Almost 40 years ago now a major reform in the field of education took place as a result of student unrest. Secondary schooling was made free. Parents, pupils and teachers were happy. The biggest beneficiaries were teachers who, overnight, saw their status and work conditions improved. Since then there have been minor changes here and there but nothing of great note. Yet the system needs a complete overhaul. The main reason being its inability to generate a reasonable standard of literacy to drive the country to a higher level of growth and development.
It means above all a language policy which is based on facts and not fantasy. After almost 40 years of free schooling from primary to tertiary, we would have expected to have a functionally literate population but this is not the case. A great majority of our compatriots still need party symbols to be able to vote because they are either semi-literate or non-literate. Most people still misuse vital terms and words when they talk of education. Mother tongue is confused with ancestral language, medium with support language, literacy with language learning, national with official language. Most surprisingly, teachers who should know the meanings of these words and expressions fail to use them properly and show no understanding of the main aims of primary education.
Besides boosting up the socialisation process and develop sensitivity and imagination, the fundamental aim of primary education is to make children fully orate, literate and numerate. All other fields and activities are of secondary importance and should not divert our attention from our main goal. How to make them fully orate, literate and numerate? Please note that we are not here dealing with preserving ancestral cultures and values or learning second or third languages. The best way to make children fully orate, literate and numerate is through the medium of their mother tongue or what we call L1 in the pedagogical jargon. What is the situation in Mauritius when viewed from this angle? For 90% of children Morisien is their L1; Bhojpuri is the L1 of 5% at most; French is the L1 of 3.8%. I leave it to my readers to decide which language is the ideal medium to ensure global oracy, literacy and numeracy.
Another factor which deserves out attention is the nature of our official language, English. It is a CREOLE language which means that, if the right pedagogy is adopted, we will favour a quick transfer of literacy skills from L1 to L2. We have all the ingredients to build a nation of truly bilingual literates (in Morisien and English) but the political will is absent. Mainstream politicians are not keen on nation building for they need ethnic and caste votes; most parents do not understand the problem and prefer to rely on the ‘wisdom’ of politicians and priests who have their own hidden agenda; the worse of the lot are primary school teachers who are opposed to change because it means more work and, most importantly, more studies, creativity and originality. Moreover they know that the new language policy and pedagogy will dramatically reduce the need for private tuitions which has grown into industrial proportion.
If proposals for a nine year schooling do not take on board the need for a new language policy with the necessary pedagogical innovations, better not do it at all. And let schools become the blackboard jungles they are about to become. And let parents and teachers melodramatically wallow in bouts of despair and self-pity.
If we are unable to develop a system of nine year schooling which can generate enthusiasm; make our young people healthy, free and creative; develop the sense of belonging to a Rainbow Nation in which citizens are functionally literate in both the national language, Morisien, and the official language, English; understand gender equality; learn to become creative and active citizens in a maritime republic which controls 2.3 million square kilometres of sea, then we have only ourselves to blame. Don’t look for scapegoats!


Twelve hundred years ago Vikings invaded England and controlled a third of the country, mainly the north and east. As a consequence, in what we today call England, there were TWO peoples andTWO cultures. There were also TWO languages: that of the Anglo-Saxons and that of the Vikings. Interactions between the two peoples and cultures led to the emergence of, first of all, a pidgin which quickly became a creole language when children started to use it as their first language. Although the prestige languages then were French and Latin, the local vernacular developed and spread rapidly and a few centuries later it had become a powerful instrument for literary creation mainly through the works of Chaucer (14th century AD) and Shakespeare(16-17th centuries AD). Another important event was the translation of the Bible in that language (King James Bible, 17th century AD). By that time the creole vernacular in England had become English, the national Language and official language of England. The language which developed between the 9th and 17th century was totally different from Anglo-Saxon or Old English and a detailed study of the morphology, syntax and lexis of the language used in Beowulf, probably written before the Viking invasion, will reveal the point we are making here. The new language has all the characteristics of Creole languages, namely the dropping of all cases except for the genitive (the boy’s book), very few inflections and a rigid word order of the SVO (subject, verb, object) type. Initially an ugly duckling rejected by the intelligentia of the time, this creole language is now the official language of several states and is considered as a quasi-universal language.
When two or more languages co-exist in a particular political or geographical space and they are spoken by different ethnic or cultural groups, the needs for interethnic or intercultural communication will help the emergence of a pidginlike lingua franca which eventually may become a full-fledged natural language and take the name of the people speaking it. Hence we have English, Bahasa Indonesia, Afrikaan and hopefully Morisien in the years to come.
In Mauritius we are blessed with two creole languages with prestigious functions. English is our official language and Morisien the quasi-national language or if you prefer the de facto national language even if it is not yet the de jure one. The genesis of Morisien, another ugly duckling, is not to be found on Mauritian soil. In fact it is the child of an extraordinary history which began in the Mediterranean basin in the early days of exploration by European navigators. Because sailors of different nationalities worked on the ships, a pidginlike lingua franca developed which settlers and slaves had to use during long trips across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Through a process of relexification the lingua franca was nativized to later become a fully developed creole language in the Caribbean and south-west Indian Ocean. Creole languages share certain features: rigid word order, massive reduction of inflections. Here are some examples:
The French verb ‘savoir’ has dozens of forms: sais, sait, savons, savez, savent, savais, savions, saura, saurons, saurait, sache, sachant, su etc. The English verb ‘to know’ has only 5 forms: know, knows, knew, knowing and known. The Mauritian verb ‘kone’ has only two forms: Mo kone; Mo konn lir. We may wonder why creole languages share certain features when they don’t share the same history. It has been suggested that the syntax of creole languages is very close to the universal grammar with which humans are genetically programmed.
Knowledge of the structures of creole languages will definitely help us to devise a progressive language policy and sound pedagogy which will ensure a high a standard of functional literacy in Morisien and English. Are we prepared to shed our blinkers? If we do we will discover that what was thought to be an ugly duckling is in fact a noble swan.


