Will they ever learn to respect the public? And whence this sudden fondness for French? And what next?

Should a civil servant, or a Ministry, or even a Minister, be sending just a copy of a press communiqué to a member of the public by post when they want to draw his attention to some action he must take to remain in compliance with some law or other?

Is it too much to expect them to write a letter about it, or perhaps write a letter drawing attention to the substance of the communiqué attaching the latter to it? If we are to join the club of advanced nations as many politicians publicly desire, or publicly pay lip service to, civil servants and ministers must remember that they have been appointed or elected to serve the public, and NOT to set themselves up as its masters, and begin learning the rules of elementary courtesy! They must always remember that the Government has no money of its own, and that their salaries are paid by taxpayers.

The particular case I have in mind is A COMMUNIQUÉ IN FRENCH about the obligation of employers to pay the pension entitlements of their household staff issued by the Ministry of Social Security. Why French? Was the 14th of July responsible? We have seen no public statement from the Government that they are intending to change the language of communication from English to some other. This is a matter of the highest public importance and cannot be sneaked through surreptitiously in this underhand manner.

We recall a parallel situation in the early seventies when a new section of the town of Quatre Bornes was being developed, and streets in a whole section that many now regard as the more important part of the town were given French names – without any government decision in the matter. SSR was then totally taken up with political matters, having to deal both with ultra-left Marxist forces hell-bent on overthrowing his government and installing a Sékou Touré style redder-than-red dictatorship in its place on the one hand and, on the other, ultra-right forces still motivated by their malbar-pas-oulé principles equally bent on unseating him to bring in a Le Pen type administration. The language change was sneaked through by people he had put his trust in but who obviously let him down. A burnt child dreads the fire. We don’t want a repeat of that situation. If you want to change the language, say so publicly and we are prepared to discuss and fight against it. If we lose, then we shall lose, but not for the want of debate and discussion.

We are still smarting under the grievous blow to our self-esteem and to our interests in general delivered by Minister V Bunwaree’s acceptance of the idiotic script proposed by a bunch of people bent on imposing the sounds of one ethnical group upon the whole nation of which they are just a small minority, just to be on an equal footing with places like Haiti. (Was Minister Bunwaree also under the “comply or quit fatwa” as others have claimed?) No Indo-Mauritian with any pride and respect for his ancestry and its language and culture will, in his lounge and even when speaking Creole, rhyme the beautiful name Vasant with the French imperatives Va! Chante! Ever heard the song “Aayi vasanta sakhi aayi vansanta ritu, koyal ki kookoo ragini, etc” by Juthika Roy? The MBC should dig up that song which was very popular in my teen years rebroadcast it to popularise the proper way the word “vasanta” is pronounced.

In a related matter, some member of the many Narain families in the country may one day decide to rhyme his name with the French word marin as he surely will have the right to do but he will be out on his own in the cold. If we go by stories in literature he will come to regret it in his old age. We use, and insist on using, Bhojpuri sounds with Indo-Mauritian names even when speaking creole. For God’s sake don’t deny us those sounds, most particularly the all-important Schwa sound -without which neither English nor French, nor any Indian language, can be spoken.

For the mythologically curious, the Schwa was the absolute first sound that came from the great God Shivji’s dumroo when Sage Panini, the father of all grammarians all over the world, whether East or West, went to him begging for linguistic enlightenment. That, and the two that followed, namely the short I and the short U, are the most important sounds of many languages excluding Creole of course.

For the treatment of the sounds of one language while speaking another, the example again comes from Canada, where radio speakers do not have the least hesitation of using English sounds when pronouncing an English name during a French language broadcast, and vice-versa. In contrast here, just listen to some typically Indian names being pronounced during the Hindi and Bhojpuri language funereal announcements on the MBC every morning. It is enough to awaken the dead! If they had only typed out the names in the appropriate script they wouldn’t be committing such horrors.

No Mauritian in his senses wants Mauritius to be like Haiti. God made Mauritius before he made Heaven, and then made Heaven in its image – as Mark Twain reports. Just think for a moment what the difference is between Mauritius and Haiti that makes the one better than Heaven and the other worse than Hell. It is surely not the Creole language. It may well be other languages. My Group still has a lot more to say on the subject, and we have been remiss in not pursuing the matter as strenuously as we should have. We hope to remedy that situation in the not too distant future.

This does not mean that we are against the French language. Far from it. We deplore the practically universal displacement of that language by Creole in the country. We regard French as the language of education, culture and civilization, to none of which a Creole-only speaker may aspire however literate or computer-literate they may be. On a purely civilizational dimension, we even think that French is on a higher plane than English. Even so, we would take strong exception to English being replaced by French for official government communications. A good solution would be to go the Canadian way, and make both languages equal in status. There would be no objection to every communication (and every law) being made in both languages, with the English version being the legally binding one. But to have them in French only? On our dead bodies!

 

  • Published in print edition on 17 July 2015

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