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A Tribute to Al Schutz–Scholar of Fijian Languages and Friend of Fiji — Part 1

Editor’s Note:

This is the first column in a two-part tribute to Albert J. Schutz.

Al Schutz was a close friend. He was also a friend of Fiji, a place he loved dearly, ever since he began his linguistics fieldwork in 1960.

Al was a wonderful connection to Fiji’s colonial past. He enjoyed regaling me with anecdotes about some of the more colorful characters that walked the streets of Suva. These included former Suva Mayor, Len Usher, Dr. Lindsay Verrier (who worked as a medical officer in Suva, Levuka and Nadroga) and, the inseparable Parham sisters.

I first met Al in 1980 when he ran the newly created Fiji Dictionary Project. His work in the field of Fijian language was seminal. According to the author of this tribute, William O’Grady (also a distinguished University of Hawaii linguist), “not only was Al a leading scholar of Fijian, he also wrote extensively about earlier research on the language by missionaries and other visitors to the islands.”

Al’s most recent Fiji title, published in 2019 was “Discovering Fijian”, a history of how Fijian languages were documented by the early explorers, traders and missionaries.

Suva, a History and Guide in it’s first incarnation. The book is currently being revised.

However his writing was not confined to the ivory tower. Those of a certain era may remember seeing the compact, yellow and black paperback entitled “Say It in Fijian” in bookstores throughout Fiji.

Al had eclectic interests and did not limit himself to linguistics. His pioneering “Suva A History and Guide”, was researched with the same rigor as his academic endeavors. The genesis of the book, he told me, was when he had a bout with dengue fever. He was confined to his quarters with time on his hands. He decided that was the moment to begin a historical guide to Suva. It remains the best primer on Fiji’s capital city that ever made its way into print.

Several years before Al’s passing, he asked me to help him update the book, which hadn’t been revised since the 1970s. With his sponsorship as well as assistance from the Fiji Hotel Association I was able to gather information for the newest version, which is in the works.

Suva A History and Guide will be published once again when Fiji tourism returns.

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In Memoriam, Albert J. Schütz (1936–2020)

by William O’Grady

Albert J. Schutz, professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, died peacefully at his home in the early morn­ing hours of August 23, 2020 at the age of eighty-four. He is survived by his sister Marian (Schutz) Mochel, her husband Virgil, and their families, as well as by Angie Schutz, the widow of his older brother Gene Schutz, and Gene’s children by a previous marriage.[1]

A young Al Schutz

Al was born on August 9, 1936 in the small town of Wyatt in northern Indiana and grew up on a farm there, the youngest of three siblings and the great-grandchild of immigrants of Swiss and German origin who arrived in the United States in the 1850s. He embraced hard work from childhood, doing his share on a family farm that included a few hundred pigs, a thousand chick­ens, and a hundred acres of corn.

Al’s childhood successes included awards from the local 4H Club for his grand champion pig and a trophy as Junior Champion in a five-acre corn contest. During his college years, he spent his summers working as a carpenter for a well-known house builder in the Wyatt area. Years later, the tables were turned when Al brought his former boss to Hawai‘i to work for him on an extension to his house in Manoa.

Al earned his bachelor’s degree at Purdue University in 1958 (with a major in English and speech, and a minor in mathematics) and his PhD in linguistics from Cornell University in 1962, under the supervision of Charles Hockett, one of the giants of structural linguistics. His initial plans did not call for anything so ambitious. In an autobiographical note for his fiftieth high school reunion, he wrote “After Purdue, I went to Cornell, intending to spend a year or two getting an MA, and then come back [to Wyatt] to teach in a high school. But I was diverted, and ended up with a PhD in linguistics : : : ”

Al’s fascination with the languages of the Pacific began in 1960, when, as a graduate student at Cornell, he was asked by Hockett whether he would be interested in conducting fieldwork in Fiji, to which (by his own account) he responded “Sure. Where is it?” The challenges that awaited Al in Fiji included 300 distinct communalects spread over about 1000 villages. He ended up col­lecting data from 105 villages on various of the Fijian islands, administering a survey that included a few hundred vocabulary items and a set of sentences designed to elicit specific grammatical features.

Of all the books Al has written, “Say It in Fijian” has become a classic and favorite of vulagi (visitors).

