Anyone who speaks knows that languages are a reflection of a culture and its various forms. Even a small tilt in accent will be able to specify as complicated features as the region, particular geography, education, and what part of the society do you belong. Although the internet has been a great leveller, languages continue to dominate the narrative of society. The language of focus in this article is Haitian Creole. Haitian Creole is probably the best documented of all the Creoles in the world. A peek into Haitian Creole role in society opens up a huge window into the rich history of Haiti. Let us take a deeper look.
How did it all start?
French had colonised Haiti due to its immense riches in the years before 1680. When they were producing cotton, tobacco and sugarcane on this island, the plantations had a rich mix of people who were employed as slaves from western Africa as well as some native populations. Due to the sheer number and the common job which was to tend to the crops, the western Africans began to interact with the local slaves using a mix of words that formulated a very early version of Haitian Creole. Between 1680 and 1740, Haitian Creole developed rapidly. The development of Haitian Creole has since been a huge research interest to the scholars who have since established the similarities of Haitian Creole with western African languages more than French. They have attributed this to the fact that the population of Western Africans was much more than French colonists. The gap was as large as nine to one in a few areas. Another factor that could have contributed is the independence from France. French colonists were looked down upon due to obvious reasons and hence any resemblance which was not necessary was shunned.
What was the role of Haitian Creole in Haitian History?
As per this article from Haiti Open magazine, Haitian Creole emerged as the language of commons, developing freely between the slaves of Western Africa and native Haitian people. It became the common thread with which the pious mission of freedom and independence was woven. The movement began to take shape in 1971, when slaves of one northern colony expressed dissent. The slave insurgencies grew by leaps and bounds in response to the atrocities of the Frenchmen. It is not hard to guess what was the most crucial tool in formulating the details of these insurgencies- The Haitian Creole language.
Did Haitian Creole play a role in Business Development in Haiti?
Haitian Creole is said to have developed in its most nascent form by the traders of goods which were produced in the French colonies- cotton, sugarcane and tobacco. Since the workers did not understand French, nor was there any effort to teach them the language, traders had to evolve pidgins of French in order to continue the trade.
How did Haitian Creole evolve immediately after Haitian independence?
Prior to the colonisation, Haiti was multilingual- many West and Central African languages were spoken. After colonisation and subsequent independence of Haiti, French began to dominate in societal functions such as government, education, Haitian literature and formal more elite businesses. However, Haitian Creole was the choice of language for informal conversations between professionals, families, peers, friends, servants, workers or farmers. Even among working colleagues, French when spoken marked a hierarchy in relationships and denoted a high degree of formality.
What do the demographics look like now?
Between its official adoption in 1987 and now, about 95% of the total population speaks Haitian Creole. Shortly after independence French was declared as the official language and Haitian Creole could only gain recognition as an official language after the constitution upgrade of 1987.
Teachers still instruct students in French to achieve educational objectives. However, it is not uncommon to observe teachers rapidly switching from French to Haitian in order to be comprehensive to a certain section of students. Many social scientists have observed that there exist negative linguistic attitudes to the Haitian Creole in the upper echelons of society. They regard it as being deficient in qualities that mark European language as superior.
Haitian Creole has had a rich role throughout Haiti’s life as a country- be it history, the independence movement or now where the rich Haitian culture is attracting the world and making a place of its own.