Feature

Overwhelming Support For Fiji Hindi Over Hindi

It is the conversational language for most Indo-Fijians. People who bring in religion to the debate are doing it for political reasons
12 Feb 2020 10:58
Overwhelming Support For Fiji Hindi Over Hindi
Dr Mohit Prasad

A random survey of Indo-Fijians clearly shows that there is overwhelming support for Fiji Hindi over Hindi.

Several language experts also back Fiji Hindi.

In the debate over Fiji Hindi and Hindi, there is no contest.  Fiji Hindi is the preferred conversational language. It has evolved since the arrival of the first Indian indentured labourers.

Those who are linking the debate to religion are doing it for political reasons.
Here are the views of some experts:

Mohit Prasad

Mohit Prasad

Mohit Prasad

Mohit Prasad (Has a Doctorate in Literature. Academic and consultant on education, arts, culture and heritage).
The recent debate about Fiji Hindi as a public language and in public forums has turned ugly, factional and divisive. In my considered opinion, unnecessarily so. Fiji Hindi as a plantation language formed among Girmitiyas speaking a multitude of dialects and languages, evolving via usage as it did from the depots of Calcutta onto indentured ship and in plantations in Fiji.  And then borrows freely from English and Itaukei languages.

Derogatory statements

It becomes the common language or lingua franca among Girmitiyas, including later arrivals from South India, Itaukei, Europeans and later free immigrants mainly from Gujarat and Punjab. Contrary to recent derogatory statements against Fiji Hindi, it evolves as a complimentary language to Hindi.

“Linguists like Jeff Seigel point out this symbiotic relationship between the two forms kept Hindi alive and ready to thrive under formal teaching and usage.  Without the plantation form of Fiji Hindi or Fiji Baat, a pidgin language dominated by English, like Caribbean creole would have transplanted both the plantation language Fiji Baat and Hindi. Then we would be like Naipaul and ilk from Trinidad. What then? Whose language, whose prescription?

Debate

The current debate is inflamed by a few politicians, some religious leaders and social media commentators appealing to a fundamentalist view of language and attempting to prescribe where, how and in what forums it should be spoken, sung, read or taught. What makes it ugly is that the current debate had degenerated into a right-wing orthodoxy by prescribing that Fiji Hindi does not belong in a public form. Radio, of all forms of media is not a sacred space – its role especially in a commercial radio station is to inform, educate and entertain – and Fiji Hindi in Fiji – does it better than any other language!

Salesh Kumar

Salesh Kumar

Salesh Kumar

Salesh Kumar (Currently teaches language & linguistics courses at the University of Fiji’s Suva Campus. He is a former Radio Fiji journalist and Fiji TV presenter).

Fiji Hindi is not a ‘bastardised’ language.

Fiji Hindi is a dominant single language amongst the Fijians of Indian descent. But then the tragedy of Fiji Hindi is that it is being made an orphan by its own living parents. I am shocked to hear that certain individuals are labelling it as a ‘bastardised’ and ‘insulting’ language. This does not hold ground. Fiji Hindi being influenced by many dialects and languages appears to be something perfectly natural. Advocating Standard Hindi as the prestigious language as opposed to the ‘Fiji Baat’ has led some Fijians of Indian Descent to disown Fiji Hindi in favour of Standard Hindi. In fact, this emphasis has driven the younger generation away from Hindi.

Fiji Hindi as first language

The real importance of Fiji Hindi during indenture was its role as a link language, the lingua franca, for in-group communication among Indians of different linguistic backgrounds. Not surprisingly, the second generation of Indians, born from parents who at the end of their contract chose to settle in Fiji – the majority of them did so – picked up Fiji Hindi as their first language.

The use of Fiji Hindi on radio no doubt reflects the historical and sociolinguistic reality, but it also illustrates a very significant change in language attitude. Fiji Hindi was traditionally looked down upon as the low language with Standard Hindi fulfilling all the functions of the high language. Standard Hindi still functions as the language of reference but more as a cultural construct and identity marker in a multicultural context, whereas Fiji Hindi is re-established as a historical fact and a linguistic reality subjected to the dynamics of language in a multilingual society. Fiji Hindi is a language that provides the socio-cultural matrix of an uprooted people subjected to hardship over a long period of history, gives them a sense of “rooting” or mooring and constructed identity.

