The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Linguistics and Social Justice seminar (Nicholas Natchoo)

You are invited to participate in our discussion this week, Tuesday, October 5, 2-5pm EST, on “Linguistics and Social Justice: Language, Education & Human Rights” (MIT Linguistics, Graduate Seminar, 24.S96). Please contact Michel <degraff@mit.edu> for information about Zoom link and readings.

Nicholas Natchoo will lead the discussion on:

“A language that binds/a language that divides: The Kreol Paradox in Mauritius”

Located in the South-West Indian Ocean region, the Republic of Mauritius is a multi-island nation state best known for its sandy beaches, economic success, political stability, and multiculturalism. Long uninhabited and without an indigenous population, the island was turned by the French into a plantation colony in the early 18th century. A Creole language (known locally as Kreol) emerged in the crucible of the slave plantation context, from the contact between enslaved Africans and Malagasy peoples, white settlers, and free people of color. The arrival of indentured laborers from South Asia (and to a lesser extent East Asia), following the British conquest in 1810 and the abolition of slavery in 1835, further added to the diversity of the island both culturally and linguistically. After the country obtained independence in 1968, and despite some violent ethnic clashes, this so-called “overcrowded barracoon” defied the odds to become an exemplar of multicultural peace. Many attribute this harmony to the Kreol language, which is viewed as the glue that binds the extremely diverse population together.

However, Mauritians have long held a complicated and ambivalent rapport with the Kreol language. A case in point, the introduction of Kreol Morisien (Mauritian Kreol) as an optional “ancestral” language in schools in 2012 has generated strong debates which go beyond the legitimate presence and use of Creole languages in education. The incorporation of Kreol Morisien in the school curriculum raises important issues that touch on notions which are largely taboo in Mauritian society, especially as they relate to questions of slavery and reparation. Indeed, the State’s decision to finally introduce the language as a formal school subject essentially resulted from a political maneuver which aimed at restoring a balance between the various constituents of the population within a multicultural curriculum. The latter seeks to represent all communities, including the mixed descendants of enslaved peoples (locally known as “Creoles”) who have historically been “abjected” in the social structure of Mauritius. The modality of Kreol’s introduction in the curriculum is perceived by some as an “ethnicization” of the national lingua franca and is considered as fundamentally incompatible with a conception of Mauritianness that is underpinned by ideas of postracialism. Furthermore, the introduction of Kreol in schools sheds light on a malaise relating to the status of the other islands comprising the Republic of Mauritius, such as the island of Rodrigues where the teaching of Kreol “Morisien” was seen as a threat to the linguistic and contextual specificities of the island.

In this week’s seminar we will discuss the complex and multidimensional realities attached to Kreol in the Republic of Mauritius. Rather than trying to disentangle and neutralize the paradoxes that characterize the Mauritian context, we shall consider those from a different perspective whereby one can actually embrace and work along this paradoxical situation.

Nicholas Natchoo is a lecturer in the Mauritian Kreol Unit at the Mauritius Institute of Education. He joined this institution on a permanent basis in 2011 when Kreol Morisien was about to be introduced in schools and has been involved with the training of Kreol language teachers, curriculum development projects and textbook writing. He recently obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Kansas with a dissertation titled “A Creolizing Curriculum: Multicultural Education, Ethnopolitics, and Teaching Kreol Morisien.” Nicholas is currently responsible for the curriculum, syllabus and textbooks for the teaching of Kreol Morisien in upper secondary level.