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LALIT's Reply to Harish Boodhoo (PART 1)

23.10.2008


A recurring theme in Harish Boodhoo's 6-part series of articles in Le Mauricien on "Rescue measures to help the poor" is the language question. In his own rather shoddy language, he makes it clear again and again that he is against the Mauritian Kreol language being used as medium in schools. And his reasons are very weak. In fact, they are well-nigh non-existent.

He starts his last article (Part VI) announcing he will expose the "risk facing the country on the language issue", and he will "scan the fallout of bad policies of some countries", so that we can "avoid their pitfalls", be "geared up to face the world of globalization" and to "acquire languages as an economic ... necessity". And so he begins with this rather vague propaganda, and no hard argument. And then he says he will begin by telling us about his "own experience", this also, in lieu of an argument.

How does he do this? He says: "I never had recourse to the vernacular, which is the Creole dialect (sic). As all teachers operate, I always started from the known to teach the unknown ... I never taught anything through the medium of Creole. Never!". Here are the bare bones of Harish Boodhoo's argument, where four facts produce a surprising conclusion:

Harish Boodhoo: The vernacular is "the known".
The vernacular in Mauritius is the Creole dialect.
All teachers start from "the known" to teach the unknown.
I do as all teachers do.
Therefore, I never use the vernacular.

It's laughable. This elementary error in logic is called a non-sequitur.

He says children "responded marvelously" to his "immersing" them in English for maths, and in French for French. He quite rightly "never ridiculed them". They "performed well". And he, the teacher Harish Boodhoo was rewarded. "Demonstration classes piled on one another" (sic). In Part V, he had already told us that he was very popular. Watching him teach, "There were some 250 seats upstairs in the balcony. All told, it was imposing and breathtaking." The children, he adds, "revered him". This self-praise hardly replaces argument.

Anyway, what he does here is called anecdote. And it proves nothing. Maybe the children performed well not because of the "immersion method", but because he taught so brilliantly despite the erroneous medium. The children would certainly have performed better still had they been taught in the mother tongue. All this anecdote is not exactly scientific.

However, Mr. Boodhoo did consult "lots of people" and he "went through some 200 plus pages of internet documents". At last, you may think: we are going to get some scientific thought. No. He doesn't tell us what documents, nor on what sites. He does not even summarize any of them. But he announces: "I maintain my 1960's stand: Creole or any other dialect should not be the medium of instruction". Otherwise, he says, "it's a slaughterhouse". It will "intellectually kill our children". Not only that but "kill them for ever" (our emphasis), whatever that might mean. To clarify this killing, he says "it's a dead end" (our emphasis). And curiously, to mix the "dead" metaphors even further, those who've been through the slaughterhouse, even been "killed" forever, will be resuscitated, and then subjected to "another slavery".

All this heavy-handed verbiage does not manage to mask the fact that Harish Boodhoo has not yet used a single real argument.

Interestingly, there is a very bad slip in his "pseudo-argumentation" in this section. He says he studied 200 plus pages of the web on "the teaching of languages". Fine. Then comes to a conclusion about which language "should not be the medium of instruction". Here is one of a sources of Mr. Boodhoo's intellectual confusion: he has not distinguished between the teaching of languages and themedium used in schools.

The bare-bones of this argument are:

Harish Boodhoo: There is research into the teaching of languages.
There is also research into what language should not be used as the medium of instruction in schools.
I studied research in the teaching of languages.
Therefore this confirmed my1960's opinion on what medium of instruction not to use in schools.

It's not an argument because it uses research into one subject as supposed proof of a hypothesis on another subject.

Then there are a couple of long paragraphs designed to deny that he is against the Creole language. Just in case anyone thought he was. It is, he says, the "national dialect". Followed immediately by another non sequitur: "Sega has turned out to be our national pride", before saying "And the dialect represents our national and cultural identity." And "it has not been imposed but it has made its way naturally; just as a river flows informally towards the sea" ... "like a rolling snowball that is growing bigger and bigger and developing faster and faster" and it has "become the number one bridge of this rainbow nation" ... and is "rock-solid", "not endangered". All these confused and confusing similes are designed to argue that no organizations or authorities should ever encourage Mauritian Kreol, but should instead refrain from interfering with its natural development. But in fact, if there is an argument (certainly an unintentional, subliminal one), it is his own argument, which by means of implied contrast, suggests that French and English have indeed been imposed, and that despite this, they have not developed in Mauritius. They haven't acted like informal rivers, nor like snowballs, nor like solid rocks, nor like bridges of the rainbow, nor like species defying extinction. They are in an appalling state.

Then, out of the blue, in Mr. Boodhoo's text we bump into a paragraph on the UN and UNESCO. He says the UN has declared 2008 World Year of Languages, and UNESCO promotes use of the mother tongue, which would seem rather to contradict his point of view. All he says is "But did you hear anything in Mauritius? Who had raised awareness?" But, what exactly is his point? If no-one is fighting for Kreol, then who is he arguing against?

Alain Ah-Vee & Rada Kistnasamy
LALIT
20 October, 2008