Mauritius: between monolingualism, bilingualism and trilingualism
Mauritius (fr: l’île Maurice) is situated in the south-west of the Indian Ocean, some 800km to the east of the large island of Madagascar, and 225km east of Reunion (France). Accordingly, from west to east, Reunion, Mauritius (and its islets, Agalega and St Brandon) and Rodrigues Island, situated around 650km to the east, form the Mascarene Archipelago (also known as The Mascarenes, The Mascarenhas Archipelago, or The Mascarene Islands) which takes its name from the explorer Pedro Mascarenhas, an explorer of these islands. Almost all the islands of the Mascarene Archipelago (Agalega, St Brandon, Flat Island (île Plate), Round Island (île Ronde), Amber Island (île d'Ambre), Deer Island (île aux Cerfs), Iles des deux Cocos, Bénétiers Island (îles aux Bénitiers), Gabriel Island (îlot Gabriel) etc.) belong to the Republic of Mauritius, except Reunion (2512 km²) which constitutes an overseas department of France, and Tromelin Island (1 km²), a French island which, though claimed by Mauritius, belongs to the district of the Scattered Islands of the Indian Ocean and is under the administration of the French Southern Lands.
The surface area of the republic of Mauritius is 1865 km²; including its dependencies it reaches a total of 2040 km², which include Rodrigues Island (pronounced [rò-drig] rather than in the Hispanic [ró-dri-gɛs] or Portugese [ró-dri-gé] way), at 109 km² the smallest of the three inhabited islands of the Mascarene Archipelago. The state of Mauritius is nearly three times as small as Canada’s Prince Edward Island (5660 km²). Since 2002, Rodrigues Island benefits from considerable administrative autonomy and its distinct status allows the Rodriguan population to control and manage their own affairs.
The capital of the republic of Mauritius is Port Louis (Fr: Port-Louis), named as such around 1721-1722 in homage to the king of France, Louis XV (1710-1744), replacing the Dutch name “Noordwester Haven” (translated as ‘Port du Nord-Ouest’ by the French settlers). During the French Revolution, the town received the name of Port-Napoléon, which remained until the arrival of the British in 1810, when it again took the name of Port Louis (without the hyphen, as in the English spelling).
Brief history of Mauritius
To understand the language dynamic within the republic of Mauritius, it is advisable to remember the key stages through which this country came into being following colonization by the French and the English. Previously these islands were seemingly not permanently inhabited by humans.
It was a Portuguese man, Diégo Fernandez Pereira, who discovered Mauritius and Rodrigues Island in 1507, but it was a fellow Portuguese man, Don Diégo Rodriguez, who in 1528 gave his name to the small island nowadays called ‘Rodrigues’ (in the French style, rather than Rodriguez). Reunion Island was named Santa Apollonia, while Mauritius, then inhabited as Rodrigues, was named Isla do Cimé, from the name of the ship belonging to the captain of the expedition (Diégo Fernandez Pereira). The Portuguese never inhabited the Mascarene Archipelago, which served as a stopover on the route to the Indies, and never encountered the indigenous inhabitants there.
It was towards the end of the 16th century that Dutch mariners from the Dutch East Indian Company began to sail the seas of the Indian Ocean. They were the first to recognize the great value of Mauritius. It was thus in 1598 that the Dutch began their colonization of the Island, giving it the name of Mauritius in honour of Prince Mauritius van Nassau (1567-1625) [Maurice de Nassau / Maurice of Nassau], Prince of Orange.
The Dutch summoned settlers from the Dutch settlements in Cape Town in South Africa. With the goal of monetizing their settlement in Mauritius, in around 1641 the Dutch began trading slaves who had come from Madagascar. At the end of the 17th century, Mauritius contained around 200 Dutch and between 600 and 1000 slaves from Madagascar as well as Africa, the Indies and the island of Java. The descendants of these slaves, of differing mixed racial heritages, formed a population designated as “creole” – that is to say, individuals of white or mixed-race ethnicity with European and overseas colonial ancestry. In 1710, all the Dutch and their slaves left the island, having been ravaged by numerous cyclones.
In the end, the Dutch left no trace of their presence, except the pillage of flora and fauna. This included the famous dodo (which was related to the pigeon) with its hooked beak and underdeveloped wings rendering it incapable of flight. The dodo has become the archetype of an extinct bird, its extinction directly ascribable to human activity. From a linguistic point of view, there is nothing left of the Dutch presence except certain place names (including the name of the island itself, Mauritius), and some rare family names (Wilhems, Flacq, Warwyck, Pieter Both etc.)
French colony (1715-1810)
Since the French took possession of Mauritius in 1715, which they renamed the île de France (more widely written at the time as Isle de France), the territory has been inhabited since the departure of the Dutch a few years earlier. The first French settlers arrived in 1721, accompanied successively by several hundred slaves from Senegal and Guinea, totaling between 400 and 600 people. The colony was administered by the East India Company.
After 1735, the French governor of the Mascarenes, Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1699-1753), modernized, through extensive work, the French settlements of the Indian Ocean, notably the Isle de France and the Isle Bourbon,. He equipped these islands with their sugar cane plantations, set up cotton and indigo factories and established the cultivation of rice and wheat. He founded the town of Port Louis, and populated the island of Rodrigues and St Brandon. These endeavors provoked hostility from certain directors of the East India Company due to their cost. Mahé was accused of managing the archipelago more for personal gain than that of the company. He responded to the directors regarding these accusations as follows: ‘The fact is that I conducted my business using my knowledge, and the company’s business according to your instructions.’ Mahébourg, a town in the south of Mauritius, still bears his name today. The main island of the Seychelles, on which the capital Victoria is found, is named Mahé in remembrance of this governor.
Entirely under French domination, the Mascarene Archipelago (Reunion, Mauritius, Rodrigues Island, as well as several other little islands) became very prosperous (and inevitably envied by the British), most notably with the arrival of thousands of slaves, the majority of whom came from Madagascar and East Africa to grow coffee and spice plants there. It was during this period, between 1721 and 1769, that Mauritian Creole (officially written as ‘kreol morisien’) established itself among the population, in which many words today still contain influences of Sengalese origin, notably from Wolof (Niger-Congo family). In 1806, the emperor Napoleon I ordered the proclamation of the Civil Code as ‘Law of the Isle de France’ (Mauritius) and its Islands. Port Louis became the key site of the French settlements of the region, which included the archipelago of the Seychelles to the north. Moreover, during the Napoleonic Wars, the Isle de France (Mauritius) and the Isle Bonaparte (Reunion) were the meeting places of French pirates who organized successful raids on British vessels on the trade route between Europe and Asia. This situation only exacerbated French-British rivalries, which were already heightened in the Antilles and explained why the British wanted to put an end to French leadership in this part of the Indian Ocean. In 1809, British troops began by occupying Rodrigues Isle before capturing the Isle de France (Mauritius) and the Isle Bonaparte (Reunion), as well as the French archipelago of the Seychelles in 1812. The British succeeded in conquering Mauritius without much difficulty.
