Haitian Creole

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Haitian Creole
kreyòl
Pronunciation [kɣejɔl]
Native to Haiti
Native speakers
9.6 million (2007)[1]
Latin (Haitian Creole alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
 Haiti
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen (“Haitian Creole Academy”)[6]
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ht
ISO 639-2 hat
ISO 639-3 hat
Glottolog hait1244[7]
Linguasphere 51-AAC-cb
IETF ht
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Haitian Creole (/ˈhʃən ˈkrl/; Haitian Creole: kreyòl,[8]:1[9] pronounced: [kɣejɔl]; French: créole haïtien [kʁeɔl aisjɛ̃]; often Creole and Kreyòl) is a French-based creole and is one of Haiti's two official languages, alongside French. The word creole is of Latin origin via a Portuguese term that means, "person (especially a servant) raised in one's house".[10] It first referred to Europeans born and raised in overseas colonies, but later was used to refer to the language as well.[9] Haitian Creole is spoken by about 9.6–12 million people worldwide.[11] Haitian Creole is the first language of 90–95% of Haitians.[12] It is a creole language based largely on 18th-century French with influences from Portuguese, Spanish, Taíno, and West African languages.[13] Haitian Creole emerged from contact between French settlers and African slaves during the Atlantic Slave Trade in the French colony of Saint‑Domingue (now the Republic of Haiti). Haitians are the largest creole-speaking community in the world.[14]

History

Haitian Creole developed in the 17th and 18th centuries on the western third of Hispaniola in a setting that mixed native speakers of various Niger–Congo languages with French colonizers.[15] In the early 1940s under President Élie Lescot, attempts were made to standardize the language. Lescot brought in two American linguistic experts, Frank Laubach and H. Ormonde McConnell, to develop a standardized Creole orthography. Although some regarded the orthography highly, it was generally not well received.[16] Its orthography was standardized in 1979. That same year Haitian Creole was elevated in status by the Act of 18 September 1979.[17] The Institut Pédagogique National established an official orthography for Kreyòl, and slight modifications were made over the next two decades. For example, the hyphen (-) is no longer used, nor is the apostrophe.[18]:131[19]:185–192 The only accent mark retained is the grave accent in ⟨è⟩ and ⟨ò⟩.[19]:433 The Constitution of 1983 upgraded Haitian Creole to a national language alongside French.[20] It classified French as the langue d'instruction or "language of instruction", and Creole was classified as an outil d'enseignement or a "tool of education". The Constitution of 1987 names both Haitian Creole and French as the official languages, but recognizes Haitian Creole as the only language that all Haitians hold in common.[21]:263[22] Even without government recognition, by the end of the 1800s, there were already literary texts written in Haitian Creole such as Oswald Durand's "Choucoune" and Georges Sylvain's "Cric? Crac!". Félix Morisseau-Leroy was another influential authors of Haitian Creole work. Since the 1980s, many educators, writers, and activists have written literature in Haitian Creole. On 28 October 2004 Haitian newspaper Le Matin first published an entire edition in Haitian Creole in observance of the country's newly instated "Creole Day".[23]:556

Origins

There are many theories on the formation of the Haitian Creole language.

John Singler suggests that Creole was probably formed between the time the French colony of Saint‑Domingue was founded in 1659 and 1740.[24]:53 It was during this period that the colony moved from tobacco and cotton production to a mostly sugar-based economy, which created a favorable setting for the Creole language to form. At the time of tobacco and cotton production, the Haitian population was made up of colonists, the engagés (employed whites), people of color and slaves in relatively balanced proportions, with roughly equal numbers of people of color and engagés. Singler estimates the economy shifted into sugar production in 1690, and radically reconfigured the early Haitian people as "the big landowners drove out the small ones, while the number of slaves exploded".[24]:53 Prior to this economic shift, engagés were favored over slaves as they were felt to be easier to control.[25] However, the sugar crop required a much larger labor force, and larger numbers of slaves were brought in. As the colored slaves had decreasing contact with native French-speaking whites, the language would have begun to change.[24]:53–57

Many African slaves in French ownership were from the Niger-Congo territory and particularly from Kwa (Gbe and Akan) and Bantu language-family areas.[24]:53–57 Many were sent to French colonies. Singler suggests that the number of Bantu speakers decreased while the number of Kwa speakers increased, with Gbe being the most dominant group. The first fifty years of Saint‑Domingue's sugar boom coincided with the Gbe predominance in the French Caribbean. During the time Singler places the evolution of the language, the Gbe population was 50% of the imported slave population.[24]:53–57

In contrast to the African languages, a type of classical French (français classique) and langues d'oïl (Norman, Poitevin, Saintongeais, Brittany, Picard) were spoken during the 17th and 18th centuries in Saint‑Domingue, as well as in the other French colonies of North America and French West Africa.[9][26] Slaves who were seldom able to communicate with fellow slaves would try to learn French. With the constant importation of slaves, the language gradually became formalized and became a distinct tongue to that of the French. The language was also picked up by the whites and became used by all those born in what is now Haiti.[9]

