Our Objective

About 10 million people speak Haitian Creole (known as Kreyol in Haiti) on a daily basis, and it is the cultural basis of the Western hemisphere’s poorest country. However, it is also one of the most critical non-politically affiliated fixes to Haiti’s problems with poverty, education, employment, and happiness.

Though there has been extensive study on Haitian Creole in comparison to that on other creole languages, sentiments still exist that Haitian Creole is merely a broken French dialect. We want to explain why this is not true by looking at key features of the Creole’s phonology, morphology, and lexicon that make it distinctive and characteristic of a creole language. In order to show how dependent the formation of Creole has been on social circumstances, an interactive timeline has been linked to propose where and how Haitian Creole advanced from a pidgin language to the co-official language of Haiti.Further below, opinions on the future of the Creole have been expressed, including how the language will be used in education and how it will be used to address socio-economic gaps.

Please express your own curiosity and personal experience with the topic by leaving comments! Jwi! Enjoy!

Haiti Vibrant-Proud-Resilient_001

Digital Tools and Works Cited

Digital Resources

  1. Interactive timeline: Time Mapper (http://timemapper.okfnlabs.org)
  2. Interactive blog: WordPress (https://wordpress.com)


  1. Coupeau, Steeve. The History of Haiti. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2008. Print.
  2. Holm, John A. An Introduction to Pidgins and Creoles. ;New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.
  3. Joseph, Carole Berotte. The Haitian Creole Language : History, Structure, Use, and Education. Md.: Lexington Books, 2010. Print.
  4. Horvath, Julia. Relexification in Creole and non-Creole Languages : with Special Attention to Haitian Creole, Modern Hebrew, Romani, and Rumanian. Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 1997. Print.
  5. Smith, Norval. Creolization and Contact. Amsterdam ;Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2001. Print.
  6. Horvath, Julia. Relexification in Creole and non-Creole Languages : with Special Attention to Haitian Creole, Modern Hebrew, Romani, and Rumanian. Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz, 1997. Print.
  7. Howe, Kate. Haitian Creole Newspaper Reader. 1st ed. Wheaton, MD: Dunwoody Press, 1990. Print.
  8. DeGraff, Michel. “Language Acquisition and Creolization.” Language Creation and Language Change: Creolization, Diachrony, and Development. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999. 149-52. Print.


  1. Chery, Dady. “Haiti: Creole Spoken, Creole Understood.” Haiti Chery. N.p., 7 Oct. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dadychery.org%2F2012%2F10%2F07%2Fhaiti-creole-spoken-creole-understood%2F>.
  2. Valdman, Albert. “Creole: The National Language of Haiti.” Creolenationallanguageofhaiti. Indiana University, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.indiana.edu/~creole/creolenatllangofhaiti.html>.
  3. “Overview of the Haitian Creole Language.” Learning Haitian Creole: Overview. Transparent Language, Inc., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. <http://www.transparent.com/learn-haitian-creole/overview.html>.
  4. Thompson, Irene. “Haitian Creole .” About World Languages. The Technology Development Group, 21 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. <http://aboutworldlanguages.com/haitian-creole>.
  5. “Haiti French and Creole.” Haiti French and Creole – Flags, Maps, Economy, History, Climate, Natural Resources, Current Issues, International Agreements, Population, Social Statistics, Political System. Photius Coutsoukis, 10 Nov. 2004. Web. 28 Nov. 2014. <http://www.photius.com/countries/haiti/society/haiti_society_french_and_creole.html>.
  6. “History of Haiti.” History of Haiti|Haitian Pearl. Haitian Pearl, 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fhaitianpearl.org%2Flearn%2Fhistory-of-haiti%2F>.
  7. Spears, Arthur. “The Haitian Creole Language.” Introduction: The Haitian Creole Language (2010): 1-20. Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.arthurkspears.com/papers/thehaitiancreolelanguage.pdf>.
  8. “Haitian History Timeline.” Haitian History Timeline. University of Pennsylvania, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.dolphin.upenn.edu/dhsa/history.html>.
  9. “Haitian Creole/ Etymology.” Phonetic Spelling. Wiki Books. n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2014 <http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Haitian_Creole/Etymology>.

