Haitian Creole

Haitian Creole () is a French-based creole language spoken by 10–12million people worldwide, and the only language of most Haitians. It is called kreyòl ayisyen or just kreyòl () by its speakers, and créole haïtien in Standard French.

The language emerged from contact between French settlers and enslaved Africans during the Atlantic slave trade in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). Although its vocabulary is mostly taken from 18th-century French, it also has influences from English , French , and West Africans languages. It is not mutually intelligible with standard French, and has its own distinctive grammar. Haitians are the largest community in the world speaking a modern creole language.

Usage of, and education in, Haitian Creole has been contentious since at least the 19thcentury; some Haitians view French as a legacy of colonialism, while Creole was maligned by francophones as a miseducated person's French. Until the late 20thcentury, Haitian presidents spoke only standard French to their fellow citizens, and until the 2000s, all instruction at Haitian elementary schools was in modern standard French, a second language to most of the students.


Haitian Creole contains elements from both the Romance group of Indo-European languages through its superstratum, French, as well as African languages. There are many theories on the formation of the Haitian Creole language.

One theory estimates that Haitian Creole developed between 1680 and 1740. During the 16th and 17th centuries, French and Spanish colonizers produced tobacco, cotton, and sugar cane on the island. Throughout this period, the population was made of roughly equal numbers of engagés (employed whites), gens de couleur and slaves. Singler estimates the economy shifted into sugar production in 1690, just before the French colony of Saint-Domingue was officially formed in 1697. The sugar crops needed a much larger labor force, which led to an increase in slave importation. In the 18th century an estimated 800,000 West-African individuals were enslaved and brought to Saint-Domingue. As the slave population increased, interactions between French-speaking colonists and slaves decreased.

Many African slaves in French ownership were from Niger-Congo-speaking territory, and particularly from Kwa languages such as Gbe and the Central Tano languages and Bantu languages. 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|italic=no's sugar boom coincided with emergent Gbe predominance in the French Caribbean. In the interval during which Singler hypothesizes the language evolved, the Gbe population was around 50% of the imported slave population.

In contrast to the African languages, a type of classical French (français) and langues d'oïl|italic=no (Norman, Poitevin|italic=no and Saintongeais|italic=no dialects, Gallo and Picard) were spoken during the 17th and 18th centuries in Saint‑Domingue|italic=no, as well as in New France and French West Africa. Slaves who seldom could 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 French. The language was also picked up by the whites and became used by all those born in what is now Haiti.

Difference between Haitian Creole and French

Haitian Creole and French have similar pronunciations and share many lexical items. In fact, over 90% of the Haitian Creole vocabulary is of French origin. However, many cognate terms actually have different meanings. For example, as Valdman mentions in Haitian Creole: Structure, Variation, Status, Origin, the word for "frequent" in French is fréquent; however, its cognate in Haitian Creole frekan means 'insolent, rude, and impertinent' and usually refers to people. In addition, the grammars of Haitian Creole and French are very different. For example, in Haitian Creole, verbs are not conjugated as they are in French.

Both Haitian Creole and French have also experienced semantic change; words that had a single meaning in the 17th century have changed or have been replaced in both languages. 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 "who"; genre "manner"; vous "you", and héler "to call", but the verb héler has been replaced by appeler in modern French and reduced to a meaning of "to flag down".

Lefebvre proposed the theory of relexification, arguing that the process of relexification (the replacement of the phonological representation of a substratum lexical item with the phonological representation of a superstratum lexical item, so that the Haitian creole lexical item looks like French, but works like the substratum language(s)) was central in the development of Haitian Creole.

The Fon language, a modern Gbe language native to Benin, Nigeria and Togo in West Africa, is often used to compare grammatical structure between Haitian Creole} and to relexify it with vocabulary from French:


Early development

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. In the early 1940s under President Élie Lescot|italic=no, attempts were made to standardize the language. American linguistic expert Frank Laubach and Irish Methodist missionary H. Ormonde McConnell developed a standardized Haitian Creole orthography. Although some regarded the orthography highly, it was generally not well received. Its orthography was standardized in 1979. That same year Haitian Creole was elevated in status by the Act of 18 September 1979. The Institut Pédagogique National established an official orthography for Creole, and slight modifications were made over the next two decades. For example, the hyphen (-) is no longer used, nor is the apostrophe. The only accent mark retained is the grave accent in and .

