Protect Fijian languages: Subramani, with a note on languages and dialects

Sera Whippy in the Fiji Times
subramani ABOUT 85 per cent of the 400-plus students in the Fiji National University's Ethics class are dismissible because of their lack of basic linguistic skills, says FNU academic Professor Subramani.

In his attempt to determine the cause of this shortfall, Prof Subramani said he approached his students and found they were not proficient in their own vernacular.
"Parents tell their children they should disregard their own vernacular because learning and speaking English will get them a good future. This is very wrong. Languages do not contradict each other, they complement each other and due to this sort of attitude the Fijian language is in great danger of loss," he said.
He said the translation industry was a huge industry however this was not so in Fiji. "We need to start this industry to protect and conserve our languages. Changes are needed soon, especially in the educational system," he said.
Fiji’s many languages and dialects 
Crosbie Walsh

     Professor Subramani’s use of the term ‘vernacular’, meaning mother tongue or native language,  raises an interesting question?
      Is it for i’taueki, the so-called standard Fijian that is essentially  the Bauan dialect of Cakobau whose conquests won British support, that has become  language taught in schools and the lingua franca of urban i’taukei?   Or is it alternatively —or also— one of the 300 dialects, some not mutually comprehensible, most still spoken (but some under threat and only used by older people) over wide areas of Fiji?  What also about Rotuman spoken on the island of Rotuma but by a shrinking number of Rotumans living in mainland Fiji? Or Tuvaluan on Koia, or Banaban on Rabi?  Or Cantonese or Mandarin? The list could go on.
     What also of the Indian languages spoken in Indo-Fijian homes?  Are Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi,  or Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam (the less widely spoken Dravidian languages of South India) also vernacular languages worthy of proper tuition? Or is it the Indo-Fijian vernacular Fiji Baat, the  polyglot language that emerged in the canefields to allow the first girmitya to speak with each other?  
     While the pressing need, in terms of nation-building, is to have as many young people as possible fluent in English and either Standard Fijian or Fiji Baat, and able to converse in a third language,  Fiji would do well to develop a language policy on what it intends to do about all its languages and dialects before time takes the future out of its hands. 


Protect Fijian Languages said…
Professor Subramani is right to bring to our attention the fate of the iTaukei vernacular dialects. He is also correct in pointing out that translation within Fiji is no longer what it used to be.

Why is this? Back in 2008, the High Court in Fiji had so little money allocated for translation that one was obliged to translate 'pro bono' for a now convicted and sentenced cocaine mule. While volunteering in the cause of justice is perhaps a worthwhile enterprise, it is inconceivable that the Courts and many other areas of life in Fiji fail to provide for full, professional translation from foreign languages into Fijian/Hindi/English and also from the lingua franca of Fiji, namely, English, into the vernacular for those whose English is insufficient for full comprehension.

This situation may well now have changed. The convicted cocaine mule by now may well speak English or Fijian or Hindi or all three?

After all, the Swiss grow up being multi-lingual. So why should not we?

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