Accent Resources for OSF's
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND
What follows is a very truncated, and extremely glossed over socio-linguistic context of this accent. For more cultural context, please refer to Gabrielle Randle's Dramaturgy Website.
Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) is spoken by approx. 9,5 million speakers Haiti, and is heavily influenced by French, Spanish and West African language systems. Haiti has been through many names and iterations in it’s history – Hispanola and Saint-Domingue. Originally inhabited by the Taino people, an Amerinderian society, it was conquered by the Spanish in 1492, with the subsequent collapse of the Taino recorded in 1520. The 16th saw the rise and fall of the Spanish sugar production, with Spain slowly depopulating the island as they moved onto the American mainland. French freebooters, buccaneers and their indentured servants eventually migrated to the deserted north-eastern parts of the island by 1660. The Treaty of Ryswick put the Western part of the island under French control in 1697. Transport of African slaves greatly accelerated during the 18th century. “These Africans came from an immense territory, a hinterland that stretched out from the Atlantic Coast to Lake Chad and to the regions of the Gulf of Guinea located between modern-day Senegal and Cameroon. It is very likely that they spoke many different languages, some of which belonged to the Kwa group, others of which belonged to the Benue-Congo group in the Niger-Congo language family.” It’s hard to name specific contributions of each African language to Haitian Creole, due to the fact that much information has not been obtained about older versions of these languages. But these were languages with an oral tradition, and so went through a more rapid evolution than those with a fixed writing system.
Today, the official language of Haiti is Creole, next to French. All Haitians speak Creole, yet most government documents and much business is done in French, while, by most estimates only 7% of the population actually speaks French. Spanish and English still play an important part in the language. Haitian Creole is the most widely spoken, and advanced in the process of standardization of the Creole languages.
Jaw stays mid close, raising many of the sounds a bit higher in the mouth
Persistent lip corner advancement/protrusion with noticeable buccinator bracing leads a rounding of several mid and back vowels that might be unrounded in English, or more rounding to already rounded English vowels
The sides of the tongue seem to make fairly consistent contact with the insides of the upper teeth, while maintaining a sense of channeling in the front. For some speakers, there is a stronger sense of arching on mid/back dorsum than channeling in the front
The tongue root seems advanced, pushing some articulation actions forward in the mouth.
For alveolar (gum ridge) consonants or consonant realizations, they are primarily articulated with the blade (front flat part) of the tongue.
The soft palate seems heavy, leading to pre-/nasalization of several vowels, similar to Creole's French influence.
*Try to embody these shapes with your own oral anatomy...*
When thinking about how Haitian Creole/French speakers approach English, it can be useful to know what vowels and consonants the original language has in it's inventory. Then we might be able to understand how English sounds are distributed within that inventory of sounds. Haitian Creole has 10 vowels (to English's 26), 7 made through the mouth: /i/, /e/, /ɛ/, /a/, /ɔ/, /o/, /u/; and 3 made nasally /ẽ/, /ã/, /õ/. So Imagine trying to fit 26 different vowel sounds, into this vowel structure.
FLEECE/KIT → [fli̽s] [ki̽t]
The FLEECE vowel is realized in a slightly more lowered and central position, while the KIT vowel tends to be realized with higher tongue placement, leading to these 2 sets seem to merge.
"...in a fleece jacket.... picked up her kit"
GOOSE/FOOT → [gu̟s] [fu̟t]
Likewise the GOOSE and the FOOT vowels tend to be realized in the same place, with the tongue not quite as back for GOOSE, and the lips experiencing stronger rounding on FOOT
"The quick brown fox took four small sips.... The Prince of Haitian roots music...
TRAP/BATH → [t͡ʃɰap] [bat̻] or [t͡ʃɰɛ̞p]
Depending on the speaker, their location of influence, and the phonological environment, TRAP and BATH vowels merge, and can be realized between raised/tense near open front vowel, and a fully realized open Front vowel
"So she was very happy.... But nobody asked questions.... Oh boy Kathy, father is mad as hell..."
THOUGHT/CLOTH → [t̻ɔt̻] [kl̻ɔ̝f]
These vowel sounds tend to be realized in a much more close and rounded position than a lot of American speakers. There can also be some centralizing of fronting.
