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Error in Kreol Dictionaries on meaning of Many Nouns


This article was submitted to by Ledikasyon pu Travayer. As we use written Kreol a lot in LALIT, and have used it for some 44 years, we find the article very useful. Here it is in full: 

There is a consistent error running through the main dictionaries in the way in which many Mauritian Kreol nouns are defined and translated. This is true of our own LPT Diksyoner Kreol-Angle (1984), and its subsequent thousands of copies of reprints and re-editions over the years. 

The error needs to be corrected in new editions of all the dictionaries.

The error is not just of academic importance. It has consequences. It amplifies the colonized distortion of our minds that makes us feel obliged to over-utilize the “plural marker” bann just because specifying the plural is a “pattern” in English and French grammar, and we do this even when this over-use is, in Kreol, a sign of poor language skills. 

Let us explain. 

In the English, for example, the specifically plural form is necessary in the phrase:

Children prefer dogs to cats.

However, in Kreol, no plural markers are necessary to express the identical meaning. The words used in Kreol are already, from the context, understood to be in the plural form. Note that, in English, for this phrase to stand, the plural has to be specified as many as four times. [Children (pl) prefer (pl form) dogs (pl) to cats (pl)].

In Kreol, the phrase is just as precise without any specified plural markers

Zanfan kontan lisyin plis ki sat

That is how we speak in Kreol. That’s the grammar. It’s 100% clear. The relevant words are already in the plural. We do not say, “Bann zanfan pli kontan bann lisyin ki bann sat”. This rendering of the plural marker three times sounds like bad MBC-type or Radio-Plus-type Kreol. So, to be clear, the word “zanfan” means children and/or child; the word lisyin means dogs and/or dog; and the word sat means cats and/or cat

In French, it’s more clumsy still. We have to write “Les enfants prefèrent les chiens aux chats”. There have to be all of seven plural markers. [“Les (pl) enfants (pl) prefèrent (pl) les (pl) chiens (pl) aux (pl) chats (pl)”.] All seven are necessary in French and completely superfluous in Kreol – so efficient is our mother tongue. 

Now, how do dictionaries deal with this, in practice? Here are two examples in Arnaud Carpooran’s Diksioner Morisien (2011) chosen randomly:

- dodann: “Enn obstak  ….” should either not have the “enn” before “obstak” because it could be the plural form or, to be more precise, it should alternatively read, “Enn oubien plizir obstak …” Without any marker, dodann also means the plural: Ena dodann tutolong Rut Rwayal or Guvernman pe met dodann. The French in the Carpoooran Dictionary should thus be dos-d’âne/s not just dos-d’âne, and the English hump/s not just hump.

- lafnet: “Enn louvertir …” should read “Enn oubien plizir louvertir”, and the translations should be fenêtre/s and window/s, respectively e.g. “Kote konstriksyon, nu’nn ariv staz met lafnet,” meaning more than one window.

Curiously, Arnaud Carpooran’s dictionary chooses to specify some words in the plural and not in the singular at all: lizie is defined as eyes or yeux in the plural with no mention of the singular. By contrast, lipie, in his Dictionary is translated as foot and pied in the singular only.

In LPT’s dictionary, which pre-dates Arnaud Carpooran’s and thus bears the responsibility for establishing the systemic error as the norm, we have three entries, all in the singular for:

lafnet: “window”, “gap”, “valley”.  And this goes for most proper nouns in our dictionary. So, our criticism includes auto-criticism. For kulu, just as in Baker-Hookoomsing (1987) and Carpooran, we have nail in the singular only. Whereas, one would go into a shop and ask, “Eski u ena kulu?” meaning “Do you sell nails?” in the plural. We would never buy one, or expect the shopkeeper to stock only one. At the same time, we would never say, “Eski u ena bann kulu?” 

And if we specify the number, for “twelve eggs”, we still use the same “dizef” i.e. “duz dizef” – the word “dizef” thus means eggs, as well as egg

So, our dictionaries are faulty. And it is actually a fault line that runs through each entire dictionary. Luckily, once we absorb the mistake, it is not difficult to correct.

In the LPT Dictionary, we, too, are inconsistent. For sulye our entry reads “n. shoes” in the plural. We do not even mention the singular, whereas we ought to have both meanings. (Interestingly, in Kreol, we might specify “enn kote sulye” when using the singular.) We have chosen, for no apparent reason, the most common meaning, in just this case.

The Baker-Hookoomsing Dictionary makes the same mistake. So, for:

sez n we read “E. chair, F. chaise”. This, despite the fact that when renting a hall, we might ask, “Gayn sez dan sa pri la?” We would not need a plural marker. But we obviously do mean more than one chair.

In the big, fat Chambers English Dictionary, which was at hand at LPT, see how careful the entry is with regard to singular and plural when giving a definition:  For the past participle sub-entry “windowed”, for example, it reads “having a window or windows”. The fact that something could be plural is specifically mentioned, in order to be as precise as possible.

In the same Chambers Dictionary, for “sheep” (one of the relatively few words in English for which singular and plural forms are identical, exactly as is the case for most Kreol words), this fact is actually specified. The entry reads:

sheepn a beardless woolly wild or domestic animal (Ovis) of the goat family … -- pl. sheep. 

