What is the difference between French and Haitian Creole?

A client recently asked me about the difference between French and Haitian Creole. Her Haitian patient had difficulty filling out an admission form in French. She didn't realize that French and Haitian Creole were two distinct languages. Only about 5 percent of Haitians speak French fluently.

Translating your document in Haitian Creole helps narrow the gap in communication by ensuring that your Haitian audience can understand messages and information in their language. It is equally important to use a professional Haitian creole translator who has expert knowledge of Haitian creole vocabulary, grammar, and orthography.

What makes French and Haitian Creole different

Although over 80 percent of the Haitian creole vocabulary derives from the French language, there are notable differences in the meaning of words that sound similar. Also, the two languages have distinct grammatical structures and writing systems.

Haitian Creole and French lexicons

The French colonizers of Saint-Dominque spoke a classical French type known as langue d'oïl in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Although over 80 percent of Haitian vocabulary has its origin in the French language, many of these words come from the classical French from the colonial period.

Words that had a single meaning in the 17th century have changed or been replaced in both languages.

For example, the old French word bailer, or to give in French, has not been used in French since the end of the 17th century. Today, the Haitian Creole word bay still means to give.

Despite their remarkable apparent similarity, the Haitian Creole and French lexicons contain several "false friends." They may be identical or remarkably similar in their pronunciation but have different meanings.

False Friends in French and Haitian Creole

Haitian Creole

French

English

 

Jeune Gens

Young people

Jennjan/jènjan

 

Chivalrous

 

Fréquent

Frequent

Frekan

 

Rude, disrespectful

 

Ménage

Household

Mennaj

 

Lover

 

Actionnaire

Shareholder, stockholder

Aksyonè

 

adventurer, crook, risk-taker, go-getter

 

Haitian Creole and French Grammar

Haitian Creole has its distinct grammatical structure. The conjugation of verbs, the pluralization of nouns, and the agglutination of articles are just a few of the distinctions that make Haitian Creole different from French.

Conjugation of Verbs

In Haitian Creole, the verb form does not change according to the subject. Instead, we use markers to place an event in the correct temporal setting.

Tense

French

Haitian Creole

English

Present

Je danse

Mwen danse

I dance

Past

J'ai dansé

Mwen te danse

I danced

Imperfect

Je dansais

Mwen te ap danse

I was dancing

Future

Je danserai

Mwen pral danse

I will dance

 

Pluralization of nouns

Many times pluralization is "understood" in Haitian Creole. There is no need = to add a marker. Most French nouns form their plural by adding an -s to their singular form. In Haitian Creole, nouns are pluralized by the addition of the pluralization marker "yo."

French

Haitian Creole

English

Un livre

Yon Liv

One book

Deux livres

De liv

Two books

Les livres

Liv yo

The books

 

Agglutination of articles in Haitian Creole

Often, the French article becomes a part of the base word in Haitian Creole. In addition to the French article, it takes a creole article.

 

French

Haitian Creole

English

La rue

 

The road

 

Lari a

The road

La mer

 

The sea

 

Lanmè a

The sea

 

French and Haitian Creole Writing System

From our previous examples, you may have already noticed a significant difference in spelling. The Haitian creole writing system is based on the Haitian Creole alphabet. Unlike the French alphabet with 26 letters, the Haitian alphabet has 32 symbols representing 32 distinctive sounds. It employs a consistent one sound, one symbol correspondence. That means the same sounds in French and Creole are written with different letters. Therefore, someone who speaks one language won't necessarily be able to read in the other language.

Translate your documents in Haitian Creole

Because of these differences, documents for Haitian readers should be in Haitian Creole. It's equally important to use a professional Haitian creole translator who has expert knowledge of Haitian creole vocabulary, grammar, and orthography.

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