SAMOA’S FA‘AFAFINE: HE’S MY UNCLE – AND MY AUNTY Well-accepted transgender has its own dialect

By Cherelle Jackson APIA, Samoa (Pacific Scoop, Aug. 9, 2011) – To the untrained ear, the language used by fa‘afafines in Samoa, may just sound like common slang, or bilingual mockery.

But according to a study by Samoan academic, Letuimanuasina Dr Emma Kruse-Vaai, the unconventional use of Samoan and English by fa‘afafines has led to a distinctive "fa‘afafines dialect," that is ever evolving.

In her recently published book, Producing the Text of Culture, which focuses on the appropriation of English in contemporary Samoan, Dr Kruse-Vaai explores the role of the fa‘afafines in the evolution of the Samoan language.

Producing the Text of Culture ... the book.

"The fa‘afafines use a specific mixture of English and Samoan. Their unconventional language use, ostentatious clothing, assumed feminine voices and mannerisms have always been openly displayed."

Dr Kruse-Vaai points out the open acceptance of fa‘afafines in the Samoan society as strength in developing the dialect among Samoans.

"Fa‘afafines are a distinctive speech community and they are also very much a part of the wider Samoan community."

According to the author, a Samoan relative can explain their relation to a fa‘afafines by stating, "Ioe, o lou uncle, o le uso o lou tama ae o le aunty," translated, "Yes he is my uncle, my father’s brother, but he is an aunty."

Though it may sound confusing Dr Kruse-Vaai says it is widespread and commonly understood.

"Like other speech communities, fa‘afafines language use involves some expressions which are not readily comprehensible to others. The topics or content are a mixture of everyday concerns and activities as well as taboo subjects."

A common feature of the fa‘afafine speech, according to Dr Kruse-Vaai, is a distinctively high, sibilant and feminine sounding tone of voice.

Dr Kruse-Vaai .... fa‘afafine dialect resembles the accent of a European speaking Samoan.

In her research, which was originally conducted for her PhD in English for the University of New South Wales in Australia, the Samoan academic suggests that aspects of the fa‘afafine dialect resembles the accent of a European speaking Samoan.

"In a way this is a good example of mimicking European speech but it has gone farther than mere mimicking. It has become as a distinctive feature of fa‘afafine speech which can be readily identified over a telephone radio talkback."

Dr Kruse-Vaai explains that fa‘afafines play on multi-syllabled words, both English and Samoan, and either invert the syllables of mix both Samoan and English syllables in one word.

Therefore Samoan words with double syllables are inverted, such as terms for girl and boy: teine and tama, in fa‘afafines dialect then becomes neite and mata.

In the fa‘afafine dialect, multi-syllable words are either inverted or mixed to create other terms, such as the use of the word ‘Sa-chick’, which means Samoa or Samoans.

The first syllable "Sa" remains the same, while the second syllable "moa" which means chicken, is abbreviated "chick" hence the word becomes, "Sa-chick" or "Sa-hen".

The fa‘afafines dialect include words such as, Montrella for Monday, sistra for sister, strop for stop and major for boyfriend.

Dr Kruse-Vaai praises the uniqueness of the dialect in her book saying: "The unconventional use of language by fa‘afafine is partly a sign of identity as a well as a genuine enjoyment of language and its creative potential. They are an example of a smaller and distinctive speech community in Samoa."

Cherelle Jackson is a Samoan journalist and contributor to Pacific Scoop.

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