It is often said that “English is the official language of Mauritius”. Is it really so?
To some extent yes. Government matters are usually dealt with in English, though some French words can appear here and there since the non-criminal law, i.e. the civil law, is still largely based on the Code Napoléon. For example, in an entirely English official text one can find the words “gage sans déplacement”. The Civil Status Act (1981) says this for instance:
Part IV – Marriage
Sub-part A – Civil marriage
18 Application of sub-Part
A civil marriage shall be governed by the Code Napoleon and this sub-Part.
Most official notices are written in English, except when the public really needs to understand what’s up, in which case it is in French or in Creole (see here). When the government or parastatal organisations want to be seen to be close to the citizens, they use Creole or French, mostly Creole.
The Constitution — written in English by an Englishman in the 60s — doesn’t clearly stipulate that English, or whatever other language, is the official language of the country. It only says English should be used in Parliament. But as it also says, French may be used to address the Speaker:
49. Official language
The official language of the Assembly shall be English but any member may address the chair in French.
(Constitution of Mauritius, chapter V – Parliament, part I – The National Assembly)
In reality, when things start to get bad during parliamentary debates, Creole becomes used more and more, sometimes to the point where words begin to hit other people in the face.
The other day there was a sports day for government services. However, the announcements were being made in French, not English, or even Creole. One could see the Special Mobile Force (SMF), the National Coast Guard (NCG), the Mauritius Ports Authority (MPA), the Mauritius Police Force, etc. in full and sweaty action. Athletic (but not body-built) representatives from all these governmental bodies were running against each other. To manage this little gathering there was a team of people with blue T-shirts on which a word was marked in white letters: “Officiel”.