Becoming an official language

The Constitution of 1987 upgraded Haitian Creole to a national language alongside French. 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.

Literature development

Even without government recognition, by the end of the 1800s, there were already literary texts written in Haitian Creole such as Oswald Durand|italic=no's Choucoune|italic=yes and Georges Sylvain|italic=no's Cric?. Félix Morisseau-Leroy|italic=no was another influential author of Haitian Creole work. Since the 1980s, many educators, writers, and activists have written literature in Haitian Creole. In 2001, Open Gate: An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry was published. It was the first time a collection of Haitian Creole poetry was published in both Haitian Creole and English. On 28 October 2004, the Haitian daily Le Matin|italic=yes first published an entire edition in Haitian Creole in observance of the country's newly instated "Creole Day".

List of Haitian Creole-language writers

  • Louis-Philippe Dalembert|italic=no
  • Frankétienne|italic=no
  • Ady Jean-Gardy|italic=no
  • Josaphat-Robert Large|italic=no
  • Félix Morisseau-Leroy|italic=no
  • Elsie Suréna|italic=no
  • Lyonel Trouillot|italic=no


    Role in society

    Although both modern standard French and Haitian Creole are official languages in Haiti, standard French is often considered the high language and Haitian Creole as the low language in the diglossic relationship of these two languages in society. That is to say, for the minority of Haitian population that is bilingual, the use of these two languages largely depends on the social context: standard French is used more in public, especially in formal situations, whereas Haitian Creole is used more on a daily basis and is often heard in ordinary conversation.

    There is a large population in Haiti that speaks only Haitian Creole, whether under formal or informal conditions:
    French plays no role in the very formal situation of a Haitian peasant (more than 80% of the population make a living from agriculture) presiding at a family gathering after the death of a member, or at the worship of the family lwa or voodoo spirits, or contacting a Catholic priest for a church baptism, marriage, or solemn mass, or consulting a physician, nurse, or dentist, or going to a civil officer to declare a death or birth.

    Use in educational system

    In most schools, French is still the preferred language for teaching. Generally speaking, Haitian Creole is more used in public schools, as that is where most children of ordinary families who speak Haitian Creole attend school.

    Historically, the education system has been French-dominant. Except the children of elites, many had to drop out of school because learning French was very challenging to them and they had a hard time to follow up. The Bernard Reform of 1978 tried to introduce Haitian Creole as the teaching language in the first four years of primary school; however, the reform overall was not very successful. As a result, the use of Haitian Creole has grown but in a very limited way. After the earthquake in 2010, basic education became free and more accessible to the monolingual masses. The government is still trying to expand the use of Haitian Creole and improve the school system.


    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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and . The letters and are always associated with another letter (in the multigraphs , , , and ). The Haitian Creole alphabet has no or ; when is used in loanwords and proper nouns, it represents the sounds , , or .| valign="top" |

  • There are no silent letters in the Haitian Creole orthography.
  • All sounds are always spelled the same, except when a vowel carries a grave accent , which makes it an oral vowel instead of a nasal vowel:
  • and ;
  • and ; and
  • and .
  • When immediately followed by a vowel in a word, the digraphs denoting the nasal vowels (, , , and sometimes ) are pronounced as an oral vowel followed by .
  • There is some ambiguity in the pronunciation of the high vowels of the letters and when followed in spelling by . Common words such as moun ("person") and machin ("car") end with consonantal , 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.

    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. Another criticism was of the broad use of the letters , , and , which Pressoir argued looked "too American". This criticism of the "American look" of the orthography was shared by many educated Haitians, who also criticized its association with Protestantism. 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.

    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. This orthographical controversy boiled down to an attempt to unify a conception of Haitian national identity. Where and seemed too Anglo-Saxon and American imperialistic, and were symbolic of French colonialism.

    French-based orthography

    When Haiti was still a colony of France, edicts by the French government were often written in a French-lexicon creole and read aloud to the slave population. The first written text of Haitian Creole was composed in the French-lexicon in a poem called Lisette quitté la plaine in 1757 by Duvivier de la Mahautière, a White Creole planter.

