Yesterday Ledikasyon pu Travayer was awarded the Linguapax International Prize 2013 by Felix Marti, the President of Linguapax International, via a YouTube Speech played to a packed Mother Earth Hall. (http://youtu.be/yUxVACgOlwA) (For details on Linguapax and the Prize, see news article next to this one on the Home page of LALIT’s site.)
The live event, one of those beautiful LPT celebrations, was expanded into a triple celebration: that of the Linguapax Prize, plus the commemoration of World Kreol Language Day which comes up next week, as well as into a celebration of LPT’s headquarters having survived the deluge of 30 March this year, which flooded the Canal Dayot area of Grand River North West where the get-together was held. When LPT holds an event, it has a very natural, calm, civilized, highly cultured, purely Mauritian taste to it. No pretention. No embarassment. No competitivity. And not an iota of malice. Just ease and focus.
Alain Ah-Vee, LPT President, was due to have gone to Barcelona, the seat of Linguapax International, but the economic crisis in Spain made that impossible. He prezided the event in GRNW, at which Prof. Vinesh Hookoomsing and writer Richard Sedley Assone were speakers.
In his YouTube address, Felix Marti said that LPT had been selected for its work over a long period of time in promoting the mother tongue, Mauritian Kreol, and also the Bhojpuri language. He said that they were pleased to award an “organization” this year, as often they award individual academics for outstanding work. He also said it was the first time they had awarded work on the Creole languages, often mistakenly considered not to be languages at all. He hoped the award would inspire those fighting world-wide for their different Creole languages. And finally, he said that LPT was well placed in order to continue the ongoing promotion of the mother tongues in Mauritius on towards their fully-fledged status.
Vinesh Hookoomsing, in his speech, said that LPT was like the “lakaz mama” of written Kreol in Mauritius, the place where the written language was most at home in its crucial stages, or even, he said, like its womb. He referred to this as reminding him of the name of “Mother Earth” for LPT’s Hall. He said that LPT was the vital centre of a number of very different organizations, the Playgroups, Abaim, Lalit and others, and that LPT was an “institution” that was like a midwife to the birth of written Kreol. All his metaphors for the mother-tongue were around the nurturing mother-figure, which he sees in LPT.
He also, in a different vein, said how linguists world-wide usually say that the only viable definition of “a language” as opposed to a “mere dialect” is that a language has “an army” behind it. He said that this meant that there was the need for a State to be there as it were to protect a “language”, whereas a dialect just struggled to survive, unassisted. And, in the absence of a State to nurture Kreol over the past 37 years in Mauritius, LPT as an “institution” with a printing press instead of an army, just went ahead and did the job. LPT thus helped to create a situation where, after the 2009 International Hearing into the Harm Done to Children by the Suppression of the Mother Tongues in Schools, the State was obliged to act so as to recognize the languages formally. The status quo was no longer viable. And this, in large part, due to the work done by LPT as a collective of people, and together with organizations around it and working with it, he said.
Sedley Assonne began by applauding his class mate at high school, LPT Committee member Rada Kistnasamy, and then told how LPT had taught him to write in his mother tongue. He had, as someone living in Cassis in 1982, attended LPT’s Royal College course for aspirant literacy teachers there, part of which was on how to write Kreol properly. This gave him the chance to write in Kreol. And then it was when he won an LPT Literary Prize, and when LPT published his novel “Robis”, that he gained the confidence that he could become a writer.
Alain Ah-Vee, with the vertical cloth banner on his lecturn reading “Nu fyer nu langaz!” (W e’re proud of our language), gave a high calibre speech on the mother tongues in Mauritius today, as only he can do, with broad brush-strokes and minute details all absolutely spot-on.
