SAY IT in Fi­jian

mailife - - Read - By SEONA SMILES

When Al Schütz was asked by his Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor in 1960 if he would be in­ter­ested in go­ing to Fiji, he said “Sure. Where is it?” As he ex­plains it, this re­sponse was prob­a­bly un­der­stand­able for a young chap not five years re­moved from his In­di­ana, USA fam­ily farm, who had not yet seen the Pa­cific Ocean. He had en­tered Cor­nell to do a Mas­ter’s de­gree to qual­ify him to teach sec­ondary school English and Maths (ob­vi­ously not Geog­ra­phy). The idea that he would be still work­ing on Fi­jian lan­guage more than half a cen­tury later was un­likely, to say the least. Yet 40 pub­li­ca­tions deal­ing with the Fi­jian lan­guage down the line, he re­cently pro­duced the Fi­jian Ref­er­ence Gram­mar, 454 pages thor­oughly re­vis­ing his 1985 work, The Fi­jian Lan­guage. Schütz has ded­i­cated the Gram­mar to the staff with whom he worked on the Fi­jian Dic­tionary Project, who in­clude the Uni­ver­sity of the South Pa­cific’s renowned Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor, Paul Ger­aghty and Te­vita Nawadra,

Sai­mone Nanovu, Ere­lia Nayakalou, Adi Bera Kurasiga and Luisa Tu­vuki. In be­tween the Fi­jian lan­guage work, Schütz has also stud­ied and writ­ten on Hawai­ian, Ton­gan, Samoan, M ori and Nguna, a lan­guage of Van­u­atu. The Fi­jian Gram­mar is based on data, not lin­guis­tic the­o­ries, and re­lies heav­ily on lan­guage in con­text. It is grounded on ma­te­rial writ­ten and spo­ken by Fi­jians, rang­ing from ad­vice of­fered by col­leagues in the Fi­jian Dic­tionary Project to Fi­jian lan­guage news­pa­pers and text books. It records loan­words and terms from ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion and from the text of a Fi­jian play, La­voki, by iTaukei cul­ture spe­cial­ist Apolo­nia Tamata and pop­u­lar Fiji drama­tist Larry Thomas. In fact it was the play, that ex­ists in both printed and DVD form, that sparked the so­ci­olin­guis­tic study that helped in­form the Gram­mar, along with the pub­li­ca­tion of the mono­lin­gual Fi­jian dic­tionary, Na iVolavosa vakaViti (2005), that opened the way for an ex­pand­ing dis­cus­sion of the Fi­jian sound sys­tem to in­clude more re­cent ad­di­tions, some bor­rowed from un­re­lated lan­guages. But the hefty 454 page Gram­mar vol­ume is prob­a­bly not Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor Schütz ’s best-known work in Fiji. His name is strongly as­so­ci­ated with a small, slim, yel­low-cov­ered book of 55 pages ti­tled Say it in Fi­jian, a wor­thy lit­tle work that has helped decades of vis­i­tors, ex­pa­tri­ates and those of us with­out the Fi­jian tongue to ne­go­ti­ate the lan­guage ba­sics. Prof Schütz first worked with Ratu Ru­si­ate Ko­maitai of Bau in 1967-68 to de­velop lan­guage ma­te­ri­als for the first Fiji Peace Corps train­ing pro­gramme, which later pro­vided the text for Spo­ken Fi­jian (Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii Press 1971), and thence Say it in Fi­jian. It ini­tially got a cool re­cep­tion from Pa­cific Pub­li­ca­tions Pty Ltd (then pub­lish­ers of Pa­cific Is­lands Monthly) who were of the opin­ion that they “didn’t have much faith in tourists as book buy­ers”. A pre­dic­tion that was far off the mark. “Although the ac­cu­racy of sales records has suf­fered with a num­ber of cor­po­rate takeovers, the book­let has sold well, prov­ing that tourists can be faith­ful book-buy­ers,” Schütz said. The first print run was in 1972, with re­vised edi­tions through­out the ‘70s, and most re­cently in 2003. This meant that when it was sug­gested the book should be put on­line, the text was al­ready in dig­i­tal form, along with some never pre­vi­ously seen digi­tised colour pic­tures from the 1960s. How­ever the com­pli­cated threads that were ul­ti­mately wo­ven to pro­duce the e-book meant that the trans­for­ma­tion was not au­to­matic. Apart from Schütz “drag­ging a 19th-cen­tury mind into 