The Seychelles Islands have three official languages: English, French and Creole. Of the three, Creole is by far the most popular, spoken by 95 percent of the Seychellois or 70,000 people. Eighteen million other readers and writers around the world also use the language upon occasion.
Since 1976 when the Seychelles achieved independence, the government of the Seychelles has worked to promote Seychellois Creole. The language has its own grammar and its own script. In 1981, the government established the Lenstiti Kreol, an institution charged with standardizing the spelling and the grammar of Seychellois Creole. Every year at the Kreol Festival, the institute hosts a get together for writers and linguists, inviting them for input into developing the language formally. Although English remains the official language for business and the government, Seychellois Creole is the language of most everyday conversation.
What's a Creole Language?
Creole languages are functional hybrids of more than one language. There are no similarities among creoles derived from different tongues. Every Creole has its own usage norms. Over time, Creole may develop its own grammar that is substantiatively different from the grammars of its parent languages.
Adults, living in a place where they do not know the language, will simplify that language in an effort to communicate with others. This simplified form of language is called pidgin. Creole languages evolve from pidgin when the children of pidgin speakers adopt it as their primary tongue.
French-based Creoles are derived from the French that was spoken in Paris at the time when France first embarked upon its colonial expansion. Quebecois is not considered to be a French-based Creole, but the languages spoken by the majority of Haitians and residents of the French Caribbean islands are. Both Mauritian Creole and Seychellois Creole are also French-based Creoles.
The French Occupation of the Seychelles
The island nation of Mauritius was already a French protectorate in 1742 when its governor, Mahé de La Bourdonnais, dispatched Captain Lazare Picault to investigate the Seychelles Islands. This allowed the French to establish a territorial claim to the Seychelles 12 years later.
The French were seeking to break the Dutch East India Company's monopoly on the lucrative spice trade. In 1770, 15 white French settlers and their dark-skinned slaves and servants arrived on Sainte Anne Island carrying nutmeg and clove seedlings, and 10,000 nutmeg seeds. Their first attempts to establish a spice plantation proved unsuccessful. The following year, however, a Frenchman named Antoine Gillot established a more successful plantation at Anse Royale in Mahé growing nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and pepper plants.
The French Revolution inspired the Seychelles colonists to run the colony independently of France. During this time, the British blockaded France's West Indian possessions. However, the Seychelles were considered to be of little or no strategic value, and thus were allowed to maintain a nominally neutral stance.
Under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Queau de Quincy, the Seychelles became a haven for French corsairs such as the famous Jean-Francois Hodoul who is said to have buried his treasure on Silhouette Island. In 1811, however, the Seychelles finally capitulated to British rule.
Nevertheless, the French influence persisted in the Seychelles. To this day, the indigenous culture is largely French inspired and 70 percent of the population have French sounding names.
In its written form, Seychellois Creole is far more phonetic than French. The French word for January, for example, is "Janvier." Its Seychellois Creole equivalent is pronounced very similarly but spelled "Zanvye." Note that elisions are incorporated into the formal spelling of the word. "Which bus?" becomes "Ki bus?" in Seychellois Creole. In contemporary French, that request would be "Quel bus?", but perhaps in 17th century France, the pronoun "qui" was used instead. Two syllable words are often broken up with hyphens to help speakers with the pronunciation. Thus, the French, "J'ai trouvé un hotel" (I've found a hotel) becomes the Seychellois Creole "Mon troo-vay un o-tel."
Another important distinction between French and Seychellois Creole is that in Seychellois Creole, the definite article is incorporated into the word itself. Thus, "l'hôtel" in French (the hotel) is translated "Lotel" in Seychellois Creole, and "l'hôpital" (the hospital) becomes "Lopital."
Finally, possessive adjectives are commonly translated as possessive pronouns. Thus, "Je suis malade" in French (I am sick) becomes " Mon malad" in Seychellois Creole.
A Seychellois Creole Phrasebook
The Seychellois speak English fluently, and are happy to speak it with you as a tourist in their country. If you would like to speak to them in their own familiar tongue, however, here are some phrases to get you started.
Good morning/Hello: Bonzour. (Note that the soft j of the French "Bonjour" is transformed into a "z" sound.)
Please: Seel voo play
Excuse me: Ek-skew-zay-mwa
How are you: Comman sava?
I'm fine, thank you: Mon bien, mair-see.
Thank you: Mair-see.
You are welcome: Zher voo zon pree.
What is your name? Ki mannyer ou appel?
My name is…: Mon appel…
Where are you from? Der kel pay-ee et voo?
I am from…: Zher vyen der…
Where is…? Oo e…
Turn left: Tor-nay a gosh.
Turn right: Tor-nay a drwat.
I'm lost: Zhe me swee-gay ga-ray.
I'm sick: Zher swee ma-lad.
Help! O skoor!
Do you speak English? Par-lay voo ong-lay?
I don't understand: Zher ner kom-pron pa.
I'm looking for a hotel: Zher shersh un o-tel.
Where is an inexpensive hotel? Troo-vay un o-tel pa shair.
Where is the bathroom? Oo e la sal der bun?
I'd like a room with a bathroom: Zher voo-dray ewn shom-brer a-vek ewn sal der bun.
What time does the bus leave? A kel er ler bews par?