The Creole language
The Creole language that will be considered during this essay will be Mauritian Creole. Mauritius is found of the African continent, in the south west of the Indian ocean. This island was visited by the Portuguese in the early 16th Century, and by the Dutch in the 17th Century. They were the ones whom first permanently settled there, however due to certain conditions on the island, such as the weather conditions which they could not adapt to, caused them to leave some years later. At this time, the French were ruling the island near Mauritius, which is called la Reunion, and therefore saw this as an advantage and took control of Mauritius in the 18th Century, and as a result it was under the French rule. The French started importing slaves from different areas, such as East and West Africa, India and Madagascar and grew in numbers quite rapidly. They settled on the island using a Creole as a means of communication. Due to the increase in the numbers of slaves, the European population diminished, which caused the Creole language to expand. Some time later during the Napoleon war Britain took over, which meant that English became the language of the government and also education. However, French was still the language used in other domains, but Creole was used the most.
At the moment the population of Mauritius is around 1.2 million, whom all speak the Creole language, even though it has been known that English is the official language. In A.Richards book, he states that English is not the preferred language regardless of the fact that it has a colonial past on the island and that “beyond school and work it is rarely used.”He adds that, “the official language of Mauritius is English, although most Mauritians are more comfortable speaking French. The language of the people, however, is Creole.”(A.Richards, R.Ellis, D.Shuurman P21)
Although Creole is spoken by the majority of its inhabitants, “people who want to climb the social ladder” are now choosing French or English. “This fact proves again the sociological content of pidgins and creoles. In most areas they are spoken by the lower classes and abandoned as soon as a person aspires to a higher position in society.”(M.K Adler P54) In actual fact, the pidgins of Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean areas all have “connections with each other through European colonisation and the slavery system.”(M.Sebba P169)
Firstly the term ‘Creole’ will be taken into consideration, in order to get a better understanding of what will be explained. “This term has been appropriated by linguists to describe a particular group of languages spoken not only by Black populations in and around the Caribbean, but in many other locations world-wide.”(H.Nwenmely P15) When people from different origins came together, the only way they could communicate would be with simple vocabulary and grammar. Therefore, pidgin as a language was used, until it was expanding and therefore resulting in Creole which, “results fulfils all the communication needs of its speakers but, while the vocabulary is drawn from the dominant language, the structures which it uses are often very different, and, in many cases, derive from the subordinate languages.”(H.Nwenmely P16)
Let us examine the connection between Creole and pidgin language. It can be said that there exists a strong link between Creole and pidgin because if the original language that is spoken by the native speakers is a pidgin, it has been nativised. In other words, it has become a creole language. “The idea that creole languages are nativised pidgins emerged during the late sixties and developed in the seventies.”(C.Lefebvre P14) Usually, a Creole becomes more complex and refined than a pidgin, which then results in “its vocabulary expands, its grammar stabilises and its pronunciation becomes more fixed”. (M.K Adler P14) According to C.Lefebvre, “Creoles can emerge rapidly, in this case in one generation”(P15) Pidgins are known to be more of a second language, in other words a language which is learnt throughout generations, whilst Creole is developed by children as a native language. Therefore, pidgins are “contact languages without native speakers,”whilst Creoles are “contact languages with native speakers.”(M.Sebba P169)
Nevertheless we need to remember that even though pidgins and creoles are different, they both ‘share structural features such as grammatical simplicity and small vocabularies when compared with their lexifiers’. (M.Sebba P168) In general, Mauritian Creole is an easy language to be learnt as “there are no grammatical rules”and“English, French and Indian words can be adapted by “Creolising” them.”(A.Richards, R.Ellis, D.Shuurman P21) Therefore, the speaker can utilise the language to communicate in a non-structured way, whereby the style of speaking, vocabulary, syntax, phonology or grammatical structures can be as good and as acceptable as any other language, as it is also “not formalized and as such does not have a dictionary.” (http://www.economicexpert.com/a/Mauritian:Creole.htm)
One main linguistic feature which can be examined in the Mauritian Creole, is the lexifier. “ Where a single language is identified as the source of the majority of the lexicon of a pidgin or creole, it is known as the lexifier…the lexifier often equates with the European coloniser’s language where there is one.”(M.Sebba P25) This language contains many words from the French language, but according to Sebba, she states that “Baker (1972) notes that more than 150 words are derived from English, more than 50 from Indian languages and several from Malagasy and Chinese.”(M.Sebba P144). It is possible to say that many words clearly origin from the French words but in the Creole lexicon, for example the French ‘le, la, l’ is usually connected with the noun it affects. Moreover in French, articles are frequently joined with the preposition ‘de’. However, in Mauritian Creole, the sound which is produced can undoubtedly be reflected into a single word. Examples of this could be ‘le pied’ in French, which in English means foot, becomes ‘lipye’ in Mauritian Creole. Furthermore, de l’eau meaning water in English, becomes ‘dilo’ in Mauritian Creole. As we can see, the articles which exist in the French language, ‘le’ and ‘la’ becomes part of the actual word itself. Nevertheless, some words that exist have completely changed their meanings. One example would be “gayh”, which means “to have something” in Mauritian, which originally comes from the French word “gagner”, meaning “to win something.”
