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The most trusted source on Fiji Report: A new definitive reference on Fijian Grammar--and much more--Part II

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.  

Here's part two of this series on his new book which is now available on Amazon.

Schütz’s most concentrated work on Fijian grammar began when he served as Director of the Fijian (Monolingual) Dictionary Project (1972–79), sponsored for the first two years by a grant from Raymond Burr’s American-Fijian Foundation, the Australian Cultural Fund, UNESCO, and the Fiji Government. After 1979, Schütz continued to work with the project, concentrating on completing the grammar, aided significantly by a grant from the U.S.’s National Endowment for the Humanities. Titled The Fijian Language, it was finished in 1985 and published by the University of Hawai‘i Press. Now, long out of print, it served as the foundation for the new grammar.

The grammar

Fijian Reference Grammar is based on data, not on linguistic theories, and relies heavily on language in context. The data used include material written and spoken by Fijians--ranging  rom advice offered by the author’s colleagues in the Fijian Dictionary Project to Fijian-language newspapers and textbooks. Included also are recordings of loanwords and casual conversations, and—most recently—the text and DVD of a Fijian play, Lakovi, by Apolonia Tamata and Larry Thomas.

For the historical and linguistic background, the author consulted collections in sixteen libraries and archives in the following cities: Cambridge MA, Canberra, Dunedin, Honolulu, London, Salem MA, Sydney, Suva, Sydney, Washington D.C., and Wellington.

Although the book is based on The Fijian Language, it includes significant deletions and additions. First, the long historical introduction and the appendix of twenty annotated pre-missionary word lists were removed and combined into a work tentatively entitled Early Studies of Fijian, to appear on-line for students and teachers in Fiji.

Here are the major changes:

1. Now that the monolingual Fijian dictionary, Na iVolavosa vakaViti, has been published, it has been possible to expand the discussion of the sound system to include more recent additions to the alphabet—borrowings from both related and unrelated languages within Fiji. Some new words do not follow the traditional Fijian syllable structure. However, the dictionary does not go far beyond identifying the sources of the new words. Therefore, the treatment in the grammar is open-ended, pointing the way to potential research on which domains allow, or do not allow, what appear to be non-Fijian sounds and combinations of sounds.

2. The beginnings of such a sociolinguistic study grew out of the play Lakovi, which exists in both printed and DVD form. It offers written and spoken examples of different speech styles in context, while also providing such information as approximate ages and kinship relationships among the speakers. Fijian-language plays now in progress promise to provide additional data.

3. Many recent studies of Polynesian languages and Fijian attempt to write rules to predict the placement of accent. A study of the relationship between accent units and morphemes (meaningful elements of words) adds weight to Schütz’s argument that accent guides the hearer to meaning, not the other way around. Rules can apply only to forms up to and including four short syllables.

4. Suggestions from two extensive reviews of the previous grammar have been considered; some have been incorporated, others rejected.

5. Some studies that appeared after 1985, especially those conducted by linguists familiar with the language, provided additions to the lists and discussions of grammatical markers. Other studies, in particular those by linguists with very little contact with the language, provided convenient targets for criticism of statements about the language based on selected sentences taken out of context.

Stay tuned for excerpts from the book.

Photos courtesy of Al Schutz. From top to bottom:  Bau circa 1961, Book Cover, and photo of author.

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Comment by Robert F. Kay on July 21, 2014 at 7:20pm

Kudos on your new book!  It's about time there was a definitive book written on Fijian Grammar.


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