British colony (1810-1968)
Article 8 of the Capitulation Treaty of December 3, 1810, which had been drawn up in French, specified that “the inhabitants should conserve their religion, their laws and their customs.” The new governor, Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar (who was a Francophile, having married a woman of French origin) admitted that the usage of French, including Creole, constituted such a custom and that the inhabitants could continue to use their languages, and practice their religion, their laws and their traditions. The British, being few in number and having no intention of inhabiting the Mascarene Archipelago, showed themselves open to making concessions, especially since there was no question of modifying the colonial slave system which had been established by the French. They therefore agreed that the inhabitants of their new colony could continue to use their languages (Creole and French) and their civil code (the Napoleonic Code), as well as continuing their traditions and even their customs arrangements. Ruled by the same laws as previously, the former French settlers and their descendants could continue to live as they had been accustomed to. In this new British colony, a large French presence lived on.
However, on the December 28, 1810, Governor Farquhar decreed that all the French inhabitants had to take a vow of allegiance, obedience and loyalty to the King of England (then George III), under pain of expulsion from the island. In doing this, those who took the oath became ‘British subjects’.
This measure gave rise to violent protests and petitions on the part of the French settlers, but the governor remained inflexible. According to the clauses of the Treaty of Paris (1814), drawn up in French, the French lost the Seychelles and the Mascarene Archipelago in one swoop, with the sole exception of Bonaparte Island (Reunion), with the Comoros Archipelago also remaining in French possession. The commander of Bonaparte Island, Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar who, in common with all the English at this time, detested Napoleon, wasted no time in renaming the island, which again took the name of the Isle of Bourbon, before being retroceded to France in 1815 (article VIII in the original version and text of the period):
His Britannic Majesty stipulating for himself and his allies, engages to restore to His Most Christian Majesty, within the term which shall be hereafter fixed, the colonies, fisheries, factories, and establishments of every kind, which were possessed by France on the 1st of January 1792, in the seas and on the continents of America, Africa, and Asia, with the exception however of the Islands of Tobago and St. Lucie, and of the Isle of France and its Dependencies, especially Rodrigues and Les Séchelles, which several colonies and possessions His Most Christian Majesty cedes in full right and Sovereignty to His Britannic Majesty.
Having officially become a British colony, the Isle de France retook its original name Mauritius. The colony of Mauritius counted among its population around 5600 white people, 5000 ‘free workers of colour’ and 65,000 slaves. Following the Treaty of Paris, the Comoros Archipelago and the island of Madagascar remained French possessions.
In 1832, the Colonial Office of London, under the signature of Lord Robert Goderich (1732-1859), sent a directive to Charles Colville, governor of Mauritius from 1828-1833, with the aim of establishing an initial language policy by making English obligatory for Mauritians in written communications with the British authorities. The British had come to think that these new ‘subjects of His Majesty’ should show their loyalty by using the language of the sovereign when addressing its representatives in writing. The question of obligating Mauritians to express themselves in English when verbally addressing the local government had not yet arisen; it was simply a matter of asking that all documents written in French to the authorities in the future be written in English or accompanied by a translation. The following year, another dispatch from the Colonial Office obligated state officials to learn English, since it seemed more practical that correspondence with a British colony took place solely in English. English also necessarily became the sole language of administration, making knowledge of the language a criterion of employment in public services. At the same time, the working language which had originated with African or Malagasy slaves and the French – that is to say, Mauritian Creole, had become the mother tongue of the descendants of slaves, with only the Franco-Mauritians having preserved French as their first language.
Great Britain abolished slavery in 1835 in all its colonies, which meant that the Mauritian authorities had to rely on workers under contract, or ‘indentured labourers’, in order to maintain their workforce in the sugar plantations. It should be remembered that the British colonial government of India was already using Mauritius to condemn Indians who had revolved against The Crown to forced labour. The habit caught on. It was in Mauritius that the British launched their ‘great experiment’ of employing free labourers with success. Mauritius was also the first colony to experiment with an Indian contract workforce. As a result, between 1835 and 1865, more than 200,000 immigrants (hailing from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, etc) arrived from India, which was at the time a British colony.
Up until 1909, more than 450,000 migrants arrived in Mauritius, which had a considerable effect on the ethnic makeup of the island people. Contracts of employment stipulated that a captain or an employer had to advance the cost of the voyage to the migrant who in exchange would work for between five and seven years to repay their debt. Many workers, however, remained in the country until the end of their contracts in order to become Mauritian.
Up until 1909, more than 450,000 migrants arrived in Mauritius, which had a considerable effect on the ethnic makeup of the island people. Contracts of employment stipulated that a captain or an employer had to advance the cost of the voyage to the migrant who in exchange would work for between five and seven years to repay their debt. Many workers, however, remained in the country until the end of their contracts in order to become Mauritian.
For a period of several decades, Indian immigrants made up the majority of agricultural workers; they spoke Hindi, Urdu, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu etc. Between 1840 and 1860, the British also accepted 400 Chinese rural workers who came chiefly from Fujian and Guangdong, provinces in Southern China, but also from Hubei. In Fujian they spoke Minnan Chinese, in Guangdong they spoke Cantonese, and in Hubei Hakka Chinese. Accordingly a new market opened up for the sale of commodities in proximity to rural areas; it was the Chinese immigrants who were the first to profit from the opportunity by becoming small-time merchants. They became more numerous with the arrival of a new wave of Hakka Chinese who set themselves up in the businesses of the capital.
All these immigrants, whether Indian or Chinese, did not really change the dynamic of the languages of Mauritius. Because of a lack of comprehension between each other, the Indians rapidly acquired the necessary competences to speak Creole so that this remained a lively language of communication. At the same time, the Indo-Mauritians, enriched this creole with English and Indian words. The Franco-Mauritians living in the colony continued to speak French and to confine the newly arrived Indian and Chinese immigrants to a certain social inferiority. For decades, the immigrants complained about poor treatment, physical violence, the punishments imposed upon them, non-payment or retention of their wages, and bad food. The Indo-Mauritians and Sino-Mauritians needed time to climb the social ladder. Altogether, the British government allowed over 450,000 employed immigrants – known as ‘indentured’ – to come to Mauritius, principally from India and later from Madagascar.
