Fijian language

Fijian language
Na vosa vaka-Viti
Spoken in  Fiji
Region Spoken as first language on Vanua Levu, the eastern half of Viti Levu, and on the lesser islands of Kadavu, Nayau, Lakeba, Oneata, Moce, Komo, Namuka, Kabara, Vulaga, Ogea and Vatoa; spoken as second language in the rest of Fiji
Native speakers 340,000  (1996 census)
320,000 second-language users (1991)
Language family
Official status
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 fj
ISO 639-2 fij
ISO 639-3 fij

Fijian is an Austronesian language of the Malayo-Polynesian family spoken in Fiji. It has 450,000 first-language speakers,[citation needed] which is less than half the population of Fiji, but another 200,000 speak it as a second language. The 1997 Constitution established Fijian as an official language of Fiji, along with English and Hindustani, and there is discussion about establishing it as the "national language", though English and Hindustani would remain official. Fijian is a VOS language. It has prepositions.[1]

Standard Fijian is based on the language of Bau, which is an East Fijian language.



The consonant phonemes of Fijian are as shown in the following table:

  Labial Coronal Palatal Velar
Nasal m n   ŋ
Plosive voiceless (p) t   k
prenasalized mb nd   ŋɡ
Fricative voiceless (f) s   (x)
voiced β ð  
Trill plain   r    
prenasalized   ɳɖʳ    
Approximant   l j w

The consonant written ⟨nr⟩ has been described as a prenasalized trill [nr] or trilled fricative [ndr]. However, it is only rarely pronounced with a trilled release; the primary feature distinguishing it from ⟨nd⟩ is that it is postalveolar, [ɳɖ], rather than dental/alveolar.[2]

The sounds [p] and [f] occur only in loanwords from other languages. The sounds [x] and [h] only occur for speakers from certain regions of the country.

Note the asymmetry between the fricative pairs: bilabial [β] vs. labiodental [f], and dental [ð] vs. alveolar [s].

The vowel phonemes are:

Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a
to /i/
to /u/
First component is /e/ ei̯ eu̯
First component is /o/ oi̯ ou̯
First component is /a/ ai̯ au̯

In addition, there is the rising diphthong i̯u.

Syllables can consist of a consonant followed by a vowel (CV) or a single vowel (V).[3] Word stress is based on moras; a short vowel counts as one mora, diphthongs and long vowels count as two moras. Primary word stress then goes to the penultimate mora of the phonological word. That is, if the last syllable of a word is short, then the penultimate syllable will be stressed. If the last syllable consists of either a long vowel or a diphthong, the last syllable receives primary stress. That is, stress is on the penultimate mora. Stress is not lexical and can shift when suffixes are attached to the root. Examples:

  • Stress on the penultimate syllable (final short vowel): síga, "day";
  • Stress on the final syllable (diphthong): cauravóu, "youth" (the stress extends over the whole diphthong).
  • Stress shift: rábe, "kick" → rabé-ta, "kick-TR"[4]


The Fijian alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet and consists of the following letters.

a b c d e f g i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w y

Among the consonants, there is almost a one-to-one correspondence between letters and phonemes:

  • b = [mb]
  • c = [ð]
  • d = [nd] (di = [ndʒi])
  • f = [f]
  • g = [ŋ]
  • j = [tʃ] ~ [ndʒ]
  • k = [k]
  • l = [l]
  • m = [m]
  • n = [n]
  • p = [p]
  • q = [ŋɡ]
  • r = [r]
  • s = [s]
  • t = [t] (ti = [tʃi])
  • v = [β]
  • w = [ɰ]
  • y = [j] or silent

In addition, the digraph dr stands for postalveolar [n̠d̠], or a prenasalized trill [n̠ᵈ̠r̠] in careful pronunciation, or more commonly for some people and in some dialects.

The vowel letters a e i o u have roughly their IPA values, [a ɛ~e i ɔ~o u]. The vowel length contrast is not usually indicated in writing, except in dictionaries and textbooks for learners of the language, where it is indicated by a macron over the vowel in question; Dixon, in the work cited below, doubles all long vowels in his spelling system. Diphthongs are ai au ei eu oi ou and iu, pronounced [ɛi̯ ɔu̯ ei̯ eu̯ oi̯ ou̯ i̯u].


The normal Fijian word order is VOS (verb–object–subject):

  • E rai-c-a (1) na no-na (2) vale (3) na gone (4).
  • 3-sg.-sub. see-trans.-3-sg.-obj. (1) the 3-sg.-poss. (2) house (3) the child (4).
  • (The child sees his house.)

The national language debate

In May and June 2005, a number of prominent Fiji Islanders called for the status of Fijian to be upgraded. It was not an official language before the adoption of the 1997 Constitution, which made it co-official with English and Hindustani. It is still not a compulsory subject in schools, however; the present Education Minister, Ro Teimumu Kepa, has endorsed calls for it to be made so, as has Great Council of Chiefs Chairman Ratu Ovini Bokini. Similar calls came from Misiwini Qereqeretabua, the Director of the Institute of Fijian Language and Culture, and from Apolonia Tamata, a linguistics lecturer at Suva’s University of the South Pacific, who both said that recognition of the Fijian language is essential to the nation’s basic identity, as a unifying factor in Fiji’s multicultural society.

Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry also endorsed the call for Fijian to be made a national language and a compulsory school subject, provided that the same status be given to Hindi—a position echoed by Krishna Vilas of the National Reconciliation Committee.


  1. ^ [1] WALS - Fijian
  2. ^ Ladefoged, Peter; Maddieson, Ian (1996). The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-19814-8.  p 122, 131. The authors use the transcription ⟨nḍ⟩, where the sub-dot is their convention for a postalveolar stop that is not prototypically retroflex.
  3. ^ Dixon 1988:15.
  4. ^ Dixon 1988:17


See also

External links

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