Puerto Rican Spanish

Puerto Rican Spanish
Español puertorriqueño
Native speakers
3.9 million (2011)[1]
Latin (Spanish alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

Puerto Rican Spanish (español puertorriqueño [espaˈɲol pweɾtoriˈkeɲo]) is the Spanish language as characteristically spoken in Puerto Rico and by millions of people of Puerto Rican descent living in the United States and elsewhere.[2] It belongs to the group of Caribbean Spanish variants and, as such, is largely derived from Canarian Spanish and Andalusian Spanish.


Andalusian and Canary Islands

Since most of the original farmers and commoners of Puerto Rico between the 15th and 18th centuries came from Andalusia, the basis for most of Puerto Rican Spanish is Andalusian Spanish (particularly that of Seville). For example, the endings -ado, -ido, -edo often drop intervocalic /d/ in both Seville and San Juan: hablado > hablao, vendido > vendío, dedo > deo (intervocalic /d/ dropping is quite widespread in coastal American dialects).

Seville Spanish is also the source of the merger of phonemes /s/ (e.g., coser) and /θ/ (cocer) that are both pronounced /s/ in much of Andalusia and generally in all Hispanic America dialects. This merger is called seseo and makes such pairs as cocer/coser, abrazar/abrasar, has/haz, and vez/ves homophonous. Another Andalusian trait is the tendency to weaken postvocalic consonants, particularly /-s/: 'los dos > lo(h) do(h), 'buscar' > buhcá(l) (aspiration or elimination of syllable-final /s/ is quite widespread in coastal American dialects).

Pronouncing "l" instead of "r" in syllable-final position is also a trait of Puerto Rican Spanish that has similarities in Spain: - Andalusians sometimes do the opposite, replacing the letter "l" at the end of a syllable with "r" (e.g. saying "Huerva" instead of "Huelva". People from working class areas of Seville can sometimes sound almost indistinguishable from Puerto Ricans (Zatu, the singer of the band SFDK from the Pino Montano district of Seville being an example). This distinction is the main way of distinguishing between the two accents when examples in the "transition zone" exist.

Nevertheless, Canarian Spanish (from Spain's Canary Islands) made the major contribution to Puerto Rican Spanish, and can be considered the basis of the dialect and accent. Many Canarians came in hopes of establishing a better life in the Americas. Most Puerto Rican immigration in the early 19th century included people from the Canary Islands, who, like Puerto Ricans, had inherited most of their linguistic traits from Andalusia.

Canarian influence is most present in the language of those Puerto Ricans who live in the central mountain region, who blended it with the remnant vocabulary of the Taíno. Canarian and Caribbean dialects share a similar intonation which, in general terms, means that stressed vowels are usually quite long. Puerto Rican and Canarian Spanish accents are strikingly similar. When visiting Tenerife or Las Palmas, Puerto Ricans are usually taken at first hearing for fellow-Canarians from a distant part of the Canary archipelago.

Later in the 19th century other Spanish immigrants from Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Asturias and Galicia plus other European settlers—mostly from France (including Corsica), Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and even some overseas Chinese—settled in Puerto Rico. Words from these regions and countries joined the linguistic stew.

Puerto Rican Typical Word Meaning in Neutral Spanish English Origin of the Word
Pana Amigo Friend Puerto Rico & Venezuela
Chacho Muchacho Guy Canary Island
Acho Murcia, Andalucía

Taíno influence

When the Spanish settlers colonized Puerto Rico in the early 16th century, thousands of Taíno people lived on the island, but almost immediately fell victim to European diseases (Chicken Pox, Measles, Small Pox, Influenza and Common Cold) to which they had no natural immunity and quickly caused the rapid decline and almost complete destruction of the indigenous Tainos within the first 50 years of exposure to the European explorers and colonists.

A handful of Taíno words like hamaca ('hammock'), hurakán ('hurricane'), and tobacco came into general Spanish usage, similar to the inclusion of indigenous words on the North American mainland by the English-speaking colonists ("maiz" (corn), "moccasin" (moccasin), "squaw" (wife). Taíno names for geographic locations such as "Mayagüez", "Guaynabo" and "Jayuya", again similar to the inclusion of Native American words for geographic locations on the North American Mainland ("Mississippi", "Dakota", "Utah", "Idaho", "Kentucky", "Tennessee" and "Michigan").

African influence

The first African slaves were brought to the island in the 16th century. Although several African tribes have been recorded in Puerto Rico, it is the Kongo from Central Africa that is considered to have had the most influence on Puerto Rican Spanish.[3] In the early colonial period many African slaves in Puerto Rico spoke Bozal Spanish. Words like gandul (pigeon pea), fufú (a spell), and malanga (a root vegetable), are commonly used and are of African origin also there is the Afro-Caribbean/West Indian influence for example many words and expressions come from patois and creole from the neighboring islands.

