French in Mauritius   Sun Nov 09, 2008 6:10 am GMT
Mauritius defies anglophone past to embrace French language

PORT LOUIS (AFP) – Despite Britain's ouster of its French colonial rulers and being in predominantly anglophone Africa, Mauritius is seeing a rise in the use of French in the absence of an official language.

The Indian Ocean country's constitution makes no mention of an official language and its one million citizens speak either English, French, Hindi or Mauritian Creole -- a French patois.

Only in parliament is English stipulated as the official language -- but lawmakers are allowed to address the speaker in French.

"There is evidence of increased use of French," said Arnaud Carpooran, a lecturer at the University of Mauritius. "It is difficult to find a Mauritian who does not speak French."

Mauritius' French side is being affirmed during a francophonie summit, gathering 55 nations, that ends Sunday. Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam is currently taking part in the meeting in Quebec, the birthplace of French civilisation in North America.

In Mauritius, government administration and the court business may be conducted in English, but the lingua franca remains French.

"The majority of films and documentaries on national television are in French," Carpooran said. "Satellite channels air programmes in French, radio programmes are in French, a huge majority of Mauritian newspapers are in French."

France seized Mauritius in the early 18th century, but later lost it to Britain in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars. Still, the island nation retained the French language and French law despite being under British occupation.

Mauritius won independence from Britain in 1968 and adopted the British parliamentary system of government.

Robert Furlong, a former official with the Francophonie group, attributed the dominance of French to the "democratisation of education, development of the tourism sector and the establishment of several calling centres."

The Francophie group has also funded the establishment of 12 cultural and recreational centres over the past 10 years in the Mauritian countryside -- home to citizens of Indian descent --- as well as in poor districts.

"We have around 1,000 members in each centre," said coordinator Aimee Chasles.

Still, it appears French and English can exist in harmony here.

"The extraordinary thing is that French is not becoming dominant at the expense of English," Furlong said.

"The Francophonie is not a dance to the tune of French," said Carpooran. "We are celebrating being multilingual and French is evolving alongside other languages, including English."

English and French have coexisted in the African island because the British "tolerated French at the onset" after toppling the French rule that lasted from 1721 to 1810, a local historical said.
Frank   Fri Nov 21, 2008 8:53 am GMT
Mauritius   Fri Nov 21, 2008 9:31 am GMT
This is all the more astonishing since in the beginning Mauritius was barely populated with French-Creole speaking African slaves and a few white French families (some of them managed to stay there after Britain took control of Mauritius).

During 19th century the British flooded the island with immigrants from their Indian dominion. Now 70 to 80% of Mauritians are of Asian origin.

This, and the fact that French was officially banned from public life, should have made the island entirely English speaking.

Just the opposite happened.
Yeshua   Fri Nov 21, 2008 10:03 am GMT
Hopefully they will drop French and English and return to their native languages...
Jenny   Fri Dec 05, 2008 2:50 am GMT
A most interesting case.
PARISIEN   Sat Dec 06, 2008 1:17 am GMT
This is a text book instance of butterfly effect.

In the middle of the 19th century a few Indian merchants in Mauritius became successful, they wanted to imitate the way of life of the few white French family remaining there, and the French language was part of the package. The less wealthy followed suit, out of snobbery, and ultimately the whole society switched to French.

About 'butterfly effect': just suppose the Mayflower was hijacked by a few sailors from Holland...
... The world's biggest language now would be Dutch!
Yeshua   Sat Dec 06, 2008 2:21 am GMT
Yeah, another butterfly scenario: Imagine if George Washington had fallen in love with a slave from Papua New Guinea and in addition fallen in love with the Hiri Motu language, hence deciding to have everyone learn it. The world's biggest language would now be Hiri Motu!
Benny   Fri Dec 19, 2008 9:02 am GMT
There are some complicating factors.