Language is the most essential component of the culture and identity of a people and Mauritius is no exception. Understanding and speaking Kreol is probably also the best way to know and enjoy the country, its people, traditions and cultural diversity.
Our island has no known indigenous population and the Mauritian identity has been shaped by successive waves of colonisation and migration. The local language, Kreol has been influenced and enriched throughout our four-century history by the diversity of cultures and nationalities that called this tiny piece of land home.
The most widely spoken language by far
The results of a 2011 survey investigating which languages were spoken at home indicate that a very large majority of 86.5% of respondents used Kreol in their daily conversations. Bhojpuri was spoken by 5.3% of them and other ancestral languages were practised by 3.6% of the people interviewed. French and English were spoken at home by 4.1% and 0.5% of respondents respectively but most of the Mauritian people use either or both languages in more formal contexts such as the work environment, at school and for public speaking.
Different types of Kreol words
The Kreol language has a French lexical base and its origins can be traced back to the days of slavery. It is a combination of a number of different types of words. There are prosthetic words, such as ‘lokipasion’ (occupation) and ‘ledikasion’ (education), in which a consonant has been added at the beginning. Words like ‘dezord’ (disorder) and ‘dantis’ (dentist) have been formed by apocope, i.e. the omission of one or more sounds or syllables from the end of a word. In cases of apheresis, for example ‘tann’ (the French verb ‘entendre’, meaning ‘to hear’) or ‘ti’ (‘petit’, meaning ‘small’), the initial sound has been omitted.
Syncope, the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word, occurs in words like ‘matla’ (‘matelas’, meaning ‘mattress’) and ‘lotri’ (lottery). Sometimes, there is also a repetition or doubling of words to insist on an action that is taking place or emphasise a situation. ‘Dousman-dousman’ (very slowly) and ‘feb-feb’ (very weak) are a couple of examples.
From oral to written use
From a mostly oral medium used in storytelling and songs, Kreol has adopted a more standardised, written form in recent decades. It is now taught and used as a medium in schools, has become a potent medium for literary production and a dictionary has also been published.
Occasionally switching to Kreol can help you better connect with the Mauritian people. A few basics are ‘Ki manier’ to say ‘Hi, how are you?’ and the appropriate reply, ‘Bien mersi’ (I’m fine, thanks). You could also use ‘lari’ instead of ‘street’, ‘dimounn’ instead of ‘people’ as well as ‘garson’ for a boy and ‘tifi’ for a girl to sound more local. And to say goodbye, it’s as simple as that: ‘Orvwar’!