Haitian Creole

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Haitian Creole
Native to Haiti
Native speakers
9.6 million  (2007)[1]
French Creole
  • Haitian Creole
Latin (Haitian alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by Ministère de l'éducation nationale et de la formation professionnelle
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ht
ISO 639-2 hat
ISO 639-3 hat
Glottolog hait1244[3]
Linguasphere 51-AAC-cb
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Haitian Creole (kreyòl ayisyen; pronounced: [kɣejɔl ajisjɛ̃] French: créole haïtien), often called simply creole or kreyòl, is a French-based creole and is one of Haiti's two official languages, along with French. The word creole is of Latin origin and is a Portuguese term that means, "raised in the home". It first referred to Europeans born and raised in overseas colonies, but later was used to refer to the language as well.[4] Haitian Creole is spoken by roughly ten to twelve million people.[5] Haitian Creole is the first language of 90–95% of Haitians.[6] It is a creole language based largely on 18th-century French with some influences from Portuguese, Spanish, Taíno, and West African languages.[7] Haitian Creole emerged from contact between French settlers and African slaves during the Atlantic Slave Trade in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now the Republic of Haiti). Today, Haitians are the largest creole-speaking community in the world.


Haiti has had constant political turmoil, but despite this there were some significant steps taken and one was to raise the status of the Creole language. In the early 1940s under President Élie Lescot, attempts were made to standardize the language. Lescot brought in two American linguistic experts, Frank Laubach and H. Ormond McConnell, to develop a standardized Creole orthography. However, the orthography was not well received although some regarded it highly.[8] Its official orthography was standardized in 1979. The Constitution of 1979 classified French as the "langue d'instruction" or language of instruction, and Creole was classified as an "outil d'enseignement" or a tool of education. The more recent Constitution of 1987 recognizes Creole as the "sole language that unites all Haitians". It is in this Constitution that Creole and French are both recognized as the official languages of Haiti.[9] The use of Haitian Creole in literature has been small but is increasing. Even without government recognition by the end of the 1800s, there were already significant literary texts written in Haitian Creole such as Oswald Durand's "Choucoune" and Georges Sylvain's "Cric?" "Crac!".[10] Félix Morisseau-Leroy was one of the first and most influential authors to write in Haitian Creole. Since the 1980s, many educators, writers and activists have written literature in Haitian Creole. More recently, on October 28, 2004 on the country's newly instated "Creole Day" Haiti's official newspaper "Le Matin" published its first paper entirely in Haitian Creole.[10] Today numerous newspapers, as well as radio and television programs, are produced in Haitian Creole.

As required by the Joseph C. Bernard (Secrétaire d'État de l'éducation nationale) law of 18 September 1979,[11] the Institut Pédagogique National established an official orthography for Kreyòl, and slight modifications were made over the next two decades. For example, the hyphen (-) is no longer used, nor is the apostrophe. The only accent accepted is the grave accent (à, è, or ò).


There are many theories on the formation of the Haitian Creole language.

Dr. John Singler suggests that Creole was probably formed between the time the French colony of Saint-Domingue was founded in 1659 and 1740. It was during this period that the colony moved from tobacco and cotton production to a mostly sugar-based economy, which created a favorable setting for the Creole language to form. At the time of tobacco and cotton production, the Haitian population was made up of colonists, the engagés (employed whites), people of color and slaves in relatively balanced proportions, with roughly equal numbers of people of color and engagés. Singler estimates the economy shifted into sugar production in 1690, and radically reconfigured the early Haitian people as "the big landowners drove out the small ones, while the number of slaves exploded". Prior to this economic shift, engagés were favored over slaves as they were felt to be easier to control.[12] However, the sugar crop required a much larger labour force, and larger numbers of slaves were brought in. As the coloured slaves had decreasing contact with native French-speaking whites, the language would have begun to change.[13]

Singler's research shows that many African slaves in French ownership were from the Niger-Congo group and particularly from Kwa (Gbe and Akan) and Bantu language families. He also presents documents indicating a large number of these slaves were sent to French colonies. Singler suggests that the number of Bantu speakers decreased while the number of Kwa speakers had increased, with Gbe being the most dominant group. The first fifty years of Saint-Domingue's sugar boom coincided heavily with the Gbe predominance in the French Caribbean. During the time Singler places the evolution of the language, the Gbe population was 50% of the imported slave population.[13]

In contrast to the African languages, a type of Classical French or "Popular French" was used during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Saint-Domingue. Slaves who were seldom able to communicate with fellow slaves would try to learn French. With the constant importation of slaves, the language gradually became formalized and became a distinct tongue to that of the French. Interestingly enough, the language was also picked up by the whites and became used by all those born in the colony in general.[4]

Over 90% of the Haitian Creole vocabulary is of French origin. However, most French speakers might find it unintelligible at first since the vocabulary between the two languages have diverged somewhat. Creole has many French words used in an older sense or style, meanings which have changed or have been replaced over time in Standard French. An example of this would be in the sentence, "Ki jan ou rele?" (What is your name?); corresponding to the Standard French salutation, "Comment vous appelez-vous?" Although the average French person would not understand this phrase, every word shown is of French origin. The words, qui ("what"), genre (manner), vous (you), héler (to call) or as in "What manner call (yourself)?". The verb "héler" has been replaced by "appeler" in Standard French.[4]

The Fon language, a modern subdivision of the Gbe language that was used in colonial centuries, is often used to compare grammatical structure between Haitian Creole and to relexify it with vocabulary from the French language.[14] The fact that the equivalent of the definite article ("the") also comes after the noun as in Creole, instead of before surely heightens its case. Although to be noted, the usage in Popular French, is similar as well. An example of this would be in the following words denoting the noun using a definitive article:

French Popular French Fon Haitian Creole English
La maison La maison là Afe a Kay la The house

Note that the (there) in Popular French, is added after the noun for emphasis, comparable to the English "that there house"'.