Wishing to thwart the advance of Creole and to show that Mauritius was a British colony, in 1841 the colonial government made the teaching of English, in addition to French, compulsory in primary education in all schools.
An independent country
In the 20th century, Mauritius more and more affirmed its autonomy from the British crown. The First World War accelerated the decline of the colony, and many Mauritians and Indo-Mauritians lost their lives fighting the Nazis, which increased the anger felt by inhabitants of the island. Popular movements started to arise which gradually became the first shoots of nationalist and pro-independence movements. Following a referendum, Mauritius became an independent state on March 12, 1968; it was endowed with a British-style parliamentary system which guaranteed the separation of legislative, executive and judiciary powers. The President was the head of state and the commander-in-chief, while the Prime Minister held all executive powers and was the head of government. Today, Mauritius is part of the British Commonwealth and since the 5th Summit of October 1993, is also part of La Francophonie.
In November 2001, the Rodrigues Regional Assembly Act granted a relatively extensive statute of independence to Rodrigues. This statute allowed the Rodriguan population to control and manage its own affairs. The regional government and the local assembly have since been empowered to adapt Mauritian laws to the specific situation of their island, and to adopt others, providing they don't conflict with the national laws. By way of comparison, it could be said that Rodrigues is to Mauritius what Yukon is to Canada – an autonomous territory, although the Parliament of Yukon enjoys more power than that of Rodrigues.
Pluralism in Mauritius
The population of Mauritius was around 2.1 million in 2018; including 40,000 inhabitants of Rodrigues, 60 inhabitants of St Brandon and 290 inhabitants of Agalega. This small population however exhibits considerable ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. Four principle ethnicities can be distinguished (Indians, Metis, Chinese and Franco-Mauritian), four major languages (Mauritian Creole, Bhojpuri, French and Hindi), as well as four religions (Hinduism, Catholicism, Islam and Protestantism).
Indians > 68 %
Métis > 27 %
Chinese > 3 %
Franco-Mauritians > 2,5 %
Mauritian Creole > 86,5 %
Bhojpuri > 5,3 %
French > 4,1 %
Hindi > 2,8 %
Hinduism > 48,5 %
Catholicism > 26,3 %
Islam > 17,3 %
Protestantism > 6,4 %
The Franco-Mauritians are without a doubt the oldest ancestors of the island, since the time of the first French arrivals between 1715 and 1735. They represent around 2.5% of the population and are gathered in two or three municipalities.
The Metis, also known as Creole people, are descendants of the first slaves and French settlers, but there also exist Indian Metis, Chinese Metis etc, all of whom speak Mauritian Creole and practice mostly Catholicism, with a minority practicing Protestantism, Hinduism or Confucianism. Creole people are present across the whole island. Just as the Franco-Mauritians, they can be said form a part of the oldest inhabitants of the island. In contrast to other ethnic communities, Creole people do not identify according to their country of origin, there are in one sense the most Mauritian of all Mauritians. When they feel obligated to identify with another country, they might consider France.
The Indians speak Mauritian Creole, sometimes Bhojpuri, or other heritage languages (such as Hindi, Marathi, Tamil etc.) and practice Hinduism, although some are Muslims. Their ancestors arrived after 1835, a century after the French, but today they make up the largest ethnic group (68%), divided between numerous municipalities all situated in the north-east of the island. The republic of Mauritius is the only African country with a Hindu majority.
The Chinese have always shown themselves to be very active within small food businesses and other shops. During the 19th century and up until the beginning of the 20th, their ancestors fled war, poverty and famine in China. These Chinese set up home in Port Louis, the capital, as well as in other towns and villages close to sugar plantations. The Chinese today form a dynamic, relatively prosperous diaspora, which lives in the largest towns of the island. They took to Creole and many became Christians, though a minority of Chinese still speak Minnan, Cantonese or Hakka. China is increasing its investments in Mauritius, as the foundation of the Sino-Mauritian community constitutes a model which it would like to reproduce in other countries.
The First Schedule of the Constitution of 1968 explicitly recognizes the existence of three ethnic groups which it calls ‘communities’, though these only comprise Hindus, Muslims and Sino-Mauritians.
|First Schedule (Original version)
|Annexe I (Traduction non officielle)
(Alinéa 2 de l'article 31)
In summary, the ethnic groups identified in the constitution are built on a base of two religious denominations, as well as ethnic and geographic criteria. Neither the Indians, nor the Creoles, nor the Franco-Mauritians are recognized in fundamental law. It is striking to note the incoherent way in which these communities are defined. In effect, the constitution employs a religious criterion for the Indians (Hindus or Muslims), and an ethnic criterion for the Sino-Mauritians, as well as the expression ‘the general population’ for a fourth group which might be seen to correspond to the primitive base population consisting mainly of European, African and Malagasy people.
The ancestors of all these ethnic groups, European, African, Indian and Chinese, immigrated to Mauritius or Rodrigues, whether willingly or not, in the space of 200 years. They did not join together to form a single people with the goal of becoming ‘Mauritians’, any more than they created ghettos to live apart in communities which had no influence over one another.
The languages spoken in Mauritius
The census of 2011 indicated that there were more than 20 different languages in Mauritius. Mauritian Creole – also written phonetically as kreol morisien – is the majority language of the island, spoken as a mother tongue by 77.3% of the population. In total, 86.5% of the population can express themselves in this language, either as their mother tongue or second language. It is a creole with a lexical base from French, as a consequence of the century-long French colonialization. The area in which this creole is used covers almost the whole island (see the map below); there also exists a Rodriguan Creole spoken on Rodrigues Island. This creole is a little different, although communication takes place relatively easily between the two, as elsewhere with the Creole of Reunion and the Seychelles, which are all of the same origin. There follows an example of Mauritian and Rodriguan Creole:
|Mauritian Creole||Rodriguan Creole||French translation||English translation|
|Nou finn ne kreol, alor nou noz kreol.||Nou kreol, nou koz nou lang.||Nous sommes créoles, donc nous parlons créole.||We are Creole, so we speak Creole.|
The word Bhojpuri pronounced [bòdʒ-pou-ri] is written as such in English, but as भोजपुर in its language of origin, that is to say, in Devanagari script. Bhojpuri is widely used in the Indian community of Mauritius, and although it is a minority language used by only 5.3% of the population, it covers a sizeable geographic area of the island, particularly in the North-East (see the map opposite). As with Creole, Bhojpuri is a non-standardized language, rarely written down, and considered as a ‘degenerate’ form of Hindi, which it evidently is not: being in fact an Indo-Iranian language (like Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi etc.) spoken in the north of India, particularly in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, as well as in the south of Nepal. In these regions, Bhojpuri speakers number more than 40 million: more than the population of Canada. This Indo-Iranian language is equally used by the Indian diaspora of Guyana, Surinam, Fiji and Trinidad and Tobago.