After ten months in Fiji, Al headed to London’s School of Oriental and African Studies to continue his work under the mentorship of George B. Milner, a leading scholar of Fijian and Samoan. Focusing on data collected from 60 villages on the largest of the Fijian islands, Al completed his disserta­tion, “A Dialect Survey of Viti Levu,” and prepared to return to the Pacific, this time with Hawai‘i as his primary destination.

Al was appointed as an assistant professor of speech at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa in 1962; he joined the newly formed Department of Linguistics a year later. With the exception of brief guest professorships at Universitat Hamburg and the University of Waikato, he spent his entire career in Manoa. As George Grace documents in his history of linguistics at the University of Hawai‘i (http://www.ling.hawaii.edu/faculty/grace/LDeptHist. pdf), the department that Al joined was initially a very small program, with just two other teaching faculty members: Howard P. McKaughan and Stanley M. Tsuzaki. But it was a good fit for Al, who had fallen in love with the people, languages, and cultures of the Pacific.

As the department grew and began to refine its mission, Al’s scholarship deepened and broadened. His pioneering fieldwork in Fiji quickly established his reputation as a rising scholar. In the 1970s and the 1980s, he completed three major books on Fijian: Spoken Fijian, coauthored with Rusiate Komaitai (1971, with a second edition in 1979, published by University of Hawai‘i Press), The Languages of Fiji (1972, Clarendon), and The Fijian Language (1985, University of Hawai‘i Press). Al joked that the latter book, a 688-page tome, had been described by a reviewer as “covering grammatical topics exhaustively and exhaustingly in something like a thousand pages.”

Fijian Reference Grammar is based on more than 50 years of research.

Al was a regular visitor to Fiji. He had many friends there, and became something ofa celebrity over the years, in part because of his talent as a singer. (His credits include a performance at the Suva Civic Centre.) But language always came first, and Al was ever eager to improve the quality of linguistic scholarship in Fiji, even arranging for some Fijian students to receive training in linguistics at the University of Hawai‘i. He was also a mentor for “outsiders” who wanted to work on Fijian. Paul Geraghty (University of Hawai‘i PhD, 1979), Al’s second doctoral advisee and a long-time faculty member at the University of the South Pacific, recalls an early instance of Al’s helpfulness:

I had been a volunteer teacher in Fiji in 1969-1970, and had become very interested in the languages, without knowing of Al’s work. On the way back to England, I sought out the linguistics department of the University of Auckland and found Andy Pawley, who was very kind and encouraging and also gave me Al’s address. So I wrote to Al and he was also very encouraging, and during my three years at Cambridge (studying French and German but actually more interested in Oceanic lan­guages), I wrote a couple of papers based on my own fieldwork in Fiji which I sent to Al, and I think they must have impressed him – particularly when I pointed out a large chunk of text missing in his OL [Oceanic Linguistics] article on phonemic typologies! So he arranged for me to do postgrad [studies] at Hawai‘i, along with a job assisting Lew Josephs on the Palauan dictionary then being compiled under the auspices of PALI. When I arrived in September he met me at the airport, and his first words to me were, “I feel I already know you well” (or words to that effect) alluding to our three-year correspondence. Then he took me to stay at his place in Manoa until I could find a place of my own. So I am eter­nally grateful for his encouragement and hospitality.

Al was comfortable in Fiji–and Fiji was comfortable with Al

Al’s work on Fijian extended over a half century. In the 1970s, he served as the first director of the monolingual Fijian Dictionary project, an ambitious under­taking funded for a time by Hollywood actor Raymond Burr’s American Fijian Foundation. Al was succeeded by two former students, Tevita Nawadra and then Paul Geraghty, who pushed the project forward. The dictionary, 1000 pages in length, was published in 2004.


[1] Al had many friends, and I am grateful to the several who I was able to consult about various details of his life and career, including (in alphabetical order) Puanani Anderson-Fung, Joel Bradshaw, Paul Geraghty, Piet Lincoln, Ashley McGuigan, John Mayer, Andrew Pawley, and Peter Schuelke.

End of Part 1–Tribute to Al Schutz

Many thanks to Professor O’Grady who penned the original version of this obituary “In Memoriam, Albert J. Schütz (1936–2020)” for Oceanic Linguistics, vol. 60 no. 1, 2021, p. 250-255. University of Hawai‘i Press.)

Mahalo to the University of Hawai’i Press for allowing me to re-publish it in Fiji Guide.

© by University of Hawai‘i Press. All rights reserved.

Rob Kay

Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award winner Rob Kay wrote the original Lonely Planet Fiji Travel Guide, and is Founder of Fijiguide.com.

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