    Before Haitian Creole orthography was standardized in the late 20th century, spelling varied, but was based on subjecting spoken HaitianCreole to written French, a language whose spelling has not matched its pronunciation since at least the 16thcentury. Unlike the phonetic orthography, French orthography of HaitianCreole is not standardized and varies according to the writer; some use exact French spelling, others adjust the spelling of certain words to represent pronunciation of the cognate in HaitianCreole, removing the silent letters. For example:
    Li ale travay nan maten ( "He goes to work in the morning") could be transcribed as:
  • Li ale travay nan maten,
  • Lui aller travail nans matin, or
  • Li aller travail nans matin.


    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.

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


    There are six pronouns: first, second, and third person, each in both singular, and plural; all are of French etymological origin. There is no difference between direct and indirect objects.

    Possessive pronouns



    Plural of nouns

    Definite nouns are made plural when followed by the word yo; indefinite plural nouns are unmarked.


    Possession is indicated by placing the possessor or possessive pronoun after the item possessed. In the Capois dialect of northern Haiti, a or an is placed before the possessive pronoun. Note, however, that this is not considered the standard Kreyòl most often heard in the media or used in writing.

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

    Indefinite article

    The language has two indefinite articles, on and yon (pronounced and ) 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:

    Definite article

    In Haitian Creole, the definite article has five forms, and it is placed after the noun it modifies. The final syllable of the preceding word determines which form the definite article takes. If the last sound is an oral consonant or a glide (spelled 'y' or 'w'), and if it is preceded by an oral vowel, the definite article is la:If the last sound is an oral consonant and is preceded by a nasal vowel, the definite article is lan:If the last sound is an oral vowel and is preceded by an oral consonant, the definite article is a:If the last sound is any oral vowel other than i or ou and is preceded by a nasal consonant, then the definite article is also a:If a word ends in mi, mou, ni, nou, or if it ends with any nasal vowel, then the definite article is an:If the last sound is a nasal consonant, the definite article is nan, but may also be lan:


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


    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:


    The concept expressed in English by the verb "tobe" 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:The subject sa or li can sometimes be omitted with se:}To express "I want to be", usually vin ("tobecome") is used instead of se.Ye also means "tobe", but is placed exclusively at the end of a sentence, after the predicate and the subject (in that order):Haitian Creole has stative verbs, which means that the verb "tobe" is notovert when followed by an adjective. Therefore, malad means both "sick" and "to be sick":

    To have

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

    There is

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

    To know

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

    To do

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

    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":

    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:When the basic form of action verbs is used without any verb markers, it is generally understood as referring to the past:Manje means both "food" and "to eat", as manger does in Canadian French; 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:Simple past or past perfect:Past progressive:Present progressive:For the present progressive, it is customary, though not necessary, to add kounye ("rightnow"):Also, ap manje can mean "will eat" depending on the context of the sentence:Near or definite future:Future:Other examples:Recent past markers include fèk and sòt (both mean "just" or "just now" and are often used together):A verb mood marker is ta, corresponding to English "would" and equivalent to the French conditional tense:


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


    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.

    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.


    Nèg and blan

    Although nèg and blan have 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). 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 the US could be referred to as blan.

    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.



    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.



    Usage abroad

    United States and Canada

    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. These areas also each have more than half a dozen Creole-language AM radio stations.

    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. Indiana University has a Creole Institute 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. The University of Massachusetts Boston, Florida International University, and University of Florida offer seminars and courses annually at their Haitian Creole Summer Institute. Brown University, University of Miami, and Duke University also offer Haitian Creole classes, and Columbia University and NYU have jointly offered a course since 2015. The University of Chicago began offering Creole courses in 2010.

    , the New York City Department of Education counted 2,838 Haitian Creole-speaking English-language learners (ELLs) in the city's K–12 schools, making it the seventh most common home language of ELLs citywide and the fifth most common home language of Brooklyn ELLs. Because of the large population of Haitian Creole-speaking students within NYC schools, various organizations have been established to respond to the needs of these students. For example, Flanbwayan and Gran Chimen Sant Kiltirèl, both located in Brooklyn, New York, aim to promote education and Haitian culture through advocacy, literacy projects, and cultural/artistic endeavors.


    Haitian Creole is the second most spoken language in Cuba after Spanish, 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.

    Dominican Republic

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

    The Bahamas

    As of 2009, up to 80,000 Haitians were estimated residing in the Bahamas, where about 20,000 speak Haitian Creole. It is the third most‑spoken language after English and Bahamian Creole.


    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. 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.