More than a thousand years ago, what we call English today started as a ‘pidgin’, a very simplified speech used by Anglo-Saxons and Vikings for basic communication. As interactions between the two peoples developed, the new speech developed at all levels (phonology, syntax and lexis), dropped most inflections and became the mother tongue of a growing number of children. This stage is known as ‘creole’. Then writers entered the picture. The most famous are Chaucer and Shakespeare. When James I sponsored the translation of the Bible into English, that gave an extra boost to the language which eventually became the language of Great Britain.
Today, that creole language has become the quasi-universal language. It is the main language of North America, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand; it is the most popular and vibrant language of the Indian Peninsula; it is the lingua franca of the Republic of South Africa (RSA); in Zimbabwe, it is one of the official languages, the main medium of instruction and an indispensable lingua franca; it is the official language of Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya (together with Swahili), Botswana, Zambia, Rwanda etc. Several Francophone countries where the use of French is on the decline, have joined the Commonwealth of Nations (56 countries) where English is the dominant and active lingua franca. President Macron of France recently stated that he had to admit that French cannot compete with English which is the most commonly used language in the EU. In Vietnam, English has ousted French. In the most prestigious universities of the People’s Republic of China, English is the medium of teaching and research.
What has led to the increasing popularity and prestige of English?
There is a general belief that the English Language has enormously benefitted from British colonialism and US imperialism but I believe that this is not the main reason. Being a creole language, it is not synthetic but analytic. Inflections are very rare. An English verb has a minimum of 3 forms (cut, cuts, cutting); regular verbs have 4 forms (work, works, working, worked); irregular verbs have 5 forms (eat, eats, eating, ate, eaten). A French verb has dozens of forms. The present tense alone of the verb ‘manger’, has 5 forms: mange, manges, mangeons, mangez and mangent. English adjectives have only one form: a beautiful child, a beautiful flower, beautiful children and flowers, a beautiful house etc. In French an adjective has several forms: un beau pays, un bel homme, une belle fille, des beaux yeux, des belles femmes. A full contrastive analysis will show the difficulty faced by learners of French as a foreign language.
With globalisation, the internet, growing use of IT and travelling facilities, the planet is shrinking into a big village and in this global village, people are in greater need for a basic medium of ‘border-crossing’, cross-cultural communication (L2). Synthetic languages like French or Hindi have no chance of winning the communication battle. Countries will opt for the universal creole lingua franca which English (L2) is, together with their local national language (L1) which defines national identity. To succeed, languages like French or Hindi must eat the humble pie and opt as languages of culture to be mastered as foreign languages or L3.
In the Maritime Republic of Mauritius, we are very fortunate to have as L1 Mauritian and Rodriguan and English as L2. These are 3 creole languages. The acquisition of L1 literacy (Mauritian or Rodriguan) will pave the way to quick and successful L2 literacy (English). Creole languages have syntactic similarities which facilitate the mastery of English.
To illustrate this, let us have a quick look at the tense and aspect structure of Mauritian and English:
Present tense: Mo manze. / I eat.
Present progressive: Mo pe manze. / I am eating.
Present perfective: Mo finn manze. / I have eaten.
Past tense: Mo ti manze. / I ate.
Past progressive: Mo ti pe manze. / I was eating.
Past perfective: Mo ti finn manze. / I had eaten.
Future tense: Mo pou manze. / I will eat.
Past in future: Mo ti pou manze si … / I would eat if …
If we are wise enough to use properly our cultural resources, we can make of our republic a model in the fight against illiteracy and poverty. And the cherry on the cake will be mastery of a third language.
This is not blah-blah-blah. This is not a discourse on the sex of angels. A course in literacy and numeracy which I mounted with the help of the Catholic Church and which used Mauritian as main medium and English as L2 was very successful and won a Commonwealth award. 200 children who had failed CPE (year 6) twice were taken on board. After 3 years, over 75% passed the National Examination Certificate (year 9). All of them are now skilled workers and literate citizens.
I would not be surprised that in a not-too-distant future, Reunion decides to invest more in the acquisition of English.
Madagascar, a neighbour of RSA and a country with strong links with the creole islands in the Indian Ocean (Seychelles, Reunion, Mauritius, Rodrigues) will certainly benefit from some command of English, the language of international trade.
Is that idle dreaming? Time will tell.



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