21st-cen­tury tech­nol­ogy”, the e-ver­sion in­cludes an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of au­dio record­ings by na­tive Fi­jian speak­ers pro­nounc­ing the words clearly and ac­cu­rately – a sig­nif­i­cant step up from what could be found on­line to that point. It is de­scribed as be­ing crafted to al­low be­gin­ning stu­dents and vis­i­tors to quickly ac­quire a ba­sic fa­mil­iar­ity with many com­mon and prac­ti­cal phrases. An­other slim vol­ume that en­deared Prof Schütz to Suva res­i­dents and their vis­i­tors is the 52-page Suva, a his­tory and guide pub­lished by Pa­cific Pub­li­ca­tions in 1978 and known ir­rev­er­ently by some as ‘The street walk­ers’ guide to Suva’. Put to­gether with the as­sis­tance of a former Fiji Times ed­i­tor, the late Sir Len Usher, it cov­ers the found­ing of the city to Suva in its second cen­tury, in­clud­ing many of the still ex­ist­ing land­marks, even though many are marked by change, for the bet­ter or worse. For in­stance its cover fea­tures the colon­nade that ran along the side of the Mor­ris Hed­strom build­ing on Nubukalou Creek, now sadly just part of the mall wall in a move to fol­low the let­ter, if not the spirit, of an in­struc­tion to re­tain this el­e­gant old struc­ture. A cou­ple of other places still stand­ing in­clude the re­fur­bished Grand Pa­cific Ho­tel, which still has its orig­i­nal im­pres­sive en­try and lobby; the Carnegie Suva City Li­brary, still hang­ing in there, re­cently re­paired af­ter Cy­clone Win­ston and con­tin­u­ing to pro­vide a tremen­dous ser­vice to Suva read­ers; the Tri­an­gle with its de­pleted ivi tree and con­crete where there was once a small la­goon and later a bit of a park; and the Fiji Mu­seum in Thurston Gar­dens, both ben­e­fit­ting from some re­cent sup­port, although there is still much to be done to keep them the trea­sures they are for the Fiji peo­ple. But the de­light of this small book for many is the de­scrip­tion of the ori­gins and back­ground to the names of Suva streets. Who knew the crowded in­ter­sec­tion of Princes Road, Ed­in­burgh Drive and Ratu Mara Road was named Ju­bilee Junc­tion in hon­our of the Sil­ver Ju­bilee of Queen El­iz­a­beth II in 1977? Steep Waimanu Road was named for the Waimanu River and built to con­nect with Sam­ab­ula as part of the project to open a way to the Rewa. In 1881 the Suva Times re­ported: ‘It is a most ex­cel­lent thing to make good roads, and roads with sharp turns are not good roads, hence we re­joice to see part of the prison labour use­fully em­ployed in mak­ing a de­cently rounded el­bow on the Wai Manu road be­low Mr Huon’s res­i­dence.’ As the blurb says, ‘the streets of Suva are named for fig­ures as well-known as a Queen or ob­scure as a Gov­er­nor’s sec­re­tary… Many peo­ple are all but for­got­ten, ex­cept for traces they have left on the land­scape .... They in­clude the Gov­er­nor who was sued for slan­der, the Vic­to­rian lady writer, the Ton­gan who nearly be­came King of Fiji and the chief Jus­tice who was re­moved from the Colo­nial Ser­vice…’ But Schütz is cor­rect when he says the vol­ume needs an up­date, and some en­ter­pris­ing pub­lisher re­ally couldn’t do bet­ter. What makes Schütz ’s Fi­jian work so ap­peal­ing is its clar­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Of course the Gram­mar is a chal­lenge, but he still has a straight­for­ward way of putting things and in­cludes fas­ci­nat­ing snip­pets of his­tory and other in­for­ma­tion. In Say it in Fi­jian’ he says: “The sim­plest way to be­gin us­ing Fi­jian is with the greet­ings, and the most com­mon is ‘ni sa bula’. ‘Bula’ means ‘health’ or ‘life’. ‘Ni’ means ‘you plu­ral’ and is a re­spect­ful way of re­fer­ring to one per­son. For all the years (as a woe­ful Fi­jian speaker) I’ve been blithely giv­ing that greet­ing, I never fully ap­pre­ci­ated what it meant un­til I read what Schütz says.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Fiji

© PressReader. All rights reserved.