English for Mauritius

MT – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

Since the new Education Ordinance appeared and prescribed English as the language of instruction a year earlier in the primary schools, the Francomaniacs have been having a fine, if illogical, time screaming for French to be saved from potential oblivion in Mauritius. Apparently, they have stronger allegiance to France than to England; they fear the ousting of French by English but would be quite happy to see English go under if French were made the language of instruction at all educational levels.

One Francomaniac, writing in Le Mauricien, raises an accusing finger at la loi du nombre. He appears not to know that in a democracy, the will of the majority prevails, and the minority accepts the majority will. To scream as the Francomaniacs are doing, is to reveal their inherent lack of democracy, and their utter ignorance of the democratic processes. Says the particular writer to whom I have just referred, “Hitler voulait que les peuples forts écrasassent les peuples faibles pour s’assurer de l’espace qui leur était nécessaire pour vivre.”

The reference to a Hitlerian policy comes ill from a defender of France and things French — for we recall only too vividly the atrocities practised by the French in Madagascar only ten years ago (read ‘Justice pour les malgaches’) and in Algeria over the last two years. And in Tunisia before independence.

We see too the inhumane treatment accorded to non-French citizens in a French overseas department when we recall what happened to Messrs Loljeeh and Jalabhay three years ago.

There are a number of very cogent reasons why English should be the language of instruction even earlier than now. There are a number of reasons why English should become the universal language in Mauritius with French learned as a foreign language by those who wish, and with the various Oriental languages in use in the island put on an equal footing with French. French must be removed from the list of compulsory subjects at the scholarship examination; and I would urge that it be abandoned as a compulsory GCE or SC subject for those who wish to enter the Civil Service in the Executive grade.

One very cogent reason is, of course, that Mauritius is a British colony. The future of Mauritius lies in association with the UK; hence the language of the UK is the language which should be taught as the first language in Mauritius. On the way to self-government, Mauritius needs a common language as a unifying factor; here again, when one considers the languages in use among the population — English, French, Creole, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Chinese — one realises that of these the most useful as well as the best suited for assimilation by all races is English.

If the policy outlined by the British Labour Party in its colonial policy pamphlet ‘The Smaller Territories’ is put into practice, Mauritius will become an internally self-governing dominion, with freedom to associate with a nearby territory for matters of defence and foreign policy. If Mauritius throws in her lot with the UK for these matters, then English will be needed. If she chooses Australia, South Africa, East Africa, or Central Africa, the case for English is strengthened. If she chooses Ceylon, then again English is the only language to bridge the linguistic gulf. Politically, the case for English is very strong.

Moreover, English is the language of commerce and government. In Canada, the French-speaking community is outnumbered by the English-speaking community by two to one. Nonetheless, the language policy in Canadian education is bilingual: to maintain French as well as to foster English. What happens? Because of the importance of English as the language of commerce and industry, the Franco-Canadian is more thorough in his learning of English than the Anglo-Canadian is in his learning of French. For practical use, French is supernumerary in Canada.

Yet no one would wish to abolish French language teaching from Canada’s schools. And in Mauritius — if English were the language taught right from the start of the child’s school career, French teaching would not disappear. But to concentrate on one language instead of two would help to raise the standard of the one. At present, few Mauritians are fluent in either English of French; they are haltingly familiar with both. Better by far if they knew one well instead of both indifferently. What happens if a coloured Mauritian wants to write a letter in English? It is very likely that he will mentally compose his letter in French mixed with Creole, and will translate it into English as he writes. On the other hand, few coloured or Indo-Mauritians can write good French; and even the standard of some Franco-Mauritians leaves must to be desired.

There is a very good psychological or sociological reason for introducing English at an earlier age than now, and for abandoning French as a compulsory subject in the primary schools. In Mauritius, the historical position of French is as the language of the oppressor who thrived on slavery and underpaid labour; who made his wealth out of the toil and tears and sweat and (lives) of others. Not only Sir Virgil Naz, but Dr Ommanney in his ‘Shoals of Capricorn’ as well, can be called to testify this. French is still, in Mauritius as well as in French colonies all over the world, the language of the oppressors; it is the language of the Mauritian herrenvolk. (…)

By their posturing in Mauritius, and their extravagant claims that the capitulation terms are sacrosanct, the Franco-Mauritians are doing a grave disservice to the French language. An organisation such as Le Monde Bilingue has the right idea: to encourage the study of English in French-speaking countries and the study of French in English-speaking territories. But in Mauritius the worthy aims of the organisation are being jeopardised by the Francomaniacs who claim a privileged place in a British colony for a foreign language.

The attitude of the Francomaniacs in Mauritius is on a par with the French colonial educational policy in Africa: to make French the lingua franca of the French colonies and to give no encouragement to native and indigenous cultures and languages. This is a language policy little removed from the Lebensraum policy of Hitler of which the writer in Le Mauricien was justly critical. The right-minded attitude is to teach French in Mauritius as a foreign language and to concentrate on English from the earliest possible age. English, not French, is the language of the future; especially if Mauritius should in fact achieve integration with the UK.

Mauritius Times – Friday 24th January, 1958
5th Year – No 181


* Published in print edition on 21 January 2022

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