Editor’s Note: Vinaka to the late Dr. Albert Schutz author of Say it in Fijian and Discovering Fijian for providing FijiGuide with this primer on pronunciation. Be sure and read our list of useful Fijian words and phrases.
Unlike English spelling, which is riddled with exceptions, Fijian spelling is regular. This quality gives you a good chance of pronouncing words correctly when you read them.
If you’re told that Fijian vowels are similar to those in Latin or Spanish, you’re out of luck if you don’t know those languages. So just to make sure, use the following rules, which have no exceptions.
a as in father
e as in bait, but without the glide at the end.
i as in beat, but without the glide at the end.
o as in boat, but without the glide at the end.
u as in boot, but without the glide at the end.
If a vowel has a line over it, this means that it lasts longer. Long vowels are always accented, no matter what their position. (Unfortunately, Fijian’s official writing system doesn’t mark long vowels. But they are marked on the headwords in a dictionary.
Certain combinations of vowels act as units:
ai au ei eu oi ou iu
This means that no matter where these vowel clusters appear in a word, the accent is on the first vowel. We’ll say more about this topic in the section on accent below.
Most Fijian and English consonant letters are pronounced similarly. The following five are the exceptions:
b, which represents mb, as in member.
d, which represents nd, as in Monday.
q, which represents ng+g, as in finger.
g, which represents ng, as in singer.
c, which represents th, as in father.
Accent—that is, making a syllable more prominent than those around it—is predictable only for short words. For words with two or three short syllables, the accent is always on the second-to-last syllable. In the following examples, the vowel of the accented syllable is in boldface:
mata eye, face
Syllables with a long vowel or a diphthong are accented, no matter what their position:
vā four rai seen
kilā know it mā.rau happy
In terms of accent, longer words and phrases are made up of short units, called measures. You can see that the word mā.rau is divided into two measures, and the boundary is marked by a full stop. It’s not part of the usual writing system, but it’ll help you find the accents in longer words. For example:
posi.tō.vesi post office
As you can see from the vowels in boldface, each diphthong, long vowel, and second-to-last short vowel in a measure is accented. Moreover, the last measure in a word is given slightly more emphasis.
©2022 Dr. Albert J. Schütz
Top Shot Courtesy Rob Rickman (via Talanoa Tours)