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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

Among French-based creole languages, Haitian Creole is the one with the highest degree of standardization. The written norm, Standard Haitian Creole (SHC), is based on the speech of monolinguals of the capital area, Port-au-Prince, rather than on the variety (kreyòl swa) of the politically and economically powerful Creole–French bilingual minority. For instance, the front rounded vowels and postvocalic /r/ of the latter are absent from SHC, which is spreading to the rest of the country through the media and the educational system.

In order to evaluate the diffusion of SHC, a sociolinguistic study of Northern Haitian Creole (Capois) was conducted in and around Cape Haitian, whose spoken variety diverges most from SHC. In addition to stereotypical features such as the possessive kin a + pronoun (vs. SHC pa + pronoun), we uncovered several Capois features—some of which were first described in Étienne (1974)—still in widespread use in Northern Haiti. In this article, we focus on the most frequently occurring variable, the third person singular pronoun (3SG), which alternates between SHC li/l, and Capois i/y.

Using a corpus of 24 speakers, we show that SHC li has yet to replace Capois i, which is preferred by a large proportion of community members (90%; N=2,823) and used categorically in the existential context i gen ‘there is/are’. For both the rural and urban populations, this variable is conditioned by syntactic and phonological factors. In subject position, the Capois or the full SHC variants are favored before a consonant, while the reduced SHC form l is the only variant favored before a vowel. In object position, Capois and SHC variants are in near perfect complementary distribution: the Capois variant occurs (near-)categorically after a vowel, and SHC variants occur (near-)categorically after a consonant. Despite these shared tendencies, we found a lower rate of Capois variant use in urban speakers, which may be due to their greater exposure to speakers from other areas of Haiti, to the media (especially television), and closer contact with middle class bilingual speakers who are more influencedby the standard emanating from Port-au-Prince.

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