United States influence and Puerto Rican Anglicisms

In 1898, during the armed conflicts of the Puerto Rican Campaign, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States as part of a peace treaty that brought the Spanish–American War to a sudden conclusion. The United States Army and the early colonial administration tried to impose the English language on island residents. Between 1902 and 1948, the main language of instruction in public schools (used for all subjects except Spanish language courses) was English.

Consequently, many American English words are now found in the Puerto Rican vocabulary. English has had a fluctuating status as a second official language of the Island, depending on the political party in power at the moment. The majority of Puerto Ricans today do not speak English at home, and Spanish remains the mother tongue of Puerto Ricans, regardless of their political views.

Many third and fourth generation Puerto Ricans who live in the United States borrow English words or phrases in mid-sentence in a phenomenon called code-switching, sometimes characterized as Spanglish. Puerto Rican writer Giannina Braschi published the first Spanglish novel, Yo-Yo Boing!, in 1998, a book that represents the code-switching linguistic style of some Latino immigrants in the United States. However, this mixture of Spanish and English is simply an informal blending of languages, not a separate language or dialect, and is not a fundamental characteristic of Spanish or Puerto Rican culture. It is merely an occasional convenience used by speakers who are very fluent in the two languages.

Puerto Rico has representation in the Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española) and has its own national academy along with the other Spanish-speaking countries of Hispanic America.


Puerto Rican accents, both in Spanish and English language, could be described as a reflection of Puerto Rico's historical Euro-Ethnic cultures.

To understand the concept of the Puerto Rican accent in Spanish, one must remember that every country in Hispanic America has different accents in this language, many of which are very similar. The Argentine and Uruguayan accents, for example, were heavily influenced by the presence of Italians in those countries.

In Puerto Rico's case, Spaniards arrived from many regions within Spain and brought with them their own regional dialects/accents. However, the great majority of European immigrants to Puerto Rico throughout its history came from the Hispano-Arabic area of Spain known as Andalusia. Another great majority arrived from North Africa, most notably the Canary Islands. When visiting Tenerife or Las Palmas (Islas Canarias, Spain), Puerto Ricans are usually taken at first hearing for fellow-Canarians from a distant part of the Canary archipelago. It is the accents of these regions which served as the basis of the style of Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico.

The native indigenous population of Tainos have left a handful of words, mostly in the names of some areas of the Island (Jayuya, Mayagüez...) and others such as "huracan" (hurricane) or "hamaca" (hammock).

Africans in Puerto Rico were brought in as slave labor, the majority for work on coastal or lowland sugar plantations. They contributed a handful of words to island cuisine, colloquialisms, intonations, and rhythm to varying degrees in parts of the island where they were present as slaves and almost exclusively along the coasts. Also, the Afro-Caribbean/West Indian influence is very strong and has influenced the Puerto Rican Culture including music such as reggae, words from patois/creole, and food.

Chinese Puerto Ricans and other Asians that have established themselves in Puerto Rico also adopt the accent, but also keep a tinge of an east Asian accent.

The Puerto Rican accent is somewhat similar to the accents used by those from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean basin, including: Cuba and the Dominican Republic and those from the Caribbean/coastal regions of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Nicaragua (particularly to a non-Puerto Rican). However any similarity will depend on the level of education of the Puerto Rican speaker and their immediate geographic Island location. It also continues to be extremely similar to the accent of the Canary Islanders and Andalusians in southern Spain. Overall, most Puerto Ricans make an emphatic distinction between their accent and other Caribbean Spanish accents.