Although over 90% of the Haitian Creole vocabulary is of French origin, the two languages are mutually unintelligible.[9][27] This is due to the fact that the two grammars are different. In addition, both Haitian Creole and French have experienced semantic change; words that had a single meaning in the 17th century have changed or have been replaced in both languages.[9] For example, "Ki jan ou rele?" ("What is your name?") corresponds to the French "Comment vous appelez‑vous ?" Although the average French speaker would not understand this phrase, every word in it is in fact of French origin: qui "what"; genre "manner"; vous "you", and héler "to call", but the verb héler has been replaced by appeler in 21st century French.[9]

The Fon language, a modern subdivision of the Gbe language, is often used to compare grammatical structure between Haitian Creole and to relexify it with vocabulary from French.[28] The fact that the equivalent of the definite article ("the") also comes after the noun as in Creole, instead of before surely heightens its case. The usage in modern spoken French is superficially similar:

French Popular French Fon Haitian Creole English
la maison la maison-là afe a kay la the house

Note that the là ("there") in Popular French, is added after the noun for emphasis, comparable to the English "that there house".

Orthography

Haitian Creole has a phonemic orthography with highly regular spelling, except for proper nouns and foreign words. According to the official standardized orthography, Haitian Creole is composed of the following 32 symbols: ⟨a⟩, ⟨an⟩, ⟨b⟩, ⟨ch⟩, ⟨d⟩, ⟨e⟩, ⟨è⟩, ⟨en⟩, ⟨f⟩, ⟨g⟩, ⟨h⟩, ⟨i⟩, ⟨j⟩, ⟨k⟩, ⟨l⟩, ⟨m⟩, ⟨n⟩, ⟨ng⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨ò⟩, ⟨on⟩, ⟨ou⟩, ⟨oun⟩, ⟨p⟩, ⟨r⟩, ⟨s⟩, ⟨t⟩, ⟨ui⟩, ⟨v⟩, ⟨w⟩, ⟨y⟩, and ⟨z⟩.[8]:100 The letters ⟨c⟩ and ⟨u⟩ are always associated with another letter (in the multigraphs ⟨ch⟩, ⟨ou⟩, ⟨oun⟩, and ⟨ui⟩). The Haitian Creole alphabet has no ⟨q⟩ or ⟨x⟩; when ⟨x⟩ is used in loanwords and proper nouns, it represents the sounds /ks/, /kz/, or /gz/.[19]:433

Consonants
Haitian orthography IPA Examples English approximation
b b bagay bow
ch ʃ cho shoe
d d dous do
f f fig festival
g ɡ gòch gain
h h hèn hotel
j ʒ jedi measure
k k kle sky
l l liv clean
m m machin mother
n n nòt note
ng ŋ bilding feeling
p p pase spy
r ɣ rezon between go and loch
s s sis six
t t tout tie
v v vyann vent
z z zero zero
Non-native consonants
dj djaz jazz
Semivowels
w w wi we
y j pye yes
ui ɥi uit roughly like sweet
Vowels
Haitian orthography IPA Examples English approximation
a

(or à before an n)

a abako

pàn

bra
e e ale hey
è ɛ fèt festival
i i lide machine
o o zwazo roughly like law (British English)
ò ɔ deyò sort
ou u nou you
Nasal vowels
an
(when not followed by a vowel)
ã anpil No English equivalent; nasalized [ɒ]
en
(when not followed by a vowel)
ɛ̃ mwen No English equivalent; nasalized [ɛ]
on
(when not followed by a vowel)
ɔ̃ tonton No English equivalent; nasalized [o]
oun
(when not followed by a vowel)
ũ moun No English equivalent; nasalized [un]
  • There are no silent letters in Haitian Creole.
  • All sounds are always spelled the same, except when a vowel carries a grave accent ⟨`⟩ before ⟨n⟩, which makes it an oral vowel instead of a nasal vowel:
    • ⟨en⟩ for /ɛ̃/ and ⟨èn⟩ for /ɛn/;
    • ⟨on⟩ for /ɔ̃/ and ⟨òn⟩ for /ɔn/; and
    • ⟨an⟩ for /ã/ and ⟨àn⟩ for /an/.
  • When immediately followed by a vowel in a word, the digraphs denoting the nasal vowels (⟨an⟩, ⟨en⟩, ⟨on⟩, and sometimes ⟨oun⟩) are pronounced as an oral vowel followed by /n/.
  • There is some ambiguity in the pronunciation of the high vowels of the letters ⟨i⟩ and ⟨ou⟩ when followed in spelling by ⟨n⟩.[29] Common words such as moun ("person") and machin ("car") end with consonantal /n/, while very few words, mostly adopted from African languages, contain nasalized high vowels as in houngan ("vodou priest").

