Dialect choice in Fiji

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This work presents a variationist investigation of language change and the social factors motivating that change within the Fiji Islands at the level of dialect variation. In Fiji, urbanisation coupled with a growing sense of national identity is hypothesized to be effecting an unprecedented linguistic shift towards the standard dialect of the Fijian language and away from the country’s numerous distinct regional dialects. Urban communities with high socioeconomic status are predicted to be at the forefront of this shift, demonstrating a higher percentage of standard features in daily speech than their rural counterparts. Five social variables (Socioeconomic status, Gender, Education, Religion and Age) and two experimental design variables (Feature and Speech environment) comprised the parameters of this work. Language change was studied through a comparison of three age groups from two different villages according to their use of divergent linguistic features over three distinct dialects. Data was collected through a controlled, three-part dialogue. The data demonstrates that patterns of association between social variables and dialect choice are quite different between urban and rural Fijian villages. Rural communities with a comparatively low socioeconomic status appear to reliably follow the predicted intergenerational shift towards greater standard usage. However, though a greater percentage of standard usage has been evidenced in urbanised communities with a high socioeconomic status, intergenerational trends have been found to demonstrate a shift back to regional forms in some cases. Therefore, results only partially support the primary hypothesis that the Fijian language is undergoing a shift away from regional diversity in favour of the standard Fijian dialect.


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