Another theory suggests[by whom?] that a creole had already started to develop on West African trading posts before the importation of African slaves into the Americas, and that since many of those slaves were being kept for some amount of time near these trading posts before being sent to the Caribbean, they would have learned a rudimentary creole even before getting there.[citation needed]

Orthography and phonology[edit]

Haitian Creole has a phonemic orthography with highly regular spelling, except for proper nouns and foreign words. According to the official standardized orthography, Haitian Creole is composed of the following 32 sounds : a, an, b, ch, d, e, è, en, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, ng, o, ò, on, ou, oun, p, r, s, t, ui, v, w, y, z. Of note is the absence of letters c, q, u and x. Letter k is to be used for the sounds of letters c and q. Letter u is always associated with another letter (ou, oun, ui), while letter i (and its sound) is used to replace the single letter u in French words. As for letter x, its sound is produced by using the combination of letters k and s, k and z, or g and z.[15]

Haitian orthography IPA Examples English approximation
b b bagay bow
ch ʃ cho shoe
d d dous do
f f fig festival
g ɡ gòch gain
h h hèn hotel
j ʒ jedi measure
k k kle sky
l l liv clean
m m machin mother
n n nòt note
ng ŋ bilding feeling
p p pase spy
r ɣ rezon between go and loch
s s sis six
t t tout tie
v v vyann vent
z z zero zero
Non-native consonants
dj djaz jazz
w w wi we
y j pye yes
ui ɥi uit roughly like sweet
Haitian orthography IPA Examples English approximation

(or à before an n)

a abako


e e ale hey
è ɛ fèt festival
i i lide see
o o zwazo roughly like law (British English)
ò ɔ deyò sort
ou u nou you
Nasal vowels

(when not followed by a vowel)

ã anpil No English equivalent; nasalized [ɒ]

(when not followed by a vowel)

ɛ̃ mwen No English equivalent; nasalized [ɛ]

(when not followed by a vowel)

ɔ̃ tonton No English equivalent; nasalized [o]

(when not followed by a vowel)

ũ moun No English equivalent; nasalized [un]
  • There are no silent letters in Haitian Creole.
  • All sounds are always spelled the same, except when a vowel carries a grave accent ` before n, which makes it an oral vowel instead of a nasal vowel (e.g. en for /ɛ̃/ and èn for /ɛn/; on = /ɔ̃/, but òn = /ɔn/; an = /ã/, but àn = /an/).
  • When immediately followed by a vowel in a word, the digraphs denoting the nasal vowels (an, en, on, and sometimes oun) are pronounced as an oral vowel followed by n.
  • There is some ambiguity in the pronunciation of the high vowels i and ou when followed in spelling by n: common words such as moun ("person") and machin ("car") end with consonantal /n/, while very few words, mostly adopted from African languages, contain nasalized high vowels (e.g. houngan "vodou priest").

Haitian orthography debate[edit]

The first technical orthography for Haitian Creole was developed in 1940 by Ormonde McConnell. It was later revised with the help of Frank Laubach, resulting in the creation of what is known as the McConnell-Laubach orthography.[15]

The McConnell–Laubach orthography received substantial criticism from members of the Haitian elite. Haitian scholar Charles Pressoir critiqued the McConnell-Laubach orthography for its lack of front rounded vowels because of their highly symbolic value in Kreyòl.[15] Another criticism was of the broad use of the letters /w/ and /y/.[15] Pressoir argued that these letters looked "too American".[15] This criticism of the “American look” of the orthography was shared by many educated Haitians, who also criticized its association with Protestantism.[15] The last of Pressoir’s criticisms was that “the use of the circumflex accent to mark nasalized vowels” treated nasal sounds differently from the way they are represented in French and, therefore, would inhibit the learning of French.[15]

The official creation of the orthography was essentially an articulation of the language ideologies of those involved and therefore brought out political and social tensions between competing groups. A large portion of this tension lay in the ideology held by many that the French language is superior, which led to resentment of the language by some Haitians and an admiration for it from others.[15] This orthographical controversy boiled down to an attempt to unify a conception of Haitian national identity, a highly politicized and controversial topic of which there are many competing views.


Haitian Creole grammar is highly analytical: for example, verbs are not inflected for tense or person, and there is no grammatical gender—meaning that adjectives and articles are not inflected according to the noun. The primary word order (SVO) is the same as in French.

Many grammatical features, particularly pluralization of nouns and indication of possession, are indicated by appending certain markers, like yo, to the main word. There has been a debate going on for some years as to whether these markers are affixes or clitics, and therefore what should be used to connect the affixes to the word: the most popular alternatives are a hyphen, an apostrophe or a space. It makes matters more complicated when the affix itself is shortened, perhaps making only one letter (such as m‍ '​ or w‍ '​).

