Editorial

The Language Issue 

It appears and disappears like a ghost. It is resuscitated when certain governments (namely Labour or MSM) are in power. It is sent to oblivion when certain other governments (MMM-led) are in power. Where the “appropriate” target government is in power, the importance of using the Creole language is even evoked by juxtaposing Oriental languages against the Creole language. It is made up as if Creole and those languages are mutually exclusive. A sense of guiltiness is sought to be transmitted at distinct political turnarounds for the non-use of Creole in schools.

Had this “politically correct” stance not been adopted from time to time, feelings would have been different. There would have been no necessity for any exclusive group to vindicate it. The Creole language would have vindicated itself on its own strength, whichever compartment of teaching it can be made an auxiliary of, based on pure objective argument and nothing else.

The argument in favour of using Creole in schools is typically accompanied by appeal to sectional feelings. This is what one should draw as conclusion when the Catholic Church states that seven generations of presumably Afro-Mauritian people would have reaped failure due to the non-adoption of Creole either as a medium of instruction in schools or as a curriculum subject in its own right. What about the others, one may be tempted to ask? This is where it is highly likely that a wedge may be driven between so-called achievers and non-achievers, bringing into focus a schism engineered, as it were, by the governmental school system. Yet, it is the government that has recently been contributing to concretely come to the aid of those in need of special support through its ZEP schools and not the others who like to claim that they are fighting it up against the government.

From here to communalising the whole issue, the step is not too big. The reference being made to reinstate the right cultural baggage by formally adopting the Creole language in the schooling system is not innocent from this angle. There are lateral references in it to those who would be preventing it from happening. It is true that people are in general tempted to attribute their lack of expected success to some real or imagined adversary or even “enemy”.  Once the non-teaching of the Creole language, as advocated, is set against an imagined oppressor, the ground is laid down for rallying all those who should feel persecuted. The process of identifying who and how many are for or against the idea of adopting the Creole language in the various modes suggested for it in the schooling system is anathema from the point of view of political parties.

None will dare take a risk to re-enact the communal schism of 1967 by resorting to a device which will demonstrate where the balance of the argument really stands. Those who are keeping alive the debate at the opportune moment also know this for a fact. But the fact of bringing up the issue at the “correct” times – usually during the course of election years — helps keep a desired division alive whereas it would have served a better purpose to keep everyone integrated into the national mainstream. One has to see the current resuscitation of the subject from this angle as well.

There could be serious and deep differences of views in the population about the so-called advantages of using the Creole language in Mauritius. Because some linguists are more vocal in voicing their opinions than others, it does not mean that the others do not have serious objection to the course of action those linguists are advocating. In general, most countries in Europe and Asia are doing everything they can to make their citizens as conversant with the pure English language as possible because the tendency is to universalise rather than to go the road of parochialism. Some like Singapore which are already broadly English-based are making painstaking efforts to uproot from the spoken English of their populations certain distortions or imperfections that have crept in due to the mixing-up of the local jargon with what has become the virtual international language, notably English. Yet, their schooling was essentially English medium. One has to be guarded not to allow oneself to be led away by one-sided views based on political and even communal calculations.

The time has come for the people to stop looking at the future through blinkers that were created in the past to camouflage an underlying struggle for political power. Should non-Creole members of the population find it really easy-going to score even higher marks by following the route of the Creole language being advocated currently for our schooling system by certain linguists and the Church, there is a risk that a massive changeover in this direction will crowd out other less scoring subjects, including the Oriental languages. Let alone the consequential generalised cultural impact of such a crowding out. We will be none the better as regards the internationalisation of our bigger national outlook, which is a must for our future survival.

It is better not to score Pyrrhic victories over ourselves by pitching one set of people against the other. It is dangerous to arouse feelings of resentment in one part of the population against the other by hinting opposition to the adoption of the Creole language. Instead of trying to level up by antagonising and thereby keeping intact voters gained to vindictive sectional identifications, it would have been better to raise our sights to higher and more distant horizons. It is recognised in this regard that the Church has acquired over centuries a vast experience in the field of education. This experience is an asset all of us should be able to draw upon to move forward the educational system to something better than the Anglo-Saxon model we have; we could outperform in terms of enduring achievement by going along the Swedish schooling system. To go along this path of reaching out and equipping our children to match even higher peers in other parts of the world, the experience of the Church could be put to even better use: its experience may more gainfully be employed to do good by helping all people who are really in need without giving in to any political games.

M.K.

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