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How to Properly Read and Write Haitian Creole

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The pronunciation of the Creole language will not be difficult if already you can read English or French. It is written almost like phonetics, in other words, all the sounds are written in the same way, without exception (in much the same way as Greek or Spanish.) A little further down we will see some principles and examples that will help you to read and write Creole easily 😊.

  1. Rule: There is a sign for each sound
  2. Rule: A single sign for a similar sound
  3. Rule: No letter is silent
  4. Rule: Each letter plays its role
  5. Some pitfalls to avoid
  6. The variations
  7. The acute accent
  8. The grave accent
  9. The correct pronunciation of the definite article
  10. The apostrophe (‘) and the hyphen (-)

Principles to read and write Creole.

There are four basic rules that will help you to read Creole very well. If you follow them, you will read any Creole word easily 💪.

 .

1. – Rule: There is a sign for each sound

In Creole, we write each sound of the language the same way. Almost all the symbols that make up those sounds are part of the alphabet. That is why the alphabet has 32 graphemes or sounds! Thus, we can write every Creole word with those 32 sounds of the alphabet (along with some accents).

You will not find examples like this in Creole:

English: baby | bathroom  😒

Where the syllable “ba” is pronounced differently in each word.

French: femme | femelle  😩.

Where the syllable “fe” is pronounced in a different way in each word.

2. – Rule: A single sign for a similar sound

If some words are pronounced the same way, we will write them the same way. In this case, they are homonyms, which means they are written the same way but have different meanings.
Example with the word “jan”:
Fre m nan rele Jan. (My brother’s name is Jean.) — Here “Jan” is the name of a person.
Ki jan de moun li ye? (What kind of person is he (or she)?) — Here “jan” is referred to someone’s personality.

Example with the word “li”:
“li” has different meanings.
It can be a verb: Mwen konn li (fr: lire, en: to read, es: leer ) (I can read)

It can be a personal pronoun in the third person singular:
Jan malad, li ale lopital. Mari se doktè, l ap pran swen Jan.
(abbreviated: l; French: il, elle; English: he, she, it; Spanish: él, ella) (Jean is sick, he went to the hospital. Mary is a doctor, she takes good care of Jean).
Thus “li” can replace a man, a woman, an animal or an object.

It can be a direct or indirect object pronoun in the third person singular: Jan di li tout doulè li santi. (Jean told her all the pains he felt.)
(French: lui, le, la; English: him, her, it; Spanish: él, ella )

Etc…

3. – Rule: No letter is silent

You must pronounce all the letters in Creole, there is no silent letters. Remember, the Creole alphabet has 30 letters!
You will not find any examples of this kind in Creole:

French: La bouche est pleine (The mouth is full) | Here, the letter “e” is mute:-°
Creole: Bouch li plen. (If you write “bouche“, that would be just a different word)

4. – Rule: Each grapheme plays its role

This part could be a headache for some people: in Creole, each letter plays its role, or retain its sound.
Example: genyen. Is it pronounced “gen|yen”? or “ge|nyen”?
The answer is: Secret (click to display)We say “gen|yen” because the word is spelled with 4 sounds: g|en|y|en.

Example: chany. Is it pronounced “chan-y” (one syllable)? or “cha|ny” (2 syllables)?
The answer is: Secret (click to display)We say “chan-y” (one syllable)(a shoe cleaner).

Remember this: in Creole, a syllable is never made up of one consonant plus the letter “y”: by nope, but “bi”, yeah; chy, nope, but “chi”, yep!

In any word where we find “y” we will pronounced it like “i”.
Try to read this word:
peny… Secret (click to display)“pen-y” (one syllable; comb) and not “pe|ni because this is spelled with 3 graphemes: p|en|y.”

Example: cheni. Is it pronounced “chén|i”? or “che|ni”?
The answer is: Secret (click to display)We say “che|ni” (caterpillar).

After all vowels, with the exception of half-vowels “y” and “w” we always use “an”, “en” and “on” as two letters. As we said, in Creole, we don’t make up a syllable with a consonant + the letter “y”.
That’s why we pronounce “pèsonèl” [pè|so|nèl] and not “pè|son|èl”.
And we pronounce bonè “bo|nè and not “bon|è”
We say: “anyen” [an|yen] and not [a|nyen]
“manyè” = [man|yè]; “mànyè” = [mà|nyè]
Emànyèl (Emmanuel) and not Emanyèl (tha would be “E|man|yèl”)
Etc…

Dèyè mòn gen mòn (Behind mountains there are mountains)

5. – Some pitfalls to avoid

Remember the following points (this is important especially for the French):