Although the lexicon is mostly French, the sentence structure is like that of the West African Fon language.[14]

French Fon Haitian Creole English
Ma bécane/becane à moi [in 17th century popular French]

my-SINGULAR-feminine bike

Keke che

bike my

Bekann mwen

bike my

My bike
French Fon Haitian Creole English
Mes bécanes

my-PLURAL bikes

Keke che le

bike my-PLURAL

Bekann mwen yo

bike my-PLURAL

My bikes


There are six pronouns, one pronoun for each person/number combination. There is no difference between direct and indirect objects. Some are of French origin, others are not.

person/number Creole Short form French English
1/singular Mwen M‍ '​ Je, me, moi "I", "me"
2/singular Ou (*) W‍ '​ Tu, te, vous "thou", "you" (sing.)
3/singular Li (***) L‍ '​ Il, elle, on "He", "she"
1/plural Nou N‍ '​ Nous "We", "us"
2/plural Nou or Ou (**)   Vous "You" (pl.)
3/plural Yo Y‍ '​ Ils, Elles "They", "them"

(*) sometimes ou is written as w – in the sample phrases, w indicates ou.
(**) depending on the situation. In southern Haiti, zòt is used.
(***) in the northern part of Haiti, "Li" is often shortened to "i" as in Guadeloupe, Martinique and the other Lesser Antilles.

Plural of nouns[edit]

If a noun is definite, it is pluralized by adding yo at the end. If it is indefinite, it has no plural marker, and its plurality is determined by context.

Haitian Creole French English
Liv yo Les livres The books
Machin yo Les autos The cars
Fi yo mete wob Les filles mettent des robes The girls put on dresses.


Possession is indicated by placing the possessor or possessive pronoun after the item possessed. This is similar to the French construction of chez moi or chez lui which are "my place" and "his place", respectively. In northern Haiti, an "a" or "an" is placed before the possessive pronoun.

Unlike in English, possession does not indicate definiteness ("my friend" as opposed to "a friend of mine"), and possessive constructions are often followed by a definite article.

Haitian Creole French English
Lajan li Son argent "His/her money"
"Fanmi mwen" or "fanmi m" or "fanmi an m" Ma famille My family
Kay yo Leur maison / Leurs maisons "Their house" or "their houses"
"Papa ou" or "Papa w" Ton père Your father
Chat Pierre a Le chat de Pierre Pierre's cat
Chèz Marie a La chaise de Marie Marie's chair
Zanmi papa Jean L'ami du père de Jean Jean's father's friend
Papa vwazen zanmi nou Le père du voisin de notre ami Our friend's neighbor's father

Indefinite article[edit]

The language has two indefinite articles, on or simply yon (pronounced /õ/ or /jõ/) which correspond to French un/une. Yon is derived from the French il y a un, (lit. "there is a/an/one"). Both are used only with singular nouns, and are placed before the noun:

Haitian Creole French English
On/yon kouto Un couteau A knife
On/yon kravat Une cravate A necktie

Definite article[edit]

There is also a definite article, roughly corresponding to English "the" and French le/la. It is placed after the noun, and the sound varies by the last sound of the noun itself. If the last sound is an oral consonant and is preceded by an oral vowel, it becomes la:

Haitian Creole French English
Kravat la La cravate The tie
Liv la Le livre The book
kay la La maison The house

If the last sound is an oral consonant and is preceded by a nasal vowel, it becomes lan:

Haitian Creole French English
Lamp lan La lampe The lamp
Bank lan La banque The bank

If the last sound is an oral vowel and is preceded by an oral consonant, it becomes a:

Haitian Creole French English
Kouto a Le couteau The knife
Peyi a Le pays The country

If a word ends in "mi" or "mou" or "ni" or "nou", it becomes an:

Haitian Creole French English
Fanmi an La famille The family
Mi an Le mur The wall

If the last sound is a nasal vowel, it becomes an:

Haitian Creole French English
Chyen an Le chien The dog
Pon an Le pont The bridge

If the last sound is a nasal consonant, it becomes nan, but may also be "lan"

Haitian Creole French English
Machin nan La voiture The car
Telefonn nan Le téléphone The telephone
Madanm nan / Fanm nan La dame / La femme The woman

"This" and "that"[edit]

There is a single word sa that corresponds to French "ceci/cela", "ce" or ça, and English "this" and "that". As in English, it may be used as a demonstrative, except that it is placed after the noun that it qualifies. It is often followed by a or yo (in order to mark number): sa a = This here / that there (ceci / cela)

Haitian Creole French English
Jaden sa bèl Ce jardin est beau This/that garden is beautiful.

As in English, it may also be used as a pronoun, replacing a noun:

Haitian Creole French English
Sa se zanmi mwen C'est mon ami This/that is my friend
Sa se chyen frè mwen C'est le chien de mon frère This/that is my brother's dog


Many verbs in Haitian Creole are the same spoken words as the French infinitive, but there is no conjugation in the language; the verbs have one form only, and changes in tense, mood, aspect etc. are indicated by the use of markers.

Haitian Creole French English
Li ale travay nan maten Il va au travail le matin. He/she goes to work in the morning.
Li dòmi aswè Il dort le soir. He/she sleeps in the evening.
Li li bib la Il lit la Bible. He/she reads the Bible.
Mwen fè manje Je fais à manger. I make food. (I cook)
Nou toujou etidye Nous étudions toujours. We always study.


The concept expressed in English by the verb "to be" is expressed in Haitian Creole by three words, se, ye and sometimes e.

The verb se (pronounced "say") is used to link a subject with a predicate nominative:

Haitian Creole French English
Li se frè mwen Il est mon frère He is my brother
Mwen se on doktè Je suis médecin/docteur I am a doctor
Sa se on pyebwa mango C'est un manguier That is a mango tree
Nou se zanmi Nous sommes amis We are friends

The subject sa or li can sometimes be omitted with se:

Haitian Creole French English
Se on bon ide C'est une bonne idée That is a good idea
Se nouvo chemiz mwen C'est ma nouvelle chemise This is my new shirt

To express: "I want to be", usually vin "to become" is used instead of se.

