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Why French Translators Are Unprepared for Haitian Creole

By Doug at Accredited Language
Updated on Monday, May 16, 2016
Category: Languages, Languages, Translation, Translation

Despite some surface similarities between the two languages, a French speaker attempting to translate Haitian Creole would lead to some very muddled communication.

As Haiti’s co-official language – along with French – and as the country’s sole literary language, Haitian Creole requires translation by a professional translator fluent in its unique grammar and lexicon.

With a total of 12 million fluent speakers in the world, Haitian Creole is the largest French-derived language and most spoken creole language in the world.

What Is Haitian Creole?

A creole is a natural language that typically originates as a pidgin language – a simplified language that enables communication between separate groups – and then evolves into a culture’s primary language. Often a creole employs the vocabulary of a dominant language superimposed onto the grammar of a subordinate language.

Haitian Creole’s dominant language is French but features numerous influences from African and Native American languages. Some theorize that the language began as a form of creole in West African trading posts and was brought to the Caribbean by slaves. Others propose that it developed within Haiti as slaves who spoke Fon (now spoken mainly in Benin) began to replace their vocabulary with French terms.

How Haitian Creole Is Different Than French

The greatest difference between French and Haitian Creole lies in the grammar of both languages. The conjugation of verbs, pluralization of nouns and other linguistic nuances make Haitian Creole its own separate language that needs to be translated as such.

Unlike French, verbs in Haitian Creole are not conjugated and tense is indicated by the presence or absence of tense markers before the verb. So the phrase “I ate” (mwen te manje) uses the past-tense marker “te,” and becomes “I am going to eat” by changing the marker to “pral” (mwen pral manje).

In addition, nouns are pluralized by the addition of the definite article to the word. In order to pluralize “book” (liv) the article “yo” is added (liv yo). This is in contrast to the method of pluralization featured in French in which “s” or “es” is added to the noun and the preceding article.

The Importance of Using Fluent Creole Speakers

Grammatical differences aren’t the only things that separate Haitian Creole from French.

Although the majority of its lexicon comes from French, Haitian Creole also employs a diverse vocabulary borrowed from a slew of other languages. Words from West African languages, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic pepper Haitian Creole speech and writing.

Because of these differences, it’s especially important to use a professional translator when you want to translate Haitian Creole. French speakers won’t be able to translate Haitian Creole properly — they may have a grasp on the basics of the language, but French-only speakers are sure to get tripped up on the technical intricacies that make Haitian Creole a language all its own.

A professional Haitian Creole translator with an expert understanding of the use of vocabulary and grammar is best equipped to handle the specific nuances of this unique language.

One Response to “Why French Translators Are Unprepared for Haitian Creole”

  1. nerlande Says:

    I am a Haitian American, but I am unfortunately not fluent in creole. Although, I can use it to get around. The article made me look at the language from a grammar aspec, which I had never done. Would you know any good books that might help me with Haitian creaole grammar? The books I’ve come across are not very helpful.Thank you

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