This refers to pronouncing as /s/ the sound written z or c (when soft; that is, followed by an i or an e) like most other Hispanic American accents, whereas in Europe /θ/ is used. Examples: zapato is /saˈpato/, not /θaˈpato/; and azul is /aˈsul/ not /aˈθul/.
Aspiration or elimination of the /s/
This usually occurs before a consonant or at the end of a word, /s/ is debuccalized to [h] or eliminated altogether. Examples include [lah ˈrosah] instead of [las ˈrosas] (las rosas, 'the roses') [loh ðoh] instead of [los ðos] (los dos, 'the two'). This is also common in other Caribbean basin Spanish-speaking countries.
Aspiration of /x/
/x/ is usually realized as [h]. Meaning, [lah muˈheɾeh] instead of [las muˈxeɾes] (las mujeres, 'the women'), and [hoˈse] instead of [xoˈse] (Jose, 'Joseph').
Elimination of /d/ between vowels
This usually happens usually near the end of a word. Examples include [ehˈtao] instead of [esˈtaðo] (estado, 'state'), and [ˈto.o] instead of [ˈtoðo] ('all').
Elimination of /d/ at the end of a word
In this case, a stress is usually placed on the final vowel. Examples include [paˈɾe] instead of [paˈɾeð] (pared, 'wall') and [maˈðɾi] instead of [maˈðɾið] (Madrid).
Fricativization of /r/ to [χ]
Many rural Puerto Ricans do not roll their tongues on the double "r" sound in words (ex. "arroz" or "carro"), making it sound like the Scottish loch, arroz and carro are pronounced [aˈχos] and [ˈkaχo] respectively. However, it is mostly a free variant of /r/, making [aˈχos] and [ˈkaχo] interchangeable to [aˈros] and [ˈkaro] respectively.
Lateralization of /r/ to [l]
The /r/ that comes at the end of a syllable (not followed by a vowel) is often changed to an /l/, so that words like "perdón" (forgiveness) and "Puerto Rico" become "peldón" and "Puelto Rico" respectively.
Realization of syllable- and word-final /r/
Aside from [ɾ], [r], and [l], syllable-final /r/ can be realized as [ɹ], an influence of American English to Puerto Rican dialect; "verso"' (verse) becomes [ˈbeɹso], aside from [ˈbeɾso], [ˈberso], or [ˈbelso], "invierno" (winter) becomes [imˈbjeɹno], aside from [imˈbjeɾno], [imˈbjerno], or [imˈbjelno], and "parlamento" (parliament) becomes [paɹlaˈmento], aside from [paɾlaˈmento], [parlaˈmento], or [palaˈmento]. In word-final position, /r/ will usually be:
Retraction of /n/ to [ŋ]
Word-final /n/ is pronounced as velar [ŋ] ([ŋ] is an allophone of /n/ before velar consonants and word-final position), words include consideran [kõnsiˈðeɾãŋ] ('they consider') and Teherán [teeˈɾãŋ] ('Tehran').
Shortening of words
Puerto Ricans also often shorten words by eliminating whole syllables. A good example are the words para, madre, and padre ("for", "mother", and "father"): Puerto Ricans may pronounce para as /pa/, madre as /mai/, and padre as /pai/.

U.S.-Puerto Rican accent in Spanish

U.S.-resident Puerto Ricans, descended from the large number of migrants who left the island throughout the 20th Century, can be found today en masse along the Eastern coast of the United States. In addition to major metropolitan areas such as New York, many Puerto Ricans also migrated to areas such as Connecticut, Chicago, New Jersey, Florida, Boston, and even California. Because of their high-rates of military enlistment, large Puerto Rican populations are also found in isolated spots across the U.S. near military installations.

The accent of post-first generation Puerto Rican migrants to the U.S. is heavily influenced by their predominantly English-speaking surroundings. While still sounding Puerto Rican, their accents are tinged by the area of the United States where they grew up. Their grammatical composition is sometimes influenced by American English rather than Spanish.

Puerto Rican accent in English

During the time of the Spanish–American War, the United States Army and the early colonial administration imposed the English language on island residents. Consequently, many American words are now found in Puerto Rican vocabularies.

As with any other case of a non-native learning a language, many Puerto Ricans learn a particular accent of English. If learned in the US, they may speak English as it is spoken in their region. Some Puerto Ricans still residing in the island acquire a distinctly American accent. Others will develop different variations of the accent depending on who or what the main influence was during the learning process. Not only English is taught from the first grade in most schools but also most English teachers (particularly private school teachers) are very fluent in the language.

Residents of towns with large populations of African descendants such as Loiza tend to acquire a distinct Caribbean accent when they speak English, like that of nearby islands in the West Indies but still based on American English by phonology. A Puerto Rican's accent depends entirely on who or what was the main influence in learning English. Thus, there is no definitive Puerto Rican accent in English.

See also


Further reading


  • Navarro Tomás, Tomás (1948). El español en Puerto Rico: Contribución a la geografía lingüística de Hispanoamérica. Río Piedras: Universidad de Puerto Rico. 

Phonology and Phonetics

  • Alemán, Iris (1977). Desdoblamiento fonológico en el español de Puerto Rico. Tesis de maestría. Río Piedras: Universidad de Puerto Rico. 
  • Figueroa, Neysa L. (2000). An acoustic and perceptual study of vowels preceding deleted post-nuclear /s/ in Puerto Rican Spanish. Hispanic Linguistics at the Turn of the Millennium. Héctor Campos, Elena Herburger, Alfonso Morales-Front y Thomas J. Walsh (Papers from the 3rd Hispanic Linguistics Symposium, ed.). Somerville: Cascadilla Press. pp. 66–79. 
  • López Morales, Humberto (1983). Estratificación social del español de San Juan de Puerto Rico. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. 
  • Medina-Rivera, Antonio (1997). Variación Fonológica y Estilística en el Español de Puerto Rico. Tesis doctoral. University of Southern California. 
  • Valentín-Márquez, Wilfredo (2007). Doing being boricua: Perceptions of national identity and the sociolinguistic distribution of liquid variables in Puerto Rican Spanish. Doctoral dissertation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 
  • Luna, Kenneth Vladimir (2010). The Spanish of Ponce, Puerto Rico: A Phonetic, Phonological, and Intonational Analysis. Doctoral dissertation. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles. 
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