Puerto Rican Spanish

Language

History of Language in Puerto Rico Timeline:

  • Indigenous people traditionally spoke Taíno.
  • 1508 Spanish infused with Taíno influences took over as the dominant language in Puerto Rico after Spanish colonization.
  • 1898 USA acquired the island and English became the language used within the Puerto Rican government.
  • 1902 Official Language Act established English and Spanish as languages to be used in official capacities and English was made the official language of school instruction.
  • 1948 Spanish was ordered as the language of school instruction by the Education Commissioner, with English as a mandatory second language course K-12.
  • 1991, the government made Spanish the official language of Puerto Rico through the “Spanish-only Law,” supporting the historical and cultural maintenance of Spanish.
  • 1993 Senate Bill 1 reestablished Spanish and English as indiscriminate official languages.
  • Currently, 
    • the official languages of Puerto Rico are Spanish and English, with Spanish being the dominant of the two.
    • Spanish speakers: L1 3,540,000 and L2: 137,000.
    • English speakers: L1 100,000 and L2 1,840,000
    • Puerto Rican Sign Language: threatened with extinction
    • Puerto Rican Sign Language can be found sporadically in the less populated western and central parts of the country. American Sign Language is the dominant form of sign language.
    • Taíno: threatened with extinction
      • There are currently no known L1 Taíno speakers, however, due to revitalization efforts there are a small number of L2 Taíno speakers.

Puerto Rican Spanish

As a product of Puerto Rican history, the island possesses a unique Spanish dialect. Puerto Rican Spanish utilizes many Taíno words, some African dialectal pronunciations, as well as English words. The largest influence on the Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico is that of the Canary Islands.

Lexicon:

Taíno influences set Puerto Rican Spanish apart from other Spanish dialects. The remaining Taíno influence are seen in the names of some plants, animals, and cultural practices. Additionally, an African influence can be seen in the adoption of some words for food, music, and dances. The African influenced lexicon is typically heard in coastal areas in Puerto Rico where there are greater concentrations of descendants of former enslaved Africans.

Taíno words used in Puerto Rican Spanish

Phonetics and Phonology:

In Puerto Rican Spanish it is common that the endings -ado, -ido, -edo often drop intervocalic /d/

  • hablado > hablao
  • vendido > vendío
  • dedo > deo

The /ɹ/ in syllable-final position is often replaced with /l/

  • dolor > dolol
  • amor > amol
  • carne > calne
  • perdón > peldón

Puerto Ricans from outside of San Juan commonly articulate “rr” with a /j/

  • arroz >ajoz
  • carro>cajo
  • perro>pejo

The aspiration of the /s/ at the end of a syllable

  • escuela > ehcuela
  • los dos > lo(h) do(h)
  • buscar > buhcá(l)

May shorten words by eliminating whole syllables

  • para > /pa/
  • madre > /mai/
  • padre > /pai/

Syntax:

Puerto Rico, as with many other Hispanic Caribbeans utilize pronominal redundancy and the subject pronoun at the beginning of questions.

  • “¿cuántos años tienes tú?” > “¿cuántos años tú tienes?” (how old are you?)
  • “¿qué quieres tú?” > “¿qué tú quieres?” (what do you want?)
  • “¿qué haces tú?” > ¿qué tú haces?” (what are you doing?)

Pragmatics:

  • It is not uncommon for Puerto Ricans to stand relatively close to their conversation partner: one foot compared to the arm’s length apart that is customary for many mainland Americans. 
  • Physical closeness as well as occasional nudging and bumping is common during conversation. 
  • Personal space is not emphasized in Puerto Rican culture and backing away from your conversation partner may be interpreted as insulting. 
  • Handshakes, hugs, pats, and holding hands are common forms of greeting for non-relatives. 
  • Kissing on both cheeks is a common greeting amongst family, friends, and acquaintances. 
  • Avoiding eye contact is seen as a sign of respect. It is common for Puerto Ricans to interrupt each other and speak simultaneously during conversation, this is not seen as rude. 
  • While in groups it is acceptable to have silent pauses in conversation, this is not seen as awkward or uncomfortable.

Speech and Language