  1. AN and ÀN – Remember: “an” is a letter whereas “àn” are two letters (à (a with grave accent) and n). There is a huge difference between “dan” (tooth) and “Dàn” (Danne, is a person’s name).
  2. E – “e” is pronounced always wit an open mouth (like the French “é”) Example: lave (to clean); mache (to walk…)
  3. EN and ÈN – Remember: “en” is a letter whereas “èn” is formed of two letters (è and n). There is a difference between “ren” (kidney) et “rèn” (queen).
    Some difficult words: lane [la-ne] (year); manyen [man-yen] (to touch) – manyè [man-yè] (means) – mànye [mà-nye] (to handle); anyen [an-yen] (nothing, none); genyen [gen-yen] (to have, to possess, to win); mennen [men-nen] (to lead) …
  4. G – “g” the pronunciation is always tough, just like in game. Example: gè (war) (“guè”, and not jè) – lajè (width); figi (figure) (figui, and not fiji) – ajil.
  5. J – “j” is not pronounced like the English “j” (as in “job”). If you want to write the word “jazz“, you would write it like this: “djaz” and not: jaz.
    If you write the English word “job“, you would write it this way: “djòb” and not jòb. (In fact, the latter is a proper name. In this context, Job is a person and not synonymous with the word “work”.)
  6. IN – Remember this: the syllable “in” consists of two letters, it is never pronounced letters “en”. [Machin] We say “ma|chi n” (machine) and not machen….
  7. R and W – we never put an “r” in front of o, ò, on, and ou. But we use instead “w”. (Actually, if you use “r” in front of the letter “o”, it would sound almost the same way… but that is a mistake. We write: pwoblèm and not problèm (problem); pwofesè and not profesè (professor).
    We never put an “r” in front of “w”. We write: wa (king) and not rwa; twòp (too much) and not trwòp…
  8. X – In Creole there is no letter “x”. To give the “x” sound (French or English) we use “ks” or “gz”. We don’t write “explikasyon” (explaination) but we do write “eksplikasyon”; “extraòdinè” (extraordinary) neither, but we do write “ekstraòdinè”; We don’t write “exanp” (example) but “Example”.
  9. Y and I – In front of a vowell we only use the letter “y” to give the /j/ sound, but we never use “i” for that. Example: “marye” mais non marie (to marry)

6. – The variations

In Creole there are words with multiple acceptable spellings, they are called “variation”. There is variation when a word have several spellings, generally these are geographical differences of Haiti. The variations are spelled and pronounced a little differently, but they have the same meaning and are grammatically correct.
Some variations:
Semèn, semenn (week), lanng, lang (language); goch, gòch (left); jón, jòn (yellow); anviwónman, anviwònman (environement); mond, monn (world); fransè, franse (French); anglè, angle (English); espànyòl, espayòl (Spanish); chèn, chenn (chain); pànye, panyen (basket); vèr, vèt (green) … etc. These spellings are accepted.
By the way, Novasyon encourage you to use the first spellings of the variations above huh.png .

7. – The acute accent

Traditionally they did not used the acute accent in Creole in the 1990s. But it is rightly used on the letters “e” et “o” (“é”, “ó”) in some good recent books.
The acute accent allows us to say “jón” (pronounced like the French “jaune” (yellow)), and you do not have to write “jòn”.
We can say “énmi” if we do not want to say “ènmi” (enemy). We can say “Amón” (Amôn, a name). You can also write “evénman”, and you do not have to write “evènman”…
(That’s the way people from Port-au-Prince speak(   no discrimination here). Why should they be forced to write “ò” when they commonly say “o”? The acute accent allows us to write these sounds.)

It’s great to always use the accents in their proper place. But how can I get the accents on a computer keyboard?
ó = Alt+162. That means (brielfy): press and hold the “Alt” button and type 1, 6, and 2 in the numeric part of the keyboard.
(More detail) Secret (click to display)Press the “Alt” button with the left ring finger while typing 1, 6, and 2 one by one on the right side of the keyboard (the digits). Nope, you won’t be able to do it with the button in the alphabetic part of the keyboard. Make sure that the “Num Lk” button (Number Lock) is enabled (or turned on (press the “Num Lk” button to activate or deactivate it)). With a portable computer (Notebook or Laptop), you’ll perhaps need to also press the “Fn” button (function) at that time you will find the numbers 1, 2, and 3, respectively, will be the same buttons for j, k, and l. And so on.
ó = Alt+162 (or Fn+Alt+162 for Notebook)
Ó = Alt+0211
é = Alt+130
É = Alt+0201

8. – The grave accent

We use the grave accent on the letters a, e and o in front of “n” to pronounce them separately from the letter “n”, when we do not want to pronounce them respectively as an, en or on. And, remember “ò” and “è” are letters in the alphabet whereas “à” is not.
We write Antwàn (Antoine) but not Antwan. “Àn” (Ann) which is different from “an” (definite article (the)).