Haitian orthography debate

The first technical orthography for Haitian Creole was developed in 1940 by H. Ormonde McConnell. It was later revised with the help of Frank Laubach, resulting in the creation of what is known as the McConnell–Laubach orthography.[19]:434

The McConnell–Laubach orthography received substantial criticism from members of the Haitian elite. Haitian scholar Charles Pressoir critiqued the McConnell–Laubach orthography for its lack of codified front-rounded vowels, which are typically used only by francophone elites.[19]:436 Another criticism was of the broad use of the letters ⟨k⟩, ⟨w⟩, and ⟨y⟩, which Pressoir argued looked "too American".[19]:431–432 This criticism of the "American look" of the orthography was shared by many educated Haitians, who also criticized its association with Protestantism.[19]:432 The last of Pressoir's criticisms was that "the use of the circumflex to mark nasalized vowels" treated nasal sounds differently from the way they are represented in French, which he feared would inhibit the learning of French.[19]:431

The creation of the orthography was essentially an articulation of the language ideologies of those involved and brought out political and social tensions between competing groups. A large portion of this tension lay in the ideology held by many that the French language is superior, which led to resentment of the language by some Haitians and an admiration for it from others.[19]:435 This orthographical controversy boiled down to an attempt to unify a conception of Haitian national identity. Where ⟨k⟩ and ⟨w⟩ seemed too Anglo-Saxon and American imperialist, ⟨c⟩ and ⟨ou⟩ to represent those sounds are the heritage of French colonialism.[30]:191

French-based orthography

Alongside the official phonetic orthography, in Haiti there is also a French-based orthography (l'orthographe francisée), or rather several variations of this which were present long before the introduction of the current phonetic orthography. There have been arguments against the phonetic writing system of Creole. The main complaint is that it looks nothing like French and so may hinder the learning of French at school.[19] Unlike the phonetic orthography, the French orthography is not standardized: it has no official rules or regulations on spelling, so spelling varies depending on the writer; some use exact French spelling, others adjust the spelling of certain words to represent the Creole accent, and still others drop silent letters at the ends of words since Creole rarely uses the French liaison. The result is that a phrase represented phonetically such as "Li ale travay le maten" may be represented many ways using the French orthography.

  • Li ale travay le maten = Lui aller travail le matin = Li aller travail le matin
  • Koman ou ye? = Comment 'ous yest? = Commen ou yé?
  • Pa gen problem = Pas gagne problème = Pa guin problème
  • Tout bagay an fòm = Toute bagaye en forme = Toute bagail en fóme
  • Pa koun ye a = Pas counne hier à = Pa counne hié à
  • Nou ap chache = Nous ap' chercher = Nou ap chácher
  • Nou bezwen on doktè tout swit = Nous besoin un docteur toute suite = Nou besouin on docté toute suite
  • Kote lopital la? = Côté l'hôpital là?

Grammar

Haitian Creole grammar is highly analytical: for example, verbs are not inflected for tense or person, and there is no grammatical gender, which means that adjectives and articles are not inflected according to the noun. The primary word order is subject–verb–object as it is in French and English.

Many grammatical features, particularly the pluralization of nouns and indication of possession, are indicated by appending certain markers, like yo, to the main word. There has been a debate going on for some years as to whether these markers are affixes or clitics, and if punctuation such as the hyphen should be used to connect them to the word.[19]:185–192

Although language's vocabulary has many words related to their French-language cognates, its sentence structure is like that of the West African Fon language.[28]

Haitian Creole Fon French (17th c.) English
bekann mwen

bike my

keke che

bike my

ma bécane

my bike

my bike
bekann mwen yo

bike my plural

keke che le

bike my plural

mes bécanes

my bikes

my bikes

Pronouns

There are six pronouns: first, second, and third person, each in both singular, and plural. Some are of French origin, others are not. There is no difference between direct and indirect objects. The short form of Haitian Creole pronouns are used only at the beginning of a sentence or before verbs that begin with a vowel.[31]

Haitian Creole Fon[24]:142 French English
long form short form[18]:131[32]
mwen m nyɛ̀ je I
j'
me me
m'
moi
ou[lower-alpha 1][lower-alpha 2] w hwɛ̀ tu you (singular), thou (archaic)
te
t'
toi
li[lower-alpha 3] l é, éyɛ̀ il he
elle she, her
le him, it
la her, it
l' him, her, it
lui him, her, it
nou n nous we, us
vous[35]:94 you (plural)[lower-alpha 4]
yo[lower-alpha 5] y ils they
elles
les them
leur
eux
  1. sometimes the French pronoun on ("one", "[generic] you", "[singular] they") is translated to Haitian Creole as ou[33] and other times it is translated as yo[34]
  2. sometimes ou is written as w and in the sample phrases below, w indicates ou
  3. in the northern part of Haiti, li is often shortened to i as in Guadeloupe, Martinique and the other Lesser Antilles
  4. in southern Haiti, the second person plural is zòt
  5. sometimes the French pronoun on ("one", "[generic] you", "[singular] they") is translated to Haitian Creole as yo[34] and other times it is translated as ou[33]

Plural of nouns

If a noun is definite, it is pluralized by adding yo at the end. If it is indefinite, it has no plural marker, and its plurality is determined by context.

