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.

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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.

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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.

Popular
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).

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