Morisien and English can be considered as two distant cousins belonging to a family of language known as creole languages which seem to be quite close in structure to what well-known scholars call universal grammar with which all human beings are genetically endowed. This explains why all human beings, who do not suffer from any impairment, will naturally pick up the language of their environment.
In both English and Morisien adjectives have a unique form. If in English adjectives are prenominal (always placed before the noun), in Morisien some adjectives are prenominal while others are postnominal (zoli fler; fler sovaz). In both Morisien and English word classes are not as rigid and watertight as in French. Nouns can be used as adjectives. This flexibility allows for a greater freedom to coin compound words: stone wall / miray ros; bird cage / lakaz zwazo; cheesecake / gato fromaz; door knobs / pwagne laport etc.
With the growing prestige of creole languages, there are now some francophiles who claim that French is a “creole of Latin” in the same way as (for them) Morisien is a “creole of French”. This deliberate deformation of linguistic concepts is not innocent. It is meant to support a claim that since Morisien is a creole of French, it is logical that French, a creole of Latin, be made the official language of the Republic of Mauritius. This cannot be. Creole languages are in general isolating and French is inflectional. Gender in French is grammaticalised (une grande table, un grand tabouret, une fleur verte, un fruit vert) but in creole languages it is determined by sex. The following examples will show the difference between creole and non-creole languages. 1. Un bel homme / enn zoli boug / a beautiful man; 2. un beau pays / enn zoli pei / a beautiful country; 3. une belle fille / enn zoli tifi / a beautiful girl; 4. des beaux arbres / bann zoli pie/ beautiful trees; 5. des belles filles / bann zoli tifi / beautiful girls.
In the formation of creole languages, two or more languages collide. As a result they shed all superfluities and redundant features and go to vital basics found in the universal grammar from which point a new system is created. In the case of French there seems to have been no head on collision between Gaulish and Latin but Vulgar Latin (le latin vulgaire) evolved into a new form. There have been some transformations: cases have been dropped; word order has become more rigid but verb and adjective inflections together with grammatical gender have remained.
Dozens of inflections are found in the use of French verbs. English verbs have either 3 forms (cut, cuts, cutting) or 4 forms (walk, walks, walked, walking) and some irregular verbs have 5 forms (eat, eats, ate, eaten, eating). Morisien verbs have either one or two forms (‘dormi’ has a unique form; ‘manze’ has two forms: ‘manze’ and ‘manz’).
English uses ‘will’ as future tense marker: I will eat. Morisien uses ‘pou’: Mo pou manze. French uses inflections: mangerai, mangera, mangerons etc.
Morisien uses the past tense marker ‘ti’ as in ‘li ti marse’. English uses the suffix ‘ed’ in perhaps 90% of cases as in ‘he walk+ed’. French uses inflections to build its ‘passé simple’ or passé composé as in ‘il marcha’ or in ‘il a marché’.
Aspect markers are used by both English and Morisien to indicate whether action is still going on or has been completed. In Morisien ‘pe’ is the present continuous aspect marker as in ‘Mo pe marse’; in English it is ‘be + verb+ing’ as in ‘I am walking’; ‘ti pe’ is the past continuous aspect marker as in ‘Mo ti pe marse / I was walking’; ‘finn’ is the present perfective aspect marker as in ‘mo finn marse / I have walked’ and ‘ti finn’ is used to indicate past perfective aspect as in ‘Mo ti finn marse / I had walked’.
Mother tongue literacy in Morisien can become a reliable instrument to quickly develop oracy, literacy and fluency in English as skills mastered in L1 can be transferred to the acquisition process of English as a second language. (28.05.2015)


In his essay ‘A Defence Of Poetry’ P. B. Shelley had a prophetic insight when he wrote that poets are authors of language. Since then many scholars have studied the role of literature and among them we have Professor Terry Eagleton who has clearly shown how creative writing builds up the sinews and muscles of a standard language. If initially a language exists as an assortment of dialects or regional varieties, eventually through the creative genius of writers one dialect will emerge as the prestigious one and it will become the ‘language’ of law, administration and education. It must be stressed here that in the case of some European languages, the translation of religious literature has played an enormous part in the building of national standard languages.
In the case of the origin and growth of the English language Professor David Crystal’s research and writings (“The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language”) give us a clear picture of the evolution from a pidgin to a quasi-universal language. Other scholars have pointed out the role played by such writers as William Shakespeare (more than 10% of his vocabulary are coinage of his own), Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson in the making of the prestigious official language of the UK. The impact of the King James Version of the Bible in English has also been studied by several scholars including Melvyn Bragg (“The Adventure of English”).
The French language owes a lot to Rabelais’ creativity. His “use of his native tongue was astoundingly original, lively, and creative. He introduced dozens of Greek, Latin, and Italian loan-words and direct translations of Greek and Latin compound words and idioms into French. He also used many dialectal forms and invented new words and metaphors, some of which have become part of the standard language and are still used today. Rabelais is arguably one of the authors who has enriched the French language in the most significant way” (Wikipedia).
It is believed that Dante Alighieri single-handedly developed the Italian language. “With its seriousness of purpose, its literary stature and the range — both stylistic and thematic — of its content, the Divine Comedy soon became a cornerstone in the evolution of Italian as an established literary language. Dante was more aware than most early Italian writers of the variety of Italian dialects and of the need to create a literature and a unified literary language beyond the limits of Latin writing at the time; in that sense, he is a forerunner of the Renaissance, with its effort to create vernacular literature in competition with earlier classical writers” (Wikipedia).
The history of the German language is very interesting from this point of view. When Martin Luther broke away from the Church of Rome, Germany was not a unified state and there were several regional dialects of German but no prestigious standard German. When he decided to translate the Bible into into his dialect of German, he in fact was laying the foundation of a standard language for his country. This had a tremendous impact on the church and on German culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible.
Those who think that nation building is now a top priority also consider the emergence and consolidation of a national language for the Republic of Mauritius as an urgent and essential task. What language planning strategy should we adopt? Which local vernacular is the best candidate? How should it be called? What links could be built between the Mauritian national language and the Mauritian official language, English? What will be the impact of linguistic studies on the language; the impact of creative writing in the language; the impact of translation of lay and religious literature into our local vernacular? Do we have the political will to succeed? Do we really want to become a Rainbow Nation? Fundamental questions have to be asked and answered. If we do, we will succeed; if we shy away, there is a price we will have to pay. Tomorrow will depend on our making the right decision now.