History of Haiti and Its Language

Primary Sources from the Caribbean! Explore to discover the context in which Haitian Creole and was applied:




See the link below for a Time Mapper perspective on Haitian Creole’s origin!


haiti landscape


Haitian Creole: Following Tendencies of All Creoles

Creole’s Standard Orthography: Haitian Creole is actually more phonetic than French, meaning that each individual letter is stressed in most word formations or each phonetic symbol is voiced. This can be observed below:

imageAnother example is the morphological difference between bonsoir and bonswa in French and Creole, respectively. The Creole version is pronounced the same, but is spelled more transparently.

creolealphabet frenchalphabet

The Haitian Creole alphabet is on the left and the French alphabet is on the right (not the exact alphabet because the left is lacking additional cluster sounds whereas the one on the right includes varied sounds). Creole’s alphabet has 32 letters while French’s has 26 like English. This does not mean French is less complex, however. It instead means that fewer letters have to represent more sounds, so sounds are highly dependent on morphology and sentence position. It could be said that the Creole alphabet was “africanized” in the way sounds are represented.

Phonology: It is not uncommon for Creole to drop unnecessary final sounds from French. For example, the French word meaning ‘hello’ is bonjour. However, African slaves picked up bonjou and transferred that phoneme into the Creole language. French contains more sounds that require a closed mouth, and there is also more nasalization. On the other hand, Creole sounds often move the tongue to the front of the mouth and produce sounds that sound only partially articulated (more like noises than distinct pronunciations).

**Hear For Yourself! The unique pronunciation of the Creole: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14jr8cjGUhk

Vowel System: The most notable difference between the two systems is the absence of front rounded vowels in Haitian Creole, which is relatively unmarked. French is a language that relies heavily on front-rounded vowels, so this lacking feature (one of many) of Creole led people to assume its illegitimacy. The Fongbe vowel system is essentially the same as Haitian Creole.

PIcFullSizeRender image1-4

Verbs: An interesting component of the Creole structure is the tendency for verbs to end in the letter “e” many linguists connect this to French as the largest group of verb infinitives in French end in “e”.image

Vocabulary: The French influence in Haiti, in a similar manner to that of Latin in Francophone countries, imposes itself through the vernacular lexicon.


Although the bulk of Creole vocabulary is derived from French, various languages have influenced the lexicon.  Many spiritual words that Haitian Creoles would assimilate with African culture come from the dialects of Fon and Ewe, like the word oungan which means ‘voodoo priest’ in Fon.  Key words that slaves would have come into contact with through labor and trade are noted from English, French, and Spanish.  For example the good shoe is ‘sapat’ in Creole, which derives from the Spanish zapato.

Dialects (just like French has): There are three main geographical dialects, and it is not uncommon for Haitians to speak more than one of them:

  • Northern dialect, spoken in Cap-Haitien, the second largest Haitian city;
  • Central dialect, spoken in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti;
  • Southern dialect spoken in the area of Cayes, an important city in the south of Haiti.

Also, there are a continuum of social variations within Creole, at the extreme that is closest to French and popular speech that is farthest from it. These are illustrated in the two versions of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Creole (at the extreme)
Atik/Artik 1
Tout moun fèt lib, egal ego pou diyite kou wè dwa. Nou gen la rezon ak la konsyans epi nou fèt pou nou aji youn ak yon lespri fwatènite.

Atik 1
Tout moun sou tè a fèt tou lib. Tout gen menm valè (nan je lasosyete), tout moun gen menm dwa devan Lalwa. Tout moun fèt ak yon bonsans, tout fèt ak yon konsyans epi youn fèt pou trete lòt tankou frè ak sè.

Morphology and Grammatical Processes: Creoles experience incipience, which means they begin from scratch in a way when forming their word forms. In this case, French is a deeply traditional and historically language, with modern French having evolved from Old French. However, the features that characterize French as a old and mature language are missing from Creole since, for instance, there is an absence in tone and inflection.

Haitian Creole nouns underwent characteristic simplification by coming out with no gender and simple plurals. Pronouns have both long and short forms, some having French origin while others have a less regular origin. They can be the subject of a sentence or a modifier after a noun to show possession.

Singular Plural
First person mwen or m nou or n
Second person ou or w
Third person li or l yo or y

Haitian Creole verbs are not conjugated and do not agree with the subject, but there are particles that are placed in front of verbs to indicate the tense.

Mwen fe manje.
Marie fe manje.
Marie ak Pierre fe manje.
I make food.
Marie makes food.
Marie and Pierre make food.
Marie te marye mwa pase. Marie got married last month.
Pierre ap monte bisiklet. Pierre is riding a bicycle.
Marie ak Pierre pral chante pita. Marie and Pierre will sing later.

