How to Read Haitian Creole and Pronounce the Alphabet
The definition of the word Creole is a language formed out of two or more other languages. Haitian Creole is a mixture of French and West African languages as Haitians are the product of French colonists enslaving West Africans and then a successful slave revolt in 1804 making the country the first independent slave nation in the New World.
Creole also has Spanish and English influences which vary depending on where the speaker is from and lives. While Haitian Creole has been a spoken language since the 1800s at least, its first dictionary was created in 1979. Haiti has two official languages: French and Haitian Creole. All of the country’s official documents are written in French but Creole is being used increasingly in schools and public documents. With 47% of the population being without any schooling at all and therefore having very little knowledge of French, anyone wishing to effectively communicate with the Haitian people as a whole should learn to speak Haitian Creole.
Missionaries and humanitarians working in Haiti or the Haitian diaspora who cannot yet speak Creole may want to first learn to correctly read and pronounce the language so that they can read certain texts to illiterate people they are working with. This article should help. You can actually find a few different versions of the Haitian Creole alphabet. Here the alphabet using single letters, no letter pairs, is taught, and then letter pairs and letters with accents are explained separately.
A – ah as in “Open your mouth and say ah”.
B – beh as in “the Chesapeake Bay” cut a little short.
C – seh as in “What did you say?” cut a little short.
E – eh as in the letter “A” cut a little short.
F – ef - same as in English.
G – jeh The j in jeh is pronounced lightly like g in collage.
H – osh as in the store Osh Kosh B’Gosh
I – [ee] as in “Eat your vegetables”.
J – [jee] The j in jeh is pronounced lightly like g in collage.
K – kah as in cop without the “p”
L – el - same as English
M – em - same as in English
N – en - same as in English
O – oh - same as in English but cut a little short
P – peh as in “Pay the bills” but cut a little short.
Q – [kee] as in “Turn the key”.
R – eya sort of like something a cowboy would yell as he smacks his horse, telling it to take off.
S – es - same as in English
T – teh as in tape without the p and cut a little short.
U – gwo ee in Creole and it's hard to explain in writing how it is pronounced in French/Frenchified Creole.
V – veh
W – doob leh veh
X – eeks
Y – ee greg
Z – zed
Reading in Creole
Here are some important letter pairs as well as accented letters and the sounds they make:
ou – [oo] as in “ou” in “I love you” but cut a little short.
Example: tout moun
Tout pronounced as in “Toot the horn” means all or every.
Moun pronounced as in “full moon” means person or people.
Therefore, tout moun means everyone or everybody.
ay – [ahy] as in “I don’t know.”
Example: lay – pronounced the same as “Don’t tell a lie.” Lay means garlic.
Kay means house.
ey – [ey] as in “Come play.”
Example: Fey pronounced the same as the female name Fay means leaf or sheet
è – This just gives a slight sound difference when compared to regular “e”. It is best that one learns this through listening to a Creole speaker read.
ò – This just gives a slight sound difference when compared to regular “o”. It is best that one learns this through listening to a Creole speaker read.
Nasal sounds not present in English
For nasal sounds, the n is not actually pronounced.
an – This is pronounced as a short and nasally uh
Examples – blan = white
tan = time / weather
pan = peacock
pran = take
san = blood / without
en – A short and nasally eh
Examples: chen = dog
swen = care
pen = bread
nen = nose
on – A short and nasally oh
Examples: son = sound
bon = good
tonton = uncle
fason = way / manner
balon = ball
gason = man
In order for the “n” sound to be pronounced after following vowels a, e, and o, two “n”s are present.
Examples: fonn = melt
balenn = candle
tann = wait (for)
kann = sugar cane
chenn = chain / necklace
sispann = stop
renn = queen
ponn = lay (eggs)
grenn = bead / seed / unit
More letter pairs & differences between English and Haitian Creole
ch – pronounced the same as “sh” in English.
Example: Chay pronounced the same as “Don’t be shy” means load (noun).
More examples: chita = sit down
chapo = hat
chini - pronounced she (a female) knee (part of the body) = caderpillar
chou - pronounced like the foot article = cabbage / ponytail
j – pronounced lightly like the “g” in “corsage” or “collage”.
dj – makes the “j” sound.
Example: djab is pronounced the same as “Get a job” in English and means
q – not used in true Creole. Sometimes a Frenchified Creole uses “qu” to make a “k” sound but this is not present in true Creole.
c – never used by itself in true Creole but just paired with “h” making the “sh” sound.
h – never used by itself in true Creole but just paired with “c” making the “sh” sound.
g – only makes one of the two sounds it makes in English, the same sound it makes in “Go girl.” In Creole, “g” never makes the sound it makes in “George”. Again, that sound is made by “dj”.
u – never used by itself in true Creole but only coupled with “o” to make “ou” – [oo]
x – not used in true Creole but the sound is used by the combination “ks”.
r – the most foreign sound to an English speaker and is similar to a French “r” but still not the same. Sometimes, depending on the other letters in the word, it sounds quite like a “w”. To make the Creole “r” sound, try making the English “r” sound without biting your bottom lip with your top teeth or closing your mouth in any way.
All other letters make the same sounds as read in English. However, the letter pairs in English, (sh, gh, ph, th) do not exist in Haitian Creole.
Now you should be able to read in Haitian Creole, using the information you just read. To perfect your skills, take the time to practice reading in Creole. Have a Creole speaker and reader sit next to you and correct you as you read a text. If you don’t have any reading material, Haitian Book Centre is a great resource. Other books can be found on Amazon.
Kounye a ou kapab li krèyol ayisyen. Now you can read Haitian Creole.