The Use of Creole

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By L. Seetanah

The idea of using Creole as a medium for mass education in Mauritius has long been haunting me. I remember putting the suggestion forward to the late Seeneevassen when he came to London with the delegation in February 1957. In June, the same year, when I called a meeting at the House of Commons to discuss the possibility of creating the Mauritius League, I again brought forward the question in the speech I then delivered. Most of our more perspicacious university students saw eye to eye with me and agreed that the language of the majority must be respected and be given prominence and dignity if the country were to forge ahead at a greater speed. I believe I also hinted at it in one of my articles, which appeared in Advance about that time.

It is most surprising and deplorable to hear even a section of our intelligentsia — those who are especially responsible for moulding the public mind — contending that Creole is a “mere dialect,” that it cannot be made into a written and standardized language. It clearly shows how half-baked even a section of our élite can be. Perhaps it’s sheer snobbishness not to recognise Creole just as another vehicle through which one puts over what one has to say, and as having as much ‘dignity’ as French or English or any other standard language. A knowledge of history would reveal to us that these European languages were, only four centuries ago, considered as “undignified” as Creole is today.

Writing about the Renaissance, the author of Glimpses of World History has this to say about the European languages: “The new spirit that was abroad affected the young European languages powerfully. These languages had existed for some time, and we have seen that Italy had already produced great poets. In England there had been Chaucer. But Latin, the speech and language of the learned and of the Church all over Europe, overshadowed them all. They were the vulgar tongues — the vernaculars. It was almost undignified to write in them. But the new spirit and paper and printing pushed these languages ahead. Italian was first in the field; then followed French and English and Spanish and, last of all, German. In France a band of young writers in the sixteenth century resolved to write in their own language and not in Latin and to improve their ‘vulgar tongue’ till it became a suitable medium for the best of literature.” And H.G. Wells in his Outline of History tells us: “with the fourteenth century, the real history European Literatures begins. We find a rapid development of Standard Italian, Standard English, Standard French…These languages became literary languages: they were tried over, polished by use, and made exact and vigorous.” It is high time we took a leaf out of the lesson of History in this country in connection with the “national language”.

We should copy the first-class methods of priests who have used vernaculars and turned them into written languages in their relentless endeavour to reach the common people through the language they best understand. One example — not too far away from us — is Swahili in East Africa which has comparatively recently been made a written language. If we really want the advancement of the common people, who, after all, now have a greater say in the affairs of the country, we must come to their level and identify ourselves with them. There is, or should de, no shame in expressing an idea or speaking to a person in a language that is more current. On the contrary, it is quite logical — and sensible. It would be preposterous to speak to an Englishman or an Italian in Creole, in England or in Italy! We should be Romans in Rome!

Any well-meant information for the public must, to be effective, be in the language understood by all. It would in fact, be superfluous to write or to speak in other languages when one is universally understood in the country. Not all of us understand “Better careful than crippled”. In our campaign for cleanliness, for instance, it would be much better for us to use “Tache manière garde la ville prope” than ” help to keep Port Louis clean.” In some buses one reads: “Please help the conductor by tendering the exact fare.” If these words were meant for English tourists, perhaps it would have been suitable. We normally want those whom we are so pleased to call “the riff-raff” to know what they should do. Therefore, the easier the language, the more response we shall have.

On the other hand there are sensible people among us who have had the courage of standing up against the barrage of carping criticisms, often aped by the fickle, narrow and mediocre mind. We must applaud the officers of the Department of Agriculture who showed exemplary initiative during the Agricultural Week organised by them at Triolet some months ago for addressing the public in general in Creole. We still remember the dialogue in Creole Messrs Walter and Jagatsingh had on the Radio. These I call true leaders who will, ignoring all the temptations of inarticulate vanity, come down to the level of the masses whom they sincerely wish to serve and condescend to talk to them in the language they all understand.

Mauritius must move forward with logic and reason and forget nay laugh at the vain and ridiculous attitudes of some of our “great men” who will shun the language of the common people for fear of being looked upon as undignified. Wherever there is reason, there should be dignity. Our leaders should together take the initiative in freeing the country from all its false concepts which obfuscate the mind, prevent any clear and creative thought and retard our progress. This is or should be the Age of Reason, the age of new ideas when we must determine here and now to break away from the shackles of past and burdensome traditions, from the false sense of shame and from all other barriers to progress.

No progressive country in the world today can fail to realize the importance of the use of vernacular in the education of the masses. It appeals directly to all and is understood by all. Today, when we are striving for self-determination and sovereignty, it is all the more important to speed up progress, that we should use the language of the largest number, which is quite in consonance with democracy. It is inevitable that long-implanted and petrified ideas, or barriers that have grown up in our mind, will take time to be shed or broken down, for, to quote the author of Glimpses of World History once more “the most terrible of walls are the walls that grow up in the mind which prevent you from discarding an evil tradition simply because it is old, and from accepting a new thought because it is novel”; but if we only value a sense of freedom, the vacuum would easily be filled. Life, after all, perpetuates itself through changes and new creations.

6th Year – No 261
Friday 14th August, 1959

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 9 February 2024

An Appeal

Dear Reader

65 years ago Mauritius Times was founded with a resolve to fight for justice and fairness and the advancement of the public good. It has never deviated from this principle no matter how daunting the challenges and how costly the price it has had to pay at different times of our history.

With print journalism struggling to keep afloat due to falling advertising revenues and the wide availability of free sources of information, it is crucially important for the Mauritius Times to survive and prosper. We can only continue doing it with the support of our readers.

The best way you can support our efforts is to take a subscription or by making a recurring donation through a Standing Order to our non-profit Foundation.
Thank you.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *