Haitian Creole


93.9% of Haitian-Americans speak a language other than English in the home. Of those, 52.1% speak English less than “very well”.

Haiti has two official languages: Creole and French. Nearly all Haitians speak Creole. In general, Haitians fall into either of two categories: monolinguals speaking Creole (~90%) and bilinguals speaking Creole and French (~10%).


History of Creole

Haitian Creole (also spelled Kreyòl) is a creole language. Below is a brief, simplified explanation of how a creole language arises followed by the specific history of Haitian Creole.

A lingua franca is a language that can be used to communicate between people groups in a society where various languages are spoken. If no lingua franca exists, the people of the society still try to communicate with one another. A pidgin is likely to arise. A pidgin is a language that emerges as a combination of elements from two or more languages. The pidgin becomes the lingua franca for communication between people groups within the society. Because the pidgin has emerged as means for linguistically diverse people group to communicate between each other, there are no native speakers. The next generation of children in the society may learn the pidgin as their first language. At that point, the language becomes a creole.

Haitian Creole

Haitian Creole developed on the island of Hispaniola during the 17th and 18th centuries, when native speakers of various Niger-Congo languages were brought to the island as slaves for the French colonizers. Haitian Creole is therefore a mix of Niger-Congo and French languages, but is not mutually intelligible with either French or any Niger-Congo languages. Although 90% of Haitian Creole vocabulary is French in origin, the grammar is quite different. 


    1.    /ŋ/ is not originally a Haitian Creole phoneme, but appears in English loanwords (eg. bèl filing 'good feeling').

    2.    In some orthographic representations of Haitian Creole, <r> is used for both /ɣ/ and /w/, since [ɣ] only occurs before front vowels and [w] before back vowels. However, some modern orthographies use both <r> and <w> since the difference is phonemic.


The currently accepted orthography system for Creole was officially adopted in 1979. Several other orthographic systems had been used prior. Today most written Creole–including that available in the U.S. uses the 1979 orthography, which has a one-to-one sound-symbol correspondence. However, this orthographic system is not standardized, and thus the spelling will vary depending on the writer. 

Creole in Portland Public Schools

Portland Public Schools has reported that 38 students are native speakers of Creole. Haitian Creole is listed separately with 1 student reported as a native speaker.28) It is possible that the Creole category in this report includes speakers of Haitian Creole and other creole languages, such as Jamaican Creole. Typically if the name Creole (with a capital 'C') is used, it is in reference to Haitian Creole. A further complication is that it is quite common for Haitians to claim to speak French even when they cannot.


French is the language of the wealthy elite in Haiti. Historically, the language difference has been used to protect the status of the elite in Haitian society. Until the last 20 years, formal education and broadcast media were provided only in French which was not understood by the majority of Haitians.


Original contributor: Stephen McCorkle, Winter 2009

References and Resources