Dr. Vincent DeGennaro Jr. '02 | June 19, 2014 | Notre Dame Magazine
“I’m sitting here and all of a sudden I feel ‘Chik!’ in my foot. And then another ‘Chik!’ in my hand. ‘Chik!’ here and ‘Chik!’ there and everywhere.” She pauses, and then for good measure adds, “Chik!” With each “Chik!” she jumps in the chair and quivers slightly, acting out her reaction to the sharp electrical pain she feels in her hands and feet as a result of diabetes. In the hospital in Haiti, the patients demonstrate a colorful reliance on tone, gestures and onomatopoeia to accentuate their feelings.
Haitian Creole is a pidgin language based on altered French vocabulary and aspects of West African grammar, and has been used on this island for 200 years. Spoken mostly by impoverished subsistence farmers, Creole wasn’t a written language until recently, and nearly half of Haitians are still illiterate. Like most languages, Creole mirrors the culture and people from which it is born. Haitian culture is vibrant and boisterous, and Haitians communicate with large gesticulations as much as my Italian family members. It makes sense that the Creole language is colorful, playful and onomatopoeic.