Haitian Creole French English
liv yo les livres the books
machin yo les autos the cars
fi yo mete wob les filles mettent des robes the girls put on dresses

Possession

Possession is indicated by placing the possessor or possessive pronoun after the item possessed. This is similar to the French construction of chez moi or chez lui which are "my place" and "his place", respectively. In northern Haiti, a or an is placed before the possessive pronoun.

Unlike in English, possession does not indicate definiteness ("my friend" as opposed to "a friend of mine"), and possessive constructions are often followed by a definite article.

Haitian Creole French English
lajan li son argent his money
her money
fanmi mwen ma famille my family
fanmi m
fanmi an m
kay yo leur maison their house
leurs maisons their houses
papa ou ton père your father
papa w
chat Pierre a le chat de Pierre Pierre's cat
chèz Marie a la chaise de Marie Marie's chair
zanmi papa Jean l'ami du père de Jean Jean's father's friend
papa vwazen zanmi nou le père du voisin de notre ami our friend's neighbor's father

Indefinite article

The language has two indefinite articles, on and yon (pronounced /õ/ and /jõ/) which correspond to French un and une. Yon is derived from the French il y a un ("there is a"). Both are used only with singular nouns, and are placed before the noun:

Haitian Creole French English
on kouto un couteau a knife
yon kouto
on kravat une cravate a necktie
yon kravat

Definite article

In Haitian Creole, there are five definite articles,[36]:28 and they are placed after the nouns they modify. The final syllable of the preceding word determines which is used with which nouns.[37]:20 If the last sound is an oral consonant and is preceded by an oral vowel, it becomes la:

Haitian Creole French English
kravat la la cravate the tie
liv la le livre the book
lakay la la maison the house

If the last sound is an oral consonant and is preceded by a nasal vowel, it becomes lan:

Haitian Creole French English
lamp lan la lampe the lamp
bank lan la banque the bank

If the last sound is an oral vowel and is preceded by an oral consonant, it becomes a:

Haitian Creole French English
kouto a le couteau the knife
peyi a le pays the country

If a word ends in "mi", "mou", "ni", "nou", or a nasal vowel, it becomes an:

Haitian Creole French English
fanmi an la famille the family
mi an le mur the wall
chyen an le chien the dog
pon an le pont the bridge

If the last sound is a nasal consonant, it becomes nan, but may also be lan:

Haitian Creole French English
machin nan la voiture the car
machin lan
telefonn nan le téléphone the telephone
telefonn lan
fanm nan la femme the woman
fanm lan

Demonstratives

There is a single word sa that corresponds to English "this" and to "that" (and to French ce, ceci, cela, and ça). As in English, it may be used as a demonstrative, except that it is placed after the noun that it qualifies. It is often followed by a or yo (in order to mark number): sa a ("this here" or "that there"):

Haitian Creole French English
jaden sa bèl ce jardin est beau this garden is beautiful
that garden is beautiful

As in English, it may also be used as a pronoun, replacing a noun:

Haitian Creole French English
sa se zanmi mwen c'est mon ami this is my friend
that is my friend
sa se chyen frè mwen c'est le chien de mon frère this is my brother's dog
that is my brother's dog

Verbs

Many verbs in Haitian Creole are the same spoken words as the French infinitive, but there is no conjugation in the language; the verbs have one form only, and changes in tense, mood, and aspect are indicated by the use of markers:

Haitian Creole French English
li ale travay nan maten il va au travail le matin he goes to work in the morning
elle va au travail le matin she goes to work in the morning
li dòmi aswè il dort le soir he sleeps in the evening
elle dort le soir she sleeps in the evening
li li Bib la il lit la Bible he reads the Bible
elle lit la Bible she reads the Bible
mwen fè manje je fais à manger I make food
I cook
nou toujou etidye nous étudions toujours we always study

Copula

The concept expressed in English by the verb "to be" is expressed in Haitian Creole by three words, se, ye, and sometimes e.

The verb se (pronounced similarly to the English word "say") is used to link a subject with a predicate nominative:

Haitian Creole French English
li se frè mwen il est mon frère he is my brother
mwen se yon doktè je suis médecin I'm a doctor
je suis docteur
sa se yon pyebwa mango c'est un manguier this is a mango tree
that is a mango tree
nou se zanmi nous sommes amis we are friends

The subject sa or li can sometimes be omitted with se:[clarification needed]

Haitian Creole French English
se yon bon ide c'est une bonne idée that's a good idea
this is a good idea
se nouvo chemiz mwen c'est ma nouvelle chemise that's my new shirt
this is my new shirt

To express "I want to be", usually vin ("to become") is used instead of se.

