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Opinion – Is learning Kreol grammar essential for our children’s future?

The Seychelles Weekend NATION of Saturday March 19, 2016 carried a front-page article entitled ‘Le pouvoir des mots: Les Seychelles célèbrent la Francophonie 2016’. The article focused on the French language in Seychelles in a ceremony which was attended by the Minister for Education Macsuzy Mondon, the Minister for Finance, Trade and The Blue Economy Jean-Paul Adam, the Minister for Tourism and Culture Alain St Ange, alongside the French Ambassador to Seychelles, Son Excellence Lionel Majesté-Larrouy.

The issue also carried a message from President James A. Michel on the occasion of La Journée Internationale de la Francophonie which was headlined: ‘La langue française aux Seychelles est avant tout mémoire et avenir’. Well put Mr President and very timely too coming as it does on the eve of the official visit to Seychelles of Her Excellency The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean,PC CC CMM COM CD FRCPSC (hon), la Sécretaire générale de La Francophonie. From a political refugee of Haitian background, Michaëlle Jean climbed up the political and social ladder of Canada to become its Governor General from 2005 to 2010 – certainly proving that she is indeed a ‘Femme du Monde’.

Over recent weeks, I have been somewhat bothered by an article which Seychelles NATION published in an endeavour to glorify the Kreol language as opposed to la langue Creole which carried the headline – ‘Si ou perdi ou lalang maternel, ou osi ou perdi’ (Meaning “If you lose your maternal language, you also lose yourself”).

I was bothered with the suggestion that the maternal language of the Seychellois people is Kreol with a capital ‘K’ and not the Creole language with a capital ‘C’. In his message about the French language, President Michel rightly states that ‘La langue française aux Seychelles est avant tout mémoire et avenir.’

It is therefore important we face the future in a way which is fair to both our history and memory. We all grew up in Seychelles speaking, singing and listening to political addresses and radio news in Creole which at that time utilised the French vernacular and was regarded as broken French and referred to as “patois.”

It is my view that it has not been in the Seychellois national interest for the One-Party Government, following the coup d’état of 5th June 1977, to cast aside our traditional Creole and to introduce a bureaucratically-produced Kreol grammar for the future generations to study. Certainly a maternal language must have existed long before the establishment of the One-Party State.

The greatest characteristic of any government must be its ability to recognise that at times mistakes could have been made and has the courage and grandeur d’esprit to rectify such a mistake in order that we may move forward along the route of progress and unity. In my view, we must ensure that our children come out of school as well ‘rounded’ as possible considering all prevailing circumstances.

Whilst I fully support the government’s policy of promoting Seychelles as the capital de la Créolité; of promoting Festival Kreol; of promoting chansons Créole et la cuisine Créole, we have to accept the fact that the Creole language spoken in neighbouring Mauritius, La Réunion and in country as far away as Haiti, each one of them varies in the context of their vocabulary and pronunciation. It is an undeniable fact that many English words have been imported into the Creole language spoken in Seychelles. The Creole in La Réunion is of course closer to the French language than the one spoken in either Seychelles or Mauritius where their Creole also contains nuances of different Indian languages. Whilst we can see the historical connectivity, the reality is that there is no exact conformity within the vocabulary of all these ‘patois’.

It is therefore categorically clear that the ‘Kreol’ grammar being utilised in Seychelles today will not be adopted within the educational system of these other Creole nations.

There are other points to be considered in the debate of whether the existing situation should be maintained in future if we wish our people to become ‘hommes et femmes du monde’ as opposed to merely ‘hommes et femmes de la Créolité’

  • At this period of world history, our children are compelled to enter the age of technology – study and learn how to operate mobile phones, computers, i-pads, etc…. Would it not be more worthwhile for them to utilise precious time for these subjects?
  • We should recognise the fact that we are living in an age where science is becoming more and more important and that there are no scientific reference books written in Creole or Kreol.
  • Here in Seychelles, there are two private schools – the Independent School and International School which are recording excellent results and that both of these have made it a point not to introduce the Kreol grammar into their system.
  • At the moment, there is a glossy magazine published in London promoting the Creole culture and all things connected with ‘La Créolité.’ Intelligently, the articles published in this magazine are all in English and not in any Kreol ‘patois.’ The Editor of this magazine must have taken a leaf from the philosophy of the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who on the eve of independence decided that the official language of Singapore would not be Mandarin, Hata, Cantonese or Malay but English. Thus, going down in history as a great national unifier.
  • Taking consideration the overriding importance which we attach to tourism development, that we should aim at getting our people to write and speak as good an English and as good a French language as possible. Just learning the French grammar requires a lot of hard work and concentration without having to burden our children with learning a Kreol grammar.
  • The recent arrival of teachers from Botswana, a country with no connectivity to ‘Le monde de la Créolité’, as our Ministry of Education discovered that teachers from Creole nations are in short supply.

I recall the day when a former secretary of mine arrived in my office in tears. ‘What’s wrong?’ I asked her. She explained, “When I was young I went to school at the convent and there I studied Lafontaine’s fable, ‘Le cigale et la fourmi’. Now last night I was bothered when my little daughter was struggling to learn ‘Katiti lo Pye Koko’.”

It so happen that I was the person who in the history of this country had the privilege to introduce a motion in our Legislative Council which put the French language on a par with the English language and made us a bilingual nation like Canada. This initiative was certainly appreciated by the French Government as evidenced by the letter dated June 22, 1971 which the then French President Georges Pompidou sent me –

« Monsieur le Premier Ministre,
A l’occasion de votre récent voyage en France, vous avez eu l’amabilité de m’addresser un exemplaire de l’ouvrage ‘Les Seychelles, Iles d’Amour’. Je vous en remercie très vivement.
J’ai été tout particulièrement sensible à votre chaleureuse dédicace et à l’attachement pour la langue et la culture françaises dont elle témoigne.
Croyez que, de son côté, mon pays n’a pas oublié le peuple des Seychelles qui, dans le passé a été si étroitement lié à son destin et qui contribue aujourd’hui au rayonnement de la langue française dans l’Océan Indien.
Veuillez agréer, Monsieur Le Premier Ministre, l’assurance de ma considération la plus distinguée. »

It is therefore with chagrin that I subsequently discovered that so long as the revolutionary government of Seychelles agreed that Seychelles would remain a member of ‘La famille Francophone’, it was not too important for the French Government that ‘Les petits Créoles des Seychelles’ did not speak ‘Un bon français.’

Certainly food for thoughts and a real subject for discussion with The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean who is not only of Creole background but above all, a true ‘Femme du Monde’.

James R. Mancham
Officier de la Légion d’Honneur

Source : Seychelles NATION

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