Posted by: universallearningcentreblog | October 21, 2011

Kreyol Ayisyen

Haitian Creole has a short but rich history,  having emerged in the 1700s when the island of Hispaniola was occupied by French and Spanish colonialists.  Haitian Creole is distinct from other Creoles, like the Creole spoken in Louisiana, although they are very much related to one another.  Haitian Creole has more of a French foundation whereas other Creoles may primarily have more of an English, Spanish or other influence.  Creole languages began like “pidgin” languages which were a hodge podge of bits and pieces from the languages represented at international points of trade, and were formed out of the necessity for people of different countries to communicate when trading slaves as well as goods.  Most of those “pidgin” languages function only in the context of the specific area where trade is going on.  Haitian Creole, however, became an important means of communication between the French and the African and native slaves they dominated, and continued to grow and develop after Haitians gained independence from the French.

Currently, Haitians grow up speaking Creole, with only about 5% being fluent in French, despite French having been the only official language of the nation until 1961 when Haitian Creole was adopted as an official language of the country as well.  Generally, French is used in all formal documents, particularly government and legal documents, although the practice of providing print materials in both French and Haitian Creole is increasing.  For some time now, there has been a movement to promote literacy in Creole as it is often learned only as a spoken language while French is taught in schools.  Interestingly, children often start school having had no French whatsoever.  Doesn’t that sound like the U.S. public school system in which non-English speaking students take classes that are taught in English, a second language to those students?   Non-French speaking students entering the school system in which classes are taught in a language that is not their native tongue.

The biggest distinction between the Haitian school system and the U.S. system for teaching non-English speakers, as far as I understand, is that non-English students in the U.S. system are pulled out of regular classes, with English speaking students, for a period of time each day to be taught English as a Second Language, while simultaneously taking classes in English.  The native language is usually not permitted in the U.S. system, so teachers do not communicate with students in any other language than English.  The programs are meant to be temporary (in general, two years or less in duration) with students exiting the program at a level of proficiency high enough to navigate the rest of their education.  Haitian students are not receiving instruction in French on a temporary basis, of course, and Creole is incorporated into the day to a certain extent.  Also, Haitian students who are not fluent in French are the majority, where non-English speaking students in the U.S. are not, and can often feel very isolated.

Haitian Creole fascinates me.  Here is a language that didn’t exist until the 1700s, was a melting pot of sorts for French, local dialects, and a variety of other languages, and it is already a fully developed, semi-standardized language with intricate rules of grammar and spelling.  In about 200 years, Haitian Creole evolved into a formal language spoken by more than 10 million people worldwide.  Something about that says to me that Haitians were determined to communicate on their own terms and not use the language forced upon them by French slave owners.  That probably shouldn’t surprise me considering that Haiti was the the first post-colonial black nation to gain independence.  Haitian determination is a force to be reckoned with, I can say from the personal experience I have from being married to a very determined Haitian.

If you want details about Haitian Creole’s history, I suggest:

If you’d like to learn a little Haitian Creole, this site is pretty interesting:



  1. good post!

  2. Great post

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