CECI n'est pas EXECUTE Carina Gounden

Carina Gounden

PhD Student
Field(s): Linguistics, Arts
Institutional affiliation(s): EHESS

Professional contact information


Dissertation director: Michel Boivin

PhD program: EHESS - Arts and Language

Initial registration: 2015


Institutionalized Communitarianism and Instrumentalization of Languages in the Political Sphere in Mauritius


One of the first things that stands out when considering the case of plurilingual countries is that the history of language conflicts and of their management gives a general idea of the forces underlying the socio-linguistic structuring of the country. The debates about languages crystalize within themselves all the challenges that an island like Mauritius must deal with. The language question is a locus of entrenchment for the various communities, one of the last ramparts to defend what one considers as part of one’s identity, one’s cultural heritage. There is a psychological, affective dimension, linked to identity politics; sometimes, a language would seem to help situate one’s self in the world.

The attempt to unveil certain aspects of this socio-linguistic landscape—generally considered taboo as these aspects are protected by the “negative consensus” principle—is a way of giving one’s self the means to understand why, in Mauritius, we are confronted with a paradoxical situation when it comes to the management of these side-by-side languages. Through this research, we would like to highlight the power relations in Mauritian society that are articulated around the question of identities with regard to Creolity, caste, ethnic communities (multiculturalism), and the emergence of Mauritianism (interculturalism).

The question of languages might seem simple if it stood still. It is complicated by the movement that the power relations between communities impart to it. There is also the idea that the promotion of one language by the State is necessarily to the detriment of another. What is really at stake is deeper than this because we are in Mauritius, a still-forming Nation, constantly negotiating identity politics, oscillating between Mauritianism and an ethno-religious communitarian spirit. Languages in Mauritius can be considered “places of memory,” which renders their management delicate and subject to controversy. This explains why politicians only rarely touch on the subject, or only if they see an advantage and a card to play during electoral campaigns. Indeed, it is a very political and politicized subject. The various languages—more or less in use—within the country are closely intertwined with each individual’s ethno-religious identity, and we understand that with the “institutionalized communitarianism” inscribed within the Constitution (1968), the identity markers that languages serve as have a considerable weight in the political arena and require careful attention and handling.

The debate surrounding languages in Mauritius rekindles old conflicts between different communities. This problematic is closely intertwined with the defense of individual cultures, or more precisely in Mauritius: speaking against that of others, as culture goes hand in hand with religion and thereby with languages as well. Naming something opens the door to all kinds of debates and disputes. The main obstacles are sociological, but the psychological dimension must also be taken into account. A true linguistic policy will only be possible if the people are ready. The upcoming changes that will impact the linguistic domain will in the end only be a consequence; once Mauritians have learned to apprehend their Histories, their origins as assets rather than a means to weigh in on the political scale. An in-depth analysis of the distribution and the attributions of power in Mauritian society would be required in order to predict the future of the languages of Mauritius and the idea that Mauritians will articulate (perceptions) of their languages in the future. In addition, the present situation is stifling the development of Creole and preventing the process that would enable the promotion of a Mauritian national identity, one that would be supra-ethnic and transcend the present divisions based on ethnicity that are expressed symbolically through language-as-emblem.


Last update : 23 November 2017 (NG)



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