Phonology is another aspect which can be examined. This term can be described as the study of sounds, and in this case, the study of the sound system of Mauritian Creole. Phonology can be linked with the organs of speech (palates, alveolar ridge) and how it is used, and also it can mean the features of sound, for example accents and intonation. The sound system for Mauritian Creole is very similar to French, however it still has some obvious differences. This can be said as “the Creole does not have some of the more deeper and rounded consonants that the French does. For example, manger (eat) in Creole is written manzer and is spoken the same as the French, with the exception that the more rounded g sound in the French is flattened to sound like the s in the English word “vision”.”(http://www.economicexpert.com/a/Mauritian:Creole.htm) Another aspect which can be recognised is the rounded vowels which exist, such as “U” and “EU” that are pronounced as “I”, “U”, “E” and “O”, which in French are usually pronounced as “U” and “EU”. Another striking example would be “among the many phonological regularities in the derivation of Mauritian Creole words from French is the following tidy principle: French nasal vowels remain nasal…but when the French is followed by a word final voiced plosive (d, b, or g) the final plosive is dropped, the MC vowel is denasalised”and “m,n and ng becomes a sharply pronounced consonant.”(Seuren P100-101) The Mauritian orthography also generally follows French, but some silent letters are not taken into account, which cuts the number of ways in which the same word can be spelt.
The vocabulary, in other words, the words or phrases used in Mauritian Creole is interesting to examine. M.Vaughan investigates the language’s slave roots. According to her, the linguist and folklorist Charles Baissac reports how Creole uses “guetter” (to look for) instead of “regarder” (look). Similarly, “roder” (to prowl) means “chercher” (to search in French).
Nouns are also important in Mauritian Creole as they do not change when they are pluralised. As a consequence, whether a noun is singular or plural can only be verified by the context. For example, the word “ban” is put before the noun in order to change the sentence to the plural form, “ban dimoune” meaning those people, whilst “dimoune” on its own would mean people. Even though the French “un/une” is equivalent to the Mauritian “en”, the way in which it can be used is different. In Creole the article “la” is used, however it is placed after the noun it changes. In French you would say, “un chat”, “le chat”, “les chats”, whilst in Mauritian you would say “en chat”, “chats-la”, ban-chats.”
Whether or not the pronoun is the subject, object, possessive, male or female, there is only one word which is used to describe these. This word is “li”, which can be used to describe he, she, him, her, it or hers.
There are also words which are used in sentences to indicate the tenses. For past tense, the word “ti” is used before the action, “fin” is used to mark the perfect tense, and “va” for future.
The syntax of Mauritian Creole, especially the use of their question words is also interesting to note, which DeGraff explains in his book. The way in which Creole contrasts with both the English and French language is that it does not have a “subject-auxiliary inversion in connection with wh-movement.”(DeGraff P78) For example, if we directly translate the phrase “ki u ule fer dinmen?”, it would be “what you want make tomorrow?”, and in idiomatic English, “what do you want to do tomorrow?”(P78) Another example would be, “kan nu ti fer fet la?”, directly meaning “when we TNS make party DET?”and in idiomatic English, “when did we have the party?”(P78) DeGraff continues to comment that “most question words are created in Mauritian Creole by prefixing ‘ki’ to nouns of time, place, way and so on, which are drawn from the French lexicon.”(DeGraff P78) He then follows on by explaining “such a bio morphemic way of forming wh-words appears to be typical for Creole languages.”(DeGraff P78)
On the other hand, while it seems that some structural elements of Mauritian Creole are typical of creoles in general, it is important to note that Mauritian Creole is not entirely typical of Creole languages. We can take H.Wekker’s opinion on this when he comments that typically “creolization is best described as a gradual process of language formation, involving a period of bilingualism in which substrate features will be transmitted.”(Wekker,H P140) He also discusses about “abrupt creolization”as a way for development when there is “extremely limited access”to the main language, but that this manner of development of a Creole language is “the exception rather than the rule.”(P141) However, we can consider that according to some theorists, Mauritian Creole is a perfect example of this kind of abrupt creolisation, whereby the language is a “radical creole.” (DeGraff P77). As a matter of fact in Sebba’s book, she discusses how in 1773, it was stated in a newspaper advertisement how a lost slave did not understand the Creole language. This therefore indicates that twenty two years after the slaves were first imported to Mauritius, “an identifiable local language had developed,”(Sebba P142) which caused the slaves difficulty in comprehending. Without a doubt, this means that it can be said that this language is not essentially typical of the Creole languages in general as Mauritian Creole seemed to have developed very quickly and not necessarily derived from a pidgin language. Baker and Corne also suggest this in their book, as they believe that Mauritian Creole originated on the island of Mauritius between the years of 1727 and 1738, without ever having any connections with the pidgin languages. Moreover, they suggest that it was the slave children who created the Mauritian Creole, as when they were born in Mauritius, they outnumbered the white settlers. On the other hand of this suggestion, Richard says “it evolved from the pidgin used by the French masters of the 18th Century to communicate with their slaves or their masters who invented the Creole language.”(A.Richards, R.Ellis, D.Shuurman P21) Therefore there is an argument which concerns to whether or not it was the slaves or their masters whom created and developed the Mauritian Creole. The fact that Mauritian Creole lacks the pidgin language, it makes it unusual and according to Wekker, it is therefore quite an “exceptional” language. (Wekker P141)