| It should be emphasised that the debate that has taken place on the
island is not between Creole and French speakers but between two categories of Creole
speakers : one that manages French and advocates Creole and another that generally does
not speak French very well but sees this language as an avenue for a better status and a better life (at least for their children). The metropolitan
French (notably educated people) on the Island have an increasing tendency to respect
Creole as a language expressing a specific identity (1). Yet, this attitude, which can even
lead some of them to make the effort to speak Creole when interacting with natives, does
not always produce the expected reaction.
The clash between the perspectives appears clearly in the following example. In a hospital in La Réunion, I saw an interaction between a nurse born in France and recently arrived on the Island and an old woman of Tamil descent. In a well intentioned manner, the nurse started the interaction by trying to address her Tamil patient in an adapted Creole to express intimacy and to put her at ease. She was a bit surprised to see this old woman, who was previously speaking Creole to het nearby daughter, answering her in the most cultivated French. This woman of Indian ancestry (third generation on the Island) did her best to act according to the norms of the situation in which she was involved. This was a situation where, in her definition of reality, she had to speak French. For her, being addressed in Creole by a French metropolitan was already devaluing because it implicitly assumed that she would not be able to speak French. Answering in Creole would have been accepting a fact of inferiority, something that would have afflicted her self-esteem even more. After the nurse's departure, she turned back to her daughter (fourth generation of Tamil descent, who happened to be a French teacher) and both of them went on talking in Creole... Different positions in a social situation imply different perspectives. Neglecting the necessity of understanding others' social position and motivations during the interaction can lead to cultural misunderstandings. Neither social roles nor what is a stake for people can be neglected when seeking to empower sujugated knowledge.
Linguistic adjustments are the daily experience of people practising a non dominant language in many multicultural societies. These linguistic adjustments require a psychological mindset allowing one to switch from one reality to another. They also express the riches of those who perform them. Not se far from La Réunion, Mauritius (another multicultural society) independent since 1968, offers another interesting example of continuous linguistic adjustments. Most of. its inhabitants often use four languages in their everyday life. An individual may thus speak his or her mother tongue (Bhojpuri, Tamil, Gujarati, Cantonese, etc.) at home, Creole in the street, English at school and for ether official affairs, and French in any formal situation. The construction of reality is thus a matter of social context. The speech act can also be a mixture of different languages the addressee is supposed to know; each word of a sentence belonging to such and such language being used as most appropriate to express a given idea. Cultural complexity also means complex identities.
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