You don’t have to be a genius to know that any development project needs careful planning and above all a sound knowledge of the material, human and cultural resources at your disposal. The most insignficant peasant knows that he needs a plot of land and tools (material resource), his productive force or labour (human resource) and skills together with knowledge of seasons, seeds, plants and animal husbandry (cultural resource).

We all agree that a sound system of formal education can fuel the rise to higher levels of development but we must first of all know what we mean by the terms development and education. Development is not to be construed as plain economic growth. It should mean growth in all fields: economic, political, social, cultural and spiritual. Education means the acquisition of an assortment of skills ranging from basic literacy and numeracy (the three Rs: reading, writing, arithmetic) to specialist knowledge in different fields of expertise. If in the olden days speech was considered sufficient for all forms of communication, now we know that writing is a vital and invaluable skill not only for communication but also for the development of the human brain. Writing transforms speech which can be erratic, ambiguous and misleading into a more robust, precise and thorough medium and in the process the brain of the person who wields this powerful tool undergoes a quality transformation.

Hence the intellectual power of one who masters literacy and numeracy is far superior to that of one who is only orate (who uses only speech). The fundamental role of formal education is to ensure that all citizens acquire a reasonable level of functional literacy and numeracy to be able to meet the requirements of modern living. In this field the Republic of Mauritius has failed although for over more than half a century we have invested heavily in formal education. The reason is very simple: we keep confusing literacy and numeracy with language learning. It is the only country in the world where young non-literate children have to learn to read and write in 2 to 3 languages they don’t know (foreign languages) when the initial acquisition of literacy skills is best done in the mother tongue of the child. The development of the child fails because his cultural resources are not taken into account. Politicians, parents and teachers pretend that nothing is wrong when in fact we are all guilty of the serious crime of imprisoning thousands of children in permanent ignorance, of depriving them of the possibilities of mental growth and denying them the fruits of modern literate civilisation.

It is to be hoped that the NINE YEAR SCHOOLING PROJECT will change that. What we need in our formal education sector is a new language policy which tallies with reality and a sound pedagogical approach.
Here is a suggestion based on a policy of bilingual literacy (Mauritian and English) together with possibilities of branching out into different fields of learning and training afer the first nine years.