Haitian Creole French English
li pral vin bofrè m il va devenir mon beau-frère he will be my brother-in-law he will be my stepbrother
li pral vin bofrè mwen
mwen vle vin on doktè je veux devenir docteur I want to become a doctor
sa pral vin yon pye mango ça va devenir un manguier that will become a mango tree
this will become a mango tree
nou pral vin zanmi nous allons devenir amis we will be friends

Ye also means "to be", but is placed exclusively at the end of a sentence, after the predicate and the subject (in that order):

Haitian Creole French English
mwen se Ayisyen je suis haïtien I am Haitian
Ayisyen mwen ye
Koman ou ye? lit. Comment êtes-vous? How are you?

Haitian Creole has stative verbs, which means that the verb "to be" is not overt when followed by an adjective. Therefore, malad means both "sick" and "to be sick":

Haitian Creole French English
mwen gen yon sè ki malad j'ai une sœur malade I have a sick sister
sè mwen malad ma sœur est malade my sister is sick

To have

The verb "to have" is genyen, often shortened to gen.

Haitian Creole French English
mwen gen lajan nan bank lan j'ai de l'argent dans la banque I have money in the bank

There is

The verb genyen (or gen) also means "there is" or "there are":

Haitian Creole French English
gen anpil Ayisyen nan Florid il y a beaucoup d'Haïtiens en Floride there are many Haitians in Florida
gen on moun la il y a quelqu'un là there is someone here
there is someone there
pa gen moun la il n'y a personne là there is nobody here
there is nobody there

To know

The Haitian Creole word for "to know" and "to know how" is konnen, which is often shortened to konn.

Haitian Creole French English
Eske ou konnen non li? Connais-tu son nom? Do you know his name?
Do you know her name?
mwen konnen kote li ye je sais où il est I know where he is
je sais où elle est I know where she is
Mwen konn fè manje Je sais comment faire à manger I know how to cook
(lit. "I know how to make food")
Eske ou konn ale Ayiti? As-tu été à Haïti? Have you been to Haiti?
(lit. "Do you know to go to Haiti?")
Li pa konn li franse Il ne sait pas lire le français He cannot read French
(lit. "He doesn't know how to read French")
Elle ne sait pas lire le français She cannot read French
(lit. "She doesn't know how to read French")

To do

means "do" or "make". It has a broad range of meanings, as it is one of the most common verbs used in idiomatic phrases.

Haitian Creole French English
Kòman ou fè pale Kreyòl? Comment as-tu appris à parler Créole? How did you learn to speak Haitian Creole?
Marie konn fè mayi moulen. Marie sait faire de la farine de maïs. Marie knows how to make cornmeal.

To be able to

The verb kapab (or shortened to ka, kap or kab) means "to be able to (do something)". It refers to both "capability" and "availability":

Haitian Creole French English
mwen ka ale demen je peux aller demain I can go tomorrow
petèt mwen ka fè sa demen je peux peut-être faire ça demain maybe I can do that tomorrow
nou ka ale pita nous pouvons aller plus tard we can go later

Tense markers

There is no conjugation in Haitian Creole. In the present non-progressive tense, one just uses the basic verb form for stative verbs:

Haitian Creole French English
mwen pale Kreyòl je parle Créole I speak Creole

When the basic form of action verbs is used without any verb markers, it is generally understood as referring to the past:

Haitian Creole French English
mwen manje j'ai mangé I ate
ou manje tu as mangé you ate
li manje il a mangé he ate
elle a mangé she ate
nou manje nous avons mangé we ate
yo manje ils ont mangé they ate
elles ont mangé

Manje means both "food" and "to eat"; m ap manje bon manje means "I am eating good food".

For other tenses, special "tense marker" words are placed before the verb. The basic ones are:

Tense marker Tense Annotations
te simple past from French été ("been")
t ap past progressive a combination of te and ap, "was doing"
ap present progressive with ap and a, the pronouns nearly always take the short form (m ap, l ap, n ap, y ap, etc.). From 18th century French être après, progressive form
a future some limitations on use. From French avoir à ("to have to")
pral near or definite future translates to "going to". Contraction of French pour aller ("going to")
ta conditional future a combination of te and a ("will do")

Simple past or past perfect:

Haitian Creole English
mwen te manje I ate
I had eaten
ou te manje you ate
you had eaten
li te manje he ate
she ate
he had eaten
she had eaten
nou te manje we ate
we had eaten
yo te manje they ate
they had eaten

Past progressive:

Haitian Creole English
mwen t ap manje I was eating
ou t ap manje you were eating
li t ap manje he was eating
she was eating
nou t ap manje we were eating
yo t ap manje they were eating

Present progressive:

Haitian Creole English
m ap manje I am eating
w ap manje you are eating
l ap manje he is eating
she is eating
n ap manje we are eating
y ap manje they are eating

For the present progressive, it is customary, though not necessary, to add kounye a ("right now"):

Haitian Creole English
m ap manje kounye a I am eating right now
y ap manje kounye a they are eating right now

Also, ap manje can mean "will eat" depending on the context of the sentence:

Haitian Creole English
m ap manje apre m priye I will eat after I pray
I am eating after I pray
mwen pap di sa I will not say that
I am not saying that

Near or definite future:

