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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Study Guide

Edwidge Danticat

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Breath, Eyes, Memory | Haitian Creole


Many characters in the novel speak Haitian Creole, a French-based language shared by most Haitians. Though the novel sometimes refers to Haitian Creole simply as "Creole," it's one of many creole languages. Creole is a term used to describe a spoken language emerging from two or more different languages. Creole often develops among residents of a country after European colonization. Native residents combine their language with the colonizer's in attempts to communicate through language barriers. The French colonization of Haiti meant enslaved Africans and French colonists needed to communicate. The emerging language combined French and the many African languages the slaves spoke.

Haitian Creole is one of several French-based Creole languages. Sophie's husband Joseph speaks Louisiana Creole, a French-based language developed when the area that is now the American states of Louisiana and Mississippi was under French control.

Creoles are vernacular languages—spoken languages used in everyday life, not written languages learned in an academic setting. But a spoken Creole can be used in a variety of situations. Haitians often speak Haitian Creole at formal functions, including school and church events.

In an essay about her origins, Danticat describes Haitian Creole as "a language from which colorful phrases blossomed to fit the desperate circumstances." Her Haitian ancestors mixed their colonist captors' French with their own African languages to create a new method of communication that belonged to them.

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