By universal bilingual literacy we mean that all citizens of the Republic of Mauritius would be able to functionally read and write two languages at least and these two languages are Mauritian Creole which should be legally declared our national language to be known as Morisien or Mauritian in English and English, the official language, the language of law and administration. As both of them are creole languages, they are complementary and so it is possible to build bridges between them for a transfer of skills from one to the other at phonological, syntactic and lexical levels. This new learning project has become a must for the country has a huge deficit in literacy terms. Although we like to boast that ALL Mauritians are multilingual and fully literate, the truth is very far from wishful thinking. Most Mauritians are semilingual for they cannot express themslves clearly in any language and 70% are either semiliterate (they can scribble their names , write odd words but cannot write sentences which are grammatically correct and semantically clear or build a coherent text) or nonliterate (cannot read or write). It would not be an exaggeration to say that at least 20% are nonliterate. We must not forget a harsh fact: semiliterates may become nonliterate if the skills have not been used over a long period of time. If speech is acquired naturally because we are genetically programmed, writing is an artefact whose skills can easily be lost.
Teaching of initial literacy skills must start in the mother tongue of the child. Mother tongue is the first language (L1) acquired by the child as socialisation starts. In Mauritius, Morisien is the L1 of 90% of the population and Rodrige (Rodrigues Creole) is the L1 of all Rodriguans who are very proud of their mother tongue. It is imperative that all citizens of the Republic have a working knowledge of English as well not only because it is the language of law and administration but it is also the language of higher learning and of international communication and trade.Moreover it is the lingua franca (cross-cultural language) of three BRICS countries (the People’s Republic of China, India and South Africa) with which we have important links and which are our partners in development. A well-planned course in bilingual literacy and general education (see ‘Education and Development’ in Weekly of 6 August 2015) will ensure smooth acquisition of necessary skills.
How will mother tongue literacy in Morisien help to master literacy skills in English? Both Morisien and English use the Roman alphabets (a, b, c, d, etc.). Both Morisien and English do NOT use diacritics (à, è, â, ê, é, ç etc.). Both Morisien and English use the same punctuation conventions including the use of uppercase for the first letter of the names of days and months (Lendi, Mardi, Wednesday, Zanvie, December). Most phonemes (sounds used to make words) found in English are also found in Morisien. Examples: ch as in English chat and Morisien chat; ch in English chose and Morisien choli.; j in English jam and Morisien jam; j in English job and Morisien job.
But it is not always plain sailing. There are areas of difficulties which demand special consideration and care.
English uses the grapheme ‘q/Q’ which Morisien doesn’t. The sound /kw/ is represented by the grapheme . Morisien uses grapheme for the sound /kw/. When teaching oral skills in English some precautions are necessary. Some phonemes may also cause difficulty and embarassment and need special attention. They are the dental fricatives as in this, that, those often pronounced zis, zat, zoz; the post-alveolar fricative as in ship which should not to be confused with sip.; the glottal fricative /h/ which helps to distinguish ‘hat’ from ‘at’; ‘hair’ from ‘air’; the approximant which should not be confused with the uvular fricative used in Morisien. Learners should be helped to distinguish between English ‘red’ (rouz) and Morisien ‘red’ (stiff). In English there are short and long vowels which help to distinguish between ‘shit’ and ‘sheet’; ‘ship’ and ‘sheep’; ‘sit’ and ‘seat’. This is not a feature of Morisien.
Special care is needed when developing oral skills in English which is a stress-timed language while Morisien is syllable-timed. Placing the stress on the right syllable in English is vital for proper communication but is not so for a syllable-timed language like Morisien or French. Here are some examples: |DEsert (a large area of hot, dry land, covered with sand) and de|SERT (to abandon); |PREsent (a gift) and pre|SENT (to give, to show, to describe); |OBject (a thing) and ob|JECT (to disapprove). Meaning changes with a shift from the first to the second syllable.
Syllable consciousness is easily developed by Mauritian and Rodriguan children for we have a syllable-based game called Madam Sere. Another good example of the judicious use of cultural resources to acquire new skills.
We have shown the complementariness between Morisien and English at the level of phonology and orthography. Now we will look at positive and negative interferences at syntactic and lexical levels.
The best way to grasp similarities and differences is first of all to understand the difference between an isolating and an inflectional language. In an isolating language words have only one form. Examples of isolating language: Morisien, Chinese and Vietnamese. In an inflectional language words have several forms. French, Latin and Hindi are inflectional languages. A French adjective may have up to five forms (beau, bel, beaux, belle, belles); verbs have dozens of forms. English which is quasi-isolating, uses very few inflections: nouns have either one or two forms; verbs may have three (cut, cuts, cutting), four (walk, walks, walking, walked) or five forms (eat, eats, eating, ate, eaten); possessive pronouns have two forms (my, mine). All other word classes (adjective, adverb etc.) are made up of free morpheme words, that is words having only one form.
English and Morisien share many common syntactic features besides the morphological points made above.
In both English and Morisien word classes are not cloistered into watertight compartments. The edges are porous and allow for a flow from one into the other. ‘Dancing’ which belongs to word class labelled ‘verb’ may be used as an adjective as in ‘dancing girl’; ‘stone’, a noun, becomes an adjective in ‘stone wall’. ‘Galoupe’, a verb, becomes a noun in ‘galoupe bien fatigan’ (running is tiring). ‘Lantouraz’, a noun becomes an adjective in ‘laport lantouraz’ (gate).
Both English and Morisien use adjective phrases, a group of words that function as an adjective. Let us look at the following example: Nelson Mandela Legacy Cup. It is made up of a proper noun (Nelson Mandela); a non-count noun (legacy); a count noun (cup). ‘Cup’ remains a noun but the other two function as adjectives which qualify (give more information on) the noun ‘cup’. As attributive words they occur before nouns. In Morisien adjective phrases (attributives) are normally placed after the noun (postnominal).
Look at the following examples. The noun is in bold and the adjective phrase in italic.

ENGLISH: Nelson Mandela Legacy Cup MORISIEN: Koup Eritaz Nelson Mandela
ENGLISH: grey shingle roof house
MORISIEN: lakaz twatir bardo gri
ENGLISH: red metallic paint car
(adj+adj+noun+noun )
MORISIEN: loto kouler rouz metalik
ENGLISH: Father Christmas outfit
MORISIEN: kostim Bonom Nwel

Another important aspect of syntax is word order. As in English, in Morisien as well the word order in a phrase or sentence is crucial.

EnglishIeatriceevery day

In the case of tense and aspect markers the similarities are most striking. Just observe the following examples.

present tenseI walkMo marse
pesent continuousI am walkingMo pe marse
present perfectI have walkedMo finn marse
past tenseI walkedMo ti marse
past continuousI was walkingMo ti pe marse
past perfectI had walkedMo ti finn marse
futureI will walkMo pou marse

English uses prefixes and suffixes to form new words which is not a feature of Morisien. The English word ‘unfriendliness’ is made up of the root morpheme ‘friend’, the prefix ‘un’ and two suffixes ‘li’ and ‘ness’. However both Morisien and English form new words by combining two words, an endogenous force of lexical creativity: pie-mang (mango-tree); pie-longann (longan-tree); gato-fromaz (cheesecake); kari-pwason (fish-curry); manze-lisien (dog food); lakaz-poupe (dollhouse); tes-disan (blood-test); pwagne-laport (doorknob) etc.
The cultural resources to make universal bilingual literacy a success are there but we do not have the political will. Why is that so? The economic elite thinks in terms of low wages which go with poor education; the political elite wants a docile electorate; the religious elite does not appreciate people who ask embarassing questions. Once an MIE lecturer told me off for proposing universal literacy arguing that if this happens, there will be no labourers to work in the fields. For him literacy was valuable for office work only. Literacy as fuel for intellectual and spiritual growth was nonsense. Most people in our country do not consider literacy as an absolute necessity for good living.
So long as people are happy to vote for symbols, be it a key, a heart, a rooster, a banana tree, there will be no attempt to reform and innovate. Sad, isn’t it?



