"My auntie has stopped speaking to her siblings. Rifts like these are
commonplace in my family, where people fall out with each other like dealt
cards. The size of our family doesn’t help. The original eight siblings have
grown into four generations and almost 90 people. Full family parties happen
only at parks and playgrounds or in the backyards of wealthy family members,
which are the only backyards that can accommodate us all.
Some of the grievances are historic, dating back decades and finessed over
time. Others are new, fresh. It’s a condition prevalent among migrant families,
especially those like mine who have been tentative – because of differences in
language, culture, class, education – to socialise widely in Australia. We are
tethered to each other and this tether grows thin, frayed by too many
gatherings filled with the same faces and the echoes of old pains. In this
context my 70-year-old auntie’s antagonism is understandable.
Except for this. She will speak to her siblings (and presumably to us nieces
and nephews) if we speak to her in English or French. She just won’t speak to
anyone in Creole anymore.
It was my dad who told me this, and when I asked why, he muttered something
about Creole being a low language. What do you mean, I pressed.
“A low language”, my dad said again. “You know, without proper verbs and things
Creole, the language that my Mauritian family speak with one another, is a
patois – a variation on French. That’s what I’ve always been told, anyway.
Google tells me something else: that it’s a mix of a European with “local”
languages, especially African languages spoken by slaves in the West Indies –
this is mentioned discretely, in brackets.
Like my auntie, Google also privileges French.
And while there is no official language stipulated by the Mauritian
constitution, in places like Parliament, the chosen languages are English and
French, despite the fact that 86.5% of the population speak Creole.
In not wanting to speak Creole, my auntie is merely doing what her country asks
of her. She is also doing what her mother asked of her. Despite her Chinese
husband and surname, my grandmère taught her children to speak French, but not
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics