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Haitian Creole | language | Britannica

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Haitian Creole

language WRITTEN BY The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree.... See Article History

Haitian Creole, a French-based vernacular language that developed in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It developed primarily on the sugarcane plantations of Haiti from contacts between French colonists and African slaves. It has been one of Haiti’s official languages since 1987 and is the first language of about 95 percent of Haitians, especially in rural areas. Like other French creoles, its grammatical features can be related to those of the nonstandard dialects of French spoken by the early colonists, although the features did not all originate in one particular dialect. Challenging problems for scholars include determining how these features were selected into Haitian Creole, what roles the African languages played in determining specific selections, and to what extent the features have been modified during their reorganization into the new system.

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Of all the French creoles of the Western Hemisphere, Haitian is probably the one that bears the most influence from African languages. Scholars who believe that creoles develop gradually (a point of view not held by all) have suggested that this is a result of two factors. One is the unusually high ratio of Africans to Europeans in the colony’s early history: perhaps 9 to 1 in the 17th century, rising to approximately 16 to 1 in 1789 and increasing further during the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), when most of the French colonists either left or died (see Haiti: History). The other is Haiti’s early isolation from France, especially after independence in 1804.

In contrast to the hemisphere’s other creoles, which are primarily spoken in informal and domestic situations, Haitian Creole is also used for formal and public functions, notably in schools, in churches, and at political meetings.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Elizabeth Prine Pauls, Associate Editor.

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