Literature is multifunctional. In ‘WRITERS ARE THE AUTHORS OF LANGUAGE’ we gave a few examples of how creative writing promotes the growth and standardisation of a language. We can add the age-old tenet that it provides ‘profit and pleasure’. Profit here is not to be understood as material gains but as intellectual and moral enhancement.
If we had to rely on our senses only, we would only know what we see, hear or feel. So, to a great extent we know what others see, hear or feel because art in general and verse or prose literary works in particular are windows that open into the life experiences of others. Leo Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ or John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ tells us how other people cope with harsh reality; E.M.Forster’s posthumously published novel, ‘Maurice’, on homosexual love has considerably helped humanity to come to terms with different sexual orientations although homophobia is still strong and requires all our efforts to be defeated. Charles Dickens’ novel ‘Hard Times’ or Emile Zola’s ‘Germinal’ has shown to us the horror of working class reality or the grandeur of working class solidarity. By refining language, poetry has given us a beautiful tool to connect with others, to share ideas and feelings. A play at the theatre, be it comic, tragic or tragicomic binds us together in a common experience and enhances our humanity.
Pre-independence writing in Mauritius was dominated by French and English but independence saw the rise of new ideas and creative experience specially in the field of literature. First of all there was the drive to get the local language accepted as a language per se and not as a ‘patois’ or broken French. In the wake of this movement there was the emergence of a new literature using the local language Morisien as medium and expressing new aspirations in terms of social justice, gender equality, solidarity and sharing.
The two theatre buildings, The Plaza and The Port Louis Theatre, citadels of elite culture, were taken by storm by plays in the local language. ‘Zozef ek So Palto Larkansiel’, the Morisien version of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice and ‘Zeneral Makbef’ an original full-length political satire became box-office successes and ran for weeks and months. Several books of poems appeared in the language of new aspirations; changes in mood and perceptions were palpable. Literary prose was slower to take off but soon the void was filled by some gifted writers.
If secular literature was initially the spearhead of the movement, soon religious leaders realised they could no longer ignore the language of the people in a democracy and the translation of religious literature moved to the front line.
Can committed literature help to sensitise us to urgent issues affecting the lives of people of our country? Here is an extract from‘Lenpas Flanbwayan’ (2007) translated into English by Shawkat Toorawa as ‘The Flametree Lane’ (Pink Pigeon Press, London, 2012). Has this kind of literature a place in our nation building efforts?
“The sea level kept rising. Everywhere a sweltering heat burned. The elderly and infants were among the first victims. Water started running out. Breathing was becoming difficult. Then, after a long drought, there were torrential rains. Several violent cyclones passed over the island and the drenched earth could no longer take any water. There were landslides and building began to crumble. The landslides were sometimes spectacular, almost as if there was an earthquake. Huge chunks of the hillsides shifted. Between the sea and the hillside there was now a canal through which small boats could navigate. Our area’s appearance changed completely. The natural surroundings had been martyred; it was as if a giant was shaking the dust off his coat and adjusting his body. Property prices plummeted. The recession spread its tentacles everywhere. The economy crashed. … We had to re-invent our future, re-draw the contours of a new tomorrow.”
Bearing all this in mind we may wonder why there has been a sharp decline in the studies of literature in our country.


What is literacy? It “is a fundamental human right and the foundation for lifelong learning. It is fully essential to social and human development in its ability to transform lives. For individuals, families, and societies alike, it is an instrument of empowerment to improve one’s health, one’s income, and one’s relationship with the world… A literate community is a dynamic community, one that exchanges ideas and engages in debate. Illiteracy, however, is an obstacle to a better quality of life, and can even breed exclusion and violence (UNESCO)”.
The acquisition of literacy and language learning should not be confused as is often the case in our country. We may want to learn several languages for different reasons but if we want the learning process to be satisfactory, we must first of all ensure that literacy has been acquired. How to acieve this? UNESCO has always been categorical on this issue. The mother tongue must be used.
Research has also shown how mother tongue literacy skills help the development of the brain. It boosts the organization of the visual cortex; it allows the area of the brain responsible for spoken language to be activated by written sentences; it refines how the brain processes spoken language.
School is not just about learning new information; it is also about improving brain function. Recent research by the neuroscientist Dr Stanislaus Dehaene, Professor and Chair of Experimental Cognitive Psychology, Collège de France, Paris, and Director, INSERM-CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Orsay, France, indicates that learning to read actually improves the way the brain functions in several critical ways.
If the ideal medium to teach and master literacy is the learner’s mother tongue there may be circumstances which prevent this for some time. Mauritius is one such example. When the mother tongue has little or no prestige, it is rejected and considered non-profitable as medium. Then alternative strategies are needed. The Morisien-English bilingual literacy programme has been designed to reduce hostility to change while at the same time raising educational standards. As this involves major changes and the national political will being absent, I’ve had to look for avenues which may still improve the situation while reducing tension: introducing Bilingual Literacy as a compulsory, non-examinable subject. It is a minor change which will yield great results but it’s not the ideal solution; it’s only a makeshift.
Readers may wonder why and how this solution works. Mauritian Creole (MC) and English are creole languages and as such they share special syntactic features. A good approach can explore and exploit existing affinities and raise competence in English while at the same time continue the building of the national language which will positively impact on general nation-building efforts. Let us now look at some features that the two languages share while at the same time highlighting their differences.
At the level of phonology there are areas of difficulty. English is stress-timed while MC is syllable-timed; some English phonemes are absent in MC and can be acquired by much effort and practice. But at the level of orthography there are many facilitation features: MC and English do not use diacritics; both languages use capital letters for the first letter of names of days and months, the apostrophe (’) is used by both (don’t; pa’le) etc. The largest area of facilitation is found at the morphological and syntactic levels(see TWO DISTANT COUSINS published in Weekly last year).
Most importantly, skills and knowledge acquired through the acquisition of mother tongue (L1) literacy can be easily transferred to the learning process of a second language (L2) (English, French, Hindi etc.) This is what a UNESCO book says: It may not seem logical that spending more time in developing the L1 will result in stronger L2 in the long run, but that is because it results in stronger L1, building a foundation on which L2 learning is based. This has been established through over 30 years of research and practice in bilingual education. … initial literacy learning is much more efficient if it is done in the language the learner knows best, because so much of the automaticity and psycholinguistic guessing that are part of fluent reading rely on deep understanding of the language being read. Transfer between languages can be facilitated through explicit instruction of features that are not common to the two, such as phonemes, graphemes, and grammatical structures. Transfer happens even when the two languages have different writing systems. Learners are still able to transfer from the L1 to the L2 skills and knowledge such as reading readiness skills, reading and writing strategies, habits and attitudes, knowledge of text structure and rhetorical devices, sensorimotor skills, visual-perceptual coordination, and cognitive functions and thought patterns (Improving the Quality of Mother Tongue-based Literacy and Learning page 5, UNESCO).
Why are we unable to change?



