What do the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Jamaica have in common? Among breathtaking beaches, picturesque panoramas, pristine blue waters, piquant Jerk cuisine and a definite spot on most of our bucket lists, they are flanked by the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean on either side. Another prominent island in these Caribbean waters is an island called Hispaniola. So this month as BnP celebrates creoles, let us learn a little more about Haitian Creole – the language of Haiti, situated on the west of Hispaniola.
Haitian Creole – What’s that?
To begin with, what is a Creole? It is a natural language formed out of a mix of other languages. While the Haitian and Louisiana forms of Creole are both French-based and generally recognised as the most prominent Creole languages, there are also other types such as the English-based Gullah language and the English-based Jamaican Creole.
With an estimated 8 million speakers in Haiti alone, Haitian Creole (Kreyòl ayisyen) is believed to be the most widely-spoken Creole language in the world. Largely based on 18th-century French, it is also significantly influenced by African, Spanish, Portuguese, Taíno and some West African languages. It is also spoken in the Bahamas, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, France, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and the U.S.
As for the fun facts
Some know Haitian Creole as a mélange of French vocabulary with African grammar. While this Creole indeed emerged from contact between French settlers and African slaves during the Atlantic Slave Trade, the slaves came from many different tribes in Africa, while the slave owners from France. Many also incorrectly term it as a French dialect or as “broken French”.
Did you know that even after Haiti became independent from France in 1804, French continued to be the prestige language of government and power? Today French is more likely to be spoken by the urban elite which constitutes about 8% of Haiti’s population.
Factor in globalisation
The Haitian culture is an eclectic mix of African and European elements, including the rich Haiti folklore traditions, bright colours, vibrant social life and their intimacy with culture, as is evidenced in the Haitian language, music and religion. You will also find a hint of French and Caribbean influences in their cuisine, while they most certainly retain their own individual flavour as a result of the lack of Spanish influence on their island compared to others in the Caribbean.
The status as of today, is that many Creole languages are threatened as native Creole speakers assimilate into the dominant (read: urban) society in which they are located. This process of a Creole gradually being replaced with a standard language that it was originally derived from is called decreolisation. But all in all, a most certain addition to the language bucket list!