"Took [sic] small sips of strong coffee.... always call me the Prince..."
LOT → [lät̻] or [lɔ̞t̪]
This vowel sound is a bit tricky because of it's inconsistency. Some speakers realize this sound much more forward towards the front of the mouth and unrounded, like SPA/FATHER. And some speakers realize it further back and rounded, closer to CLOTH. I will continue to see if there is a phonemic pattern for this.
"The quick brown fox...." "at different colleges and universities...." "to see in a dog..."
STRUT → [st̻w̟ʌ̹t̻]
This vowel sound, which tends to be mostly central for most American English speakers, tends to get shifted towards the back of the mouth with the lips more rounded.
"on their dump trucks.... an international country comes to you..." "sparrows cluster about blood red barns..." "I love that dance of death..."
FACE → [fës] GOAT → [go̟t̻]
Both of these vowel sounds are diphthongs in American English, but in the Haitian accent, get realized as single state vowel sounds.
"Carry these cheeses to the train before it's too late..." "myself on stage..." "they rape the country..."
PRICE → [pw̟äˑs]
Likewise, the PRICE diphthong also gets smoothed (becomes a single vowel sound) in most instances. Although occasionally it will become a very short diphthong with the 2nd element being a short central vowel [ə].
"...and they exile..." "why did you lie.." "the healing part of my life..."
NEAR SQUARE START NORTH CURE
[ni̽ɘ̯] [skwɛɘ̯] [stɑ̹ˑt] [nɔf] [kjɔː]
Haitian English, like it's French counterpart, is a "non-rhotic" accent, meaning that the /r/ sound in r-colored vowels and diphthongs disappear. In some diphthongs the 2nd element remains and just becomes a mid-close central vowel, and in other diphthongs, the 2nd element is smoothed out completely. Depending on a person's exposure to American English, some "r-ishness" can creep back in.
"...large" "...barns" "...artists"
"...morning" "...four" "...north"
NURSE → [nɞs]
The stressed "ER" sound as in NURSE follows the pattern of non-rhoticity in this accent. Due to the tongue position, and lip shape, it seems to be realized as a mid-open central vowel with lips rounded. The sides of the tongue only make light contact with the upper teeth.
"...and to go to the new world" "...if the earth turns cold" "...the enemy has to do the worst thing"
/r/ or consonant "r" → [ɰ]
The consonant /r/ sound (before vowels in a syllable) is made by arching the body of the tongue up towards the front of the soft palate, while keeping the tip of the tongue touching, and behind, the lower teeth. Unlike most American /r/ realizations, the lips are uninvolved. Think /w/ without the lips rounding.
/θ/ or the unvoiced "th" initial → [t̻] final → [t̻] or [f]
/ð/ or the voiced "TH" initial/medial → [d̻] final → [d̻] or [v]
/t͡ʃ/ or the "ch" sound can become [ʃ] or "sh"
/d͡ʒ/ or the "j" sound can become [ʒ] or the soft "g" sound
... or the <s> in "measure" and "fusion"...
"...is a legacy, is a legend. To sing for a legend...
Prosody - Rhythm, Musicality and Stress
Primary stress seems to fall on ultimate (final) stress of utterances and multi-syllabic words
Vowels that in English would get reduced to schwa [ə] seem to receive their full vowel value
Syllable timed language which gets layered on to English, which is stress timed. Means that it seems that English sounds faster, and most syllables have very similar stress.
Can sound a bit percussive and staccato. Rural and basilect versions of the accent can feel a bit softer.
Minimal pitch variations except for beginning and ends of utterances.
Higher pitch on phrase initiation
Continuation pattern is a rise in pitch on last syllable of phrase
Finality pattern is sharp fall on declarative statements
The yes/no intonation is a sharp rise in pitch occurring in the last syllable of a yes/no question.
The information question intonation is a rapid fall-off from a high pitch on the first word of a non-yes/no question, often followed by a small rise in pitch on the last syllable of the question.
Other Audio and Video Resources
Oral Histories of Haitian Diaspora: University of Miami (Video Collection)
My Interview with Christina Guerin - Haitian Producer/Radio Host/Comedian
Christina Guerin Reading Passages Dali's Last Hurrah and All About Foxes