A Quick Guide to the Language of Fiji
Fiji is home to three official languages: English, Bauan Fijian and Fiji-Hindi (a branch of Hindustani). While English is universally spoken, travellers are likely to hear words like “Bula!”, “bure” or “lovo” throughout their stay on the islands. To help you understand some of the common phrases you’re likely to hear, learn some things to say to the locals, and gain a bit of context about the Fijian language, we’ve put together this quick guide to the Fijian language.
For some quick words to learn, see 10 Fijian Words You Need to Know When Visiting Fiji.
5 Fun Facts About the Fijian Language
- While there is one universal Fijian language known as “Bauan Fijian”, there are around 300 different dialects across the islands
- People living on Rotuma speak a completely different language, the Rotuman language
- “Bula!” is the word you’ll hear the most in Fiji. It’s used as a greeting, but it actually means “life”
- X is the only letter in the Roman alphabet not used in the Fijian language
- Fijian conversation usually involves one person speaking uninterrupted before the second person speaks – bouncing conversation back and forth is considered impolite.
Where Does the Fijian Language Come From?
For those of you who like a bit of context, Fijian is part of a Malayo-Polynesian branch of the huge Austronesian family of languages, which includes languages from Madagascar to Easter Island, Taiwan to Hawaii to New Zealand.
Within Fiji, there are some 300 regional dialects, for example, the commonly used “vinaka” meaning “good” or how you would say “thank you”, is said as “vinaduriki” in the Yasawa Islands, “vina’a” in Taveuni or “malo” in the Lau Islands. These different dialects belong to two major groupings, with “Western Fijian” being spoken by people on the islands from the west side of the middle of Viti Levu and “Eastern Fijian” being spoken by the people living on the islands from the east side of Viti Levu.
In the 1840s, a dialect known as Bauan was the first version of Fijian to be transcribed into the Roman alphabet, leading the Bauan to become the most universally accepted of Fijian – a version taught in schools and used for formal occasions.
Finally, note that Fiji’s northernmost island, Rotuma, has its own language known as Rotuman. This is a different language to the Fijian language.
Learn more about the Fijian history in A Brief History of Fiji and find out more about different aspects of the Fijian culture in The Guide to the Fiji Culture for Travellers.
Fijian Language Pronunciation
While the majority of letters seen in the written version of the Fijian language are pronounced the same as they are in English, with the exception of the first vowel in a word usually more emphasised, there are some consonants that English speakers will find awkward to pronounce. They are as follows:
- B is pronounced with a soft “m” in front of it – so Lakeba is “La-kemba”
- C is pronounced as a “th” sound – so Mamanucas is “Mam-an-u-thas”
- D is pronounced with an “n” in front of it – so Nadi is “Nan-di”
- G is pronounced with an “ng” sound – so Sigatoka is “Sing-a-toka”
- Q has a harder “ngg” sound – so Beqa is “Beng-ga”
- R is usually rolled
Fijian Words and Phrases to Know
While English is widely spoken, locals will appreciate the effort and respect for saying words and phrases in their native language. Here are some phrases to try…
Basic Phrases in Fijian
Hello – bula
Yes – io
No – sega
Please – yalo vinaka, mada
Thank you – vinaka
Thank you very much – vinaka vakalevu
Good morning (polite) – (ni sa) yadra
Excuse me – tulou
I’m sorry – lomana
Goodbye (polite) – (ni sa) moce
Places in Fijian
Beach – matasawa
Farm/garden – teitei
Forest – veikau
House – vale
Sleeping house – bure
Island – yanuyanu
Mountain – qulunivanua
Road/trail – sala
School – koronivuli
Shop – sitoa
Village – koro
Fijian Food and Drink (and What They Are)
Dalo – taro, a root vegetable
Ika – fish
Jaina – banana
Kokoda – raw fish in coconut cream and lime juice
Lolo – coconut cream
Lovo – underground oven
Niu – coconut
Ota – seaweed
Tapioca – cassava, root vegetable
Vua – fruit
Wai – water
Weleti – papaya/pawpaw
Learn more about the food and drink of Fiji in 10 Unique Foods in Fiji You Have to Try and 8 Drinks in Fiji You Have to Try.