Should Education in Mauritius be replaced with ‘ledikasyon’?
Should Education in Mauritius be replaced with ‘ledikasyon’?
A linguist is expected to know the nature and structure of the world’s languages without having to be an expert in any of them.
Since the late 1960’s, Mauritians have been under the misapprehension that a linguist is a master of all the world’s languages and that he (she) can dictate how a word should be spelt, whether or not to use rules of grammar, and so on. There is nothing which is further from the truth. The purpose of this article is to dispel such misconception and look into how, over four decades, linguists have been taking Mauritians for a ride, even to the extent of butchering the French and English languages.
The Oxford dictionary defines « linguistics » as « the science of language(s) as regards nature and structure », and a « linguist » as « a person skilled in foreign languages (good, bad, no, linguist) or in linguistics ». A Frenchman (or woman) may study linguistics in French, but this does not mean that he is an expert in the French language unless he holds relevant qualifications in the subject. Similarly, he is no expert in Japanese, Arabic, Hindi or Russian languages, unless he also holds relevant qualifications in those languages. If he does, he would be in a position to teach people how to speak and write in those languages by following their relevant rules of grammar, but this is not the job of a linguist.
A linguist is expected to know the nature and structure of the world’s languages without having to be an expert in any of them. For example, he would know the structural similarities and differences between groups of languages, such as Indo-Aryan/Iranian/European languages, Dravidian languages, Austronesian languages, Semitic languages, Western Germanic languages (which include English), Abkhazo-Adyghian languages, Bantu languages, and so on. French is a Romance language which, along with Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, descends from the Latin language of the Roman Empire.
Depending on his level of expertise, the linguist, therefore, would know the limitations of those languages and how to overcome those limitations even though he may not be able to speak or write in those languages. However, the linguist is expected to be able to read and write in the language in which he studied, at the very least. The Nepalese Sunil Kumar Jha, Ph.D., a University friend, is a linguist and an expert in Phonetics and Phonology. One day I walked into his room and I saw him working on some graphs similar to seismic graphs. I was a bit surprised as to the relevance of such graphs in the discipline he was studying, and asked him what they were for. Sunil said he was measuring the speech limitations of the mouth and how to overcome them. For example, the problems that a Japanese native speaker would experience in learning English are not the same as those of a French speaker. The linguist/phonetician/phonologist will be in a position to guide the Japanese and French persons how to deal with their limitations in learning English.
A further illustration would be that a Chinese native speaker is not usually able to pronounce the letter “r”, which he would pronounce as an “l”, hence ‘flied lice’ instead of ‘fried rice’. Similarly, a native of the Indian sub-continent tends to pronounce the letter ‘f’ as a ‘p’, hence ‘pountain pen’ instead of ‘fountain pen’, ‘pipty pence’ instead of ‘fifty pence’ or ‘go’enment’ instead of ‘government’. My Mother cannot say ‘Dev’, she says ‘Deo’. Through speech therapy, the linguist should be able to help the speaker to overcome those limitations, not to say that the linguist is in any position to teach the Chinaman or the Indian man how to read and write or spell in their own languages. A linguist would also be in a position to help children with « special needs » (« enfants recalés ») to enable them, through speech therapy, to overcome certain of their limitations. However, he is in no position to offer any solution to the biological, social and economic factors that might have been responsible for those special needs in the first place. This is the work of Medical Doctors, Social Workers and Politicians. Usually, the school would have a special department to deal with those issues and report to the Ministry of Education.
But the linguist Dev Virahsawmy, who is also seen as a “politico and ethno” linguist, made his inroad in the politics of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) in the late 1960’s. In order to create divisions amongst Mauritians for political reasons, he and his party targeted a section of the Mauritian population of African descent having a history of slavery because those people were considered vulnerable. These people were made to believe that the slave creole language which they long abandoned in freedom was in fact a prestigious language closer to Europe and which they should adopt at the expense of their African ancestral languages. He also has the backing of the Catholic Church since the majority of the so-called descendants of slaves are of Catholic faith. He set himself the task to propose a script, which he called ‘Grafilarmoni’, a butchered spelling of two French words ‘Graphie’ and ‘l’harmonie’, without explaining which harmony and between which scripts, and proceeded to systematically butcher the French language by deliberately misspelling French and other words and throwing the existing rules of grammar in the dustbin. He even deforms proper names and alleges that this is the language African slaves spoke without providing an iota of evidence how they spoke. For the past 40 years, he has been thrusting this down our throats by falsely claiming it is the ‘ancestral’ language of the descendants of slaves (only of Catholic faith!) in Mauritius.
Mr Virahsawmy alleges (again without proof) that this language is « Creole », again which he misspells as ‘Kreol’ (as in ‘Haitian Kreol’), which he and others have been lobbying the Mauritian government to impose on Mauritian children as an option in primary education supposedly to help the « recalés ». He is under the illusion (or delusion) that this would work such miracles that all parents would want their children to learn the ‘Kreol’ he copied from Haiti, but for which he claimed ownership with utter disregard for the Mauritian sabir (known as Mauritian patois) which, since the abolition of slavery and social interaction, has developed purely as a means of communication. There is no evidence that the Mauritian lingua franca is the creole spoken by slaves although most people may call it ‘Creole’, which they are free to do. Wrongly spelling ‘mauve’ as ‘mov’ does not make it ‘Kreol’ either! This form of butchered spelling was ‘invented’ or copied à la Haïtienne in the 1960’s, and later from Evangelists for politico-religious reasons, and has absolutely nothing ancestral about it. Over 200,000 English people refer to themselves as « Jedi Knights » in the last census but they are not recognised as such. They have only been given a statistical identifying number.
Hence, according to Dev Virahsawmy, a recalé, meaning a child with special needs, needs ‘Kreol’ rather than a linguist to overcome some of his limitations. Right-thinking Mauritians should ask themselves where Mr Virahsawmy got this from simply because this sort of linguistic ‘therapy’ (or, shall we say, ‘kreol therapy’) does not happen anywhere in the world. A cockney speaker is taught in English and not cockney even though Cockney is his mother tongue. Similarly, a French child is not taught in Argot. According to Mr Virahsawmy, in what language should an English or French child with special needs be taught then?
The Government is responsible for the proper education of Mauritian children and they are doing the education system tremendous harm by allowing this situation to rot (for political reasons). If we have ill-trained teachers, should they not be better trained or should they learn ‘Kreol’? There are hundreds of ways in which special needs children can be helped. Virahsawmy et al. are definitely not in any position, despite their decades of lobbying, and even threats (Jocelyn Grégoire) to tell Mauritians that ‘l’éducation’ should be spelt ‘ledikasyon’ and that, in so doing, their children would become better educated. This is sheer madness and any responsible government should strike it down. It has to do with politics and sectarianism, not with education in whatever shape or form.
M Rafic Soormally
13 July 2010
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