Since the present form for first and third persons are the same, it is more necessary to include names and such in Creole than in French. In this way, Creole is less of a ‘pro-drop’ language. Haitian Creole is most functional when a speaker and a listener share a lot of context. In that way, Creole is not the best choice for literature and formal documentation.

The typical word order in most Haitian Creole sentences is Subject-Verb-Object, but the addition of prepositions and adverbs and articles makes Creole sentences look different from French ones.

Other Important Processes: 

Relexification- Haitian Creole is known as a substratum language, or a language of an indigenous people with less prestige and power than the influencing superstratum, or language of the conquering population.  French, as will be analyzed in the following posts, played a role as an invading superstratum language in Haiti that imposed on the indigenous population. The Haitian term of ‘Kreyol’ arised from Fon-speaking African slaves who relexified their language with French vocabulary.  Fongbe belongs to the Niger-Congo language family and is mainly spoken in Benin currently.  However, many similarities exist among Haitian, Fongbe, and French in both the lexicon and grammar.

Reanalysis- This integral process is defined as a mental process that associates the phonological label of a lexical category with the lexical entry of a functional category in the same language (refer also to African vs. French Element post below). This can be thought of as grammaticalization or desemanticalization, but not all cases of the latter lead to reanalysis. Interestingly, it occurs also in non-creole languages and often follows relexification.

  • An example is the Yoruba expression sa ere ‘run race,’ which has been reanalysed as sere ‘quickly.’ The noun has become an adverb and has more limited syntactic uses. This is similar but not identical to latin nouns with mente ‘mind’ that became adverbs in Spanish, for example.

Simplification- Creole verbs commonly drop final syllables of French verbs, but retain the same semantic properties.

French Haitian Creole English
entendre tande hear
attendre tann wait
écouter koute listen to

Consonant clusters get a new look in Creole. One of the most prominent Creole interpretations is wa, which took care of all the silent French letters and diphthongs.

French Haitian Creole English
question kesyon question
croix kwa cross n.

R Deletion in Haitian Creole- Haitian Creole only maintains pre-vocalic R‘s.  Over time post-consonantal and post-vocalic R‘s were deleted. Also, R‘s are dropped in the coda (position at the end of a syllable).



Haitian Creole: A (mostly) French Lexicon

The majority of Creole’s lexicon derives from French. However, Creole inherited several words from various origins such as: Fon, Wolof, Kongo, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Taino, and Arabic. The Creole does vary significantly from French’s morphology and pronunciation. Since Creole is a language that is still being spoken today, it is continuously borrowing and constructing necessary words to describe new and old ideas.

  • An example of this is the word napkin from English, which is being used as well as the original French word torchon, said tòchon in Creole.
  •  Mwen gen yon lot ti travay pat tayim le wikenn. ‘I have another part time job on weekends.’ The Creole orthography is very true to pronunciation. Very specific concepts like ‘part time job’ are borrowed from English.

Saint Domingue (present day Haiti) was a world-leading producer of cotton, coffee, and especially sugar. Thus, there were many workers. These four words in Creole correspond well with French because they form part of the basic vocabulary and were probably some of the first common words to be acquired by slaves. The grammatical words shown below do not match up as well because they do not share all the same syntactic properties.


  • coffee: kafe
  • sugar: sik
  • cotton: coton
  • worker: travayè
  • who: ki moun ki
  • what: sa
  • when: lè
  • where: ki kote
  • why: poukisa
  • how: ki han


  • coffee: café
  • sugar: sucre
  • cotton: coton
  • worker: travailleur
  • who: qui
  • what: quoi
  • when: lorsque
  • where: où
  • why: pourquoi
  • how: comment

The phonological representations of the Creole verbs are derived from the phonetic representations of French verbs. The details of their semantics do not correspond exactly to those of French, but rather to those of Fongbe. On the basis of these various types of data, it is argued that the bulk of Creole verbs’ semantic properties have been carried over into the creole from the substratum lexicons. This situation argues in favor of the claim that the process of relexification plays a central role in the formation of a Creole’s lexicon.

