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The development of the linguistic repertoire of primary school learners within the Mauritian multilingual educational system.

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Since Mauritius gained its independence in 1968, English has remained the official medium of instruction within its schooling system, despite the fact that it is used minimally within the broader Mauritian society. This study seeks to understand the development of the linguistic repertoire of the multilingual primary school learners within the changing Mauritian education system, which has recently (2012) undergone a major policy redirection with the official introduction of Kreol Morisien (KM), a dominant lingua franca, taught now as an optional language. This introduction of KM offers potentially a new contextual avenue for the development of the linguistic repertoire of primary school learners. This study adopted a linguistic ethnographic approach to produce data with learners aged from 6-8 years in a single Mauritian primary school. Linguistic ethnographic data with the participants was produced over a nine-week period through classroom observations, audio-recording of different instances of interaction of the participants in numerous contexts, including informal chats with the participants. The data was produced to gain a better understanding of how the linguistic repertoire of learners develops within a multilingual educational system and why it develops the way it does. The ethnographic data was then analysed through comparative discourse analytical strategies emanating from the linguistic field. Key informants providing a more holistic depiction of the emergent linguistic repertoire trends included the staff and management of the school. The analysis reveals that the linguistic repertoire of the learners is shaped by the space in which they use it, by the participants (dominantly peers and teachers) who make up the interactional acts within which they find themselves, and by the semiotised objects which originate within these interactional acts. A thesis emerges to explain the emergent linguistic repertoire of these learners: when learners start their schooling, they carry with them into their primary classrooms and learning spaces a fluid, dynamic linguistic repertoire drawing from the various resources within their unique linguistic backgrounds. Such a repertoire consists of a multiplicity of voices. However, the multilingual educational system, like a centrifuge, works as a rigid system, separating the dynamism of the linguistic repertoire, and extrapolates the fluidity and multiplicity into discrete languages. Consequently, the multiplicity of voices becomes unified into one single voice which correlates with that of the system (educational, social, cultural), and this in turn resonates with the voice of the state (political, ideological). The Educational Centrifugal Linguistic Acculturation Framework (ECLA Framework) paradoxically reinforces rather than challenges the hierarchies between the different languages of the Mauritian society. This ECLA Framework is consequently presented to shed light on how the linguistic repertoire of primary school learners works implicitly to develop hegemony within the Mauritian educational system despite the laudable intention of providing an alternative. The study opens possibilities for reflection on deeper systemic reforms required to enact more democratic recognition of linguistic diversity.


Doctor of Philosophy in Education. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2016.