Multilingualism, social inequalities, and mental health: an anthropological study in Mauritius
This thesis analyses two different features of Mauritian society in relation to multilingualism. The first is how multilingualism appears in everyday Mauritian life. The second is how it influences mental health provision in this country. The sociolinguistics of Mauritius has drawn the attention of many linguists in the past (Baker 1972; Stein 1982; Rajah- Carrim 2004; Biltoo 2004; Atchia-Emmerich 2005; Thomson 2008), but linguists tend to have quite different views on Mauritian languages than many Mauritians themselves. Language shifts and diverse language games in the Wittgensteinian sense are commonplace in Mauritius, and have been in the focus of linguistic and anthropological interest (Rajah-Carrim 2004 and Eisenlohr 2007), but this is the first research so far about the situation in the clinical arena. Sociolinguistic studies tend to revolve only around a few other domains of language; in particular, there is great attention on proper language use – or the lack of it – in education, which diverts attention away from equally important domains of social life. Little has been published and is known about mental health, the state of psychology and psychiatry in Mauritius and its relationship with language use. This work demonstrates that mental health can provide a new viewpoint to understand complex social processes in Mauritius. People dealing with mental health problems come across certain, dedicated social institutions that reflect, represent and form an important part of the wider society. This encounter is to a great extent verbal; therefore, the use of language or languages here can serve as an object of observation for the researcher. The agency of the social actors in question – patients, relatives and staff members in selected settings – manifests largely in speaking, including sometimes a choice of available languages and language variations. This choice is influenced by the pragmatism of the ‘problem’ that brings the patient to those institutions but also simultaneously determined by the dynamic complexity of sociohistorical and economic circumstances. It is surprising for many policy makers and theorists that social suffering has not lessened in recent decades in spite of global technological advancements and increased democracy. This thesis demonstrates through ethnographic examples that existing provisions (particularly in biomedicine) that have been created to attend to problems of mental health may operate contrary to the principle of help. In the case of Mauritius, this distress is significantly due to postcolonial inequities and elite rivalries that are in significant measure associated with the use of postcolonial languages. Biomedical institutions and particularly the encounters among social actors in biomedical institutions, which are not isolated or independent from the prevailing social context, can contribute to the reproduction of social suffering.