Haitian Creole English
mwen pral manje I am going to eat
ou pral manje you are going to eat
li pral manje he is going to eat
she is going to eat
nou pral manje we are going to eat
yo pral manje they are going to eat

Future:

Haitian Creole English
n a wè pi ta see you later
(lit. "we will see later")

Other examples:

Haitian Creole English
mwen te wè zanmi ou yè I saw your friend yesterday
nou te pale lontan we spoke for a long time
lè l te gen uit an . . . when he was eight years old . . .
when she was eight years old . . .
m a travay I will work
m pral travay I'm going to work
n a li l demen we'll read it tomorrow
nou pral li l demen we are going to read it tomorrow
mwen t ap mache epi m te wè yon chen I was walking and I saw a dog

Recent past markers include fèk and sòt (both mean "just" or "just now" and are often used together):

Haitian Creole English
mwen fèk sòt antre kay la I just entered the house

A verb mood marker is ta, corresponding to English "would" and equivalent to the French conditional tense:

Haitian Creole English
yo ta renmen jwe they would like to play
mwen ta vini si m te gen yon machin I would come if I had a car
li ta bliye w si ou pa t la he would forget you if you weren't here
she would forget you if you weren't here

Negation

The word pa comes before a verb and any tense markers to negate it:

Haitian Creole English
Rose pa vle ale Rose doesn't want to go
Rose pa t vle ale Rose didn't want to go

Lexicon

Most of the lexicon of Creole is derived from French, with significant changes in pronunciation and morphology; often the French definite article was retained as part of the noun. For example, the French definite article la in la lune ("the moon") was incorporated into the Creole noun for moon: lalin. However, the language also inherited many words of different origins, among them Wolof, Fon, Kongo, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Taino and Arabic.

Being a living language, Haitian Creole creates and borrows new words to describe new or old concepts and realities. Examples of this are fè bak which was borrowed from English and means "to move backwards" (the original word derived from French is rekile from reculer), and also from English, napkin, which is being used as well as tòchon, from the French torchon.

Sample

Haitian Creole IPA origin English
anasi /anasi/ Akan: ananse spider
annanna /ãnãna/ French: anana (from Taíno: ananas) pineapple
Ayiti /ajiti/ Taíno: Ayiti, lit. 'mountainous land' Haiti ("mountainous land")
bagay /baɡaj/ French: bagage, lit. 'baggage' thing
bannann /bãnãn/ French: banane, lit. 'banana' banana / plantain
bekàn /bekan/ French: bécane bicycle
bòkò /boko/ Fon: bokono sorcerer
Bondye /bõdje/ French: bon dieu, lit. 'good god' God
chenèt /ʃenɛt/ French: quénette (French Antilles) gap between the two front teeth
chouk /ʃõk/ Fula: chuk, lit. 'to pierce, to poke' poke
dekabes /dekabes/ Spanish: dos cabezas, lit. 'two heads' two-headed win during dominos
dèyè /dɛjɛ/ French: derrière behind
diri /diɣi/ French: du riz, lit. 'some rice' rice
Etazini[38]:i, 63, 141 /etazini/ French: États-Unis United States
fig /fiɡ/ French: figue, lit. 'fig' banana
je /ʒe/ French: yeux, lit. 'eyes' eye
kle /kle/ French: clé, lit. 'key' key, wrench
kle kola /kle kola/ French: clé, lit. 'key' bottle opener
English: cola
kònflèks /kõnfleks/ English: corn flakes breakfast cereal
kawotchou /kautʃu/ French: caoutchouc, lit. 'rubber' tire
lakay /lakaj/ French: la cahutte, lit. 'the hut' house
lalin /lalin/ French: la lune, lit. 'the moon' moon
li /li/ French: lui he, she, him, her, it
makak /makak/ French: macaque monkey
manbo /mãbo/ Kongo: mambu or Fon: nanbo vodou priestess
marasa /maɣasa/ Kongo: mabasa twins
matant /matãt/ French: ma tante, lit. 'my aunt' aunt, aged woman
moun /mun/ French: monde, lit. 'world' people, person
mwen /mwɛ̃/ French: moi, lit. 'me' I, me, my, myself
nimewo /nimewo/ French: numéro, lit. 'number' number
oungan /ũɡã/ Fon: houngan vodou priest
piman /pimã/ French: piment a very hot pepper
pann /pãn/ French: pendre, lit. 'to hang' clothesline
podyab /podjab/ French: pauvre diable or Spanish: pobre diablo poor devil
pwa /pwa/ French: pois, lit. 'pea' bean
seyfing /seifiŋ/ English: surfing sea-surfing
tonton /tõtõ/ French: tonton uncle, aged man
vwazen /vwazɛ̃/ French: voisin neighbor
yo /jo/ Fon: ye they, them, their; plural marker
zonbi /zõbi/ Kongo: nzumbi soulless corpse, living dead, ghost
zwazo /zwazo/ French: les oiseaux, lit. 'the birds' bird

Nouns derived from trademarks

Many trademarks have become been genericized in Haitian Creole as happened in English with "aspirin" and "kleenex":

