Rotuman bisikete: reactivating forgotten words
By Mere Taito, Waikato University
I moved to New Zealand in 2007. Crossing a sea does strange things to the language factory that lives inside your head. Your mother tongue machines start oiling themselves and sparking back to life – what were they doing while you were back in Fiji?
Before you know it, you are wincing at the United Nation’s endangered classification of your mother tongue, throwing yourself into a self-funded project of developing language resources for your nieces and nephews in Aotearoa, and actively seeking out your people who speak and write Rotuman well so that you can absorb their first language mana.
You also drive to your father’s home so that he can tell you that you need to work harder with pronunciation and spelling. You phone text and write to your mother in this language that plays hide and seek with you. You know there are mistakes but you ignore them for now, making a mental note to revisit when you are in a better place to tackle your errors. Succumbing to language anxiety never did any language learner any good so you learn to kick it in the teeth when it rears its ugly head.
You are on a mission to remember. To reactivate words that have been forgotten from lack of use. Some days it feels like you have been walking for miles and all you want to do is find a bench and flop down with your tongue hanging out. It is hard work but you persevere. You persevere because you understand the deep connection language has with cultural belonging. Maybe it’s because you cannot handle the truth. You miss home. You miss Fiji. You miss being easily recognised as a Rotuman bisikete. Or maybe you are just gutted that Rotuman has caught the attention of the United Nations and you so desperately want to prove the endangerment committee wrong. Whatever it is, you know it feels so damn good to find and remember a forgotten Rotuman word.
Also check out the Rotuman Language week poster 2019. Print some copies and put them up around your office