Monday, February 24, 2014

Language Profile: Haitian Creole

Today we're taking a brief look at Haitian Creole, one of the two official languages of Haiti, the other being French. It is spoken by 90-95% of Haiti's population, where it is often simply known as Creole or Kreyòl. It is also the second most spoken language in Cuba due to Haitian immigration to the island nation.

If you love learning about languages as much us as, then you've probably heard about creoles before. A creole is a natural language that developed from a pidgin, a form of communication that develops in communities between groups that don't have a common language. The pidgin becomes a creole once it has native speakers, generally in the form of children who are brought up learning it as their mother tongue. Creoles contain the vocabulary of their "parent languages", but usually end up developing their own distinct grammar systems.

Saut d'Eau waterfall in Haiti,
known as "Sodo" in Haitian Creole
In the case of Haitian Creole, it emerged due to contact between French settlers and African slaves during the time of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the French colony known as Saint-Domingue. The language is primarily based on 18th century French, but also draws upon the influences of Portuguese, Spanish, Taíno, and West African languages. 

Most of the language's lexicon comes from French, though often with pronunciation differences. It also includes words from Wolof, Fon, Kongo, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and Taíno. Word order is also the same as in French, though sentence structure has many similarities with that of certain West African languages.

The creation of Haitian Creole terms is quite interesting as borrowed words are often modified. Articles sometimes become part of words, such as the French la lune ("the moon") becoming lalin in Haitian Creole. Spelling is also modified, as in English "corn flakes" becoming kònflèks. The language also has adopted some words by using trademarked names as generic terms, such as kolgat for "toothpaste" based on the Colgate brand, and kodak meaning "camera". 

Haitian Creole is written using the Latin alphabet, and its official orthography was standardized in 1979. It uses only one accent, the grave accent as seen in the word kònflèks. The language also involves the use of quite a bit of figurative language, meaning that proverbs and set expressions are often used by its speakers to convey their thoughts.