LALIT has pleasure in publishing the first four in a series of “Hints” on writing good Kreol that LPT has worked on. These are the English versions. You can also ask LPT (Ledikasyon pu Travayer) for the Kreol versions of the “hints”.
LPT says it is publishing this series of articles especially for people who use Kreol in the formal aspects of their lives: radio and TV commentators, lawyers, doctors, politicians and journalists. The aim of this Ledikasyon pu Travayer action is two-fold:
- to celebrate the unique complexity and efficiency of Mauritian Kreol grammar and vocabulary,
- and to promote the love of the mother tongue through understanding just how difficult it is to speak and write it well!
The articles, LPT tells us, are being published by Le Mauricien, in their Forum page, too.
HINT One: Stop Over-Using the Word “bann”!
The plural marker “bann” is very, very often suppressed in Kreol. The plural is quite simply assumed. It is not seen or heard, but it is there. This contrasts drastically with English, and even more so with French, where plurality is expressed very heavy-handedly. And what is vaguely clumsy in English and French, when transposed erroneously on to Kreol, is truly bizarre.
Look at the plural markers in bold fonts in English and then French. Take the English sentence: “In cities, parents give children presents when they pass exams, whereas in villages …” there are SIX plural markers, which are all compulsory. The French equivalent, “Dans les villes, les parents offrent des cadeaux aux enfants qui reussissent leurs examens, tandi que dans les villages …” has no less than THIRTEEN plural markers.
Note the beautiful streamlined grammar of Kreol: Lavil paran donn zanfan kado kan zot pas lexame, lakanpayn …. And the meaning is crystal clear!
Listen how awful it sounds when we hear journalists coming up with phrases over the radio, like:
“dan bann lavil, bann paran donn bann zanfan bann kado kan zot pas zot bann lexame.” It is not only bizarre to listen to, but is actually bad Kreol.
The reason we often write and, on radio, speak, this kind of non-Kreol is tragi-comic: “Tiginn bate inn bizin bate pu obliz nu met sa bann “s” la!” Yes, we are firstly traumatised by bad language policy in schools and by bad pedagogy. We are, secondly, also colonized, believing that English and French are “models” of correctness for other languages, like our own, to imitate.
And the tragedy is, in fact, triple. The meaning is perfectly clear in Kreol without mimicking the English and French plural markers, which are not “better” but are just a bit more clumsy.
Sometimes we even hear news readers cobbling together expressions like “Kabine bann Minis” for “Kabine Minis”, or “duz bann marin” for “duz marin”. (It seems that the management makes journalists read in Kreol from a French text, thinking, in their ignorance, that the journalists can just replace “les” and “des” and the –s at the end of the word with “bann” to get a Kreol sentence!)
How to stop over-using “bann”
1: Try to say or write the sentence without the “bann”. It nearly always works better. “Bann” is used only for specifying the plural for disambiguation.
2: If ever you are doing the task (not recommended) of reading aloud in Kreol a written French text, when you see “les”/“des”, (for English an –s at the end of a word), resist just automatically translating it as “bann”.
Fascinating Background to the word “bann”
For the record, the word ba or bann is a plural marker in many Nguni languages, while in French “bande de” would reinforce this, since it means “team of”. These two roots leave two different meanings for the word “bann” – one is strictly a plural marker (like an –s, in English), and the other means “a group” or “bande de”. So, in the first sense, we can use it in sentences like “Bann kestyon lexame ti tro difisil”. And in the other sense, “bann” is used for a team of field-workers. So people say, “Mo dan bann [tel sirdar]”, or in expressions like “gran bann” and “ti bann”, meaning those who do heavy work, or light work. “Ros bann” is workers who do traditional-style road repairs. “Bann lao pe lager ek bann anba”. We can say “bann Collendavelloo” to mean his party members, bann Curé to mean the Curé extended family. “Bannla” means “them”, as in “them” in “them and us”. But, in these second forms, it is not a simple “plural marker”.
In Baissac’s stories, after being meticulously written down from oral tales, and published in 1888, the word “bann” is, significantly, well nigh absent as plain plural marker.
HINT Two: Learn to be Precise!
Let’s start with a question, just so you can check how precise you are. What is the Kreol for the French “la table”? Write down your answer? …………….
Most people will say “latab”. But, however spelt, that would be wrong. So, think again, before reading on.
In fact, “la table” is translated into Kreol by “latab la”.
There are two important parts to the French expression “la table” and to the Kreol expression “latab la”: a meaning part – what the word relates to in the world – and a grammatical part. The noun “latab” (table in French) contains the meaning. The “la” after it, is the grammatical word. (In French the “la” is before the “table”.)
