Preparing Haitian Creole for the Digital Age

    Revitalizing and digitizing Haitian Creole

    Our language translation work here at Creole Solutions is always driven by two main concerns – the revitalization and digitalization of Haitian Creole. Although Haitian Creole was declared the official language of Haiti in 1987, standard French is still used more commonly in official discourse, especially in formal applications such as legal proceedings, while Haitian Creole typically has its place in situations of daily life. This differentiation of language use can be problematic, as French is only spoken as a first language by a minority in Haiti, which means that official proceedings are not always readily accessible to most of the country’s residents.

    The effort to revitalize the language has included standardization of grammar and spelling rules (led by the Haitian Creole Academy and other language advocates)  as well as a push toward broader use of Creole in the media and in government communication. All of us care deeply about keeping the use of grammatically correct Haitian Creole alive and making resources written in our language accessible to a broad audience.  In the past, that has included translating materials such as public health information, brochures provided by government agencies, and legal documents. Our linguist team at Creole Solutions hopes to generate many more texts written in well-researched, accurate Haitian Creole to serve the over 12 million speakers of the language worldwide. 

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    Haitian Creole in social media

    In the digital age, these efforts must naturally extend to online resources as well, to ensure that native speakers of Haitian Creole can access a wide range of authentic Internet materials in their own language. When corporate websites and social media channels first emerged, they were predominantly published in a single-language format (typically in English) and eventually translated into other major European and Asian languages, sometimes with the help of crowdsourcing. Speakers of less common languages initially accessed such sites in a foreign language, although they were free to post in their native tongue. Even though the arrival of machine translation has made it feasible to automatically translate social media content, machine-generated language is often unable to capture nuances such as proverbial expressions, colloquialisms, and humor. Increasingly, users prefer fully localized web interfaces and discussion boards to overcome such limitations.

    Creole Solutions helps social media channels speak our language

    This year, Creole Solutions was approached for a major project that affirmed our commitment to revitalizing and digitizing our rich Creole language heritage. In fact, the work turned into an opportunity to showcase all of our technical and linguistic capabilities. To our delight, it involved localizing the website and user documentation of a major U.S. social media platform. Led by project coordinator and company founder Marleen Julien, a team of experienced Haitian Creole translators set out to carefully research and translate a large glossary of terms and phrases commonly used on the global website. Since the work to make the platform fully accessible required authenticity and familiarity with local terminology, the translated content was thoroughly reviewed and edited by native Creole speakers to rule out any inadvertent inaccuracies. Impressed by our enthusiasm, the client’s project managers have repeatedly praised our commitment to getting everything right. 

    According to current statistics, more than half of the world’s population (58.4%) uses social media. As the numbers of social media users keep rising, the major platforms have also transformed from places to share personal updates to large-scale advertising channels, which have quickly become the communication method of choice for corporations and political parties. This has had unintended consequences, for example in terms of the possibility to make completely unfounded claims that are instantly distributed to thousands of people. Given the growing unease about the rampant spread of deliberate misinformation, it is imperative to make fact-based information accessible in as many languages as possible, so users can access content in authentic, original wording without potential errors introduced by translation. Ideally, every user should be able to research and trace content to assess the veracity and accuracy of claims.

    What’s your estori?

    Over the past months, our team tackled the process of translating all software strings of the platform into Haitian Creole. In our meticulous research, we explored variations in existing usage and consulted local Haitian news sources and legal documentation. For example, multiple social media channels give users the option to post in-the moment videos or candid pictures as a so-called “story”, but what do people in Haiti call this feature? As we verified with on-site users, it’s known as an “estori”, and there was little reason to change the term. We hope numerous Haitian Creole users will enjoy sharing their own estori in the newly localized version of the platform, along with their pictures and videos. 

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    Sadly, the widespread use of social media has also given rise to online harassment. Abusive language has become a major problem online, which has prompted the definition of specific user rules to set strict boundaries. The site documentation we translated into clear and accessible Haitian Creole therefore also included the standard community policies that explain the rights and obligations of every user to foster community engagement. Since the translation process involved legal terminology, these documents brought up spirited debates within the team. For historic reasons, Haitian legal terms tend to be derived from French, but we wanted to give preference to Haitian Creole terms to make the text as user-friendly as possible. To give an example, when it came to choosing the most appropriate term for the English concept “harassment,” we decided against “asèlman”  (the French word “harcèlement with Creole spelling) and instead chose the word “tizonnay,” a more authentic Creole term that has become increasingly popular in feminist writing and among women’s groups. 

    As our digitalization project enters the final stages, we’ll review the text for legibility and adherence to plain language principles one more time. It has been an invaluable experience to translate this content into Haitian Creole alongside other teams working with languages of limited diffusion. We will proudly share further updates as they become available.

    Let your materials speak our language – what Creole Solutions can do for YOUR content

    Contrary to public perception, language translation is not an easy, instantaneous process. The immediate availability of neural machine translation tools such as Google Translate can give the appearance that everyone can now switch effortlessly back and forth between different languages. That couldn’t be further from the truth. When the wording of documents genuinely matters, a free online tool cannot replace our team’s painstaking process to carefully transfer meaning and content from and into Haitian Creole to make it as accurate and clear as possible. We don’t just translate words, we capture the deeper meaning and purpose of your materials – be it sharing relevant information, selling, or convincing others of important arguments.

    Stages of a large translation project

    Here at Creole Solutions, we are dedicated to elevating the standing of the Haitian Creole language. Our work involves the following four aspects:

    • Assessment of client needs, project brief
    • Terminology research and confirmation of actual usage 
    • Translation phase, using appropriate vocabulary and syntax
    • Careful editing for thorough quality control and consistency across documents

    As we know from models of communication, an author’s or speaker’s choice of phrasing can be interpreted in many ways by a recipient, depending on factors such as cultural and social context, dialect, and situational information. Highly qualified translation professionals incorporate these factors in their work and seek to create wording in the other language that reflects the original intent as much as possible. 

    Idiomatic expressions, those colorful proverbial sayings that make texts more authentic and imaginative, are a good example. For instance, if you were to translate the proverbial Creole expression “Pitit tig se tig” in a machine translation tool, you would get “Tig's son is Tig” – probably not the most enlightening statement. Since even the literal English translation “A tiger's son is a tiger” would do little to help with understanding, an experienced translator would resort to a different English expression, “An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” to render the full intended meaning.

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    Here at Creole Solutions, we know how much you invest in creating well-crafted, balanced content for your company or organization. Our work is to preserve the message and add value by making your text useful and accessible to speakers of Haitian Creole. We are proud of our work and eager to show you what our clients mean when they say, “Se pa ti kontan mwen kontan.”

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