Getting started with Haitian Creole
We’re more than half way through Haitian Creole class. It’s a short, 2-month course, so we’re really only scratching the surface of the language. I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about Creole, and since this blog has been shifting focus from Nicaragua (our 1st post) to Haiti (our next assignment), I thought I’d share a short FAQ.
First off, Creole is the English spelling. Kreyol is the spelling in, well, kreyol. I’m going to stick with English for this blog since I’m writing in English.
So what’s Creole like?
It’s really cool. It’s a sort of a hybrid language (I guess all languages are) using mostly French cognates, spelled phonetically, but with a totally different grammatical structure. Also, Haitians love proverbs and apparently use them all the time in everyday speech. So in addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, we’re learning several Haitian proverbs a week.
Isn’t Creole just a version of French?
According to linguists, Haitian Creole is considered a language in it’s own right. But it helps a ton if you know French since many of its origins are based in French. The slaves who were brought over to Haiti all spoke different languages but needed a way to communicate. They developed Haitian Creole 200 years ago using many words from French, but the structure of the language is more in line with some African languages. In the last 50 or so years, the language has been more codified with official spellings, rules, etc. But it’s still very much an oral language.
Ok, so how exactly is French different from Creole?
There are TONS of differences, but for language nerds, here are a few key ones:
- In Creole, there is no masculine or feminine like in French or Spanish. YAY!
- Creole is phonetic. How you say a word is how you spell it. Here’s an example of a recent news headline:
- Creole: Rankont Sekretè Deta John Kerry ak yon Delegasyon Arab Wo Nivo.
- French: Rencontre du Secrétaire d’Etat John Kerry avec une délégation arabe de haut niveau.
- English: Meeting of the Secretary of State, John Kerry, with a high level Arab delegation.
I’m guessing that if you don’t speak French, your pronunciation of the French was terrible, but you probably nailed the Creole version, because it’s spelled exactly how it’s pronounced.
3. In Creole, the way conjugation works is totally different from French. The verb pretty much always stays the same no matter if it’s first, second or third person, singular or plural. However, you add a tag before the verb to signal if the verb is in the present, past, future, near future, ongoing, etc. For example,
Mwen pale = I speak
Mwen ap pale = I am speaking
Mwen te pale = I spoke
Mwen a pale = I will speak
Mwen pral pale = I’m going to speak
4. This is super nerdy, but if you’re still reading, let me indulge you with yet more language trivia: Indefinite articles are really easy but definite articles are tricky in Creole. There are several different ways to say “the” and it changes depending on how the word sounds (if it ends in a vowel or a consonant, or a nasal consonant), or if the thing was previously mentioned before or not, or if it’s singular or plural. I won’t go into more detail, but I would never have guessed that the hardest part about Creole for me is how to say “the.”
So how do you (I) study Creole?
I’m just starting to study the language, so I don’t know all of the resources that are out there, although it seems they are pretty limited. Here are a few sources that we’ve been using. If you’ve found other helpful resources to learn Creole, don’t hesitate to add them in the comments section. I’d love to hear them, and share them.
- University of Indiana’s Creole Institute
- Creole Dictionary
- Ann pale kreyol workbook and CDs
- News in Creole: Voice of America Creole service is a great resource. You can access snippets of articles and audio files with short interviews. It’s a great way to improve listening comprehension.
- One of the best blogs I’ve found is called http://sweetcoconuts.blogspot.com. This blog has podcasts with the written transcript. You can also write in with questions.
Update: I’ve corrected the original post. To speak is “pale”, not “parle.” Oops. Thanks to Zakari for pointing out the error. Check out his website here: http://memorizehaitiancreole.wordpress.com