Translating Pride in Haitian Creole

    Socio-cultural norms and values play an important role when written or spoken communication is transferred to a different language. Topics that are not necessarily rooted in the cultural experience of Haitian Creole speakers are especially difficult to handle. At the same time, bridging the language gap between English and Haitian Creole can be the key to a more rational discourse about diversity. This month’s pride celebrations in the U.S. and other countries are a good example.

    A record of 18 million adults, around 5.6% of the adult population, now identify as LGBTQ+ in the United States. Americans have become accustomed to the annual Pride Month – a colorful celebration of LGBTQ+ identity and lifestyle that is reflected in parades and street parties as well as rainbow-themed store merchandise.

    Although Pride events happening in towns of all sizes are not without controversy, they have become established as open gathering points for the queer community. Their defiant and joyful atmosphere may come as a shock to new immigrants from countries where queer people must carefully hide their sexual identity to avoid the threat of severe consequences, including incarceration and capital punishment.


    Careful research to strike the right tone

    As members of the LGBTQ+ community in Haiti face social and legal challenges not experienced by the straight population, queer identity is still a culturally sensitive issue to many Haitians. With stigmatization standing in the way of educated public discourse, it is especially difficult to strike the right tone when translating Pride-related texts into Haitian Creole.

    In contrast, many not-for-profit organizations in the United States are actively engaged in providing factual resources for and about the LGBTQ+ population to help promote diversity and inclusion, e.g. in workplaces and schools. When such source materials need to be made accessible to Haitian Creole-speaking audiences, linguists sometimes encounter a dearth of reference materials. At the same time, they have to strive for a scientific mindset that prioritizes proper linguistic transfer over any personally held values and beliefs.
    Here are some of the questions linguists must address:

    What is the best way to refer to members of the queer community in Haitian Creole?

    Although some mention the term Kominote M*, the “M” is derived from derogatory slang terms that nobody would use in a public outreach campaign or an official letter. Since queer Haitians have few ways to talk about their personal experiences in public, there is no such thing as a quick online search to verify actual language usage among Haitians.

    Research must therefore involve direct conversations with medical practitioners or other experts, along with phone calls or watching YouTube to verify the right terminology. To establish dignified language, the challenge is to choose non-discriminatory and respectful phrasing such as “omoseksyèl”. On the positive side, the fact that Haitian Creole doesn’t use pronouns helps keep language simple.

    What are the best sources for translating concepts such as "gender-affirming care" or "non binary"?

    The trouble is not just that it has taken a while for non-judgmental English terms to develop, but that acceptable language, acronyms and writing rules change all the time. In some cases, linguists must settle on new words instead of using lengthy descriptions, thus coining new terminology that subsequently becomes part of public discourse. 

    How much additional information needs to be provided to clarify the context?

    After all, the translated Haitian Creole material may require explanatory notes to be understandable. Imagine, for example, a parent letter from a U.S. school district that lists available resources for gender-nonconforming students. A discussion of resources for transgender youth may cause culture shock for a Haitian audience.

    Even though the (translated) materials may be written in their own language, recipients still must sort out the new vocabulary, explore the concept, and come to their own understanding of it. Carefully worded text can help with this process.



    Language enables full participation

    Despite the complexity of these translation tasks, linguists feel proud that their word choices in Haitian Creole pave the way for greater dignity and intercultural understanding. After all, reading and hearing appropriate language to describe a personally familiar situation is an empowering experience.

    Commitment to diversity means open discussion, frank language, and accurate labels that are not derogatory or prejudiced. In a way, translation helps create the necessary language for this kind of practical discourse.

    For us as translators, it comes as no surprise that combining the strongest elements of two cultures benefits everyone. Talking rationally about diversity is a powerful means to help overcome stereotypes and cultural biases. After all, educated discourse starts with respectfully shared information.


    Related Posts

    Like What You See?

    Order Translation