Haitian Creole language

Haitian Creole

Byenvini- Welcome

Haitian Creole (Kreyòl ayisyen) is spoken in Haiti by all of its 7 million people. It is also spoken in the Bahamas, Canada, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, France, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. (Ethnologue). It is based on French and on the African languages spoken by slaves brought from West Africa to work on plantations. It is often incorrectly described as a French dialect or as “broken French”. In fact, it is a language in its own right with its own pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and pragmatics.


Even though Kreyòl is a language spoken by all Haiti’s citizens and even though it was recognized in 1961 as Haiti’s official language along Haiti Mapwith French, it continues to enjoy less prestige than French. Even after Haiti became independent from France in 1804, French continued to be the prestige language of government and of power. Not surprisingly, French is more likely to be spoken by the urban elite which constitutes about 8-10% of Haiti’s population. In addition, urban French-based schools have been privileged over rural Kreyòl-based schools.

Print media in Kreyòl has been hampered by regional and social variations in the language and orthography. Newspapers are beyond the reach of many citizens due to language differences, illiteracy, and cost. There are only a few television stations that broadcast in Kreyòl. Radio is the most important medium of communication providing a way for Haitians to stay informed. In the large expatriate Haitian communities of New York, Miami, and Boston, Kreyòl is the subject of instruction and is also used to teach subject matter in elementary and secondary schools.


Kreyòl has three main geographical dialects, and it is not uncommon for Haitians to speak more than one of them:

  • Northern dialect, spoken in Cap-Haitien, the second largest Haitian city;
  • Central dialect, spoken in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti;
  • Southern dialect spoken in the area of Cayes, an important city in the south of Haiti.


In addition, there are a continuum of social variations with Kreyòl at the extreme that is closest to French and popular speech that is farthest from it. This is illustrated in the two versions of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Atik/Artik 1
Tout moun fèt lib, egal ego pou diyite kou wè dwa. Nou gen la rezon ak la konsyans epi nou fèt pou nou aji youn ak yon lespri fwatènite.

Atik 1
Tout moun sou tè a fèt tou lib. Tout gen menm valè (nan je lasosyete), tout moun gen menm dwa devan Lalwa. Tout moun fèt ak yon bonsans, tout fèt ak yon konsyans epi youn fèt pou trete lòt tankou frè ak sè.



Sound system

Linguists do not agree on a single description of the sound system of Kreyòl because of regional and social differences in pronunciation. The speech of urban dwellers in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, especially those who know French, tends to be more similar to French than the speech of rural speakers.


Kreyòl grammar differs significantly from that of French.


  • Kreyòl nouns are marked for number by adding the suffix –yo, e.g., liv ‘book’ — livyo ‘books’, mashin ‘car’ — mashinyo ‘cars’.
  • Possession is expressed by placing possessor after possessed, e.g., chat Marie ‘Marie’s cat’.
  • Kreyòl has an indefinite article that precedes the noun and a definite article that follows the noun, as well as a single demonstrative pronoun sa ‘this’, that follows the noun.


yon mashin a car
mashin la the car
mashin sa this/that car



Pronouns are marked for person and number. There is no difference between personal, direct and indirect, and possessive pronouns. Some are of French origin, others are not.

mwen I, me, my
ou you, your (singular)
li he, she, it, his, her, its
nou we, us, our
you, your (plural)
yo they, them, their


These pronouns can be contracted, e.g., Machte yon liv ‘I bought a book’.


There is no subject-verb agreement and there are no verb tenses per se. Instead, Kreyòl uses a system of markers which precede the verb, to indicate tense. For example, the particle te indicates past tense, ap indicates progressive, and pral(e) indicates future. The present tense is not marked.

Mwen fe manje.
Marie fe manje.
Marie ak Pierre fe manje.
I make food.
Marie makes food.
Marie and Pierre make food.
Marie te marye mwa pase. Marie got married last month.
Pierre ap monte bisiklet. Pierre is riding a bicycle.
Marie ak Pierre pral chante pita. Marie and Pierre will sing later.


The copula verb ‘to be’ is expressed in Kreyòl by the words se and ye, e.g., Li se fre mwen ‘He is my brother’, Koman ou ye? ‘How are you? ‘


Most of Kreyòl vocabulary is derived from French. Kreyòl has also many borrowed words from English, Spanish, and from Niger-Congo languages such as Wolof, Fon, and Éwé. French articles and even prepositions are sometimes incorporated into Kreyòl nouns.

Haitian Creole


zye French les yeux ‘eyes’
diri French du riz ‘rice’
ozetazini French aux Etats-Unis ‘in the United States’
oungan Fon oungan ‘voodoo priest’
bokit English bucket
sapat Spanish zapato ‘shoe’
voodoo Éwé and Fon vodu ‘spirit, demon, deity’
zombi W. African origin: Kikongo zumbi ‘fetish’; Kimbundu nzambi ‘god’, originally the name of a snake god, later meaning ‘reanimated corpse’ in voodoo cult


Below are a few basic sentences in Kreyòl:

Good morning or good day. Bonjou
Good afternoon, evening. Bonswa
Goodbye. O revwa
How are you? Koman ou ye?
Yes. Wi.
No. Non.
Thank you. Mesi.
Please. Souple
You are welcome. Merite
Excuse me. Eskize mwen.
I am sorry. Mwen regret sa.


Below are Kreyòl numerals 1-10.





Attempts to write Kreyòl date back to the 18th century, but because of its low status in Haiti little has been written in it, and French remained the language of literacy. There were several competing orthographies, all based on the orthographic traditions of French that did not accurately represent the sound system of Kreyòl. The first writing system independent of French was developed in the 1940s. It was based on the International Phonetic Alphabet. In the 1950s, the system was modified to include changes that brought Kreyòl orthography closer to that of French. This modified orthography was used until 1975 when a new orthography that combined the two systems was developed. It employs a consistent one sound — one symbol correspondence. This spelling system was formally approved by the Haitian government in 1979. Today, most Haitian language materials are written using this orthography.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Kreyòl and in French.

Tout moun fèt lib, egal ego pou diyite kou wè dwa. Nou gen la rezon ak la konsyans epi nou fèt pou nou aji youn ak yon lespri fwatènite.
Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits. Ils sont doues de raison et de conscience et doivent agir les uns envers les autres dans un esprit de fraternité.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Despite recent efforts to increase the literacy rate in Kreyòl, progress has been slow. Although experts agree that it is easier to become literate in one’s first language, many Haitians do not see the value of becoming literate in Kreyòl. In addition, there is a lack of textbooks in Kreyòl and of teachers willing to teach Kreyòl literacy, although the situation has been improving.

Haiti has produced well-known writers and poets who wrote exclusively in French. However, with the recognition of Kreyòl as an official language, novels, poems, and plays are being written in it. In 1975, Franketienne wrote Dezafi, the first novel written entirely in Kreyòl.

Did You Know?

English has borrowed a few words from Kreyòl. Most of these words have to do with the religious traditions of Haiti.

mambo known as the name of a dance, the word comes from the Kreyòl name for voodoo priestess
voodoo/voodou from Kreyòle, from Fon/Éwé word for spirit
zombie originally the name of a snake god, later meaning ‘reanimated corpse’ in voodoo cult, from Kikongo zumbi‘fetish’



Language Difficulty

questionHow difficult is it to learn Haitian Creole?
There is no data on Haitian Creole in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.