Creole and its Mauritian context  

By Paul Comarmond,


Origin of Creoles

Creole as a language, culture, identity and a means of expression is going through an important stage of its evolution. In its etymology it stems from the Portuguese “crioulo” and the Spanish “criollo” meaning to nourish, to raise or more precisely “the servant raised in the house”. Until recently the dictionaries defined it as the white person born in a European colony. The term afterwards was used to define the black population and further classification was needed to call this burgeoning race: white Creole, coloured Creole black Creole, etc. Often shunned, banned and criticized the language is now enjoying a well-deserved recognition. Historically, it is the result of two cultures and the evolutionary process of using the vocabulary of one and the grammar and syntax of the other. With colonization and slavery and from the contact between the European masters and the slaves, a new set of languages emerged, namely the creoles of today’s world.

Creoles of the World

Some have identified as many as 127 creoles, but the main bases remain French, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch. Haiti and Seychelles are the only two countries where it has official status. The Vanuatu has granted bichlamar, its Melanesian Creole the status of “Official spoken language”. The Dutch Antilles government is proposing a law to officialize Papiamento and English alongside Dutch as the official spoken languages. However granting official status to the language does not remove its debasing prejudices.

Mauritian Creole

Mauritian Creole is one of the 15 French based creoles and is second in the number of its speakers (1.2 million), after Haiti (7 millions). The true beginnings of Mauritian Creole dates back around 1720 when the slaves coming from Africa and Madagascar devised a communication line with their French masters. The regional French of the 18th century along with French coastal dialects of Brittany and Normandy still persists in enriching the Mauritian Creole vocabulary. Fishermen here use “labwet” for example, which means “bait” for fishing whereas the French word in use today is “appât”.

A plethora of English words have also infiltrated the language and English derived words are also legion. i.e filling (filling station), cross here (pedestrian cross walk), flat (apartment), compioutere (computer), call (telephone call). Malagasy words also influence the Creole, but since they did not have any written reference, they have been explained by the use of the ethnocentric French language. Words like “falou” are more certainly from the big red island than the French  “trompe de Fallope”. Fala means the inner and outer lips of the female private part in Sakalava Northern dialect and faly in Antandroy means incest. Ourite or zourite in Mauritian Creole is orita in Malagasy for octopus. The word malyss means to pound things like corn to grind them in Anatandroy and faire maliss in Mauritian means to make love. Many words are also from Chinese and Indian origin, mainly in the gastronomic field. . The national dishes “cari” and “rougail” are both tamil words in origin. Rougail comes from “urugai” which is a sauce prepared and intended to last a long time, it was the rice accompaniment of the first coolies. Everybody has tasted a dalpouri Dewa, and words like dhobi, dekti, katora, langouti, massala, ladoo, goulabjamoun, farata, piaw, kefan, hakien, siassiw; these are all Mauritian Creole words.


Writing Mauritian Creole

In September 2004, Vinesh Hookomsing of the University of Mauritius tabled a proposal called “grafi larmoni” to the Ministry of Education in an attempt to standardize the way  to write the language. It is an evolutionary process that was revived by Dev Virasawmy in 1967 and which finally will be introduced in schools for teaching in the ZEP  ( Zones d’Education Prioritaires). Still “work in progress” it is far from being the final orthography that will establish Mauritian Creole Language as a full fledge literary tool.

Final Note

Culture/ Language/ Identity/ Ethnicity

Creole spoken in Mauritius , Seychelles and Rodrigues have the same bases and can easily be understood by all three groups of speakers. Mauritius also defines Creole as an ethnic group which has received a good amount of media attention since the riots of  February 1999 following the death in prison of Kaya a popular seggae singer.

To validate the language, the speakers must therefore not be ashamed when they speak it. They should avoid resorting to French, hence help in developing the necessary forms to make the usage adaptable to all situations. They should encourage their children to speak it. They should start to learn its orthography and no longer confine it to its oral character and folkloric usage.