There are two outlooks with regards to Mauritian Creole: a conservative and a progressive outlook. The conservatives are further divided into two camps: those who think that MC is just a dangerous, useless patois to be earnestly swept into the dustbin of history and those who believe it is the language of an ethnic group and so must be treated with seriousness and fairness. The progressives believe that MC is the most vibrant de-facto national language of the Republic and will eventually become the de-jure national language of a nation which is slowly growing in sinewy strength, complexity and brightness.
The conservatives have already lost the battle BUT a lot of work remains to be done in the fields of advocacy, creativity and research. Language planning, in a newly independent, multi-cultural country charting its course towards nationhood and forging a new identity, is faced with different sets of difficulties most of which are caused by prejudice and ignorance. What is the nature and main function of each language used in the country? What should be the status of the different languages? What teaching strategy do we need? Try to answer these questions and you’ll not only figure out the complexity of the issue but you will have to face an avalanche of insultsand accusations by people who think they know what in fact they don’t know.
WHAT IS A CREOLE LANGUAGE?
“A creole is a pidgin language which has become the mother tongue of a community … It has often happened that, within a multilingual community, increasing numbers of people begin to use a pidgin as their principal means of communication. This causes a major expansion of the grammar and the vocabulary and the range of situations in which the language comes to be used. The children of these persons come to hear it more regularly and in due course some of them begin to use it as a mother tongue. When this happens, the language is known as a creole.” (Professor David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, second edition, page 346).
There are dozens of known creole languages, the most prestigious among them being English.“The argument in favour of calling Middle English a creole comes from the extreme reduction in inflected forms from Old English to Middle English. The system of declension of nouns was radically simplified and analogized. The verb system also lost many old patterns of conjugation. Many strong verbs were reanalysed as weak verbs. The subjunctive mood became much less distinct. Syntax was also simplified somewhat, with word order patterns becoming more rigid. These grammatical simplifications resemble those observed in pidgins, creoles and other contact languages, which arise when speakers of different languages need to communicate. Such contact languages usually lack the inflections of either parent language, or drastically simplify them.”
There are 3 categories of of people on this issue:
1. Those who think all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds; no need to change anything;
2. Those, without any opinion,preoccupied only with ‘bread and butter’ issues;
3. Those who are unhappy (a) with our failure to build supra-ethnic values; (b) with a low functional literacy rate in spite of massive investment in education; (c) with a couldn’t-care-less attitude to such problems as food security; (d) with an election system which relies on recognising election symbols (Lakle, Leker, Soley, Kok) without which it collapses; (e) with the inability of people at the helm of institutions to understand the causes and effects of global warming etc. And the list is long!
THE WAY AHEAD
We live on a creole island. We are all immigrants from different parts of the worldand we have chosen to build a home for our children and grandchildren here. Our land is neither Little India nor Little France. It will never be a caliphate. On this creole island, as defined by Professor Megan Vaughan, TWO creole languages are used i.e. English (official language) and Mauritian (national language); the world major religions and respected sects are practised; preservation of relevant ancestral values need not deter the creation, development and adoption of new national and modern values.
A good management of resources, old and new, will pave the way to a more humane and properous future. A good example is how knowledge of the grammar of Mauritian Creole helps in the acquisition of the English. Our languages are assets provided we know how to use them. The universal koine (English) and the local one (Mauritian) have become complementary.
NEXT ARTICLE: Genuine universal functional bilingual literacy for Mauritius.