Fiji has three official languages. To greatly oversimplify, the Fijians speak Fijian, the Indians speak Hindi, and they all speak English to each other. Schoolchildren are taught in their native language until they are proficient (but not necessarily fluent) in English, which thereafter is the medium of instruction.
Although you may not get into serious conversations in English with everyone here -- and you may have trouble understanding English spoken with heavy Fijian or Hindi accents -- you should have little trouble getting around and enjoying the country.
Some knowledge of Fijian will come in handy, if for no other reason than the bewildering pronunciation of Fijian place names.
Fijian Pronunciation -- Fijian uses vowel sounds similar to those in Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish:
a as in bad
e as in say
i as in bee
o as in go
u as in kangaroo.
Some Fijian consonants, however, sound very different from their counterparts in English, Latin, or any other language. In devising a written form of Fijian, the 19th-century Wesleyan missionaries decided to use some familiar Roman consonants in unfamiliar ways.
It would be easier for English speakers to read Fijian had the missionaries used a combination of consonants -- th, for example -- for the Fijian sounds. Their main purpose, however, was to teach Fijians to read and write their own language. Because the Fijians separate all consonant sounds with vowels, writing two consonants together confused them.
The missionaries came up with the following usage:
b sounds like mb (as in remember)
c sounds like th (as in that)
d sounds like nd (as in Sunday)
g sounds like ng (as in singer)
q sounds like ng + g (as in finger)
In addition, most Fijians roll the letter r in an exaggerated fashion, like the Spanish r taken to extreme.
The unusual pronunciation is most evident in Fijian place names such as Nadi, which is pronounced Nahn-di. There are many other names of people and places that are equally or even more confusing.
Here are some Fijian names with their pronunciations:
The common everyday language spoken among the Fiji Indians is a tongue peculiar to Fiji. Although it is based on Hindustani (Fiji Indians have little trouble understanding most dialogue in Bollywood movies), it is somewhat different from that language as spoken in India.
Originally known as "Fiji Bat," it grew out of the need for a common language among the immigrants who came from various parts of the subcontinent and spoke some of the many languages and dialects found in India and Pakistan. Thus it includes words from Hindi, Urdu, Tamil Nadu, a variety of Indian dialects, and even English and Fijian. You'll see what I mean by tuning into a Hindi radio station.
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