- Created on Thursday, October 18 2012 20:38
Speaking of marketing messages using generic English (see my previous blogs), I was just leaving the Jan Palach bus station the other day and was welcomed by billboards telling me »Newness Brings Freshness», »La différence est dans la choix des goûts« and »Steer your business with solutions tailor-made for your success«.
You might say this must have been seen in one or another ex-Soviet bloc country, no? Wrong. It could hardly be further from the truth, literally!
Whatever led the good people of Curepipe, Mautitius, to name their central station after the young student who had greeted the Prague’68 events by burning himself remains secret to me.
So does the rather uninspiring creativity of Mauritian advertisers proved by their billboard slogans – you rarely meet more business-oriented people anywhere else!
But it’s something else that strikes one’s mind even more. To come to that, let’s first have a quick background overview.
Mauritian population of 1.2 million is a mix of several ethnical groups – Creoles of African origin, Indians (Hindu, Muslim and Tamil among many others), Chinese, as well as the French and English speaking population of European origin.
Centuries ago, this originally non-populated island was first visited by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch. The French won it over in the second half of the 18th century, imported tens of thousands of African slaves and started growing sugarcane. Then, rather exactly 200 years ago, they lost it against the Brits. These latter have, strangely enough, neither enforced their language nor the legislation very consequently. A huge wave of immigration from India and China followed.
The Mauritian legislation is still following the Code Napoleon these days and people are speaking a language that, frankly, I haven’t been able to decode so far. It’s the French-based Creole, even further away from French we know than Afrikaans is from Dutch.
African slaves first created this dialect during the 19th century. Unable to adopt the French language as it was, they rather chose to modify (simplify) it and add some juicy details from their own languages. Later, this dialect has become a real language and has been adopted and further developed by each of the ethnical groups following. Today, quite everybody speaks Creole in Mauritius, Indians and Chines included. Surprisingly and despite some recent attempts to set rules, this language barely exists in written.
So when you mingle through the crowds these days, you barely notice that English is in fact their official language. When they need to (and only then), people speak English they had learned at school - which largely explains those strange ads in the Curepipe central station.
On the other hand: the French language, just like one we know here, is dominant in their media, but only educated people are able to understand and communicate in it.
As result, it is never the same language used within the family, at school, in the office or to follow the media. Something perceived normal over here in Europe is completely absent on this island.
Do the Mauritians bother if their maternal language is different from what they speak at school, at work, in the street, read in newspapers or hear on the radio?
Definitely not. Nobody insists on having tons of official speech or else translated into Creole or any other language. While speaking Creole among themselves, English is their instrument of communication and nobody bothers.
That is not to say that status of the overall used Creole is stuck somewhere in the third range. In the contrary, it is quickly evolving and attempts to set rules for the written Creole have recently been made, if somehow shy and clumsy. Anyway, Creole remains far from being the key element of cultural identity, as we tend to perceive our languages in Europe.
Speaking of Europe, it might deserve to be reminded that it is us, Europeans, responsible for more or less everything over there in the first place, including, among other, the extermination of the entire dodo bird population (efficiently replaced by rats) and making disappear all the ebony trees but one.
Let’s get back: How is this situation perceived by an ordinary individual Mauritian citizen? As said, he/she doesn’t seem to bother at all. Needless to say that “interethnic conflicts” are a term unknown in Mauritius and have been so throughout the entire (rather short) history of the island. I’d even dare to say people feel having more serious problems to look after.
Can we draw any common lines at all with how we act in Europe these days, converging in one sense, but with all that variety getting under one roof?
From historical reasons (described at some later stage), the two situations can in no way be compared. But the question remains if, here in Europe, we can at least at some point draw inspiration from other edges of the World. How can we manage our whole linguistic plethora efficiently without some of us somehow feeling ripped off a part of the cultural identity?
See what translators and linguistic experts can say about linguistic management of the future Europe in my next blog. Don’t miss it.