A Peek History into Creole Orthography

When it comes to orthography, most of us rely on our hearing ability and our vision- it’s the way we ‘hear’ and ‘see’ the words to be spelled. When it comes to the orthography of Haitian Creole, it is classified as having a phonemic orthography. Phonemic orthography is nothing but an orthography where the written word corresponds to the spoken sound. Well that solves half the problem of people learning Haitian Creole. There is an official standardized orthography that lists the following as the main symbols: a, an, b, ch, d, e, è, en, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, ng, o, ò, on, ou, oun, p, r, s, t, ui, v, w, y, and z

In this article, we will be looking at various fundamentals of Haitian Creole orthography, its history and how they play out in the language. 

A peek into history of Haitian Orthography

The credit for developing the first technical orthography of Haitian Creole goes to H. Ormonde and his wife Primrose McConnell. The phonemic orthography of Haitian Creole is largely due to their collective work. There were thirty-three symbols in McConnel orthography

With the help of Frank Laubach, this work was revised. However, there arose an intense debate on this offering. As per reports, the work was criticised for having ‘Anglo-saxon’ letters which denoted the recent occupation of American foot on Haitian soil. There was also a lack of front rounded vowels which could make it difficult to learn French. 

The criticism was pronounced by a Haitian Scholar Charles Pressoir who later teamed up with L. Faublas, minister of education in Haiti, and presented an improved version of Haitian Orthography. After the Faublas-Pressoir system, one final system known as the ‘alphabet ONAAC’ system which got adopted by the Haitian government.  

The first principles of Haitian Creole Orthography are as follows:

  1. There has to be one sign or symbol for each sound
  2. The sound has to have the same sign in every case
  3. There are no silent letters (hence phonemic orthography)
  4. Each of the letters as ascribed above has to have a particular function


Pronunciation similarities to English

When it comes to consonants, most of the consonants of Haitian Creole follow the same pronunciation as that in English. For instance

  1. B as in better
  2. Ch as in machete
  3. D as in doll
  4. f as in father
  5. g as in gorgeous
  6. h as in harm (in Haitian Creole most of the ‘h’ words are preceded by a ‘c’)
  7. j as in verge
  8. k as in kale
  9. l as in later
  10. m as in meter
  11. n as in nature
  12. p as in petrol
  13. r as in red (this has a sound similar to a gurgling sound coming from the back 

of throat but pronounced as ‘w’ as in water when it is placed before vowels o, 

ò, on, ou

  1. s as in seep
  2. t as in target
  3. v as in victory
  4. w as in winner
  5. y as in yak
  6. z as in zonal

However, when it comes to vowels, Haitian Creole has a French influence. You can easily spot the difference between certain pronunciations when spoken by speakers fluent in French and those who speak Creole only. Here are a few examples

  1. a as in water
  2. an modified pronunciation similar to a cross between words such as ‘control’ and 

un as in ‘unaided’ 

  1. e as in way
  2. è as in wet but longer
  3. en as in lens
  4. i as in sea
  5. o as in go
  6. ò as in wrought
  7. on as in don’t 
  8. ou as in two

an, en, on, and ou, function as single vowels with one sound each in each and every use. If they are accompanied by a grave accent (\) on top, it implies a modified sound of a, e, and o differentiating it from vowels an, en, on, ou. 

In this article, we covered the basics of Haitian Creole Orthography as well as its history. Having a well documented orthography is crucial to both the development as well as the use of language in a system. With a balanced and simple to use orthography, Haitian Creole has flourished in recent years as the tool of education in Haiti.  


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