Farzana Gounder -  USP Alumni Network

Growing up in a multilingual society had a profound impact on her undertaking a degree in linguistics.

Meet Farzana Gounder, a linguist by profession and an alumna of USP, who grew up in a Fiji Hindi speaking environment at home and a strictly English speaking environment in school. Sharing her experience, Farzana says she found it particularly fascinating that our traditional cultural knowledge bases, which we access through our language, hold such a wealth of information. Farzana graduated from USP in 2000, with a gold medal in Linguistics and went on to do her Masters at the University of Auckland followed by a PhD at Massey University.

She is currently a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at Waikato University. Her publications include Indentured identities: Resistance and accommodation in plantation-era Fiji published with John Benjamins.

“I am currently editing a book Narrative practice and identity constructions in the Pacifi c Islands to be published with John Benjamins and a special edition of Te Reo, New Zealand Linguistic Society’s official journal,” she shared.

Prior to her post-doctoral position at the University of Waikato, Farzana was a lecturer in linguistics at the International Pacific College.

Originally from Suva, she received her secondary education at Suva Grammar High School before joining USP. “I started at USP in science because when I came to University, I was thinking of doing pharmacy, optometry or law but after I did an elective linguistics paper, I knew I wanted to major in linguistics,” she said. When asked why she chose her field of study, Farzana said she was interested in the intersection of linguistics with cultural studies, history and narrative analysis to explore issues around language, identity and power within a culturally constituted space.

“My most recent research explores fundamental conceptualisations of what it culturally means to be ‘ill’, to be ‘healed’, and to be ‘well’ in the Fiji Indian community,” she explained. She said the project combines research on conceptual metaphors, anthropological insights into the community and her post-doctoral research into ideological patterns evidenced in Fiji Hindi.

“Fiji and other Pacific people’s ‘lifestyle epidemics’ of obesity, heart disease and diabetes are amongst the highest in the world, but research into Pacific conceptualisations of illness, healing and wellness is missing, even though it is people’s cultural beliefs that dictate illness causes and treatment choices,” she believes.

“Engagement with the community’s knowledge base is important as it provides a culturally-grounded tool to both further health initiatives in the community as well as assess the health related policies. A book contract on illness, wellness and healing metaphors in Fiji Hindi has been secured with John Benjamins for their series Culture and Language Use,” she said. Farzana’s family has been very supportive of her and this is something she is always grateful.

“I’m very fortunate to have such a strong, support network around me.” Sharing her University experience,  Farzana says it was indeed a very formative time for her.

“USP was a formative time, where many of us forged our identities. Learning about Girmit had a profound impact on me and I would sit at the café with other students who were majoring in History and Politics to have very stimulating conversations,” she recalled.

She said these discussions helped influence her choice in later years to write  a PhD thesis on the indentured labourers ’life stories. Her most memorable lecturer was France Mugler because according to her, she had such a great gift with languages and Farzana admired her ability to convey her passion to her students.

One of the major challenges Farzana faced as a student was that  their reference materials were extremely limited, especially when compared to today’s easy access of information through the Internet.

Also, the political upheavals saw lecturers leaving and this in turn affected final exams. Farzana added that she really enjoyed her undergraduate days. “I was able to take not only linguistics papers but also literature papers, and creative writing papers. As I was limited by the number of papers that I could take in any one semester, I would also sit in on papers that I found interesting,” she said.

“I also enjoyed sitting in the Pacific Collection and reading everything related to Fiji Hindi. When I look back, I have no regrets on my time at USP and I feel that it is because I studied linguistics at USP, rather than at some other tertiary institution, that I was able to develop a greater understanding of Fiji Hindi, which made my PhD journey all the more enjoyable,” she said.

Her final word of advice to students is to continue to follow their passion.

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