There are very few countries where natives hesitate to speak their mother tongue. After all, a mother tongue is a symbol of national pride and one’s sense of belonging to one’s country. In Mauritius, English is our official language, although it is not listed as such in the Constitution. French is another widely used language, mother tongue for many, but second language for most. It is also considered as a language of prestige, which is traditionally associated with the upper classes. However, Kreol remains the mother tongue of most, with the educational authorities introducing Kreol as an optional language in primary schools, to give it the status that it deserves in our island.
During my still brief lifetime, I am continuously baffled by many Mauritians who insist on using a language other than Kreol in informal contexts. I am in no way pinpointing speakers of French, as we live in a democracy and each one is free to do as per one’s wish. However, the bone of contention lies in the fact that people who cannot speak proper French, to start with, insist on doing so, which would greatly perplex Molière in his grave. Teachers of ‘La Langue de Molière’ get horrendous headaches, trying to decipher the ‘Kreolised French’ essay scripts that are being submitted, partly as a result of some parents speaking in that style to their children. These parents are doing their level best to expose their children to French as a second language but perhaps do not realize the harm they are in doing in the process ; they are actually doing their children a disservice by exposing them to wrong vocabulary and grammatical constructions.
There is the same scenario in various shops, offices and from telephone operators in Mauritius. Practically no-one uses the ‘official’ English language but French. I still do not understand why. I answer in Kreol (my grasp of spoken French is not that great, to be honest) but they continue to use French. Then ensures a farcical situation where they talk in French and I answer in Kreol. As goes the Kreol saying, ‘lalang maye’ ! Let us now move on to some local shows, of national level. Once again, national shows are destined essentially to the Mauritian public but why is Kreol largely absent ? Forget graceful catwalks, there is the catwalk of broken French, which IS an ear-sore ! Mauritians, who can perfectly speak Kreol, choose not to, for some obscure reasons. Is it so surprising and unnatural for a Mauritian not to speak Kreol ? Superiority complex ? Psychological prisoner of past colonial supremacy ? Mind-boggling !
Which leads me to think… there still is a stigma associated with Kreol. Sadly still. A language of a nation which has still not been properly accepted till now… But there is hope. Fortunately, our Mauritian sega keeps the flag flying high or will some people translate the lyrics to French/English too ?!