Haitian Creole French English
Li pral vin bofrè m (mwen) Il va devenir mon beaufrère He will be my brother-in-law
Mwen vle vin on doktè Je veux devenir docteur I want to become a doctor
Sa pral vin on pye mango Ça va devenir un manguier That will become a mango tree
Nou pral vin zanmi Nous allons devenir amis We will be friends

"Ye" also means "to be", but is placed exclusively at the end of the sentence, after the predicate and the subject (in that order):

Haitian Creole French English
"Ayisyen mwen ye" = "Mwen se Ayisyen" Je suis haïtien I am Haitian
Koman ou ye? Lit. Comment êtes-vous ? How are you?

The verb "to be" is not overt when followed by an adjective, that is, Haitian Creole has stative verbs. So, malad means "sick" and "to be sick":

Haitian Creole French English
Mwen gen yon zanmi ki malad J'ai un ami malade I have a sick friend.
Zanmi mwen malad. Mon ami est malade. My friend is sick.

"to have"[edit]

The verb "to have" is genyen, often shortened to gen.

Haitian Creole French English
Mwen gen lajan nan bank lan. J'ai de l'argent dans la banque. I have money in the bank.

"there is"[edit]

The verb genyen (or gen) also means "there is/are"

Haitian Creole French English
Gen anpil Ayisyen nan florid. Il y a beaucoup d'Haïtiens en Floride. There are many Haitians in Florida.
Gen on moun la. Il y a quelqu'un là. There is someone here or there.
Pa gen moun la. Il n'y a personne là. There is nobody here or there.

"to know"[edit]

There are three verbs which are often translated as "to know", but they mean different things.

konn or konnen means "to know" + a noun (cf. French connaître).

Haitian Creole French English
Eske ou konnen non li? Connais-tu son nom ? Do you know his/her name?

konn or konnen also means "to know" + a fact (cf. French savoir).

Haitian Creole French English
Mwen pa konnen kote li ye. Je ne sais pas où il est I do not know where he/she is.

(note pa = negative)

The third word is always spelled konn. It means "to know how to" or "to have experience". This is similar to the "know" as used in the English phrase "know how to ride a bike": it denotes not only a knowledge of the actions, but also some experience with it.

Haitian Creole French English
Mwen konn fè manje. Je sais comment faire à manger I know how to cook (lit. "I know how to make food")
Eske ou konn ale Ayiti? As-tu été à Haïti ? Have you been to Haïti? (lit. "Do you know to go to Haiti?")
Li pa konn li franse. Il ne sait pas lire le français He/she cannot read French (lit. "He knows not how to read French.")

Another verb worth mentioning is . It comes from the French faire and is often translated as "do" or "make". It has a broad range of meanings, as it is one of the most common verbs used in idiomatic phrases.

Haitian Creole French English
Kòman ou fè pale Kreyòl? Comment as-tu appris à parler Créole ? How did you learn to speak Haitian Creole?
Marie konn fè mayi moulen. Marie sait faire de la farine de maïs. Marie knows how to make cornmeal.

"to be able to"[edit]

The verb kapab (or shortened to ka, kap or kab) means "to be able to (do something)". It refers to both "capability" and "availability", very similar to the French "capable".

Haitian Creole French English
Mwen ka ale demen. Je peux aller demain I can go tomorrow.
Petèt mwen ka fè sa demen. Je peux peut-être faire ça demain Maybe I can do that tomorrow.
Nou ka ale pita Nous pouvons aller plus tard We can go later.

Tense markers[edit]

There is no conjugation in Haitian Creole. In the present non-progressive tense, one just uses the basic verb form for stative verbs:

Haitian Creole French English
Mwen pale Kreyòl. Je parle Créole I speak Creole

Note that when the basic form of action verbs is used without any verb markers, it is generally understood as referring to the past:

Haitian Creole French English
mwen manje j'ai mangé I ate
ou manje tu as mangé you ate
li manje il/elle a mangé he/she ate
nou manje nous avons mangé we ate
yo manje ils/elles ont mangé they ate

(Note that manje means both "food" and "to eat" – m ap manje bon manje means "I am eating good food".).

For other tenses, special "tense marker" words are placed before the verb. The basic ones are:

Tense marker Tense Annotations
te simple past from French "été" (been)
t ap past progressive a combination of te and ap, "was doing"
ap present progressive With ap and a, the pronouns nearly always take the short form (m ap, l ap, n ap, y ap, etc.). From 18th Century French "être après", progressive form
a future some limitations on use. From French "avoir à" (to have to), e.g. "il a à parler" - he must speak (so he will speak)
pral near or definite future translates to "going to". Contraction of French "pour aller" (going to)
ta conditional future a combination of te and a, "will do"

Simple past or past perfect:

mwen te manje – "I ate" or "I had eaten"
ou te manje- "you ate" or "you had eaten"
li te manje – "he/she ate" or "he/she had eaten"
nou te manje – "we ate" or "we had eaten"
yo te manje – "they ate" or "they had eaten"

Past progressive:

mwen t ap manje – "I was eating"
ou t ap manje – "you were eating"
li t ap manje – "he/she was eating"
nou t ap manje – "we were eating"
yo t ap manje – "they were eating"

Present progressive:

m ap manje – "I am eating"
w ap manje – "you are eating"
l ap manje – "he/she is eating"
n ap manje – "we are eating"
y ap manje – "they are eating"

Note: For the present progressive ("I am eating now") it is customary, though not necessary, to add "right now":

M ap manje kounye a – "I am eating right now"

Also, those examples can mean "will eat" depending on the context of the sentence.