The third most commonly used language is French (4.1%), spoken by the group called the Franco-Mauritians. It is tempting to say that Mauritians have an ambiguous relationship with French, which is simultaneously the most desirable language on account of its prestige, and the most hated, because it is not easily mastered, the written language especially so.
Among speakers of heritage languages, we find Indo-Mauritians and Sino-Mauritians. Hindi constitutes the fourth language, but other Asiatic languages are spoken in Mauritius, including Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati, Malagasy, Tamil, Urdu etc. Tamil and Telugu are Dravidian languages, while Malagasy is an Austronesian language (like Malay). In Mauritius, Hindi cooccurs with Bhojpuri. Chinese languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka are also spoken. Knowledge of Chinese languages among Sino-Mauritians is rapidly being lost because they are no longer being learned by the younger generation, who prefer to concentrate their energies on mastering French or English, if not both.
In response to questions concerning the language spoken at home, the following results were obtained by the 2011 Census: Mauritian Creole (87.8% of the population, Bhojpuri (5.9%), French (4.7%) and Hindi (0.8%). Only 0.8% remains for other languages.
Generally speaking, Mauritians are rarely unilingual. The Creole are often the least multilingual with ‘only’ two (Creole and French) or three (Creole, French and English) languages, while members of other communities can express themselves more readily in four to six languages. If the Creole people express themselves with greater ease in French, members of the Indian and Chinese communities are more at ease in English, but they may well also take recourse to French or Creole.
The languages of Rodrigues Island
Contrary to Mauritius itself, Rodrigues Island is as homogenous in its ethnic as its linguistic makeup. In effect, more than 98.6% of the islanders are Rodriguans and speak Rodriguan Creole as their mother tongue.
Rodrigues Island counts several other languages among its number, but these are only spoken by small minorities. According to data from the Central Statistics Office in 2011, the most numerically significant languages are Chinese, French, Bhojpuri, Hindi and Urdu. Foreign languages most commonly spoken at home are French (351 speakers), Creole and French (129 speakers) and English (15 speakers.)
As for tiny St Brandon with its 26 islands and islets (1.3km2 in total), it only possesses a seasonal population of around 50 people originally from Mauritius, in general these are fishermen resident on Raphael Island.
Lingua franca and religion
Taking into account the significant number of languages (around 20) in such a small country, the population resorts to using lingua francas for communication. The most commons of these is Mauritian Creole in Mauritius (and Rodriguan Creole on Rodrigues Island). In effect, Creole, along with French and English, makes up the only interethnic languages of communication. All the other languages have either essentially symbolic functions (such as Arabic for religion) or communication limited to specific ethnic groups (such as Bhojpuri). But most of the population is easily reached with Creole, French and English.
The republic of Mauritius includes diverse religions, without a single majority religion; 49% of the population belong to the Hindu faith, followed by Christians (32%), Muslims (17%) and Buddhists (0.4%).
The status of the official languages
The official languages are English and French, though neither of these is proclaimed in the Constitution or in any law. Therefore, from a legal point of view, no language truly has official status. In other words, these languages have obtained this status de facto rather than de jure. The strange ambiguous status of the official languages has already been raised by an eminent lawyer and former judge in the Supreme Court of Mauritius, Mr. Robert Ahnee (deceased July 2014):
I am not aware of any text of law which says that English is the Official language of Mauritius.
It could be said that, in Mauritius, English is more official than French, which is considered an “officially official” language, being – like English – a high prestige language, but without an official law to guarantee its legal status. This absence of formal legal status of official languages is completely different from the status declared for official languages in Canada where they were officially recognized in the Constitution in 1982 and, among others, by the Official Languages Act 1988.
About official non-native languages
With the exception of the minority Franco-Mauritians and Anglo-Mauritians, the official languages are foreign or second languages for all Mauritians, as everyone speaks Mauritian Creole or an Indian or Chinese language. According to the recent Mauritian census, English is the mother tongue of 1351 Mauritians, which represents 0.10% of the populations, compared to 20,009 for French (or 1.6% of the population). It can therefore be seen to be a different situation than that of Canada, where one of the two official languages is the mother tongue for at least 78% of Canadians.
It must also be understood that, with the exception of the ‘metropolitan’ French and British, the knowledge of official languages varies considerably within the population, as it depends largely on an individual’s degree of education. Only Indo-Mauritians and Sino-Mauritians seem more familiar with English than French, whereas Indians – like the Chinese – know a little French, just a little less than other ethnicities.
If relatively few speakers are native speakers of two languages, the number of individuals who are bilingual with a second language is higher. The most frequent combinations are as follows:
- Creole and another language (French, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu)
- Chinese and French
- Bhojpuri and another language (Creole, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi).
Chinese communities are generally quadrilingual, speaking English, French and Creole to varying degrees, in addition to their native language. In summary, many Mauritians are not only bilingual, but tri- or quadrilingual, or polyglots of five or six languages.
At the level of the organization of power, Mauritius is a unitary state, although Rodrigues Island enjoys administrative and legislative autonomy. The political regime is parliamentary: that is to say, that the government must command the support of Parliament. On the subject of language, the government of the republic of Mauritius has formed an ambiguous policy. It is useful to distinguish between, on the one hand, the official discourse relating to English in a formal context and a more subtle application of the legislation in force regarding language use. In brief, the Mauritian authorities practice true pragmatism in their language policy.
What might seem surprising is that, as discussed above, the official status of English and French is not defined in the Constitution of the Republic of Mauritius. From a legal point of view (de jure), there therefore exists no official language in the country, though English, and to a lesser extent French, have acquired this de facto status. These are generally the only languages mentioned in legal documents, with the exception of the 1982 Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation Act, which makes explicit mention not only of English, French, Creole and Bhojpuri, but also Hindustani, an outdated term to designate the language community of Hindus and Muslims from when Hindi (written in Devanagari script) and Urdu (written in Perso-Arabic script) didn’t yet exist as distinct languages. There also exist three laws from 2008 which sought to ensure the establishment, workings and management of a union of speakers of Marathi, Telugu and Tamil.
