Columns about the French language generate interesting feedback. Father Richard Bertrand is a Franco-American Jesuit priest who lives in Portland. He offered expert advice about the Creole and the French languages spoken in Haiti.

Bertrand grew up in Biddeford speaking French. He attended Boston College where he earned a master’s degree in French. Later, he lived in Quebec City and taught school in Paris. He has been ordained for 30 years.

Through his world travels and academic studies, he learned to recognize various French accents. He understands French as it is spoken in Quebec, by the Acadians with their roots in Nova Scotia, and by people residing in various parts of France, Switzerland, Belgium and French Africa. All these French speaking countries are known for using different accents or pronunciations as well as varied vocabularies in their speech.

“All the words used in these countries are real French words. Their vocabulary is rooted in the history of the ancient French language,” he says.

Haitian Creole is derived from French, Spanish and African languages. Creole is spoken by 8 million people in Haiti. French is spoken by the Haitian upper classes and is the second most commonly recognized language.

“You implied in two articles that the Quebecois of Canada and the Franco Americans of Maine, whether they are descended from Quebecois or Acadians in the St. John Valley, could understand the Creole spoken by the people in Haiti,” says Father Bertrand. In fact, knowing French helps a person to understand Creole but it does not come easily, says Bertrand.

Every population of French speaking people draws on different accents or pronunciations common to their particular region of the world. Vocabularies may differ depending on where French is spoken. The Creole language of Haiti is spoken in several of the Caribbean islands. Although the Creole language is related to French, it is a separate dialect.

For example, a Wikepedia reference describes how the grammar article is commonly blended into the noun of a Creole word. Such as, the French word for “rice” is “du riz.” In the Creole dialect, the article “du” merges with the noun “riz” and the word for rice become “diri.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Creole_language)

Educated classes in Haiti speak mainstream French with a definite accent. They also speak Creole. It’s like the Quebecois French speakers who understand the joual patois. Joual is associated with how working class people in rural Quebec speak French. The word comes from a mispronunciation of “cheval,” meaning “horse,” says Bertrand.  Joual is disappearing in Quebec because of improved education and people’ upward economic status.

Creole is not disappearing in Haiti. It remains the language of most Haitians.

Bertrand explains how Creole is historically spoken in various Caribbean Islands and in parts of Louisiana. Also, people born to parents who share French and Spanish European heritages are historically called Creoles.

Creoles in history include the first wife of Napoleon I of France. In 1796, he married Josephine de Beauharnais who was born in Les Trois-Ilets, Martinique, to a wealthy Creole family who owned a sugar plantation. In her case, being Creole meant her parents were European but she was born in the Caribbean Island of Martinique.

Father Bertrand spoke French when he visited Haiti. In Stamford, Conn., he celebrated Mass in French for the Haitian community. “We sang Creole hymns at Mass,” he recalls. “I don’t speak Creole. But, my understanding of French allowed me to sing along with the Creole hymns,” he says.

 

Juliana L’Heureux can be contacted at: [email protected]