M ap manje apre m priye – "I will eat after I pray" / Mwen pap di sa – "I will not say that"

Near or definite future:

Mwen pral manje – "I am going to eat"
Ou pral manje – "you are going to eat"
Li pral manje – "he/she is going to eat"
Nou pral manje – "we are going to eat"
Yo pral manje – "they are going to eat"


N a wè pi ta – "See you later" (lit. "We will see (each other) later)

Other examples:

Mwen te wè zanmi ou yè – "I saw your friend yesterday"
Nou te pale lontan – "We spoke for a long time"
Lè l te gen uit an... – "When he/she was eight years old..."
M a travay – "I will work"
M pral travay – "I'm going to work"
N a li l demen – "We'll read it tomorrow"
Nou pral li l demen – "We are going to read it tomorrow"
Mwen t ap mache epi m te wè yon chen – "I was walking and I saw a dog"

Additional time-related markers:

fèk – recent past ("just")
sòt – similar to fè'k

They are often used together:

Mwen fèk sòt antre kay la – "I just entered the house"

A verb mood marker is ta, corresponding to English "would" and equivalent to the French conditional tense:

Yo ta renmen jwe – "They would like to play"
Mwen ta vini si m te gen yon machin – "I would come if I had a car"
Li ta bliye w si ou pa t la – "He/she would forget you if you weren't here"

Negating the verb[edit]

The word pa comes before a verb (and all tense markers) to negate it:

Rose pa vle ale – "Rose doesn't want to go"
Rose pa t vle ale – "Rose didn't want to go"


Most of the lexicon of Creole is derived from French, with significant changes in pronunciation and morphology; often, the French definite article was retained as part of the noun. For example, the French definite article la in la lune ("the moon") was incorporated into the Creole noun for moon: lalin. However, the language also inherited many words of different origins, among them Wolof, Fon, Kongo, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Taino and Arabic, a testament to the numerous contacts with different cultures that led to the formation of the language.

Being a living language, Haitian Creole creates and borrows new words to describe new or old concepts and realities. Examples of this are "fè bak" which was borrowed from English and means 'to move backwards' (the original word derived from French is "rekile" from reculer), and also from English, "napkin", which is being used as well as the original French word "torchon" said "tòchon" in Creole.


Creole IPA Origin English
anasi /anasi/ (Akan) "ananse" "spider"
annanna /ãnãna/ (from the Taino word 'Ananas', via French language) "anana" "pineapple"
Ayiti /ajiti/ (Taino) "Haiti (mountainous land)"
bagay /baɡaj/ (French) bagage, "baggage" "thing"
bannann /bãnãn/ (French) banane, "banana" "Plantains"
bekàn /bekan/ (French) bécane /bekan/ "bicycle"
bòkò /boko/ (Fon) bokono "sorcerer"
Bondye /bõdje/ (French) Bon Dieu /bõdjø/ "God" or "God!"/"Good Lord!"
chenèt /ʃenɛt/ (French) (Antilles) la quénette "mamoncillo", "chenette", "guinip", "gap"[nb 1]
chouk /ʃõk/ (Fula) Chuk – to pierce, to poke "poke"
dekabes /decahbes/ (Spanish) dos cabezas - two heads "2 headed win during dominos"
dèyè /dɛjɛ/ (French) derrière /dɛʁjɛʁ/ "behind"
diri /diɣi/ (French) du riz /dy ʁi/ "rice"
fig /fiɡ/ (French) figue /fiɡ/ "Banana"
je /ʒe/ (French) yeux /jø/ (plural of "oeil") "eye"
kiyèz, tchok, poban /kijɛz, tʃɔk, pobã/   "hog banana"[nb 2]
kle /kle/ (French) clé /kle/, "key" "wrench" or "key"
kle kola /kle kola/ (French) clé /kle/, "key" + Eng. "cola" "bottle opener"
kònflèks /kõnfleks/ (English) "corn flakes" "breakfast cereal"
kawotchou /kautʃu/ (French) caoutchouc, "rubber" "tire"
lakay /lakaj/ (French) la cahutte /la kayt/ la case"the hut" "house"
lalin /lalin/ (French) la lune /la lyn/ "moon"
li /li/ (French) Lui "he/she/him/her"
makak /makak/ (French) macaque /makak/ "monkey"
manbo /mãbo/ (Kongo) mambu or Fongbe nanbo "vodou priestess"
marasa /maɣasa/ (Kongo) mabasa "twins"
matant /matãt/ (French) ma tante, "my aunt" "aunt", "aged woman"
moun /mun/ (French) monde "people/person"
mwen /mwɛ̃/ (French) moi /mwa/ "me", "I", "myself"
nimewo /nimewo/ (French) numéro /nymeʁo/ "number"
oungan /ũɡã/ (Fon) houngan "vodou priest"
Ozetazini /ozetazini/ (French) Aux États-Unis /etazyni/ "United States"
piman /pimã/ (French) piment /pimã/ a very hot pepper
pann /pãn/ (French) pendre /pãdʁ/, "to hang" "clothesline"
podyab /po jab/ (French) pauvre diable or (Spanish) pobre diablo "poor devil"
pwa /pwa/ (French) pois /pwa/, "pea" "bean"
seyfing /seifiŋ/ (English) surfing "sea-surfing"
tonton /tõtõ/ (French) tonton "uncle", "aged man"
vwazen /vwazɛ̃/ (French) voisin /vwazɛ̃/ "neighbor"
yo /jo/ (Fon) ye "they / them / their" – plural marker
zonbi /zõbi/ (Kongo) nzumbi "soulless corpse / living dead / ghost"
zwazo /zwazo/ (French) les oiseaux /wazo/ (frontal "z" kept with liaison) "bird"
  1. ^ The gap between a person's two front teeth.
  2. ^ A banana that is short and fat, not a plantain and not a conventional banana; regionally called "hog banana" or "sugar banana" in English.