To understand the dynamic of languages in Mauritius, it must be taken into consideration that, setting aside the fact that that only a small number of the population speak French as their mother tongue and even less speak English, the government for its part tends to prefer English monolingualism, whereas the Creole population feel a greater affinity with French than English. For the Mauritian government, English is the first official language, and French the second; and Creole simply does not exist at all – legally speaking. To make a light-hearted reading of the status of languages in Mauritius: English is the official language, French might be the “officially official” language but non-official Creole is the most important. In brief, the population is ‘Creolo-phone’ and Francophile; the government is anglophone and anglophile, but social prestige remains the domain of French. We therefore witness three languages in cooccurrence: English, French and Creole. As for the Oriental languages deemed ‘heritage languages’ (Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Chinese, etc.), these are only employed in specific personal situations.
The official language of the Assembly
When reading the Constitution, it is clear that English is the only language of the National Assembly, since it is the language of debate and of written law. Article 49 of the 1968 Constitution also deals with languages authorized in the National Assembly:
|Section 49 (Original version)
Qualifications for membership
|Article 49 (Traduction non officielle)
Langue officielleLa langue officielle de l'Assemblée doit être l'anglais, mais un membre peut s'adresser à la présidence en français.
Qualités requises des membres
Sous réserve des dispositions de l'article 34, une personne n'est admissible comme membre de l'Assemblée que si elle satisfait aux conditions suivantes: [...]
According to Constitutional prevision, English is obligatory in the Assembly, while the use of French is authorised: a way of saying that it is not prohibited, but tolerated. As for Mauritian Creole, it is glossed over, and from a legal point of view, it is silently prohibited. The National Assembly has never modified Article 49, and it well illustrates the character of the official discourse concerning English, and the practices surrounding French in reality in Mauritian society.
Elsewhere, the facts seem to contradict this policy statement concerning English, French and Creole. All laws adopted before 1814 are entirely in French, including contemporary modifications, but laws adopted since 1814 are only written in English. Parliamentary debates clearly take place in English, but also in Creole and French. Members of the Assembly – all Creole speakers – discuss laws in English and more rarely in French, but always express themselves in Creole when exchanges become informal or aggravated: Creole is the language of insults, of invective, of pleasantries, etc. As for the Indo-Mauritian members, they express themselves almost exclusively in English, even if they know Creole. Thus, English, French and Creole are all used in Parliament, but English is employed more often than French and Creole together, with the latter employed less often than French.
In numerous cases, many politicians alternate two – sometimes all three – languages when they speak, often in a single phrase. However, words spoken in Creole are not transcribed in Hansard, the official journal of record, which can often render certain published messages slightly incoherent, when statements ought to appear in English, French and Creole together because they were spoken as such; yet only speeches in English and French appear in the official record. No simultaneous translation service exists in the Mauritian parliament. Simply speaking, it could be said that English is the official written language, and French and Creole are the official spoken languages.
All in all, in the domain of legislation, English necessarily finds itself a step ahead of other languages. We find an unequal bilingualism, balanced in English’s favour. Language practices in the Federal Government of Canada differ completely: firstly because members of parliament benefit from simultaneous translation in both languages, and secondly because the writing and enactment of laws takes place in both French and English. In Mauritius, only English is employed in the writing and enactment of laws.
The Mauritian government and public administration publish all their official communications in English, and legal notices in local newspapers, whether they be in French or English; though these same communications are translated into French for the radio.
Languages and justice
As a great number of languages exist within the republic of Mauritius, one might expect that a certain number of these would be admissible in court. In fact, article 131 of the 1945 Courts Act, which is still in force, states that the language used in front of an intermediate court is English, but it is possible to address the court in French. It represents the same paradox: English is always the first official language, but this fact doesn’t exclude other languages. In addition, when a witness convinces a court that he doesn’t possess sufficient competence in English or French, he can testify in “the language which he knows best”, which permits Creole in principle, and possibly heritage or Oriental languages:
Courts Act (Original version)
Language to be used
1) The language to be used in the Intermediate Court or in any District Court shall be English, but any person may address the Court in French.
2) Where any person who is required to give evidence, satisfies the Court that he does not possess a competent knowledge of English or French, he may give his evidence in the language with which he is best acquainted.
3) Where any person gives evidence in a language other than English or French, the proceedings shall, if the Court so directs, be translated.
Any person appointed to act as interpreter at the Intermediate Court or any District Court may, in addition to his duties as interpreter, be assigned such other duties as the Magistrate having the supervision of the Court may determine.
Loi sur les tribunaux (Traduction non officielle)
2) Lorsqu'un témoin convainc la cour qu'il ne possède pas une connaissance qualifiée de l'anglais ou du français, il peut témoigner dans la langue qu'il connaît le mieux.3) Lorsqu’une personne témoigne dans une autre langue autre que l’anglais ou le français, les témoignages doivent être traduits si la cour l’ordonne.
Quiconque est désigné comme interprète par le tribunal intermédiaire ou un tribunal de district peut, en plus de ses fonctions d'interprète, se voir confier d'autres tâches que peut décider le magistrat chargé de la présidence du tribunal.
Article 41 of the Courts Act states that “the official language to be used in front of the Supreme Court of Mauritius must be English”, but if a litigant appears before the court and convinces them that he doesn’t have knowledge of English, “he can testify or make a declaration in the language he knows best”. This type of arrangement reflects Mauritian politics well: the language of the state is English, but French is authorized, as well as the language which one “knows best” and which, though not named, means Mauritian Creole. According to Article 175 of the Courts Act, testimonies made in languages other than English or French must be translated, subject to the provisions of Article 176 and 178. These articles exclude testimonies of civil and criminal nature.
It must be understood that the Civil Code (1808), which still carries the name of the Napoleonic Code, and the Code of Civil Procedure (1808) are of French origin and were written in French, and later translated into English, although only a few of the articles of the codes remain applicable, and not a single article relating to language exists within them. Let us remember that in Canada, the Canadian Criminal Code (which originated from Common Law) makes provision for French and English, while the relevant Civil Code of each of the provinces doesn’t necessarily make such a provision; just as in Mauritius, the Code civil of Quebec is of Napoleonic inspiration.