And there is a huge conceptual difference between “latab” (that is to say the word “table” in English) which is an abstract symbol for a concrete object, and “latab la” (“the table”) meaning a specific one-and-only table.
The Kreol “latab” is “table” in French. Again, “latab” does not mean “la table”, which is, as we are beginning to see, a very different matter.
“Latab” (Kreol) or “table” (French and English) means the concept or idea of the thing, or the totality of all such things. It is very abstract. Whereas, “latab la” or “la table” or “the table” refer to a particular, mutually understood, actually existing table.
Background issues around Kreol “articles” (“the” in English), and how they affect spelling
One aspect of spelling (a phenomenon peculiar to writing) is knowing where to break language into words.
In Kreol, the definite article, as we have seen, is “la” and it comes after the noun.
sez la = the chair
mowsi la = the maternal aunt
lipye la = the foot
kompyuter la = the computer
jip la = the jeep
lafnet la = the window
kurpa la = the snail
latab la = the table
A word cannot have two opposing articles. This means that “lafnet” and “latab” are each one word, not two. Imagine if we put the indefinite article “enn” first, what rubbish we would get with “enn la tab” (“a the table”).
In addition, the meaning of “tab” is not the same as the meaning of “latab”.
What are the different meanings of the Kreol “latab”?
“Latab”, itself, has many meanings, as well as the simple “table” of English/French. A market stand. Or it can even refer to the permit for one, as in, “Sa fami la danbyin. Papa la ena latab bazar Anvil.”
And, “latab” means the place on the ground where you mix cement, as in “Kot pu fer latab pu bat sa beton la?” It also means the space between two rows of sugar cane, as in “Nu latas ti Rs20 par golet, latab”, as opposed to, “Nu latas ti Rs20 par golet, laliyn.” It means a “hand”, as in cards: “Anu zwe ankor enn latab!” (Let’s play another hand!”), or a “round” as in paying “a round of drinks”: “Mo latab, sa!” (My turn to pay a round!) In addition, it means the face of a large boulder which, when hit with a sledgehammer, splits the rock in two. It also refers to the flat surface created with each layer of full gunny bags in a godown or on a lorry, for further layers to be stacked upon.
Such is the richness of our language. And by contrast, “tab” does not mean the same thing as any of these meanings of “latab”. It means “times table”. Or “data in tabular form” i.e. on two axes.
Some thoughts on the definite article for abstract nouns
While in English we say “love”, “justice”, “peace” or “freedom” without a definite article, in French, the equivalent of these abstract nouns is, curiously, “l’amour” (as if the love?), “la justice” (the justice?), “la paix” (the peace?) or “la liberté (the freedom?)”. In English the word is without an article. In Kreol, too, “lamur”, “lazistis”, “lape” and “laliberte” have the same abstract, more generalized feeling that the English words have, rather than the concrete meaning of the French. We do not say “lamur la”, “lazistis la”, “lape la” or “laliberte la”, which would be the case if a literal translation from the French took place.
All this to say that each language has its feel, as well as its meanings. This “feel” is important. For example, during demonstrations, people in France, despite usually using the definite article, cry out for “liberté, égalité, fraternité” without the “la”, as if “la” is perhaps what you already have?
HINT Three: Don’t Make the Mistake of thinking that even “easy” French nouns are related in a 1-to-1 way to Kreol!
Many people make the mistake of thinking that French and Kreol words are equivalent in a way that they are not. They believe, for example, that Kreol nouns starting with “la” are mere transpositions from a French “article la +noun”, meaning the same thing. But even this is rather more complicated than that.
Can you assume that, if you know the French phrase la baleine, you know “the Kreol”? No. You have to know independently of the French that labalenn means whale, while balenn means umbrella spoke. The Kreol noun “lamas” means a crowd, while “mas” means cannabis leaves. The French “masse” means masses or, as a verb, to amass or to massage. The verb “mas” in Kreol means to chew. And so on. There is no simple equivalence – as people, in their ignorance, may claim there is.
