La lingua franca

When it comes to travel, it’s definitely an advantage if English is your fist language. Even here, half the world away in a country which has no connections with the British Empire, most of the adults I live and work with have at least a little English to communicate with. No doubt this is partly down to the Yvrose effect, she lived in America for 20 years, but it’s clear that people are keen to practise and learn the language. Nonetheless, I’ve been keen to pick up a bit of the local Creole too, and living in a house of 30 people, there is never a shortage of people to practise on.

Creole has its roots in French and a mix of African languages, however French is the country’s official language. If you want to get on in business, find a profession or take an exam, you need French. For these reasons, schools teach the whole curriculum in French and parents are very supportive of this policy. I feel sorry for the students who struggle with subjects like Maths and Science anyway, and then to be expected to learn it in their second language… very confusing indeed!

For me however, the French connection has definitely been a headstart. Consider these words:

fish (n) pwason; white (adj) – blan; to eat (vb) – manje

All very similar to their French equivalents and the consequence is that I have brushed up my French quite a bit, albeit with a slight Caribbean flavour now!

The basics for grammar are fairly simple too. Take pronouns for example, mweh = ‘my’, ‘I’ and ‘me’, so no getting in a tangle between your subjects and objects there, and it’s the same story for ‘you’, ‘we’ and ‘they’, while all of the third person singular is covered by li.

The good news doesn’t end there either. You don’t have to worry about conjugating the verb to compliment the subject in Creole: manje is manje and that’s that. And unlike English, where so many of the most common verbs have the annoying habit of taking irregular forms in the past tense, in Creole you just add the auxiliary te before the main verb.

So if I tell you that yon means ‘a’, you should have enough Creole by now to be able to translate this:

Mwen te manje yon pwason blan.

Well I can’t be sure I have it 100% correctly, but if you came up with ‘I ate a white fish’ I think we can both give ourselves a pat on the back.

So there you go. Speaking Creole hasn’t been quite as daunting as I thought it might be. Of course, when listening to two locals talking together, I am lost; a depressingly familiar experience I have found when learning languages. But with the kids, who are very good at slowing right down and talking about the simple things in life, I am slowly encountering more success. With more than a month still to go I shall keep practicing. After all, there is no ‘finish point’ when learning a language, so it’s important to relax and enjoy the journey.

As a post script, I am hoping to take a few days off next week to go to the Dominican Republic where I’ll have the opportunity to practise my rather rudimentary Spanish too. In which case, there may not be a blog next week but I’ll be sure to relate all my adventures when I return!

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One Response to La lingua franca

  1. Mwen te manje yon pwason blan is perfect creole. Take pride in it because not too many people come to Haiti to learn the language. I should add that the school of over 300 is speaking English because of you! Thanks for coming!

    Like

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