Haitian Creole generic trademark English
kolgat (also pat dantifris) Colgate toothpaste
jilèt (also razwa) Gillette razor
pampèz (also kouchèt) Pampers diaper, nappy
kodak Kodak camera
frijidè Frigidaire refrigerator
dèlco Delco generator
iglou Igloo cooler
tèmòs Thermos
chiklèt Chiclets chewing gum
magi Maggi bouillon cube
kitèks Cutex nail polish
djip Jeep SUV
douko Duco automobile paint
koteks Kotex sanitary napkin
ajax Ajax powder cleanser

Nèg and blan

Despite nèg and blan having similar words in French (nègre, a pejorative to refer to black people, and blanc, meaning white, or white person), the meanings they carry in French do not apply in Haitian Creole. Nèg means "person", regardless of skin color (like "guy" or "dude" in American English).[39][40] The word blan generally means "foreigner" or "not from Haiti". Thus, a non-black Haitian man would be called nèg, while a black person from Cameroon could be referred to as blan.[39]

Etymologically, the word nèg is derived from the French "nègre" and is cognate with the Spanish negro ("black", both the color and the people).

There are many other Haitian Creole terms for specific tones of skin including grimo, bren, roz, and mawon. Some Haitians consider such labels as offensive because of their association with color discrimination and the Haitian class system, while others use the terms freely.

Examples

Salutations

Haitian Creole English
A demen! See you tomorrow!
A pi ta! See you later!
Adye! Good bye! (permanently)
Anchante! Nice to meet you! (lit. "enchanted!")
Bon apre-midi! Good afternoon!
Bònn nui! Good night!
Bonjou! Good day!
Good morning!
Bonswa! Good evening
Dezole! Sorry!
Eskize'm! Excuse me!
Kenbe la! Hang in there! (informal)
Ki jan ou rele? What's your name?
Ki non ou?
Ki non'w?
Koman ou rele?
Mwen rele . . . My name is . . .
Non'm se . . .
Ki jan ou ye? How are you?
Ki laj ou? How old are you? (lit. "What is your age?")
Ki laj ou genyen?
Kòman ou ye? How are you?
Kon si, kon sa So, so
Kontinye konsa! Keep it up!
M'ap boule I'm managing (informal; lit. "I'm burning")
(common response to sa kap fèt and sak pase)
M'ap kenbe I'm hanging on (informal)
M'ap viv I'm living
Mal Bad
Men wi Of course
Mwen byen I'm well
Mwen dakò I agree
Mwen gen . . . an I'm . . . years old
Mwen la I'm so-so (informal; lit. "I'm here")
N'a wè pi ta! See you later! (lit. "We will see later!")
Orevwa! Good bye (temporarily)
Pa mal Not bad
Pa pi mal Not so bad
Padon! Pardon!
Sorry!
Move!
Padonne m! Pardon me!
Forgive me!
Pòte'w byen! Take care! (lit. "Carry yourself well!")
Sa k'ap fèt? What's going on? (informal)
What's up? (informal)
Sa'k pase? What's happening? (informal)
What's up? (informal)
Tout al byen All is well (lit. "All goes well")
Tout bagay anfòm Everything is fine (lit. "Everything is in form")
Tout pa bon All is not well (lit. "All is not good")

Proverbs and expressions

Proverbs play a central role in traditional Haitian culture and Haitian Creole speakers make frequent use of them as well as of other metaphors.[41]

Proverbs

Haitian Creole English
Men anpil, chay pa lou Strength through unity[42] (lit. "With many hands, the burden is not heavy";[43] Haitian Creole equivalent of the French on the coat of arms of Haiti, which reads l'union fait la force)
Apre bal, tanbou lou There are consequences to your actions
Sak vid pa kanpe No work gets done on an empty stomach (lit. "An empty bag does not stand up")[44]:60
Pitit tig se tig Like father like son (lit. "The son of a tiger is a tiger")
Ak pasyans w ap wè tete pis Anything is possible (lit. "With patience you will see the breast of the ant")
Bay kou bliye, pòte mak sonje The giver of the blow forgets, the carrier of the scar remembers
Mache chèche pa janm dòmi san soupe You will get what you deserve
Bèl dan pa di zanmi Not all smiles are friendly
Bèl antèman pa di paradi A beautiful funeral does not guarantee heaven
Bel fanm pa di bon menaj A beautiful wife does not guarantee a happy marriage
Dan konn mode lang People who work together sometimes hurt each other (lit. "Teeth are known to bite the tongue")
Sa k rive koukouloulou a ka rive kakalanga tou What happens to the turkey can happen to the rooster too (lit. "What happens to the dumb guy can happen to the smart one too")[44]:75
Chak jou pa Dimanch Your luck will not last forever (lit. "Not every day is Sunday")
Fanm pou yon tan, manman pou tout tan A woman is for a time, a mother is for all time[44]:93
Nèg di san fè, Bondye fè san di Man talks without doing, God does without talking[44]:31
Sa Bondye sere pou ou, lavalas pa ka pote l ale What God has saved for you, nobody can take it away
Nèg rich se milat, milat pov se nèg A rich negro is a mulatto, a poor mulatto is a negro
Pale franse pa di lespri Speaking French does not mean you are smart[44]:114
Wòch nan dlo pa konnen doulè wòch nan solèy The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun[45]
Ravèt pa janm gen rezon devan poul Justice will always be on the side of the stronger[46] (lit. "A cockroach in front of a chicken is never correct")
Si ou bwè dlo nan vè, respèkte vè a If you drink water from a glass, respect the glass
Si travay te bon bagay, moun rich ta pran l lontan If work were a good thing, the rich would have grabbed it a long time ago
Sèl pa vante tèt li di li sale Let others praise you (Said to ridicule those who praise themselves)
Bouch granmoun santi, sak ladan l se rezon Wisdom comes from the mouth of old people (lit. "The mouth of the old stinks but what's inside is wisdom")
Tout moun se moun Everyone matters (lit. "Everybody is a person")[47]