Creole Words of African Origin- Fongbe:

  • Boco // From Fongbe – Bokono // n. ‘a sorcerer’ (The French derived term is sósié ‘a wizard’)
  • Ounsi // From Fongbe // n. ‘a Vaudouisant’ (against the Christian faith)
  • Yo // From Fongbe – Ye // pron. They(‘re), them, their (Yo is also placed after a noun for pluralization purposes, from example: Liv ‘Book’ / Liv yo – ‘Books.’ The French derived term zot is used in some parts of Haiti)

It is common for African borrowings to have religious meanings, especially since the slave religion Vodou continues to have the largest cultural influence in Haiti.

Creole Words of Portuguese Origin:

  • Ba // Dar – to give // v. ‘to give’
  • Cachimbo n. a pipe used for smoking tobacco
  • Mantèg // Manteiga // n. ‘lard, butter’ (The French derived term for butter is, bé / beu)
  • Pikini // Pequenino // n. ‘a child’

Many of the words seen above can be used in everyday life, making them essential for small-talk type communication. Goods like pipes and butter were most likely traded between different groups of people within the island, so a common word needed to be established. In the case of cachimbo, specifically, the activity of smoking was probably done by Portuguese colonists/traders, observed by slaves and creoles, and in this way brought into the Creole language.

Creole Words of Taino Origin:

  • Ayiti n. ‘Haiti’
  • Babaco // Barbakoa – A Taino roasting process // n. ‘a feast’
  • Caco // Buticaco or Heiticaco // n. ‘a bumpkin, someone from the countryside’
  • Calalou n. ‘okra, also a soup that includes okra and crab among other ingredients,’ known as gumbo in Louisiana
  • Counouc // Konuko // n. ‘a shack’
  • Kiskéya // Ki sike a – Spirit of the big mountain // n. ‘Hispaniola’
  • Lambi n. ‘conch, a conch shell’

The borrowings above cover concepts and things that were most likely unique to the island when French settlers began arriving. Words for indigenous foods and nature items are commonly borrowed from substratum languages in conquest relationships.

Creole words have a similar pronunciation to French words and look related to French words in some instances, but are not placed in the same positions in sentences.

Creole French English
ki qui what
jan genre manner
ou vous you
appeler héler to call

Explore the Creole lexicon!

Creole Poetry:


Blog Post on Creole Poetry from Haiti:


African vs. French Elements within Haitian Creole

French vocabulary and African grammar are believed to make up the core of Haitian Creole. For example, the definite article the in Creole is traced back to African elements as shown below:

imageThe placement of the article la after the noun is the same in Ewe and Yoruba, whereas French places the article before the noun. A notable exception is found in the formation of lexicon from French grammatical elements (a sort of backward grammaticalization). The functional categories of Creole mostly derive their phonologies from forms that are lexical categories in French, but there are some instances in which French grammatical elements remained as phonological forms in the Creole.

For example, the French form l’ancre meaning ‘the anchor’ was relexified in Creole as lank meaning just ‘anchor.’ Also, de l’eau ‘of the water’ became dlo ‘water’ in Creole.

The mixed African and French elements are best theorized by the way African slaves originally formed Creole. Slaves would retain Popular French grammar that was most similar to their native African dialects and scratch most everything else. Thus, although Creole is deemed as retaining 90% of popular French vocabulary, native French speakers generally cannot understand Creole because the grammar is so different. Thinking historically, this tendency of slaves to minimize grammar makes sense because the Creole language was originally intended to serve as the only communication system between various African peoples with unintelligible languages; a simple and easily acquired grammatical system worked best for this purpose since Haitian Creole was not meant to be heavily written during the 18th century.

Application to Romanization

Although culturally and grammatically separate, the Haitian Creole language evolved in a similar way to how the Romance varieties evolved from Latin (known as Romanization). The evolution of the Creole was much faster, but the attitudes on the island Hispaniola were also very different than those in Europe; they were much less settled and less focused on arts and education. Still, Haitian Creole and Romance varieties all emerged through contact and influence of super/substratum languages. One definition of a substratum language is an indigenous language that contributes features of its language to that of invading or prestigious peoples. Thus, common changes follow in the transition from the ancestral language. Patterns of consonant deletion and loss of certain vowel sounds occurred in both the formation of Creole and the Romance varieties. Verbs took different strategies in inflection in both transitions–Romance varieties often inflected more than Latin while Creole inflected less than French–but the common change is the important part. In fact, substratum influence on Haitian Creole from surrounding African dialects may account for it being more phonetic and having no inflection for plurality as opposed to French. Thus, contact and awareness account for transitions in all languages.