The Differences Between French And Martinique’s French Creole

French may be the official language of Martinique but the Martinicans’ mother-tongue is Martinican Creole, a language largely based on French but totally incomprehensible by ‘les Métropolitains’ in mainland France.

An eight-hour-long flight from Paris takes you straight to the heart of the French Antilles. It may not be Europe, but it is still France, so hold on to those Euros of yours. The taxi driver greets you with a French salute at Aimé Césaire airport as he loads your luggage into the car. It’s just a short ride to the capital Fort-de-France, and you can’t wait to immerse yourself in the local culture and finally practice your French. The phone rings, your driver picks it up, but much to your dismay, you can’t understand a single word he’s saying.

Oh no! Were all your French lessons for nothing?

Don’t worry doudou (the local word for sweetheart) — although French is spoken everywhere in Martinique, Martinican Creole has a heart and soul all its own. A linguistic fusion of many cultures — French, English, Spanish, Indian, African and the indigenous culture — it has its own vocabulary but also follows the structure of French. All of this only makes it more mesmerizing and enigmatic as a language.

If you ever wanted to crack the code of Antillean Creole, here’s a little taster for you:

1. In This Creole, Pronounce Every Letter You See

You know how you always struggled with those silent letters in French? Well, Martinican Creole decided to do away with such complicated grammar structures, so you only have to pronounce the letters you see and write those that you hear. Here are some prominent examples:

English Standard French Martinican Creole
boat bateau bato
one un yom
two deux
three trois twa
sometimes de temps en temps tanzantan
good evening bonsoir bonswa
please s’il vous plaît Si ou plé

2. Verbs Are Not Declined Here

Remember all that time you spent stressing about French conjugation tables? Well, worry not while you’re on Martinique, because the less you fret about conjugating a verb in the third-person plural, the more you can enjoy swimming on the island’s pristine beaches. In Martinican Creole, the verb stays the same in all persons and all tenses, meaning you have to pay more attention to personal pronouns and time phrases. For example: 

English Martinican Creole
I live in Fort-de-France Man ka rété fodfrans
I will live in Fort-de-France Man ka’y rété fodfrans
I lived in Fort-de-France Man té ka rété fodfrans
Live in Fort-de-France! Rété fodfrans !

 There Is No Vous In Martinican Creole

Everyone is a friend in Martinique, so you don’t ever have to worry about tutoyer (using tu) or vouvoyer (using vous) when speaking to someone in their creole. “You” is ou and, to refer to more than one person, you say zòt or . Easy, right?

With Creole being so similar to French and yet so different in its own right, it’s no wonder that locals came up with a very funny word to describe the Metropolitan French: Zoreille. The word was first heard on the island Réunion but was later diffused across other Creole-speaking countries. It comes from the French word oreille (meaning “ear”) and describes a white man extending an ear as he tries to understand the local lingo.

Here’s a small lexicon of useful, everyday phrases:

English Martinican Creole
How are you? Sa ou fè?
Fine, thanks Bien mèsi
Excuse me Eskizé mwen
Goodbye A pli ta

What About The Local Culture Of Martinique?

If all that talk of grammar made you hungry, then Martinique will not disappoint you when it comes to food. As a French territory, there’s no shortage of boulangeries brimming with freshly-baked croissants, pains au chocolat and macarons. 

That said, if you want to experience the local cuisine, grab a small acras de morue (a fish fritter with spices) in one of the many café-restaurants or food stands on the island. This can be your snack, appetizer or even your breakfast. You should also try a fricassée de chatrou, an octopus stew in tomato sauce, onions and spices. Colombo is another signature dish which can be fish, chicken, pork or lamb seasoned with French, East Indian and West Indian spices, cooked in coconut milk, ginger and Colombo powder.

Wash these delicacies down with a Ti Punch made from rhum agricole (cane juice rum), a drop of sugar cane syrup and a squeeze of lime. You can visit one of nearly 20 rum distilleries in Martinique to find out how rum is made in the Caribbean and why it’s the island’s biggest export.

Finally, burn some calories dancing le Zouk, a type of reggae from the French Antilles. Zouk is a Creole word that comes from secouer, the French word for “to shake,” and it’s a dance that has its roots in Caribbean Soca and Kompa with Brazilian and African influences. Nowadays, Zouk means “to party” in Martinican Creole. Every problem in Martinique can be solved with a dance of Zouk.

So, if in doubt about how to say something on Martinique, just respond with: “An nou zouké !” (Let’s go dancing!)

Brush up on your French today to perfect your Martinican Creole tomorrow!
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