WHAT IS CREOLE?
Creoles are languages which have most often formed in previous European colonies, where the slave trade occurred. Because this was so prominent, Creoles are spoken all around the world, and the one in Mauritius is known as Kreol Morisien.
It is the first language of nearly all native-born Mauritians, and a second language to Mauritians born outside of the country.
Creole languages are sometimes attributed to Creole ethnic identities, who originated during the colonial era due to racial mixing. However, creole languages are a separate development. As Kreol Morisien is spoken by almost all Mauritius, it is not linked with one particular ethnic group.
HOW DID KREOL MORISYEN FORM?
Creoles are contact languages- meaning several languages coming into contact to form a new, mutual language.
Kreol was born out of slavery. it was a way of European slave owners to communicate with their African slaves.
In Mauritius, this process started when it was a French colony, which is why is it referred to as a French based creole, as most of its lexicon (words) derive from French.
Slaves brought in from both West and East Africa and Madagascar brought in influence from Austranesian, Kwa and Bantu languages. Later, with an influx of indentured labourers arriving from India, Kreol saw more influences from Hindi, Tamil and Bhojpuri. There are also influences from Cantonese and Hakka.
SO, KREOL IS A SIMPLIFIED VERSION OF FRENCH?
This is not true and a common misconception. Creoles, including Kreol Morisien are their own fully fledged languages . In some cases, their grammar, sentence structures, pronunciation and other language features can be complex, and completely different to the languages they originate from.
Just like Western Languages, they often have their own dialect, so Kreol in Mauritius may be spoken differently to Kreol in other Mauritian territories of Rodrigues, Chagos and Agalega- just like how someone in Essex may speak English differently to someone who lives in Manchester.
Clear grammatical rules, sentence structure, a set lexicon, and regional and stylistic variations are all features of established languages, therefore Kreol is its own language.
WHY DOESN’T KREOL HAVE A SET WRITING SYSTEM?
You may have noticed when reading and writing Kreol, that people write and interpret it in different ways. For example, the word ‘Mauritian’ can be written in Kreol as ‘Morisien’, or ‘Morisyen’.
This is because when Creoles were developed, they were meant to be spoken and not necessarily written. As such, unlike Western Languages, they are not standardised - this means they do not have a set writing system. It tends to be written phonetically, which means it’s written how its pronounced.
In recent years, the Mauritian Government has tried to develop a way to write Kreol that is standard.
This is obviously not an easy task, as having a set writing system for Kreol may show bias towards colonial languages (particularly French), highlighting the tension between them and Kreol.
There is also the problem of variation. As most people write Kreol reflecting their pronunciation, this can differ depending on the speaker, so standardising the language means finding one variant that everyone agrees on!
IS KREOL MAURITIUS’ NATIONAL LANGUAGE?
Mauritius is unique in the sense that is has no official language.
Kreol is often spoken at home, while English and French remain prominent in areas of education, administration, work and media.
Kreol is sometimes deemed the ‘unofficial’ official language, as most of the population speak it. Irrespective of who they are, most Mauritians living in Mauritius are considered potentially trilingual, due to their exposure to English, French and Kreol from childhood.
THE IMPORTANCE OF KREOL MORISIEN AND MODERN DAY PERCEPTIONS
Creole languages are important in helping to shape a culture and identity. They can influence food, religion, and music- such as our sega dance, and seggae music.
Mauritius is very multi-cultural with various religions practised, languages spoken at home, and varying cultural beliefs. Despite this, over time one thing they all Mauritians share in common is Kreol Morisien.
Mauritians are proud of their language, and recent years have seen the people moving away from outdated views that Kreol is ‘improper’ and that Western languages are more aligned with ‘culture’ and ‘knowledge’.
Groups such as Ledikasyon Pu Travayer run classes to improve literacy in Kreol, while activists such as The Green Reparations Project are campaigning for Kreol to be spoken in Mauritian parliament.
IS KREOL MORISIEN STILL STIGMATISED?
However, there are still ongoing social implications that Kreol speakers face. Because it is not ‘standardised’, it is not often the language of instruction in schools, meaning there are still views that undermines Kreol as a language that ‘holds people back’, whereas proficiency in Western languages equates to increased prospects.
Another implication is the colonial complex- subconscious inferiority felt by individuals or groups as a result of colonisation. This may explain why some people or groups, despite being fluent in Kreol, favour English or more often French, as they show (outdated) connotations of ‘superiority and education ’.
Baker, P. (1972) Kreol: A Description of Mauritian Creole. London: C. Hurst & Company
Baker, P. and Fon Sing, G. (eds.) (2007) The Making of Mauritian Creole. United Kingdom and Sri Lanka: Battlebridge Publications
Carpooran, A. (2011) Diksioner Morisien. 2nd edn. Mauritius: Les Éditions Le Printemps
Rajah-Carrim, A. Use and Standardisation of Mauritian Creole in Electronically Mediated Communication. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Volume 14, Issue 3, 1 April 2009, Pages 484–508
Syea, A. (2013) The Syntax of Mauritian Creole. London and New York: Bloomsbury Publications