The Creole Language

Creole as a language, culture, identity and a means of expression is going through an important stage of its evolution. In its etymology it stems from the Portuguese “crioulo” and the Spanish “criollo” meaning to nourish, to raise or more precisely “the servant raised in the house”. Until recently the dictionaries defined it as the white person born in a European colony. The term afterwards was used to define the black population and further classification was needed to call this burgeoning race: white Creole, coloured Creole black Creole, etc. Often shunned, banned and criticized the language is now enjoying a well-deserved recognition. Historically, it is the result of two cultures and the evolutionary process of using the vocabulary of one and the grammar and syntax of the other. With colonization and slavery and from the contact between the European masters and the slaves, a new set of languages emerged, namely the creoles of today’s world.

Mauritian Creole, also known as ‘Kreole Maurisyen’ is a language spoken in the island of Mauritius located in the middle of the Indian Ocean. This tiny island of Mauritius has been called a "melting pot" and its linguistic situation is very complex.

While English is the official language of parliament, traffic regulations, and school administration, it is spoken by only 3% of the population. French is the native language of Franco-Mauritians and is used by the mass media. Eighty percent of the newspapers are written in French, which also dominates the advertising field. Mauritian Creole is the national language and is spoken by the majority of Mauritians. Nearly the entire population knows and uses Creole for communication.

The majority of words in Creole are of French origin, although more than 200 are derived from English, 50 from Indian languages and several from Chinese and Arabic. The history of the island plays an important role in explaining this unbelievable mixture. In fact, Mauritius was discovered by the Dutch in the 14th century, who decided it was an essential point of trade in the Indian Ocean due to its location and climate. Then the French took over the island and their settlement lasted over 50 years during which a huge number of slaves were brought to the country. When the British won Mauritius over a battle with France, they brought even more slaves before the abolition of slavery in 1835 whereby they started to import labour from India, China, and other countries in the form of indentured labourers. Mauritius became independent in 1968 but all those who stayed back, have helped to form what is today known as the Rainbow Island.

The true beginnings of Mauritian Creole dates back around 1720 when the slaves coming from Africa and Madagascar devised a communication line with their French masters. The regional French of the 18th century along with French coastal dialects of Brittany and Normandy still persists in enriching the Mauritian Creole vocabulary. Fishermen here use “labwet” for example, which means “bait” for fishing whereas the French word in use today is “appat”. The national dishes “cari” and “rougail” are both tamil words in origin. Rougail comes from “urugai” which is a sauce prepared and intended to last a long time, it was the rice accompaniment of the first labourers.

A plethora of English words have also infiltrated the language and English derived words are also legion. i.e. filling (filling station), cross here (pedestrian cross walk), flat (apartment), compioutere (computer), call (telephone call). Malagasy words also influence the Creole, but since they did not have any written reference, they have been explained by the use of the ethnocentric French language.

Creolized languages are native to between 10 and 15 million people throughout the world and most creole languages have vocabularies derived from major European languages. French-based Creole, with 7 million speakers can be found in Haiti, Mauritius, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion Island, Guyana and other islands close to Mauritius such as Rodrigues, Seychelles, Maldives, Agalega.

In Mauritius, there seems to be a ‘diglossic’ situation which is the term used to describe a society when it has two or three distinct languages showing functional separation; that is one register being used in one set of circumstances, and the others in entirely different sets. For example, French is used in media, English in parliament and court, and Creole in communication.

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