Albert Schütz, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, has been engaged in Fijian language research since 1960. I first met him in Fiji in 1980 when he was involved in the Fijian Dictionary Project. In the following years, his interest on the Fijian language has never waned. Of late he’s labored intensively on a Fijian Reference Grammar, the culmination of his decades of research.
Although primarily an academic work, don't think this is purely a dry discourse on grammar. There's much more to this work which covers the scope of the Fijian language as it is spoken today. I think this book would be of interest to anyone with a desire to understand Fijian culture.
In this next series of blog posts I’d like to take a look at the author and his new book, which is now available on Amazon.
When Al Schütz was asked by his Cornell professor in early 1960 if he’d be interested in going to Fiji, his response was “Sure. Where is it?” This is understandable, perhaps, for someone only five years removed from the family farm, and who had not yet seen
the Pacific Ocean. Obviously, geography was not part of his undergraduate Liberal Arts education.
If someone had told him that he’d still be working on Fijian over a half-century later, he would not have believed it.
The two years that followed could not have been more of a contrast. He spent the summer at the University of Hawai‘i, working as an assistant teacher for two courses and gathering information on Fijian at the UH and Bishop Museum Libraries. For ten months in 1960–61, he conducted a dialect survey in Fiji, recording information from speakers in 105 villages from most of the major island groups. How did he travel? By small car, bus, foot, outboard, government boat, sailboat, plane, and horseback. (He would like to add to the list “bamboo raft,” cleverly referred to by Fijians as “H.M.S. No-Come-Back,” but that was only for an afternoon’s respite from interviews on the island of Vanua Levu.)
After leaving Fiji, he spent a term at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, taking anthropology courses, working on the data he’d collected, and conferring with George B. Milner, who was kind enough to serve as his mentor. Later, back at Cornell, he finished his PhD dissertation—“A Dialect Survey of Viti Levu”—just in time to accept a position at the University of Hawai‘i.
His next contact with the language took place after two summers of fieldwork on a related language, Nguna, from what was called then the New Hebrides, and now Vanuatu. In 1967 and 1968, he worked with Rātū Rusiate T. Komaitai on language lessons for Peace Corps trainees, eventually published as Spoken Fijian (University of Hawai‘i Press, 1971).
Stay tuned for the next in this series.
Photos courtesy of Al Schutz. Top: Book Cover. Bottom: A young Al Schütz, immersed in research.