Assuming that all the Kreol words at the beginning of each line in the table (below) are nouns linked to “la + French noun”. Here is a very basic list, to help you realize just how independent and also just how complicated the vocabulary of Kreol is – even at its supposed “closest” to French.
labalenn (whale) ek balenn (umbrella spoke).
labar (cross-bar, as in “met labar ot”) ek bar (noun bar e.g. pub; bar of wood, soap; verb to block).
labil (bile) ek bil (bill, bubble).
labit (pirogue’s bowsprit holder) ek bit (verb to come up against).
labox (boxing) ek box (boot of a car, dock – in Court).
labus (mouth) ek bus (to fill)
laferm (farm) ek ferm (verb to close, adj fig firm)
laflit (flute) ek flit (give a glancing blow)
lagar (station) ek gar (gar atwa! meaning watch out!)
lagut (gout) ek gut (drop, e.g. of water, verb to taste)
lakal (hold of a ship) ek kal (to wedge something, a wedge)
lakanpayn (countryside) ek kanpayn (noun campaign)
lakes (cashier) ek kes (chest, box).
lakle (key, spanner) ek kle (adj. meaning key, vital).
laklos (bell) ek klos (blister)
lakok (shell of, say, egg) ek kok (rooster).
lakor (agreement) ek kor (corn or bunion).
lakoz (reason) ek koz (to talk)
lakras (spit) ek kras (to spit)
lakur (court of law, court of a king, yard) ek kur (course).
lakuzinn (kitchen) ek kuzinn (cousin, f.)
lalev (lip) ek lev (to pick up)
lalis (list) ek lis (adj. smooth, verb to lick).
lamal (trunk, big suitcase) ek mal (noun harm, male, adj badly) ek dimal (sore).
lamas (masses of people, sledge-hammer) ek mas (gandya).
lames (wick, mass) ek mes (drill bit, a place where workers eat).
laminn (doughy part of bread) ek minn (noodles, expression on a face, young girl).
lamus (black jelly, spongy dessert, fire-extinguishing foam) ek mus (noun fly, verb to blow).
lapas (gap in the coral reef) ek pas (to pass something, to spend (of time), to give up one’s turn; noun magic healing gesture).
lapel (spade or shovel) ek pel (pail).
lapenn (effort, sorrow) ek penn (to paint).
lapert (loss) ek pert (miscarriage).
lapes (fishing) ek pes (peach, a boyish girl).
lapli (rain) ek pli (adv more, noun fold)
lapo (skin, peel) ek po (pot, jar).
lapos (post, postal service) ek pos (pocket).
lapres (sermon, printing press) ek pres (to hurry someone).
lapros (fig. approach) ek pros (nearby, close relative/friend).
lapwint (peninsula) ek pwint (point, pointed).
larat (spleen) ek rat (to miss)
lareg (ruler) ek reg (menstruation)
lasi (electric saw) ek si (if)
latab (table, market permit) ek tab (times table, table on axes).
latant (state of waiting, expectancy, tent) ek tant (bag made of vacoas, verb tempt.)
latas (piece rates) ek tas (stain, cup; verb to get stuck).
latay (waist measurement, angle in wood-chopping) ek tay (verb cut, noun size)
latet (head) ek tet (to suck)
latol (metalwork of a car) ek tol (corrugated iron, or sheet iron).
latonn (per ton) ek tonn (ton, lots).
latrap (noun trap) ek trap (to catch, to arrest, to handle, feel up).
latres (measuring tape, audio tape, tape for sewing) ek tres (plaits, extensions).
latur (tower) or tur (turn)
latus (aloe fibre, whip for a top, touch when playing a guitar, say, touch in football) ek tus (to touch, to cough, to earn).
lavann (sluice gate) or vann (noun van; verb to sell, to winnow).
lavant (sale) ek vant (noun tummy; verb to flatter, over-estimate).
lavey (day before) ek vey (to watch).
lavi (life, expert opinion) ek vi (eyesight, view or scenery, considered or viewed)
lazar (big jar) ek zar (noun kind of; met dan zar, as in to put on airs)
Kreol was born from a fracture, not a continuum. So, you just have to know that “lakras” (spit) is not la crasse (filth), and that “suye” (to wipe clean) is the contrary of souiller (to tarnish); “lorye” (pillow) is not the same as lauriers (bay leaves) and the Mauritian “lorye” leaves are very poisonous as it turns out – making any confusion positively dangerous! In Kreol it’s a “warning” before a cyclone, in French an alert; and “alert” in Kreol means flirtatious!
It is important to note the incredible difference between French and Kreol link, on the one hand, and the sliding link between any other two languages. Kreol is not simply derived from or based upon French. Kreol’s birth is sudden. It comes not from gradual transition but instead out of a sudden upheaval or break – caused by a holocast i.e. -slavery.
HINT Four: Don’t Participate in Culling your own Language – although the State may do so!
Let us take a very ordinary noun, lakaz. It is being culled. Can we save it from social damnation?