It is surprising to note that, while the law allows Mauritians to express themselves in English, French and Creole in court, in practice French remains the most widely used language, ahead even of Creole, which is more frequent than English. Judges tend to pronounce their sentences in French, less often in English and rarely in Creole. However, the language of justice is English!
Language use in public administration
The official language of public administration is English, although this has never been formally inscribed in law. However, the Local Administration Act 2003 states that a local authority councilor should obligatorily be capable of speaking in English and French, with sufficient proficiency to allow them to take an active role in council business.
Local Government Act 2003 (Original version)
Loi sur l'administration locale (Traduction non officielle)
This law bears witness to the fact that English and French are necessary to participate in public administration. In practice, Mauritian officials use French or Creole as their language of work. When they address their fellow citizens aloud, they do so first in Creole, then in French, and then they resort to English if the matter concerns Indo-Mauritians or Sino-Mauritians, or perhaps foreigners or anglophone tourists. In municipalities and villages, in hospitals and healthcare facilities, Creole and French are always used, but English is used when it is necessary. In general, spontaneous usage is of Creole, followed by French. English is reserved for formal requests or for use with citizens of Indian or Chinese origin, or with foreigners. Finally, the majority of Mauritians also speak Creole and French, but read and write in English. Rather than describing an unequal bilingualism, we might talk of a diglossia or triglossia, where languages are divided into specific functions, without impinging on one another.
It remains the fact that the most part of official government documents are written only in English, a practice inherited from British colonialism, which has never been re-examined. As a consequence, all political and administrative functions and posts bear official English titles: Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, President, Vice-President, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Attorney General, Leader of the Opposition, Junior Minister, Minister Mentor, Minister of Education and Human Resources, Minister of Tourism, Senior Chief Executive, Energy and Public Utilities, Social Security, Prime Minister's Office, Land Transport Division, Public Service Commission, Chief Commissioner's Office, etc.. The President of the Assembly is also called “Speaker” in Mauritian French and not “Président”.
These English titles are evidently translated into French in newspapers, on the radio and on television, in public spaces, in private conversations, etc., but these are never official translations. While it is relatively straightforward to translate ‘Prime Minister’ as premier ministre, ‘Leader of the Opposition’ as chef de l'opposition or ‘Public Service Commission’ as commission de la fonction publique, it is much more difficult to translate Senior Chief Executive which could be translated into French as chef exécutif senior (directeur général) or ‘Energy and Public Utilities’ which could be translated as Énergie et utilités publiques instead of Énergie et services publics.
The official currency of the country is the Mauritian rupee, which carries writing in English: Bank of Mauritius, Twenty Five and RUPEES). If there is no French or Creole writing (for example, Roupie mauricienne or Roupi morisien), the currency contains Tamil (மொரீசியஸ் ரூபாய) and Hindi (मॉरीशस रुपय), both of which signify ‘Mauritian rupee’. This follows a tradition practiced in the British Indies and passed on to Mauritius to publish paper money in three languages, in the order English-Tamil-Hindi. Although the Tamils are far fewer in number that Hindi speakers in Mauritius, they base their “right to priority” on the fact that they arrived on the island before members of the Hindu community from the north of India. Before the introduction of the Mauritian rupee, the currency of Mauritius was the ‘Indian rupee’ which was chosen by the British due to the massive influx of Indian rupees following Indian immigration to Mauritius.
In terms of toponymy, the great majority of place names are of French origin: Savane, Pamplemousses, Rivière-du-Rampart, Port-Louis, Grand-Port, Poudre d'Or, Riche-en-Eau, Flic-en-Flac, Nouvelle-France, Grand-Bassin, Quatre-Bornes, La Roche-qui-Pleure, Curepipe, etc. In certain cases, these had been in the past translated from the French by the British administration: Black River, The Mount, Royal Palm, etc. It is this practice which can explain the occasional presence of bilingual place name inscriptions in Mauritius. On Rodrigues Island, it can also be said that toponymy is wholly of French origin: Baie-Topaze, La Fouche-Corail, Plaine-Corail, Montagne-Goyaves, île aux Crabes, île Frégate, île Souris, etc, not to mention other place names such as Anse-aux-Anglais, Baie-du-Nord, Petite-Butte, rivière Banane or caverne Patate.
However, across the whole country, road signage is only found in English, illustrating one of the many linguistic contradictions in Mauritius.
Ultimately, the Creole language, spoken by 86.5% of the population suffers admittedly from a lack of institutional recognition, which creates great frustration among the Creole-speaking population. Administrative practices regarding language use mainly serve to highlight the colonial traditions which favoured English. However, even today, when the political and administrative situation is different and no British officials remain, old habits have remained fixed by conservatism, without being much questioned.
Language in education
The word creole can be written phonetically and officially according to the ‘Akademi Kreol Morisien’. This creole has the distinction of being the native language (L1) and second language (L2) of the vast majority of linguistic communities, including the Indian and Chinese communities. All children admitted to public school have perfect knowledge of Creole from the moment of their enrolment in school. In Mauritius, it is the ‘Ministry of Education and Human Resources’ which manages public education.
Languages in Kindergarten
Just over 88 schools offer pre-primary or kindergarten teaching. Among these schools, 71% are private establishments; the others operate on the same premises as primary schools or are administered by religious organisations – Catholic or Hindu – or by municipal councils.
In pre-primary education, two languages are used: French and Creole. However, the teaching of Creole is not compulsory; it is suggested in kindergartens in bilingual classes. The determining factor in the choice of one language or the other is the socio-economic situation of the child’s parents. Children of families from favourable socio-economic backgrounds attend schools where French is the language of teaching. Given that school fees are high (education is not necessarily free), children of less well-off families have no other choice than to attend less reputable schools where Creole serves as the language of teaching.
In March 2017, there were 318 schools offering primary education. The majority of these schools (221) were establishments managed by the government. There were 51 schools managed by the Catholic church (the “Roman Catholic Education Authority”) and two schools under the jurisdiction of the “Hindi Education Authority”, along with 44 others private unsubsidised schools.
In primary school, all languages are permitted, but in practice the first phase of primary education takes place in Creole and French. One point of note is that Creole is mostly used as a support language to make explanations in class. In the second phase, English is gradually introduced, but schools continue to offer classes in French. Bilingual classes or schools can also be found: in Creole and French, in English and French, in English and Creole. Moreover, it is possible to form trilingual classes or schools where teaching is offered in English, French and Creole.