Most people think that when a child is born their brain is just a blank sheet or clean slate. There is nothing further from the truth than this. Besides genetic endownments, the fetus-child is exposed to loads of information coming from both inside and outside the womb. Richard Berengarten writes in Imagems 2: “The developing human foetus is bombarded constantly by multiple sounds from its environment, the all-encompassing body of the mother. First, there are the noises that come from the interior of the mother’s body. These include the intermittent peristaltic whisperings, gurglings and swooshings of the mother’s digestive process. Even more regularly, the foetus registers the secure background rhythms of the mother’s breathing, and the pitter-patter of her heart as it pumps and pulses blood. Here is the beginning of every human being’s sense of music. We might call it a proto-music. In a study as detailed and delicate as it is profound and far-reaching, Giselle E. Whitwell collates and synthesises recent research by fetologists as follows:
Uterine sounds form a “sound carpet” over which the mother’s voice in particular appears very distinct and which the prenate gives special attention because it is so different from its own amniotic environment. These sounds are of major importance because they establish the first patterns of communication and bonding. Some researchers have discovered that newborns become calmer and more self-regulated when exposed to intrauterine sound (Murooka et. al 1976; DeCasper 1983; Rossner 1979). The soothing sounds of the ocean and water are probably reminiscent of the fluid environment in which we began life. Tomatis suggests that the maternal heart beat, respiration and intestinal gurgling, all form the source for our collective attraction to the sound of surf and may have to do with our inborn sense of rhythm. Prenatal sounds form an important developmental component in prenatal life because they provide a foundation for later learning and behavior (Whitwell, “The Sound Environment of the Womb”)”.
In Mauritius the general trend is to ignore all this and parents, teachers and society think that they have the right to write anything they want on the blank sheet or clean slate and are not aware of the damage done to the child’s brain. A good example is our attitude to language. Mauritius is the only place in the world where children are forced to learn the basics of literacy in THREE FOREIGN LANGUAGES at one and the same time while at the same time ignoring TOTALLY the womb language to which the child was exposed. Need we be surprised that 70% of the population are either semiliterate or plainly nonliterate. It is indeed tragic that in a country where schooling at all levels is free, we have thousands of children who after 6-7 years of schooling remain nonliterate, unable to read and write. The tragedy is both national and familial. In many middle class Creolophone families, children are forbidden to speak the language they heard in the womb and now hear outside the womb. I know of a case where an old monolingual Creolophone granny was ordered by Creolophone adoptive parents to use only French when talking to a newly adopted child of working class background. Try to imagine the stress and trauma inflicted on helpless creatures by powerful so-called middle class educated adoptive parents.
“The human ear is the first sensory organ to develop and from four-and-a-half months before birth the ears of a child are fully functional. In view of this, it is now generally accepted that a child hears in the womb and it already recognizes and indeed listens for its mother’s voice before and after birth. Tomatis has always emphasized the vital role that the mother plays in listening, and in therapy involving children with listening problems a recording of the mother’s voice is desirable. It is self-evident from this that, of all our senses, hearing is the primary one. In the beginning was the Word….” (Ella Williams in http://www.positivehealth.com/author/ella-williams). When we ignore this, we are sowing the seeds of disaster and we do it everyday with gusto. The result is already known. Only 30% of our population master functional literacy. Moreover the impact of our idiotic language policy has not been fully examined. There are renowned psychiatrists and neurolinguists who privately say that they suspect an abnormal rate of mental conditions ranging from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. Do we know the link between this and criminality? But hush! Pa koz sa!


Speech is a unique human characteristic not to be confused with sound production by animals. We may talk of our organs of speech but there are no organs specifically designed to produce speech. In the evolution process the human race has adapted existing vital organs of breathing and eating to produce speech sounds. To produce articulate speech we use our lungs, noses, lips, teeth, palates and tongues. This distinguishing mark of our humanity emerged some 300,000 years ago and as a consequence of evolution it is now part of our genetic endowment. Human beings are normally equipped to use speech which is part of our natural makeup.
Does this also apply to reading and writing? NO! Experts believe that writing is a very recent phenomenon. Hieroglyphic writings appeared some 5,000 years ago and alphabetic writing came 2,000 years later. If there is an area in the brain which supports speech, a highly creative activity, there is no such area for reading and writing. This has been clearly, expertly and vividly demonstrated by Dr Stanislas Deheane.
[I would like here to suggest to parents, teachers and educational planners to listen to his online lecture (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSy685vNqYk). ]
To be able to read and write, human beings have to develop new skills by combining resources found in different areas of the brain. By so doing, the structure and possibilities of the brain are transformed. This is achieved through hard work and much effort and practice which do not come naturally. Reading and writing are cultural artefacts which are expressions of the ascent of humans, the rise from primary primatehood to very sophisticated homo sapiens.
Consequently the acquisition of these modern civilisation skills must be well-planned and not done in a haphasard way.
First and foremost is the language issue. Since the learner has to operate with existing brain resources, can we expect success to follow the use of unknown resources? The combination of visual and existing language resources in the brain means that the acquisition of reading and writing skills will certainly grow smoothly if the language known by the learner is used. Hence mother tongue literacy should be the first step. It has been proved that when mother tongue literacy has been properly mastered in terms of phonology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics, second language and third language literacy follow suit as a transfer of skills from one language to another takes place. However foreign language learning must be staggered if we want learning to proceed smoothly and generate profit and pleasure.
When the first and second languages share a lot of features, acquisition progress can be fast, even spectacular. In that sense Mauritius and Rodrigues are blessed to have two Creole languages which are complementary (Morisien and English; Rodrige and English). We just need the political will to use these resources intelligently.
There is also the need to use the most appropriate method of teaching. The phoneme-grapheme relationship is more natural and productive than the so-called whole word approach for this is the way the brain works according to Dr Stanislas Deheane, referred to above.
We have everything to make our children happy. Why do we choose to make them miserable?



