countries in which some people feel the need to force English down tourist’s throats, or somehow show off how “worldly” they are, Fijians have a deep cultural pride that will radiate if you can express anything in Fijian at all.
Many of them will be willing to become your impromptu teachers. I even had JANITORS providing me useful tips when in many European countries not even friends would give them.
This was not as true in Suva where there are Indo-Fijians and people from throughout the Pacific also present in large numbers and in which hearing the locals speak English with each OTHER is not uncommon.
If you’ve ever had any negative experiences with language immersion, do yourself a favor and learn Fijian and get some Fijian friends. They’ll love you for it.