Savneel Sangeet

Savneel Sangeet

Savneel Sangeet (BA with honours in Hindi from New Delhi).
Fiji-Hindi and Hindi are two very different languages. Fiji-Hindi is inclusive of the socio-cultural diversities in Fiji. It is also inclusive of the heritage and culture of the Girmityas. Fiji-Hindi is similar to the Hindustani language that existed in Bharat – Undivided India. The Hindustani language was inclusive of the socio-cultural diversities in Bharat because it borrowed words from several other languages and dialects. Some native to Bharat while others brought from outside, like Arabic and Persian. A word is not merely word. It carries the strength of culture and tradition. The inclusive nature of Hindustani language made it the common tongue among vastly diverse Bharat. Then the British emerged in Bharat. Time witnessed the fall of Bharat to become India. The British Divide and Rule policy built a strong wall between Hindu and Muslim communities. The foundation of this wall was laid by tearing Hindustani into two new languages – Hindi and Urdu. Hindi for Hindus. Urdu for Muslims. This division contributed to several million Indians to form a new country – The Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Every language is unique and beautiful

Every dialect and language is unique and beautiful in its own aspect. It is so-called that anyone language can be a pure or shudh language. The notion that Fiji-Hindi language is a tooti-footi dialect is inaccurate. To be able to see the beauty of language that Fiji-Hindi pursues, we need to speak, write, read, understand, recognise and appreciate Fiji-Hindi. There is need to conduct and promote studies and research on Fiji-Hindi, create and promote Fiji-Hindi literature, promote proper teaching and learning of Fiji-Hindi in schools and universities. Few own the view that Fiji-Hindi does not own a set of grammatical rules. Every language owns a set of grammatical rules. The grammatical rules of Fiji-Hindi were never compiled and published, which is the cause of this view. The Ramcharitmanas is a poetic compilation widely read by Hindus in Fiji. It was composed by Goswami Tulsidas in Awadhi language in the 16th century. Awadhi was considered a dialect until 12th century and only in around 14th century widely emerged as a literary language used by Sufi saints.

Inclusion of Fiji Hindi in schools

It is noticeable that schools run by Hindu Faith organizations have an agenda against inclusion of Fiji-Hindi in schools. The Government prescribed Hindi syllabi for schools in Fiji is organized to sell Hinduism among school students. It comprises specific lessons on Vedic and Hindu elements but it does not cover elements from books important to other Faith organizations in Fiji. It is not incorrect to promote the Vedic spirit because the term Veda means knowledge and it promotes the spirit of humanism: Manur Bhava (Rigved 10:53:6) meaning Become Human but depriving students from learning that Islam mean peace and Ikra means read will lead to a new breed of fanatics. A school should not become place to sell Faith under the pretext of culture and heritage. It is a place to create a knowledgeable and inclusive generation. The right place to sell Faith is at the Shops of Hypocrisy where the shopkeepers do all sorts of My God and Your God zumba to buy customers. Inclusivity is considered a risk for Faith organizations because it creates the possibility of conversion.

Are we diverting our education system towards religious fundamentalism? Let us be warned of the Industrial Revolution that cleansed Europe from the traps of  priests.

Nikhat Shameem

Nikhat Shameem

Nikhat Shameem

Nikhat Shameem. Has a doctorate in applied linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington. She has published widely in applied linguistics, her most recent publication being “Fiji Hindi in Fiji”, a chapter in the book ‘Heritage language policies around the World’ by Seal and Shah (Routledge, 2018).

 

Fiji Hindi as the mother tongue

Fiji Hindi is the mother tongue of the descendants of the Girmitya that arrived in Fiji 1879-1920 and of the later emigrants from India who came in various capacities. Fiji Hindi is an informally standardized language because it is spoken uniformly by all who use it as mother tongue. This is very important in linguistics where language, identity and culture are strongly linked and languages which are informal, and pre-literate are likely to shift faster than those which are standardized, have specific writing systems and are supported in a range of domains such as media (written and spoken), education (playground and instructional language) and not just in people’s homes. Consistent use in the community and among family members also ensures the survival and transmission of a language. Unfortunately, this domain is easily influenced by other languages, especially English. All the diasporic Hindis formed during indenture in Guyana, South Africa, Mauritius, and Trinidad are now dead. In Surinam, the current young generation no longer speaks Surinami Hindi as a lingua franca.

Fiji Hindi remains a viable language

In Fiji, Fiji Hindi remains a viable language with strong ethnolinguistic vitality. That means the continued use of the language is helping it to survive and thrive.  We do have to be careful though as my research into language proficiency and use of Fiji Hindi in eight Fiji schools showed that the use of Fiji Hindi as a playground language was shifting in urban areas, even in predominantly Fiji Hindi speaking schools. Children also showed a higher proficiency in English than in Fiji Hindi in urban schools and this imbalance grew as children progressed to higher levels. In rural schools, children showed equal proficiency in Fiji Hindi and English. Proficiency in Shudh Hindi and Urdu which were subjects of study was extremely low in all primary schools studied. Children were opting not to take it in higher levels because it was a ‘difficult’ subject.

It is important to remember that all languages have their role in community. This must never come at the cost of language shift and loss of any language, however, especially in the place of origin of a language. When language is lost in the place of origin of a language this is called language death. Fiji Hindi is the only diasporic Hindi which will survive into the next generation. It needs all the help it can get.

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