50 Years after Independence, the official language/s conundrum and cacophony in our country has probably gotten worse! But who seems to care really?

RAJ RAMLUGUN

In the midst of the never-ending and more often populist and vote-bank rhetoric about Kreol and other ancestral languages (especially Bhojpuri), we need to bring some sanity in our thinking to avoid going for herd-like emotive reactions that could prove counterproductive for the whole nation. Especially for the non-elite class.

When we see how debates on fundamental subjects are conducted in our country and who dominate them in the public opinion sphere, the voiceless common people need to double-check the sincerity and agenda of our politicians and opinion leaders.

I’ll take a bit of a detour to illustrate my point on the language issue.

It’s no secret to anyone in this country that those who talk about and decry poverty/inequality, injustice, poor public service in the fields of education, health, transport etc. the most often, are those who are the most remotely connected in real life with those issues. Many of them hardly use or have their near and dear ones get up close and personal with anything that has to do with any public services or commoners’ plight; and yet they are the most vocal to criticize and pontificate about those issues.

The truth of the matter is that in our cruel competitive environment, double standards are rampant. Most are fighting to be on top and part of the elite class rather than wiling to espouse a model based on a just and egalitarian society. These people (probably the majority) are not proponents of any progress that may be construed in their minds as a ‘nivellement par le bas’. One that may, in the long run, consolidate the advantages of the elite that masters bilingualism/multilingualism in various key spheres of our society and condemn those who adopt Kreol to remain stuck at the lowest rung of the social, political, economic, professional and even cultural ladders.

This bias based on fear or affirmation complexes is very real in our midst and those who tend to ignore it are either ideologically/intellectually driven in their arguments or merely moved by a certain idealism and nostalgia that they are not ready to embrace today in reality. Not for themselves or for their children. Hence, the growing number of people who are checking out of public services in favour of more costly private ones (not necessarily more efficient and better). Yet, paradoxically have a look at the figures of our national budgets for Education, Health and other social/public services yearly. The amounts are all going up while customers using private institutions are rising as fast, if not faster. Even those who are struggling to make ends meet over basic things, seem to find private services more alluring. Why?

How do we reconcile all these conflicting trends of our cultural and linguistic melting-pot in the face of other growing challenges like ageing population, unemployment, globalization etc? How do we find the required serenity to lift the debates above party and power politics so that we can apply real prudential in the allocation of our limited resources to implement the right policies and laws that benefit the nation as a whole? A conundrum worth resolving to break down or reduce all linguistic hurdles/biases in order to unleash the full creative potential of all our citizens!

Back now to the language conundrum and the populist rhetoric often taking centre stage in our debates.

I use Kreol as a spoken language in my daily life more than any other language/s. So, I do not even bother to defend or speak in praise of the Kreol language despite the fact that I often wonder whether most of us are not speaking/writing Kreol francisé or french kreolisé. Notwithstanding the cultural and regional differences/biases pregnant in the mastery of even the Kreol language. That’s important to bear in mind if/when we want Kreol to have an official status nation-wide. As a medium of communication and learning, in Parliament and all other instances.

As far as I understand and something that most Mauritians ignore (may be) is that nowhere in our Constitution is there any mention about what our official language is. As far as I know, the only place where reference is made in our Constitution about official language is in relation to Parliament. Chapter V, Part II, Sec 49, which reads as follows: ‘The official language of the Assembly shall be English but any member may address the chair in French’. That’s all!

In my view, we have currently three major languages in our Republic used for distinct purposes, but these are far from having nation-wide adherence to claim to be the sole Official language (written and spoken).

E.g.

Kreol (in whatever form) = our most popular spoken national language.

English = Our Official Administrative/Bureaucratic and Teaching/Learning language (though on serious decline)

French = Our Media language par excellence (especially written press), but not really mastered by the majority of the population, whether written or oral. French is also perceived to be most influential than any other language/s in the construction and evolution of our local (elite) Kreol vocabulary.

Given the arguments that would prevail to accept or reject the use of Kreol in the National Assembly, I reiterate that it is important that we do not allow ourselves, especially the common people, to get dragged on one side or the other of the arguments without properly understanding the subject and weighing the short or long-term consequences. For instance:

  • Should Kreol be allowed as another official language in Parliament? Would any one ethnic group or political party not recuperate that historic move for cheap ethnic politics purposes, thus reducing Kreol wrongly to the identity symbol of one exclusive group in total disregard of the wider initial intent of having Kreol as vehicle of our common national identity and greater participative democracy?
  • Will the acceptance of Kreol in Parliament not open the Pandora’s Box for others to claim the right to use their ‘own’; ancestral language in the House?
  • Is the need to bring in Kreol in Parliament genuinely the result of a concern for greater democracy and national identity affirmation? Or, has it more to do with the growing difficulties that more and more Mauritians and their MLAs have to express themselves publicly in English (and French)?
  • Should the use of Kreol be accepted in Parliament, why can’t it be extended to all our other institutions? At schools, colleges, universities, courts and for job interviews at any level of the hierarchy!
  • Should there be freedom for each educational establishment to choose its medium/ language of teaching that would include Kreol, I would like to know how many parents or students would voluntarily opt for the one using Kreol as compared to others using English and/or French, everything else being equal in all the establishments?
  • As I have stated previously, is it not high time that we have the equivalent of the Canadian Commissioner Of Official Languages as recognized body to deal with all matters pertaining to our official languages and their harmonious promotion and coexistence at all levels?

Thanks for enriching this debate in utmost good faith, sincerity, free of biases and cheap politics.