There are two outlooks with regards to Mauritian Creole: a conservative and a progressive outlook. The conservatives are further divided into two camps: those who think that MC is just a dangerous, useless patois to be earnestly swept into the dustbin of history and those who believe it is the language of an ethnic group and so must be treated with seriousness and fairness. The progressives believe that MC is the most vibrant de-facto national language of the Republic and will eventually become the de-jure national language of a nation which is slowly growing in sinewy strength, complexity and brightness.
The conservatives have already lost the battle BUT a lot of work remains to be done in the fields of advocacy, creativity and research. Language planning, in a newly independent, multi-cultural country charting its course towards nationhood and forging a new identity, is faced with different sets of difficulties most of which are caused by prejudice and ignorance. What is the nature and main function of each language used in the country? What should be the status of the different languages? What teaching strategy do we need? Try to answer these questions and you’ll not only figure out the complexity of the issue but you will have to face an avalanche of insults and accusations by people who think they know what in fact they don’t know.


“A creole is a pidgin language which has become the mother tongue of a community … It has often happened that, within a multilingual community, increasing numbers of people begin to use a pidgin as their principal means of communication. This causes a major expansion of the grammar and the vocabulary and the range of situations in which the language comes to be used. The children of these persons come to hear it more regularly and in due course some of them begin to use it as a mother tongue. When this happens, the language is known as a creole.” (Professor David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, second edition, page 346). There are dozens of known creole languages, the most pretigious among them being English. “The argument in favour of calling Middle English a creole comes from the extreme reduction in inflected forms from Old English to Middle English. The system of declension of nouns was radically simplified and analogized. The verb system also lost many old patterns of conjugation. Many strong verbs were reanalysed as weak verbs. The subjunctive mood became much less distinct. Syntax was also simplified somewhat, with word order patterns becoming more rigid. These grammatical simplifications resemble those observed in pidgins, creoles and other contact languages, which arise when speakers of different languages need to communicate. Such contact languages usually lack the inflections of either parent language, or drastically simplify them.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_English_creole_hypothesis)

There are 3 categories of of people on this issue:

  1. Those who think all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds; no need to change anything;
  2. Those, without any opinion, preoccupied only with ‘bread and butter’ issues;
  3. Those who are unhappy (a) with our failure to build supra-ethnic values; (b) with a low functional literacy rate in spite of massive investment in education; (c) with a couldn’t-care-less attitude to such problems as food security; (d) with an election system which relies on recognising election symbols (Lakle, Leker, Soley, Kok) without which it collapses; (e) with the inability of people at the helm of institutions to understand the causes and effects of global warming etc. And the list is long!
    We live on a creole island. We are all immigrants from different parts of the world and we have chosen to build a home for our children and grandchildren here. Our land is neither Little India nor Little France. It will never be a caliphate. On this creole island, as defined by Professor Megan Vaughan, TWO creole languages are used i.e. English (official language) and Mauritian (national language); the world major religions and respected sects are practised; preservation of relevant ancestral values need not deter the creation, development and adoption of new national and modern values.
    A good management of resources, old and new, will pave the way to a more humane and properous future. A good example is how knowledge of the grammar of Mauritian Creole helps in the acquisition of the English. Our languages are assets provided we know how to use them. The universal koine (English) and the local one (Mauritian) have become complementary.


Routine celebration of Independence Day every year may give us a good conscience. But is it enough? Do we realise that there is an important unfinished business? Is there a political will to transcend our ethnic loyalties and forge strong national progressive values? Is this just a poet’s dream or an indispensable survival tool to equip us to successfully face the dramatic crises looming behind the horizon?
In Mauritius we love slogans, catchphrases and myths so long as they hide the truth. We love to believe that God made Mauritius first and used it as a model to build paradise. Some think Mauritius is “LA PETITE FRANCE”; others that it is “LITTLE INDIA”. No one wants to know what it really is, i.e. A CREOLE ISLAND as defined by Professor Meghan Vaughan in her book “CREATING THE CREOLE ISLAND: SLAVERY IN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY MAURITIUS”, Duke University Press.
On this creole island TWO important creole languages are spoken namely Mauritian (Mauritian Creole) and English. YES, both our national language and our official language are creole languages. If in doubt please read THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE by Professor David Crystal (Cambridge University press).
Mauritian is neither ‘a broken French’ nor ‘a patois’ nor ‘the daughter of French’. Only adamant asses can unashamedly say this. A serious study of the syntactic features of Mauritian and English shows how close they are at that level; a contrastive analysis of the phonemic features of Mauritian and French reveals how much they differ although French has been initially the main lexifier of our national language.
We have TWO vibrant creole languages (Mauritian and English) to power our cultural, intellectual and spiritual development. French as a third language may help provided blinkered Francophiles stop regurgitating stupidities, unaware that the world of learning has undergone a radical linguistic revolution.
Why bother? Just to please our ego? No, nation building is a necessity to help us face the consequences of global warming and climate change for we must develop new values, new attitudes and new strategies.