In principle, a school may be monolingual English or monolingual French, even monolingual Creole, but French and English remain compulsory subjects. It was only in May 2011, however, that the Ministry of Education and Human Resources made public the standardised version of kreol morisien.
While French and English are learned from the first phase of primary education as compulsory subjects, heritage languages such as Hindi and Bhojpuri are also taught as ‘optional subjects’, it is also under this heading which Creole can be taught. It is all a question of the way the languages taught are prescribed.
Moreover, there are committees of parents who determine the prescription for languages taught. In general, Mauritians have decided that French – not English – should be taught for the first three years. In effect, in most schools, English is perceived as less important compared to French. Parents prefer to keep English to secondary school, once the basics of spoken and written French have been acquired. This practice has never been endorsed by the government which has never opposed and always tolerated it. Defenders of Mauritian Creole put forward arguments such as the fight against illiteracy and school dropout, respect for the language and culture of the Creole majority, cultural diversity etc.; for them it is a way to right an injustice. Their opponents claim that Creole is not a language, but a patois or a dialect, and that it locks the child into a cultural ghetto.
In the 1957 Education Ordinance, the text is followed by a so-called “First Schedule” – that is to say an appendix in which Article 43 states that “any language can be used as a means of teaching, provided that this language is, in the opinion of the Ministry, the most appropriate for students.
|Section 43 (Original version)
Medium of instruction and teaching of languages
1) In the lower classes of Government and aided primary schools up to and including Standard III, any one language may be employed as the medium of instruction, being a language which in the opinion of the Minister is most suitable for the pupils.
3) The Minister may make provision for the teaching of languages other than English which are current in Mauritius, and for their study in any Government and aided primary school, and may require an Education Authority to make arrangements for such teaching in any of the primary schools under its control.
|Article 43 (Traduction non officielle)
Véhicule d'enseignement et enseignement des langues
1) Dans les classes élémentaires des écoles primaires publiques et subventionnées par le gouvernement jusqu'au niveau III, n'importe quelle langue peut être employée comme véhicule d'enseignement, pourvu que cette langue soit, de l'avis du Ministre, la plus appropriée pour les élèves.
3) Le ministre peut prendre des dispositions pour l'enseignement d'autres langues que l'anglais, qui sont d'usage courant à Maurice, ainsi que pour leurs études dans une école primaire publique ou subventionnée, et peut demander à une administration scolaire de prendre des dispositions en vue de cet enseignement dans l'une des écoles primaires relevant de sa juridiction.
In summary, the running of schools appears very flexible and seems to grant considerable freedom as much to parents as teachers and school management.
By way of promoting and preserving cultural values of ethnic groups, Hindi, Urdu, Maratha, Telugu, Tamil, Arabic and Mandarin Chinese are all taught to the Indian (Hindu and Muslim) and Chinese communities; incidentally these languages have been taught since British colonisation. For example. Hindi is learnt at primary school as a compulsory subject for Hindus, whereas Urdu is learnt by Muslims. Let us remember that Hindi and Urdu are the same spoken language, but the first is written in Devanagari script and the second in the Perso-Arabic alphabet. Hindi benefits greatly from the great popularity of Indian films in Mauritius; although more films and television series are subtitled in English, young Indians end up understanding Hindi partly through hearing it, even if it is not spoken at home or in their communities.
It is similarly as an optional subject that kreol morisien entered the primary system following the emergence of a strong affirmation of identity by the Creole people in 1999. It was only in October 2010 that the government of Mauritius put into place a committee, known by the name of the Akademi Kreol Morisien. This committee had as its mission examining all aspects related to the introduction of Mauritian Creole as an “optional subject” and to introduce a standardised version of the written language. In May 2011, this normalised version of Creole was made public by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources and was known as the “Grafi-larmoni”. There also exists a Diksioner Morisien (2009) and a Gramer Kreol Morisien (2011).
In addition, we must take a look at the teaching of English in sixth grade. Normally, at the end of primary school teaching should take place in English, but teachers are allowed to take recourse to French or Creole to explain the rules of grammar; this practice is sometimes used to the point where English is no longer the main language of teaching. However, the government takes with one hand what it gives with the other. In effect, this freedom in the language of teaching is counterbalanced by the fact that the textbooks, in almost all disciplines, are in English, except those destined for the teaching of a language other than English. More precisely, textbooks in French are available for French lessons, but not for example of geography or math lessons taught in French.
In secondary school, English is the usual language of teaching in some 175 schools, including seven on Rodrigues Island. English became very important in secondary school mostly due to the exit examinations which are only given in English. Nevertheless, numerous teachers continue to fall back on French in English lessons to explain the difficulties of grammar or the subtleties of English literature. This preference for French at school is explained by the fact that French remains very evident in Mauritian Creole. This contributes to its comprehension, while English seems like a distant and foreign language. Moreover, lexical roots from the same family in French and Creole allow children to access French more easily than English.
As regards oriental and heritage languages (Bhojpuri, Hindi, Marathi, Mandarin etc), these appear to be neglected by their speakers in the secondary system, because the majority think that, once they have acquired English, mastering French is preferable to Indian (or Chinese) languages. In any event, French and Creole are regularly used at all stages of education as languages to support explanations in class, including English classes.
At university, the language of teaching is English, whatever the social class of the professor, though they might fall back on French or Creole in certain special situations.
The problem with teaching at university level it that it only attracts 47% of school leavers; the government therefore has an objective widening access to university teaching and increasing the percentage of Mauritians enrolled in a post-secondary establishment to 72%.
To summarise the situation in education, it could be said that bilingualism or trilingualism is practiced as a diglossia or triglossia: French and Creole are noticeably restricted to kindergarten and primary school; while English is in the foreground in secondary school and at university. In this sense, it is not truly an uneven bilingualism, because this bilingualism doesn’t privilege one language over another. The real challenge in the teaching of Creole lies in ensuring that it is considered both as the language of their identity for Creole-speakers and as the national language of all Mauritians.
It is more difficult to compare the situation in Mauritius with that of Canada, where education is in the exclusive jurisdiction of the provinces and not of central government. There are 10 ministries of education in Canada, but Article 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enshrined in the 1982 Constitution Act, obliges all Canadian provinces to offer teaching in the primary or secondary system in French or English to the child of every Canadian citizen in the same language in which the parents themselves received their education. There is no such legislative measure in Mauritius.
