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LALIT's Reply to Harish Boodhoo (II)


There is a crying weakness in Harish Boodhoo's series of articles against Kreol as medium in school. He pretends he is in a complete vacuum. He pretends not to be replying to the political work and the ideas of LALIT, nor to be responding to BEC, LPT, all the writers, playwrights and poets who write in Kreol, people in the MMM, Labour, Les Verts and PMSD who are in favour of Kreol, the Federation of Preschool Playgroups, editorialists in favour, the university authorities for offering a course nor to the fifty to a hundred associations and unions that use the language in written form for all their business. But, he is in fact replying to all of us. Arguments take place between real people and real organizations. In fact, two-thirds of the people of the country are in favour of using Kreol as medium in primary and secondary schools, according to the 2007 SOFRES survey. This means people's awareness has already been raised fairly high.

One of his "arguments" is to use an abusive appellation. Throughout this article, and in the previous ones in the series, too, Harish Boodhoo calls Mauritian Kreol "the Creole dialect". As if calling a language just "a dialect" often enough will turn it into one, which we can then dismiss because it isn't a language at all anymore. How's that for argument? Anyway, at one point in his article it appears that Harish Boodhoo might come and explain if this is, in fact, his argument. He immediately reassures us that Kreol is most people's "mother tongue". So, he cannot mean it is not a language. It's our mother tongue. And all humans have languages as mother tongues. But no:

Harish Boodhoo: All mother tongues are languages.
Dialects are not languages.
Creole is a dialect.
Creole is our mother tongue.
Therefore our mother tongue is not a language.

This is total confusion. Because the first point is that all mother tongues are languages.

But he goes on to say that Kreol is "an emanation of French". This is asserted baldly (and erroneously). No argument is supplied. Just the old colonial prejudice relied upon. It "resembles it closely", he adds. Just as the sun does closely resemble a disc revolving around a flat earth. Does this supposed resemblance, according to Mr. Boodhoo, mean we are all actually French-speakers? And all along we thought we were Kreol-speakers? Yes, it would seem Mr. Boodhoo thinks so, because he immediately says in this case "why should we neglect French ... and teach Creole?"

And then he comes up with some semblances of arguments against Mauritian Kreol: It has no "recognized international book" (sic), encyclopedia, written history, dictionary, library, cyberspace, internet link, etc, etc." Ah, finally an argument. And what a weak one. He is, in fact, saying and it is true, that, like many languages in the world, its written form has not yet been nurtured and developed enough by institutions that exist amongst the people who speak the language. He also means the State has not supported the written form of the language. But that is the bone of contention. It isn't an argument, but what we are arguing about.

It can be rectified in no time if there is political will.

Of course, in addition, there are inaccuracies in his examples. There are two perfectly good Kreol-English dictionaries (LPT, Philip Baker & Vinesh Hookoomsing), and the excellent Kreol-Kreol one is now out (Arnaud Carpooran). There is even a Kreol-Bhojpuri one (Goswami Seetohul). There are hundreds of books and publications in Kreol. There are many sites with Mauritian Kreol articles by the hundred. See ours to start with before saying Kreol "doesn't have any cyberspace, internet link." All this without any state support whatsoever.

Here is his argument, as bare bones:

Creole is most peoples' mother tongue.
A mother-tongue is a language.
Creole is a dialect of French, not a recognized language.
Therefore Mauritians do not have a mother tongue.

This is the basic colonial falsehood, Mr. Boodhoo, a lie of the worst ilk. All human societies have mother tongues that are languages, and all are equal as languages. Just as all the people who speak different languages are equal as people.

In any case, the now famous conclusion of linguistics philosophers after years and years of debate as to what exactly "a dialect" is, if it is not a language, is that "a dialect is a language without an army". In other words, people who call other peoples' or their own language a "dialect" are propagating an idea which is no more than colonial prejudice.

As it turns out, Kreol is a language so different from French, that while French, Hindi, English, Urdu and German are all in the same family of languages called "Indo-European languages", Kreol is in a different family of 80-100 languages called "Creole languages". Grammatically and syntactically (and this is what makes up the structure of a language) French and Kreol are miles apart. Curiously and maybe counter-intuitively, even lexically the differences are often more important than the similarities, as is pointed out in the ground-breaking book Langaz Kreol: Langaz Maron by Emmanuel Richon. Mr. Boodhoo is blithely unaware of the seminal academic work done by Prof. Derek Bickerton on the issue of not only Creole languages (The Roots of Language) but also human language itself (Language and Species). A group of 12-15 people ran a study group in Port Louis last year organized by Ledikasyon pu Travayer on Prof. Bickerton's Language and Species, so the rich argumentation and research behind his ideas are now getting popularized, difficult as they are to grasp. The University of Mauritius last year ran a fine course on the Kreol language, Introduction to Creole Studies.

And then Mr. Boodhoo turns to the "certificate" and "white collar job" issues, which are obviously the irrational catalysts for the un-thought-out prejudices of the ignorant, especially amongst the middle classes. They have this fear that the only thing that distinguishes them from the lowly masses is their "superior" grasp of two "superior" languages. Tragically, their fear may be justified.

But underneath Mr. Boodhoo's verbiage is cunning, premeditated, hideous communalism. He says: "If in case some people think that by just introducing Creole in our educational institutions, less fortunate Creole children will be able to compete more successfully with other more fortunate Mauritian children, it goes without saying that they are manifestly wrong," and he goes on to take "Lycee Labourdonnais. Many children of Mauritians of Asian origin are doing exceptionally well there ... They will outperform ... even in Creole language."

The point, Mr. Boodhoo, is for us all to care for all the children of the country. We need a policy on the medium used in schools that is good for all children.

Alain Ah-Vee & Rada Kistnasamy
20 October, 2008