PORT LOUIS (AFP) — Despite Britain's ouster of its French colonial rulers and being in predominantly anglophone Africa, Mauritius is seeing a rise in the use of French in the absence of an official language.
The Indian Ocean country's constitution makes no mention of an official language and its one million citizens speak either English, French, Hindi or Mauritian Creole -- a French patois.
Only in parliament is English stipulated as the official language -- but lawmakers are allowed to address the speaker in French.
"There is evidence of increased use of French," said Arnaud Carpooran, a lecturer at the University of Mauritius. "It is difficult to find a Mauritian who does not speak French."
Mauritius' French side is being affirmed during a francophonie summit, gathering 55 nations, that ends Sunday. Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam is currently taking part in the meeting in Quebec, the birthplace of French civilisation in North America.
In Mauritius, government administration and the court business may be conducted in English, but the lingua franca remains French.
"The majority of films and documentaries on national television are in French," Carpooran said. "Satellite channels air programmes in French, radio programmes are in French, a huge majority of Mauritian newspapers are in French."
France seized Mauritius in the early 18th century, but later lost it to Britain in 1810 during the Napoleonic Wars. Still, the island nation retained the French language and French law despite being under British occupation.
Mauritius won independence from Britain in 1968 and adopted the British parliamentary system of government.
Robert Furlong, a former official with the Francophonie group, attributed the dominance of French to the "democratisation of education, development of the tourism sector and the establishment of several calling centres."
The Francophie group has also funded the establishment of 12 cultural and recreational centres over the past 10 years in the Mauritian countryside -- home to citizens of Indian descent --- as well as in poor districts.
"We have around 1,000 members in each centre," said coordinator Aimee Chasles.
Still, it appears French and English can exist in harmony here.
"The extraordinary thing is that French is not becoming dominant at the expense of English," Furlong said.
"The Francophonie is not a dance to the tune of French," said Carpooran. "We are celebrating being multilingual and French is evolving alongside other languages, including English."
English and French have coexisted in the African island because the British "tolerated French at the onset" after toppling the French rule that lasted from 1721 to 1810, a local historical said.
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