Literacy (reading, writing and counting) is not a skill for an elite alone. It should be a fundamental cultural element in the make-up of all human beings so that they may fully enjoy the fruits of civilisation. The functional literacy rate in our country is very low (around 30%) which means that the enormous sum of money invested is wasted. Why is that so? So long as we refuse to start literacy in the child’s mother tongue, we will perpetuate wastage and failure; we will continue to resort to party symbols to make some sense of the election process. That is not the road to modern civilisation. And yet we do have the needed resources to attain genuine and full universal functional literacy.

We’ve been blessed with 2 creole languages: our national language (Mauritian) and our official language (English) which have similar syntactic structures and common lexical characteristics.
Here are some examples:
• Future tense marker: English uses ‘will’ and Mauritian uses ‘pou’ which give the following: Mo pou manze/ I will eat.
• Adjectives have a unique form in both languages: a beautiful girl (enn zoli tifi); beautiful girls (bann zoli tifi); a beautiful boy (enn zoli garson); beautiful boys (bann zoli garson); a beautiful house (enn zoli lakaz); beautiful houses (bann zoli lakaz); a beautiful castle (enn zoli sato); beautiful castles (bann zoli sato). See the difference with French (une belle fille; des belles filles; un beau garçon; des beaux garçons; une belle maison; des belles maisons; un beau chateau; des beaux chateaux).
• Both languages use aspect markers to indicate whether the action continues or has stopped. I eat (mo manze); I am eating (mo pe manze); I have eaten (mo finn manze).
• At the level of vocabulary (lexical characteristics) both use compound words a lot: birdcage (lakaz-zwazo); doorknob (pwagne-laport); cheesecake (gato-fromaz); mango tree (pie mang) etc.
There are also differences of course and at the level of phonology there are difficulties to be surmounted. The phoneme represented by is not used in Mauritian and consequently Mauritian learners of English, if not properly trained, will pronounce as ; ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘those’ become “zis, zat, zoz”.
Another problem: Mauritian is syllable-timed and English is stress-timed. With proper training, this hurdle can be overcome. Ignorance of this produces much gibberish (baragouin). Listen to speeches in the legislative assembly and you’ll understand what I mean.
The adoption of a combination of teaching techniques blending Grammar Translation with Direct method, will yield good results provided treachers are adequately trained.
If Mauritian, the mother tongue, becomes the medium of instruction at primary level, English may be introduced at a very early stage as second language. With proper guidance and monitoring and also adequate practice, our children will be able at secondary level to handle English as medium of instruction and continue to study our national language as a subject.
French, the semi-official language, must be introduced at secondary level and its teaching must be revamped. Identity languages (Hindi,Urdu, etc.) will then be taught at secondary level as optional languages.
Let us only hope that language loyalty, prejudices and ignorance will not blind us to the needs for genuine and progressive reforms which will pave the way to UNIVERSAL FUNCTIONAL LITERACY.


When Navin Ramgoolam and his team successfully negotiated and transformed a small land republic of roughly 2,200 km2 into a vast 2,300,000 km2 maritime republic only ignoramuses could say, “Ki pou fer ar sa? Ramas gomon?” Let’s leave them alone wallowing in their heap of devil’s dung and think of the future of our kids (children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren).
Blinkered idiots are instinctively thinking of harvesting the sea and reaping material wealth forgetting that in the third millennium we have to be not only seafarers or sea-farmers but also SEA-CARERS, the stewards of the ocean, for the sea is not only the cradle of life but also the regulator of Earth’s temperature and climate. It is not to be treated as humanity’s dumping ground or Mammon’s gold mine.
Besides careful use of sea resources, we must develop a new way of life, a new culture based on our dependence on the sea for our survival. In short, we must move from a land-based to a sea-based culture.
According to experts, between now and 2050, there will be a heavy rise in sea level as a result of global warming and several Indian Ocean islands will simply disappear while the rest will experience an important reduction in land area and a completely transformed coastline. Accordingly, we must start thinking of new development plans, of forging a maritime culture, of a new way forward. What does this mean in concrete terms?

  1. Swimming must become as natural as walking and running. Do we know that almost 50% of the population cannot swim? And worse, a high percentage of fishers constantly run the risk of drowning. Would you believe it? And yet, the sea is a vital element of their environment!
  2. Knowledge of the sea must enter the classroom. Marine biology and maritime engineering should have an important place in the curriculum.
  3. All around Mauritius and Rodrigues, we must build small harbours for fishing and ferry vessels powered by photovoltaic panels functioning as ‘sails’ while generating electricity. Inland travel and transport will have to rely on public vehicles powered by photovoltaic panels. All duty-freewalas must by now hate my guts and start nitpicking.
  4. Land, sacred land, must be used to grow food and build shelters for one and all. It must not be commodified to Alvaronise our ‘Mother’ and allow our ‘NATIONAL DHOBI’ launder international drug, arms, racket and prostitution black money.
  5. Mauritius and Rodrigues must become city-states made up of several self-sufficient municipalities, democratically-run and which offer administrative, agricultural, industrial, social and cultural activities and amenities so that within one municipality muscle energy may be used to travel. Pedale Babou, pedale!
    Short-term profit motive of heartless, selfish, Trumplike cupidity has no place in our world. We must think creatively of ways and means to build a civilization based NOT on having BUT on being; NOT on ‘Me, My, Mine’ BUT on love, care and sharing. We have no choice. If we do not change, it will be the end of everything. Let us start NOW.

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