Expressions

Haitian Creole English
Se lave men, siye l atè It was useless work (lit. "Wash your hands and wipe them on the floor")
M ap di ou sa kasayòl te di bèf la Mind your own business
Li pale franse He cannot be trusted, he is a trickster (lit. "He speaks French")[48]
Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann Speak straightforwardly and honestly (lit. "Creole talks, Creole understands")[44]:29
Bouche nen ou pou bwè dlo santi You have to accept a bad situation (lit. "Pinch your nose to drink smelly water")[44]:55
Mache sou pinga ou, pou ou pa pile: "Si m te konnen!" "Be on your guard, so you don't have to say: 'If only I'd known!'"[44]:159
Tann jis nou tounen pwa tann To wait forever (lit. "Wait until you become a tender pea" which is a word play on tann, which means both "tender" and "to wait")
San pran souf Without taking a breath; continuously
W ap kon joj Warning or threat of punishment or reprimand (lit. "You will know George")
Dis ti piti tankou ou Dismissing or defying a threat or show of force (lit. "Ten little ones like you couldn't . . .")
Lè poul va fè dan Never (lit. "When hens grow teeth")[49]
Piti piti zwazo fè nich li You will learn (lit. "Little by little the bird makes its nest")[44]:110

Usage outside of Haiti

United States and Canada

Haitian Creole display at a car rental counter in the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (2014).

Haitian Creole is used widely among Haitians who have relocated to other countries, particularly the United States and Canada. Some of the larger Creole-speaking populations are found in Montreal, Quebec (where French is the first official language), New York City, Boston, and Central and South Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach). To reach out to the large Haitian population, government agencies have produced various public service announcements, school-parent communications, and other materials in Haitian Creole. For instance, Miami-Dade County in Florida sends out paper communications in Haitian Creole in addition to English and Spanish. In the Boston area, the Boston subway system and area hospitals and medical offices post announcements in Haitian Creole as well as English. North America's only Creole-language television network is HBN, based in Miami. The area also has more than half a dozen Creole-language AM radio stations.[50]

Haitian Creole and Haitian culture are taught in many colleges in the United States and the Bahamas. York College at the City University of New York features a minor in Haitian Creole.[51] Indiana University has a Creole Institute[52] founded by Albert Valdman where Haitian Creole, among other facets of Haiti, are studied and researched. The University of Kansas, Lawrence has an Institute of Haitian studies, founded by Bryant Freeman. Additionally, the University of Massachusetts Boston, Florida International University, and University of Florida offer seminars and courses annually at their Haitian Creole Summer Institute. Tulane University, Brown University, University of Miami, and Duke University[53] also offer Haitian Creole classes, and Columbia University and NYU have jointly offered a course since 2015.[54][55]

Cuba

Haitian Creole is the second most spoken language in Cuba, where over 300,000 Haitian immigrants speak it. It is recognized as a minority language in Cuba and a considerable number of Cubans speak it fluently. Most of these speakers have never been to Haiti and do not possess Haitian ancestry, but merely learned it in their communities. In addition, there is a Haitian Creole radio station operating in Havana.[5]

Dominican Republic

As of 2012 the language was also spoken by over 450,000 Haitians who reside in the neighboring Dominican Republic,[56] although the locals do not speak it. However, some estimates suggest that there are over a million speakers due to a huge population of illegal aliens from Haiti.[57]

Translation efforts after the 2010 Haitian earthquake

After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, international aid workers desperately needed translation tools for communicating in Haitian Creole. Furthermore, international organizations had little idea whom to contact as translators. As an emergency measure, Carnegie Mellon University released data for its own research into the public domain.[58] Microsoft Research and Google Translate implemented alpha version machine translators based on the Carnegie Mellon data.

Several smartphone apps have been released, including learning with flashcards by Byki and two medical dictionaries, one by Educa Vision and a second by Ultralingua, the latter of which includes an audio phrase book and a section on cultural anthropology.

See also

References

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Further reading

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External links