Nouns derived from trade marks[edit]

Many trademarks have become common nouns in Haitian Creole (i. e., they have become genericized, as has happened in English with "aspirin" and "kleenex", for example).

  • kolgat (Colgate) or pat – "toothpaste"
  • jilèt (Gillette) – "razor"
  • pampèz (Pampers) or kouchèt – "diaper" or (Br) "nappy"
  • kodak (Kodak) – "camera"
  • frijidè (Frigidaire) – "refrigerator"
  • dèlco (Delco) – "generator"
  • iglou (Igloo) or tèmòs (Thermos) – "cooler"
  • chiklèt (Chiclets) – "chewing gum"
  • magi (Maggi) – "bouillon cube"
  • kitèks (Cutex) – "nail polish"
  • djip (Jeep) – "SUV"
  • douko (Duco) – "automobile paint"
  • koteks (Kotex) – "sanitary napkin"
  • "ajax" (Ajax) - "Powder Cleanser"

Nèg and blan[edit]

Despite similar words in French (nègre, most notable for its usage in a pejorative context to refer to black people and blanc, meaning white person), the meanings they carry do not apply in Haiti. The term nèg from nègre in French is generally used for any man, regardless of skin color (i.e., like "guy" or "dude" in American English). blan is generally used for a foreigner of any color. Thus, a non-black Haitian man would be called nèg—although the circumstances in which this might occur are unclear—while an African American would be referred to as a blan.[16][17]

Etymologically, the word nèg is derived from the French "nègre" and is cognate with the Spanish negro ("black", both the color and the people).

There are many other Haitian Creole terms for specific tones of skin, such as grimo, bren, roz, mawon, etc. Some Haitians consider such labels as offensive because of their association with color discrimination and the Haitian class system, while others use the terms freely.



  • A demen! – See you tomorrow!
  • A pi ta! – See you later!
  • Adye! – Good bye! [Permanently]
  • Anchante! – enchanted (Nice to meet you!)
  • Bon apre-midi! – Good afternoon!
  • Bònn nui! – Good night!
  • Bonjou! – Good day! / Good morning!
  • Bonswa! – Good evening
  • Dezole! – Sorry!
  • Eskize m! – Excuse me!
  • Kenbe la! - Hang in there! [Informal]
  • Ki jan ou rele? – What is your name?
  • Ki jan ou ye? – How are you?
  • Ki laj ou? – What is your age? (How old are you?)
  • Ki laj ou genyen? – How old are you?
  • Ki non ou / ki non w? – What is your name?
  • Koman ou rele? – What is your name?
  • Koman ou ye? – How are you?
  • Kon si, kon sa – So, so
  • Kontinye konsa! - Keep it up!
  • M ap boule – I'm managing (lit: I'm burning) [Response to "sak pase" or "sa kap fèt"] [Informal]
  • M ap kenbe - I'm hanging on [Informal]
  • M ap viv – I'm living
  • Mal – Bad
  • Men wi - Of course
  • Mwen byen – I'm well
  • Mwen dakò – I agree
  • Mwen gen...an – I am...years old
  • Mwen la – I'm so-so (lit: I'm here) [Informal]
  • Mwen rele... – My name is...
  • N a wè pi ta! – We will see later (See you later!)
  • Non m se... – My name is...
  • Orevwa! – Good bye [Temporarily]
  • Pa mal – Not bad
  • Pa pi mal – Not so bad
  • Padon! – Pardon! / Sorry! Move!
  • Padonne m! – Pardon me! Forgive me!
  • Pòte w byen! – Carry yourself well! (Take care!)
  • Sa kap fèt? – What's going on? / What's up? [Informal]
  • Sak pase? – What's happening? / What's up? [Informal]
  • Tout al byen – All goes well (All is well)
  • Tout bagay anfòm – Everything is in form (Everything is fine)
  • Tout pa bon – All is not good (All is not well)

Proverbs and expressions[edit]

Haitian Creole is a very figurative language, and as such uses a lot of proverbs and colourful expressions to illustrate many situations. Speakers of Haitian Creole will use them frequently, showing knowledge of the language and of the Haitian culture.


