Credit: France François 

When I speak my native language, I communicate in a specific way that’s inextricably linked to Haiti itself. And this communication style has, in turn, shaped who I am. But it is not just Creole that has helped to define my identity; as I’ve become multilingual, learning both English and Spanish, my sense of self has become further multifaceted—contoured by how I speak in those languages.

Our history has embedded hardship and humor into the very way we speak. Haitian Creole—the result of language contact among speakers of 17th century colloquial French and of the various Niger-Congo languages spoken by enslaved Africans—is essentially a language born of struggle. That collective adversity has moved our focus from the individual to the group, and has made deflective humor a cornerstone of the way we communicate. Rather than dwelling on centuries of failed government, coups, international intervention, and disasters, Haitians laugh to keep from crying, diverting attention away from ourselves via jokes and proverbs.

In English, my reality shifted to talking about ‘I’—inserting myself into the language.

Reality in itself is subjective in Spanish.

My native Creole taught me to give subtle meaning to a world that often makes little sense. English allowed me to claim my stake in that world. And Spanish allows me to share that world with others.

We don’t just make the language of the world we live in; it also makes us.

Discover more at The Establishment.

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