Maria Philp Mother Tongue

  • Tauira / Student
    Maria Philp
  • Kaiako / Lecturers
    Katie Kerr, George Hajian

Most of Fiji’s diverse citizens communicate in their native tongue at home, whether in a Fijian dialect, Hindi or other languages. Despite this, English is the most commonly used language across most of Fiji’s media and is prioritised in classrooms.
Born and raised in Fiji by a Samoan mother and a Fijian father, English was the language that we spoke at home. It wasn’t until I moved to Aotearoa that my knowledge gap in the native language had become apparent to me. There was irony in the fact that it took moving away from my country to realise how disconnected I was from my culture. ‘Mother Tongue’ became a personal inquiry as I sought to explore the role of language in the lives of Fijians living in Aotearoa.
Through the research method of ‘talanoa’, ‘Mother Tongue’ investigates whether there is context lost in the translation from the Fijian language to English, starting with words that have no direct translation.
The book starts by highlighting the lives of Fijian language-speaking migrants in Aotearoa to learn about their experiences navigating a diasporic landscape. We journey through their upbringing, from childhood to adulthood, before and after migrating to Aotearoa. The interviewees were able to form responses to words and provide context to phrases in the way that they felt most comfortable doing so, including but not limited to, artistic expressions.
Design decisions were guided through a number of historical themes and traditional practices to communicate delicate stories and experiences whilst uplifting the mana of those who were sharing.
The hero typeface was inspired by the landscape of Fiji at the period of time in which Fiji intersected with the Westernised world. Buildings around Fiji’s current capital, Suva, reflected a pattern of squared corners and edges with a contradicting roundness. The sharp outside edges and rounded inside arches gave off a look of both robustness and amiability. These conflicting characteristics from my own experience were seen as an unintentional reference to the Fijian culture and its people, who are fierce but also the most hospitable people.
To help readers who are new to the Fijian language or are on the journey of learning the language, a design element was created to go above the special characters that have a different pronunciation than that of the English pronunciation. This design element is a subtle reminder that the character is pronounced differently in the Fijian language.
With the budding growth of the Fijian community here in Aotearoa, ‘Mother Tongue’ revealed the intentions of the Fijian youth in New Zealand and their eagerness to learn and continue practising Fijian cultural practices and language. ‘Mother Tongue’ became a safe space for me not just to learn, but to connect with Fijians in my community, in a country far from home. In return, I hope that it too brings a sense of comfort to Fijians in Aotearoa, helping them to relate with one another regardless of where they may be on their journey of learning and unlearning.