  • Men anpil, chay pa lou – Unity creates strength (With many hands, the burden is light) – The Haitian Creole equivalent of the Haitian motto written in French "L'union fait la force".
  • Apre bal, tanbou lou – There are consequences to your actions
  • Sak vid pa kanpe – You cannot work without food. (Literally: An empty sack does not stand)
  • Pitit tig se tig – Like father like son. (Literally: The son of a tiger is a tiger).
  • Ak pasyans w ap wè tete pis – Anything is possible. (Literally: With patience you will see the breast of the ant)
  • Bay kou bliye, pòte mak sonje – The giver of the blow forgets, the carrier of the scar remembers
  • Mache chèche pa janm dòmi san soupe – You will get what you deserve
  • Bèl dan pa di zanmi – Not all smiles are friendly
  • Bèl antèman pa di paradi – A beautiful funeral does not guarantee heaven
  • Bel fanm pa di bon menaj – A beautiful wife does not guarantee a happy marriage
  • Dan konn mode lang – People who work together sometimes hurt each other (Literally: Teeth are known to bite the tongue)
  • Sak rive koukouloulou a sa rive kakalanga tou – What happens to the turkey can happen to the rooster too
  • Chak jou pa Dimanch – Your luck will not last forever. (Literally: Not every day is Sunday)
  • Fanm pou yon tan, manman pou tout tan – Wife for one time, mother for all time
  • Nèg di san fè, Bondye fè san di – People say without doing, God does without saying
  • Sa Bondye sere pou ou, lavalas pa ka pote l ale – What God has saved for you, nobody can take it away
  • Nèg rich se milat, milat pov se nèg – A rich negro is a mulatto, a poor mulatto is a negro
  • Pale franse pa di lèspri ou – Speaking French does not mean you are smart
  • Wòch nan dlo pa konnen doulè wòch nan solèy – The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun
  • Ravèt pa janm gen rezon devan poul – Justice will always be on the side of the stronger. (Literally: Cockroach is never right in front of a chicken.)
  • Si ou bwè dlo nan vè, respèkte vè a – If you drink water from a glass, respect the glass
  • Si travay te bon bagay, moun rich ta pran l lontan – If work were a good thing, the rich would have grabbed it a long time ago
  • Sèl pa vante tèt li di li sale – Let others praise you (Said to ridicule those who praise themselves)
  • Bouch granmoun santi, sak ladan l se rezon – Wisdom comes from the mouth of old people. (Literally: The mouth of the old stinks but what's inside is wisdom.)


  • Se lave men, siye l atè – It was useless work (Literally: Wash your hands and wipe them on the floor)
  • M ap di ou sa kasayòl te di bèf la – Mind your own business
  • Li pale franse – He cannot be trusted, he is a trickster. (Literally: He speaks French)
  • Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann – Speak plainly, do not deceive (Literally: Creole spoken is Creole understood)
  • Bouche nen w pou bwè dlo santi – You have to accept a bad situation (Literally: Pinch your nose to drink smelly water)
  • Mache sou pinga w pou ou pa pile sou sa w te konnen – You need to be careful to avoid known problems
  • Tann jis nou tounen pwa tann – To wait forever (Literally: Wait until you become a tender pea) – Word play on "tann", which means "to wait" and also "tender"
  • San pran souf – Without taking a breath – Continuously
  • W ap kon joj - Warning or threat of punishment or reprimand (Literally: You will know George.)
  • Dis ti piti tankou ou - Dismissing or defying a threat or show of force (Literally: 10 little ones like you couldn't .....)
  • Lè poul fè dan - Never. (Literally: When chickens will grow teeth.)
  • Piti piti zwazo fe nich li - You will learn. (Literally: Little by little the bird builds his nest.)

French-based orthography[edit]

Alongside the usage of a phonetic orthography used to represent Creole, there exists in Haiti a French-based orthography (l'orthographe francisée), or rather several variations of this which were present long before the introduction of the current phonetic orthography. There have been arguments against the phonetic writing system of Creole. The main complaint is that it looks nothing like French and so may hinder the learning of French at school.[15] Unlike the phonetic orthography, the French orthography is not standardized: It has no official rules or regulations on spelling, so spelling often varies depending on the writer; some use exact French spelling, others adjust the spelling of certain words to represent the Creole accent, and still others drop silent letters at the ends of words since Creole rarely uses the liaisons of French. The result is that a phrase represented phonetically like "Li ale travay le maten" may be represented many ways using the French orthography.

  • Li ale travay le maten = Lui aller travail le matin = Li aller travail le matin
  • Koman ou ye? = Comment 'ous yest? = Commen ou yé?
  • Pa gen problem = Pas gagne problème = Pa guin problème
  • Tout bagay an fòm = Toute bagaye en forme = Toute bagail en fóme
  • Pa koun ye a = Pas counne hier à = Pa counne hié à
  • Nou ap chache = Nous ap' chercher = Nou ap chácher
  • Nou bezwen on doktè tout swit = Nous besoin un docteur toute suite = Nou besouin on docté toute suite
  • Kote lopital la? = Côté l'hôpital là?

Usage outside of Haiti[edit]

United States and Canada[edit]

Haitian Creole is used widely among Haitians who have relocated to other countries, particularly the United States and Canada. Some of the larger Creole-speaking populations are found in Montreal, Quebec (where French is the first official language), New York City, Boston, and Central and South Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach). To reach out to the large Haitian population, government agencies have produced various public service announcements, school-parent communications, and other materials in Haitian Creole. For instance, Miami-Dade County in Florida sends out paper communications in Haitian Creole in addition to English and Spanish. In the Boston area, the Boston subway system and area hospitals and medical offices post announcements in Haitian Creole as well as English. North America's only Creole-language television network is HTN, based in Miami. The area also has more than half a dozen Creole-language AM radio stations.

Haitian language and culture is taught in many colleges in the United States as well as in the Bahamas. York College at the City University of New York features a Minor in Haitian Creole. Indiana University has a Creole Institute [3] founded by Dr. Albert Valdman where Haitian Creole, among other facets of Haiti, are studied and researched; the University of Kansas, Lawrence has an Institute of Haitian studies, founded by Dr. Bryant Freeman. Additionally, the University of Massachusetts Boston, Florida International University, and University of Florida offer seminars and courses annually at their Haitian Creole Summer Institute. Tulane University, Brown University, Columbia University, and University of Miami are also offering classes in Haitian Creole. The University of Oregon and Duke University will soon be offering classes as well.


