French and Haitian Creole: How Different Are They?

Bonjou!

It almost sounds the same. Written down, you only need one more letter for the French equivalent.

It’s Haitian Creole for hello and it’s not a French dialect as some would have you believe. Despite the Haitian history of colonization and French supremacy, it’s not an inferior form of French. Creole is a language all its own, thank you very much. It’s got its own rules and its own grammar. So, even though it sounds a little bit like French, it’s not.

Haitian Creole (Kreyòl ayisyen) wasn’t even recognized as an official language until 1961. Haiti’s constitution didn’t even recognize it until the 1980s. So, it’s no wonder so many people are quick to dismiss it. French is still used in most Haitian schools and the use of Creole is still a source of controversy for many Haitians.

Still, the language has been around since before the country gained independence in 1804 and takes its influences from a mixture of French and African languages. It’s a language that’s full of expression and I think it deserves recognition.

So, if you’ve ever wondered just how different it is compared to French or if you’ve ever been confused about the relationship between the two, take some time to dive in now. It’s actually pretty cool.

Structure & Grammar

Everyone hates grammar, but I suppose it’s important, right?

Like other Romance languages, French usually demands number and gender agreement for nouns, verb tenses, etc. If you’re familiar with agreement and conjugations, you already know how much of a headache they can be.

Creole says “Non, mesi” to that nonsense.

First off, number doesn’t affect the spelling or pronunciation of a noun. One house is yon kay and 8 houses is uit kay. If you want to say “the houses” or “those houses”, you add yo at the end (kay yo). The house isn’t male or female with extra letters. It’s just a house.

There’s also no such thing as subject-verb agreement in Creole. Verbs remain the same no matter the noun or pronoun. Mwen manje (I eat), ou manje (you eat), and nou manje (we eat). Everybody uses manje.

Verb tenses (such as past and future) are indicated by placing one of the following after the subject: te for past tense and pral, ap, or ape. Mwen te manje (I ate).

“The” as a definite article always comes after the noun in Creole. For example, liv la means the book. Meanwhile, indefinite articles like “a” come before the noun. For example, yon tas (a cup).

As far as foreign languages go, it’s a breath of fresh air, really.

Pronunciation

If you’ve tried to learn French in the past and found all of the extra silent letters extremely confusing, you might be happy to learn that Creole doesn’t do all that.

Where the French might pronounce trois (three) more like “twa” with a bit of a raspy, nasally r sound mixed in, someone speaking Creole writes twa and says “twa.” That’s it.

Haitian Creole is phonetic and, save for a few letters that have adopted that nasally, French sound (en, an, on) it’s pretty much pronounced the way you see it. The difficult French “r” sound is pronounced more like “w” in Creole as well. So, you might see rouj and wouj for red, but they’re both pronounced the same.

As with all languages, things like accents and dialects will certainly have an affect on real, spoken Creole. Your best best, short of visiting Haiti, is to check out Youtube.

Writing

Written out, Creole can seem a little confusing. If you’re familiar with French, you might get a better sense of some words by sounding them out.

For example, the sentence “She is a good friend” in Creole is: Li se yon bon zanmi.

French speakers might catch the sound of une bonne amie. However, the sounds only hint at the French influence of the language. Written out, we can clearly see the differences, right down to the use of li for the pronoun she.

Unfortunately, Haitian Creole’s history as a language for poor, illiterate people held it back as a written language until recently and a standardized version of written Creole hasn’t been around for too long. The oldest book written entirely in Creole is the novel Dezafi by Franketienne, which was published in the 1970s.

Nevertheless, Haitian Creole is spoken by millions of people. So, if you’re interested in learning it, you’re not alone. Duolingo is already working on a course, which is pretty exciting. I’ve also linked a couple of free resources at the bottom.

Also, if you love someone who speaks Haitian Creole this Valentine’s day, you can say Mwen renmen ou (I love you).

Or you can just write it in a card.

Happy learning and let the Black History knowledge continue!

Questions? Comments? Problems? I’m interested in all of your feedback, so leave a comment!

Want to learn Haitian Creole? Check out these sites for free lessons and resources:

http://sweetcoconuts.blogspot.com/

Haitihub- Free Resources

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