Changes in Language Use

Haiti Table of Contents

The use of Creole, even in formal settings, increased throughout the 1970s and the 1980s. Conversations at elite dinner tables, once held rigidly in French, switched fluidly between French and Creole, even within the same sentence. Radio and television stations increased broadcasts in Creole as advertisers learned the utility of reaching the vast majority of their market. Radio provided widespread access to news, which helped to break down the isolation of the peasantry and to galvanize the population during the crisis that led to the fall of the Duvalier regime. In 1986 it became obvious that important changes had taken place in Haiti, as people who had been in exile for years began to return home to run for the presidency. Many arrived at the Port-au-Prince airport with French speeches in hand but found themselves confronted by journalists who insisted on speaking Creole.

The emergence of English as an important language of business affected attitudes toward French. Growing trade with the United States and the development of assembly industries funded by investors from the United States led to greater use of English in commercial settings. English also became more important as Haitians migrated to the United States and as many members of the elite sent their children to North American educational institutions.

English cut across class lines. Hundreds of French-speaking elite families spent years of exile in the United States during the Duvalier period, and they returned to Haiti fluent in English. Many Creole speakers who went to the United States also returned to Haiti as fluent English speakers. Haitian migration to the United States and trade with North America also resulted in the introduction of English words into the Creole lexicon. For many monolinguals, learning English appeared more practical than learning French, and English posed fewer psychological and social obstacles. The availability and the popularity of Englishlanguage television programs on Haiti's private cable service helped familiarize Haitians with the language. Spanish also had become fairly wide in Haiti, largely because of migration to the Dominican Republic.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress