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Fijiguide.com Report: An introduction to Fijian Reference Grammar--Final Installment

The first written samples of the Fijian language to reach the English reading public were the twelve words collected in Tonga in July, 1777 by William Anderson—physician, naturalist, and philologist on James Cook’s third voyage.

Although Anderson did not comment on the sounds of Fijian, the spelling system he used was one that he had developed earlier and used consistently as he transcribed samples of a number of languages that he examined on Cook’s second and third voyages.

No doubt with the spirit of William Anderson hovering nearby, Albert Schütz, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, has been engaged in Fijian language research for over five decades.

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.  

This the third and final installment of this series--is the actual introduction to the book by Al, which is now available on Amazon.

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by  Albert Schütz

In 1971, a committee of people interested in Fijian—both native speakers and visiting linguists—decided that a Fijian monolingual dictionary was needed. The Fijian representatives on the committee wrote:

The basic outlook of the dictionary should be one of recording Fijian words for speakers of Fijian now and in the future.

It was with this philosophy that the Fijian Dictionary Project (FDP) was formed. Since that time, it moved from external to internal direction and support, reflected in its new name: Tabana Ni Vosa Kei Na iTovo Vakaviti (Institute of Fijian Language & Culture). It serves not only as a research unit but as an académie as well, advising on linguistic matters and helping to form language policy for education. As a matter of fact, the present grammar and its predecessor, The Fijian Language (TFL) had their origins in materials developed by the FDP for a number of workshops, designed to spur the interest of Fijian teachers in the history and structure of their own language.

In Fijian linguistic matters, the present contrasts sharply with the past. The first grammarians and compilers of dictionaries were Wesleyan missionaries from Scotland and England, who were acquiring firsthand knowledge of the language. In the 1920s and ’30s, when a revised dictionary and grammar were proposed, the search for compilers was almost exclusively external. For example, it was suggested that the leading figure in Melanesian linguistics at the time, Sydney H. Ray, write the grammar, even though Ray’s knowledge about Fijian was entirely secondhand. Now, most Fijian linguistic research in Fiji is carried on by native speakers.


Purpose

This work is not directed to a particular readership, but simply to those who want to learn more about Standard Fijian (SF). It is intended as a reference work, treating in detail such topics as verb and noun classification, transitivity, the phonological hierarchy (especially prosodic units), orthography, various types of specification, possession, subordination, and the definite article (among others). In addition, it is an attempt fit these pieces together into a unified picture of the structure of the language.



Pacific collections consulted:

  • Australian National Library, Canberra
  • Barker Library, Suva
  • Bernice P. Bishop Museum Library, Honolulu
  • Essex Institute Library, Salem (MA)
  • Fiji Archives, Suva
  • Hocken Library, University of Otago, Dunedin
  • Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge (MA)
  • Library of Congress, Washington DC
  • Mitchell Library, Sydney
  • Pacific Collection, Hamilton Library, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
  • Peabody Museum Library, Salem (MA)
  • School of Oriental and African Studies Library, University of London
  • Seminar für Indonesische und Südseesprachen, Universität Hamburg
  • Tozzer Library, Harvard University, Cambridge (MA)
  • Turnbull Library, Wellington
  • Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society Library, London

 

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