He spoke with wit on the things we accept as “normal” about the status of our mother-tongues, which are not normal, playing on words used so succinctly by Felix Marti who talked about the struggle for the “normalization” of the mother-tongues. Is it normal that people come and speak to us in Kreol during an electoral campaign, and then as they will do next week, the very people we elected will come on TV and present a budget in English, with a bit of French at the end, and not in the Kreol language they spoke to us in order for us to elect them to Parliament? Is it normal that they continue with colonial language policy of 1957 today, 46 years after Independence? He pointed out that, as bad or worse than that, you cannot be an MP unless you can speak, read and write English or French. Is that normal? he asked.
He also questioned the “normality” of a secretary of an association, who has by law to be able to write in English or French, to have to take minutes of proceedings in English while everyone is speaking Kreol. And then has to read the English minutes back in Kreol, later?
And is it normal to learn maths and science on condition that you have already mastered English and/or French, he asked?
He then asked if it was normal that he should have to stand behind a banner proclaiming that we are proud of our language. It should be normal to use one’s language, something you just take for granted. It is not normal that we have to shout out that we are proud of our language.
Before the actual ceremony began, there was a power-point with pictures of LPT’s history paging past the people present. Lindsey Collen, LPT’s secretary, spoke briefly on LPT from “before the deluge” and “after the deluge”, its history being marked by the 30 March 2013 floods. In particular, she spoke of the digitization of the immense Kreol corpus that had started just one month before the floods and was then completed after the floods by the professional team that did the work, just a few weeks ago having taken 8 people some 5 months to scan, index and allot key-words to some 250,000 documents. “We had not realized the importance of our unique original, primary source material, until a world expert from Australia made us realize it!” she said, laughing. “We have written records in Kreol of all sort of movements from when the idea was being born – through leaflets, minutes, invitations, posters, booklets, petitions, photographs – until a whole movement brings about change.” She said University of Paris VII was using the LALIT web-site as the first major study of written Creole languages world wide.
Vidya Golam, who together with Vinesh and Sedley had been one of the promoters of this celebration of LPT’s surviving the March floods, sent a written message from Delhi where he is following treatment, which Rada Kistnasamy read out, to applause:
“Namaste Lindsey, Alain ek tu bann kamrad ek sinpatisan LPT
“Se avek buku feeling (kuma nu bann dalon Sesel ti pu dir) ki mo pe avoy zot enn ti not depi Delhi parski si mo ti dan Moris latet lipye mo ti pu ar zot fizikman.
“Listwar damur ant LPT ek mwa kumans an 1981 avek piblikasyon KANSER , enn pyes teat an kat tablo . Mo kapav dir ki depi sa zur-la mo itinerer literer kuma ekrivin gayn enn vre demaraz.
“Mo finn aprann buku avek LPT ki ena enn leker vreman zenere . Mo finn manb dan plizir asosyasyon me zame mo finn truv enn lekip osi sinser, devuwe ek dinamik pu enn koz, pu ki zot finn tultan milite avek mem fug de zenes , mem konsistans ek sirtu mem lamur.
“Mo bann kuvertir par media lokal , mo parkur literer, mo trwa voyaz Sesel antan ki ekrivin ek answit manb ziri premye Konkur Literer Rezyonal , mo partisipasyon dan Lasiz lor Langaz Maternel (Hearing Internasyonal) akote bann gran tenor mondial lor langaz -- pu tu sa ek pu bann lezot zafer ki mo’nn kapav bliye mo dir enn gran gran mersi a LPT pu tu seki li’nn fer pu mwa, ek pu tu seki li finn ed mwa fer pu lezot.
“Pena lot lekip ki merit sa pri Linguapax la plis ki LPT. E mo felisit tu bann kamrad e mo byin byin kontan e mo ekstra fyer mo relasyon avek zot
“Salaam e see you soon
After the formal event, there was a lively informal session over tea, coffee, juice, a glass of red wine, samousas, murku, sandiches with pwason snuk, sweet idli, banana chips, gato pima, baget fromaz, where adult literacy students mingled with MIE staff, where representatives of associations like Playgroups and Abaim chatted to people they had not seen for ages, all chatting, laughing and enjoying the celebration as a warm night fell.
LALIT editorial team
24 October, 2013.