The Republic of the Fiji Islands comprises some 330 islands in the southern Pacific Ocean and straddles the International Date Line. Fijian chiefs ceded the country to Britain in 1874, and soon after, indentured labourers from India were brought to work on plantations. Today, the population of just over three quarters of a million include a little over 50% indigenous Fijians, over 40% Indo-Fijians, and small groups of Rotumans, Chinese, other Pacific islanders, part-Europeans, and Europeans. The three main languages spoken are Fijian, Fiji Hindi, and English. English, important since colonial times, has seen its role increase in the lives of many Fiji Islanders, particularly since independence in 1970. Although the 1997 Constitution accords equal status to the three main languages, English prevails in most official spheres - government, education, business, the judiciary, and the media. English is also used widely as a lingua franca, although there is also a substantial amount of vernacular bilingualism. The local variety of English, known as Fiji English, reflects the linguistic backgrounds of its diverse speakers while at the same time sharing features with other Englishes. (Abbreviations: Fj = Fijian, IFj = Indo-Fijian, FjC = Fijian-Chinese).