See also: Haitian Cubans

Haitian Creole is the second most spoken language in Cuba, where over 300,000 Haitian immigrants speak it. It is recognized as a language in Cuba and a considerable number of Cubans speak it fluently. Most of these speakers have never been to Haiti and do not possess Haitian ancestry, but merely learned it in their communities. In addition, there is a Haitian Creole radio station operating in Havana.[18]

Dominican Republic[edit]

The language is also spoken by over 450,000 Haitians who reside in the neighboring Dominican Republic,[19] although the locals do not speak it. However, some estimates suggest that there are over a million speakers due to a huge population of illegal aliens from Haiti.[20]

Translation efforts after the 2010 Haitian earthquake[edit]

After the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, international help badly needed translation tools for communicating in Haitian Creole. Furthermore, international organizations had little idea whom to contact as translators. As an emergency measure, Carnegie Mellon University released data for its own research into the public domain.[21] Microsoft Research and Google Translate have implemented alpha version machine translators based on the Carnegie Mellon data.

In addition, several free apps have been published for use on the iPhone & iPod Touch, including learning flashcards by Byki and two medical dictionaries, one by Educa Vision and a second by Ultralingua, which includes an audio phrase book and a section on cultural anthropology.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Haitian". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ a b c Valdman, Albert. Creole: The National language of Haiti. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  5. ^ "Haitian Creole to English and English to Haitian Creole Translation Services". Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  6. ^ À ce propos, voir l'essai Prétendus Créolismes : le couteau dans l'igname, Jean-Robert Léonidas, Cidihca, Montréal 1995
  7. ^ Bonenfant, Jacques L. "History of Haitian-Creole: From Pidgin to Lingua Franca and English Influence on the Language". [2]
  8. ^ Piere-Michel Fontaine. (1981). Language and Society Development: Dialectic of French and Creole Use in Haiti, Latin American Perspectives, 8, pp. 28–46.
  9. ^ Hebblethwaite, B. (2012). French and Underdevelopment, Haitian Creole and Development: Educational Language Policy Problems and Solutions in Haiti, Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, 27, pp. 255–302.
  10. ^ a b DeGraff, Michel. "Linguist's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Creole Exceptionalism", Language in Society 34(2005):533–591.
  11. ^ Joseph C. Bernard (Secrétaire d'État de l'éducation nationale) law of 18 September 1979
  12. ^ Cohen, William (2003). The French Encounter with Africans: White Response to Blacks, 1530–1880. p. 47. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Lefebvre, Clairel (2006). Creole Genesis and the Acquisition of Grammar: The Case of Haitian Creole. pp. 53–57. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Lefebvre (1985). A recent research project of the Leiden-based Research School CNWS on this topic concerns the relation between Gbe and Surinamese creole languages. The project is titled A trans-Atlantic Sprachbund? The structural relationship between the Gbe-languages of West Africa and the Surinamese creole languages.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Schieffelin, B. B., and Doucet, R. C. (1998). "The "Real" Haitian Creole: Ideology, Meta- linguistics, and Orthographic Choice. In B. B. Schieffelin, K. A. Woolard, and P. V. Kroskrity (eds.), Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory (pp. 285–316) (PDF shortened version pp. 427–443)". p. 434. Retrieved 1 December 2014. 
  16. ^ "Haiti Marycare" (PDF). Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  17. ^ West, Cornel & Glaude, Eddie S. (2003). African American Religious Thought: An Anthology. p. 943. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  18. ^ Haiti in Cuba
  19. ^ "Primera Encuesta Nacional de Inmigrantes (ENI-2012)" (in Spanish). Santo Domingo: Instituto Nacional de Estadística (former 'Oficina Nacional de Estadística') & United Nations Population Fund. 2012. p. 163
  20. ^ Dr1.com: Illegal Haitians deported
  21. ^ Carnegie Mellon releases data on Haitian Creole to hasten development of translation tools

Further reading[edit]

  • DeGraff, Michel (2005). "Against Creole Exceptionalism". Linguistic Society of America 79: 391–410. 
  • Degraff, Michel (2001). "Morphology in Creole genesis: Linguistics and ideology". In Kenstowicz, Michael. Ken Hale: A life in language. Cambridge: MIT Press. pp. 52–121. 
  • Fattier, Dominique (1998). "Contribution à l'étude de la genèse d'un créole: L'Atlas linguistique d'Haïti, cartes et commentaires (Dissertation)". Language in Society (Université de Provence). 
  • Lang, George (2004). "A Primer of Haitian Literature in Kreyol". Research in African Literatures 35: 128–140. doi:10.1353/ral.2004.0046. 
  • Lefebvre, Claire (1985) 'Relexification in creole genesis revisited: the case of Haitian Creole'. In Muysken & Smith (eds.) Substrate versus Universals in Creole Genesis. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Spears, Arthur K., and Carole M. Berotte Joseph, eds. The Haitian Creole Language: History, Structure, Use, and Education (Lexington Books; 2010) 297 pages. Topics include Creole and English code-switching in New York City, Creole in education in Haiti, and Creole and French in Haitian literature.
  • Turnbull, Wally R. (2000). Creole Made Easy, Light Messages. ISBN 0-9679937-1-7.

External links[edit]