  • à = Alt+133 (or Fn+Alt+133 for Notebook) For more detail on how to get the accents see “The acute accent“.
  • À = Alt+0192
  • è = Alt+138
  • È = Alt+0200
  • ò = Alt+149
  • Ò = Alt+0210

9. – The correct pronunciation of the definite article

While reading Haitian Creole, many people pronounce the definite articles “a” and “an” separately as the other words thus the phrases lose their intonation or rhythm, the meaning of sentences might become unclear… 🥲 The definite articles might cause some intonation problems.

Here are the definite articles: “la” ( the basic article), is changed in “a, an, lan, nan” according to the sound (or syllable) that comes just before this article.
The definite article is placed after the noun it determines. It varies depending on the sound of the last syllable of the word that it defines.

We use “la” after an oral consonant: b, ch, d, f, g, j, k, l, p, r, s, t, v, z; and also after “y” and “w”.
Example: Kay la, solèy la, sik la (The house, the sun, the sugar)

“A” after an oral vowel: a, e, è, i, o, ò, ou and also after “ui”.
Example: po a, chou a, fi a, manje a (the pot, the cabbage, the daughter, the food)

“Nan” or “lan” after a nasal consonant: m, n; and also after “ng”. Example: chanm nan, kann nan, paking nan (the room, the cane, the parking)

“An” after a nasal vowel: an, en, on and also after “oun”. Example: pen an, ban an, pon an (the bread, the bench, the bridge)
In the phrase: Pawòl Jewova a di. We should read like this “Je|wo|va a” (3 syllables, the last one is longer) and not “Je|wo|va| a”, not 4 syllables. (Jehovah’s word says.)
There will be also a long sound in: “wa a” (the king); it’s the same thing in: “la a” (here); “sa a” (this, that).
“Liv mwen an” is pronounced as “liv| mwen| yan” and not “liv| mwen| an” (my book).
In simple words, we should make a liaison with those articles.

10. – The apostrophe (‘) and the hyphen (-)

BEaucoup de lenguiste sont d’accord qu’il n’est pas indispensable d’utiliser un tiret (ou traitd’union) ni d’apostrophe entre deux mots or pour former des contractions. — Évidemment, en fin de lignes on séparera un mot avec un trait d’union pour le terminer sur la ligne suivante Many linguists agree that it is not necessary to use an hyphen between two words, or to use the apostrophe sign (‘) to form contractions. — Obviously, we must use the hypnhen at the end of a line to separate a word when we will finish it in the next line 😁 .—
It is not necessary to put an apostrophe after the contraction of personal pronouns (mwen – m, or – w, li – l, nou – n and yo – y).
Don’t write “machan-n”; write instead “machann”

Don’t write “ba li’l“; write instead “ba li l”

Don’t write “antan-n“; write instead “antann”

Don’t write “pou’w“; write instead “pou w”

In the same idea, remember not to hang up two or more words to form a single, and the sentences will be clearer:
Don’t write “M pat al lavil yè” or “M pa’t al lavil yè“; write instead “M pa t al lavil yè”

You don’t have to put an apostrophe (‘) in the contraction of the following verbs: Ale -> al: Melàni t al[e] lavil yè maten.
Bay -> ba/ban: Bay kou bliye / Ban m 2 goud / Ba li afè l.
Kapab -> ka/kab: Yo ka[pab/kab] kouri anpil.
Konnen -> konn: Èske or konn[en] moun sa a?
Gade -> gad: Gad[e] jan misye chèlbè.
Genyen -> gen: Jera gen[yen] anpil tan pou sa.
Mete -> met: Met[e] rad sou ou, li fè frèt.
Pote -> pot: Pot[e] komisyon an demen maten.
Rete -> ret: Moun sa yo ret[e] Okap.
Soti -> sot: Sot[i] kò w la!
Vini -> vin: Jak vin[i] pran sa ki te pou li a.

Creole101 encourages you to use an apostrophe after some words to clarify the sentence, especially after the words that can have several meanings.
Don’t write “M on ti jan fèb”; write instead “M ‘on ti jan fèb”, or better, write it without contraction: “M yon ti jan fèb”.
Don’t write: “E pa or m te wè la a?; write instead: “‘E pa or m te wè la a?” or better: “Se pa ou m te wè la a?

Most of these if for consistency purposes. We want to write coherently and to understand others. To achieve this, it would be great if we write Haitian in a standard manner. People usually write: “Mwen pa’t“, in sentences like, for example, Mwen pa’t manje yè. But, if we really want to use an apostrophe, you could write the sentence like this, “Mwen pa t’ manje yè.” Because the apostrophe is used to replace a missing part of a word, and not just to fuse words here and there.

If you follow the cues in this, you will not only be able to read Haitian Creole easily, or as we would say in Creole, “speak Creole as good as a rat” (Pale kreyòl tankou rat), but also you’ll be able to Write Haitian Creole properly. Please share your comments or ask questions below, using Facebook. And don’t forget to share and like as well.

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33 thoughts on “How to Properly Read and Write Haitian Creole”

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