Language in the economy and the media
In the world of work, French, English and Creole are all regularly used. In informal communication, Creole prevails. In communication with representations of the civil service and prestige professions, French tends to be used in spoken contexts half of the time, and English around a quarter of the time, generally on request. However, the majority of administrative documents are offered only in English. As regards the police force, French is habitually used, with English reserved only for interview transcripts. In certain commercial situations, staff tend to take note of the attire of their customers. If a customer appears “badly dressed” or “not well dressed”, the agent will address them first in French, then in Creole. Mauritians only use French or English with foreigners.
Public and commercial signage
All public signs produced by the Mauritian government are written only in English, be they the name of ministries, road signs, public hospitals, etc.: Mauritius Post, Ministry of Youth & Sports, Ministry of Tourism, Wellkin Hospital, Speed Zone, Please drive carefully, Diversion Ahead, Traffic laws strictly enforced, etc. Only the names of towns and villages are in French
because there is no alternative as they are all of French origin.
If road signs are unilingual in English, “private” signage, for example “maison à vendre” (house for sale) or “chambre à louer” (room for rent) and signs for shops and other businesses generally appear in French. Signs for educational institutions are in either French or English as the case may be, except the University of Mauritius which is always in English alone.
Sometimes, English and French are used on a single sign, but not necessarily to express the same message, with the exception of signs aimed at tourists or at the residents of the same building.
Languages found in commercial advertising are English (most usually), French (less frequently) and Creole (exceptionally). Almost any combination can be found: bilingual French-English or French-Creole posters alongside unilingual French or Creole, but rarely unilingual English.
The Mauritius Broadcasting Act, Act no. 22 of 1982, is the framework law governing national radio and television. The text of this law makes explicit mention of the compulsory use of Creole, Bhojpuri, French, English and Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu). Electronic media is broadcast in French, English, Mauritian Creole, as well as in several Indian and Chinese languages. The majority of private radio stations are broadcast in Mauritian Creole, except on Rodrigues Island where they are found in Rodriguan Creole and French. In general, radio stations are more Creole than French, and more French than English. When programs are broadcast in English, they are often educational programs.
When television programs are presented in French, they are supplemented by news updates and information in English. The MBC (Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation) is in English, but TV5 and RFO-Reunion are broadcast in French. In recent years, English language television has tended to overtake French in the frequency of its programming and scheduling of American films. National television channels also broadcast certain programs in Oriental and Indian languages (Hindi, Bhojpuri, Tamil, Telugu, Mandarin Chinese etc.) which generally originate from India and China.
Written media is largely found in French: Le Matinal, L'Express, Le Mauricien, Plus Dimanche, Le Militant Magazine, Le Socialiste, Le Défi Quotidien, Kinews, etc.; Leboncoin (French-English), Star (French-English), The Independent Daily (anglais), Mauritius Times (English), KotZot (English), News On Sunday (English), etc.; Lékip (Creole), Mo Ti News (Creole); Pathirikai (English-French-Tamil). There also exist “ethnic” newspapers in Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Bhojpuri, Mandarin etc. In 2014, there were 4 newspapers published in Mandarin Chinese.
Given than Mauritian Creole constitutes the majority language across the whole country, it might be expected that this language would acquire the status of an official language alongside English and French. On the contrary, this language is ignored in the realm of law and never named in legal texts (with the exception of one law concerning radio broadcasting). English is traditionally designated the official language in a number of legal texts which also permit the use of French. The facts demonstrate the existence of a triglossia in Mauritius and Rodrigues Island: Mauritian Creole is the language most spoken in the home and in most informal communication; English is the official language of legislation, the courts, administration and secondary and post-secondary education; French is the official spoken language and a prestige language in formal communications and the majority language across all media. Some fifty-five years after independence, French still dominates in the daily life of the islanders, although it has no formal written status.
As for the Indian and Chinese languages, they serve as an instrument of community identity, because they still remain essential for practicing religion. For most Mauritians, Creole-French-English trilingualism is taken for granted and never seems to be called into question, apart from the fact the Creole could benefit from a raising of its status on the social ladder. Creole people feel that they are a victim of injustice when it comes to language.
French is a language which, compared to Creole, is valued at a social level, and associated with social and professional success. It is also seen as a less foreign language for children within their sociolinguistic environment. However, French has the disadvantage of being traditionally associated with French-Mauritians and the local bourgeoisie. Expanding its usage to secondary schools and universities would have the effect of cutting the cord with British institutions, which in itself may stir up recriminations on the part of Indian and Chinese minorities.
As for English, on the one hand it has the disadvantage of being linguistically distant from Creole roots. On the other hand, it is perceived as a neutral language, possessing both the advantage and disadvantage of being the language of everyone and no-one in Mauritius and Rodrigues Island; it is also associated, as French, with social progression and professional success. At an international level, it is seen as an instrument of progress which opens doors.
In summary, English and French allow the maintenance of a historic link with their former ‘mother countries’ by a society which has a complex relationship with its colonial past. The Mauritian authorities have kept almost intact language habits inherited from British colonialism, without questioning this practice which highlights considerable gaps in the socio-economics and politics of language. Popular thought values certain languages highly (French and English), whereas speakers of devalued languages (such as Creole and Indian and Chinese languages) feel great insecurity when it comes to their native languages.
Happily, the Mauritian state wishes, by means of an eventual remodelling of its language planning, to increase the stature of Mauritian Creole. However, the State must take into account the fact that Creole is associated with a particular ethnic group, the consequence of which is that the increased valuation of Mauritian Creole may be seen by Indian and Chinese minorities as the devaluation of their ethnic groups. Mauritians are attached to the multilingualism; accordingly it doesn’t seem desirable to them that one language impose itself as the single language of the country. Mauritians have remained attached as much to France as Great Britain.
This double attachment to a colonial history explains in part the policy of non-intervention by the Mauritian state in matters of language. No-one dares to modify a situation which seems harmonious, even if eventual changes in language policy may cause unwanted social conflict. Ultimately, the Mauritian state needs to find solutions which take into account an attachment to multilingualism, which is seen as an asset rather than an inconvenience. French and English affiliations are closely related, if not indistinguishable from each other, in the Mauritian consciousness. That must be borne in mind in the future. In any event, Mauritians in their daily lives use three languages in the context of a triglossia within which each language has its own strengths and weaknesses. For all these reasons, the republic of Mauritius ought to come to formally recognise the three languages – Creole, French and English – which are indisputably associated with Mauritian culture and history. No grounds could exist to deny any of them, beyond tradition and conservatism.