The Oxford Dictionary reads: sheep n. (pl. same). 

Both dictionaries avoid the imprecision of pretending sheep is only plural or only singular. The same with the word “dice”. The Oxford Dictionary has a note relating to the word dice, specifying that “Dice … is … the standard singular as well as plural form in the games sense, e.g. one dice, two dice.” The same applies to many other words, including“aircraft”, “series”, “deer”, “species”, “stone” (meaning 14 lbs), and most usually “fish”. Dictionaries routinely specify the double meaning, i.e. singular and plural and do not just fluff it like the Kreol ones have, until now, done.

Where the Systemic Error Comes From

In addition to being a sign of our colonized minds, there is another root cause. The word “bann” in Kreol, it seems, has two “roots”: it is related to the French “bande de”, and is still used with this specific meaning. “Bann lao inn gayn lager ek bann anba”. Here, of course, the “bann” cannot be assumed or suppressed. It means the whole lot of people from the top of the village versus the whole lot from the bottom. The word “bann” with this meaning is also found as a noun, in “gran bann”, “ti bann” or “ros bann” for various specific groups of workers. In older texts, we see this “bande de” usage only, rather than the pure plural marker usage, which is almost completely absent. (See how rare the word “bann” is in over 100 pages of Kreol in the Baissac collection of 28 folk tales of 1888, Sirandann Sanpek, LPT 1989.) 

As pure plural marker, however, the word bann is related to the Nguni languages, using sounds close to “ba” and “bann” as one of the common plural markers found in front of nouns. While umntu means a person abantu means people, umzalimeans a parent and abazali means parents, umfana means boy while bafana means boys, hence the South African football team being called “bafana bafana”, the boys amongst boys. 

This plural marker, however, is resorted to, in best practices in Kreol, only to avoid misunderstanding. When we say, for example, “Ena lera dan garaz”, we mean at least one, probably more. We cannot specify “bann” without in fact being less accurate. It could be one rat. Similarly, “Ena lalwa kont sa” refers, with precision, to one or more laws. If we know there is more than one law prohibiting some offense, we would tend to say “Ena plizir lalwa”. We might even say “Ena enn bann lalwa ki interdi sa konportman la”, meaning a whole “pack” of laws, thus harping back to the “bande de” meaning.

We could say, “Kan Premye Minis ti anons sa mezir la, ti ena depite prezan.” This means one or more MPs was present. Or we can say: “... ti ena plizir depite prezan.” This means two-to-four or so. We would be unlikely to say, “Ti ena bann depite prezan,” because it closes down the possibility of only one, without even specifying that there were “plizir”. Curiously, it sounds a bit unconvincing.

The word “bann” is also used in a rather abusive way: “Enn bann kuyon (bann fenean, bann inkapab, bann farfeli) pe koz buku lor la,” which probably refers back to the “bande de” meaning.

A Practical Lesson

It is probable that many nouns (see list below) are usually in the plural, and less often in the singular. So the meaning could be written up as follows:

sez = n. (pl & sg) meb ki servi pu enn sel dimunn asize, Eng: chair/s.

fey = n. (pl & sg) parti enn plant ki plat, kuler ver, Eng: leaf/leaves

sulye = n. (pl & sg) kuvertir pu lipye, zar savat ki kuver lipye, Eng. shoe/s.

lizye = n. (pl & sg) lorgann pu truve, Eng. eye/s.

bef = n. (pl & sg) mamifer ki nuri pu dile, ubyin pu lavyann, Eng. ox/en.

zanfan = n. (pl & sg) imin ki zenn, pankor mazer, Eng. child/ren.

pye = n. (pl & sg) gran plant avek tron santral, Eng. tree/s.

liv = n. (pl & sg) tex ki an paz relye, Eng. book/s.

Whereas most words would be as follows:

lisyin = (sg & pl) mamifer domestik ki form parti spiyshiz kanin, Eng. dog/s

sat = (sg & pl) mamifer domestik kotone ki form parti spiyshiz felin, Eng. cat/s

latab = (sg & pl) meb kat lapat lor lekel manze, ekrir, etc, Eng. table/s

But, beyond the question of dictionary entries needing to give the singular and plural meanings of Kreol nouns (not just the singular), there is another lesson of more day-to-day importance: when we draft anything in Kreol, we need, when proof-reading it, to set about deleting all the excess “bann”-words we have used because of this colonial deformation and that end up making the sentences clumsier rather than clearer. Even in the dictionary entries, we find this problem: “lagres n. … bann zanimo ki viv dan bann rezyon kot fer fre ena buku lagres”, would be better served by “…. zanimo ki viv dan rezyon kot fer fre ena buku lagres.” The words “zanimo” and “rezyon” would never mean only one.  

As one writer put it after a workshop that included this tip, “Dan laplipar ka, itilizasyon ‘bann’ li siperfli. Nek ena pu tir li dan enn travay pu gete ki manyer tex la respire.” 

A Document produced by Ledikasyon pu Travayer.