The word lakaz has gradually, and mysteriously, become taboo. It has changed over no more than 5 – 15 years from being an ordinary noun into a term supposedly too vulgar for, say, radio. A listener recounts to Gilbert Bablee, live, “Li’nn kraz mo lamezon,” (Radio Plus, 11 May, 2016). Even in her extreme distress, between sobs, she cannot use the ordinary word for house: lakaz. She replaces it with lamezon. Others use just mezon, as in So mezon li akote pu mwa. This auto-censorship of the word lakaz through participation in a kind of low-level mass hysteria, and its replacement with terms perceived as Frenchified thus gentrified, can only have happened through violent psycho-social pressure, no doubt still drawing on the legacy of colonization, slavery, indenture, and which remains powerful till today. And we all participate in perpetrating this violence.
Mezon is, in fact, used and always has been, in Kreol. It is used in expressions like mang mezonruz (kind of mango), dipin mezon (a kind of bread roll), mezon mer (holding company), mezonkloz (brothel). On their own, the two words, lamezon and mezon, are just clumsy, destructive, replacements for a highly developed noun, lakaz.
The two Frenchified words impoverish the Kreol language. It is important, this, because most new acquisitions enrich the host. But some, like lamezon and mezon risk hurting it.
Let us look at the word lakaz. It has four distinct, ordinary meanings, not just one:
(i) “house”, a building that someone lives in or can live in as in Avann: enn lakaz avek 2 garaz
(ii) “home” (the place where one’s heart lives) as in the phrase vinn lakaz! and
(iii) “lodgings” i.e. either a flat, a room, or a whole house, as in the phrase lakaz enn drwa!
(iv) “victory”, in games like Ludo.
When we ban the word lakaz, we throw out meaning number 4, and make it unclear whether the new word mezon or lamezon applies to all the first three or only (i) as in French or (i) and (ii). If only (i), we are left without the meaning (ii) in Kreol. Frankly, it is hard to know what mezon and lamezon mean. Nor even to know which one exists, and if both exist, what the difference is. The replacement process turns Kreol into an imprecise patois.
Let us look at the rich and evocative expressions that we lose if we allow the culling of the word lakaz from Kreol:
lakaz mama = a place where one is entirely at home, (it cannot become lamezon mama or mezon mama)
lakaz zarenye = spiderweb (we can’t say lamezon zarenye)
lakaz lisyin = kennel (mezon lisyin?)
lakaz depar = square one
lakaz urit = a place where an octopus might hide
lakaz zuzu = a children’s game, pouring tea, cleaning, etc on a miniature scale or in the imagination.
gayn lakaz = to be married off
Pas lakaz! = Do pop in!
Vinn lakaz! = Come around to my place!
zanfan lakaz = a house where one needs no invitation to visit, as if one were brought up there.
linz lakaz = the kind of clothes one wears around the house
manze lakaz = the kind of food cooked at home
balye lakaz = a kind of broom for sweeping indoors
lakaz longtil = type of low, prefab concrete house.
lakaz kom = type of house with a sloping roof
lakaz letaz = double-storey house
lakaz kolonyal = house in French colonial style
lakaz EDC = house in social housing project of this name
lakaz CHA = house in social housing project of this name
lakaz tol = corrugated iron house, or house rooved in corrugated iron
lakaz dibwa = house with planks for walls
lakaz beton = house built out of air-bricks
lakaz bardo = house with a roof of wooden tiles
lakaz ros = house built from hewn basalt rocks
lakaz lapay = building with a thatched roof
lakaz tang = kind of place a tandrike might hide
lakaz lera = rat-infested place
lakaz ante = haunted house or building
lakaz karya = a termites’ nest
lakaz furmi = an anthill
lakaz manti = a pathological liar
lakaz Dimans = courting
lakaz baba = womb (this expression, just like all the others, cannot become lamezon baba, or mezon baba)
The attempted killing of the word “lakaz” gives us an insight into the way in which languages are killed and don’t just die out. The State, as everyone knows, bans Mauritian Kreol from pre-schools. The ban is sometimes written up, as in one State-recognized institution (Le Defi 18 Feb 2016); usually it is implied: The State makes no mention of Kreol in the new curriculum. And this banishment is despite a Supreme Court Judgment forcing the Ministry of Education to withdraw a previous Curriculum for this very reason. Contempt of Court seems not to apply to the Minister of Education!
But the point is that words like “lakaz” are the words that preschool teachers banish. They banish them because they sincerely and erroneously believe the State wants this. The Ministry encourages this error. In fact, banning “lakaz” is violent. It rips away rich cultural concepts and strips of precision the very vocabular that young children are constructing. Let’s all take a resolution as from today to defy the ban on the word “lakaz”. Let’s save it!