What language puerto rico speak: Introduction — Yo Soy (I am): The Historical Trajectory of Language in Puerto Rico

Introduction — Yo Soy (I am): The Historical Trajectory of Language in Puerto Rico

Rosskam, Edwin, photographer. School room in rural school. Cidra, Puerto Rico.1938. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This guide provides access to an array of resources on language and identity in Puerto Rico, including digitized primary source materials in a wide variety of formats, books, periodicals, and online databases.

Historically Puerto Rico endured a long and complicated path as a colony of Spain and later, a territory of the United States. This complexity surfaces in its unique language, which any dictionary defines “as a structured system of communication.” Puerto Rican language is unique to the island’s history. In Puerto Rico, communication is not simply Spanish or English, despite qualities that evolve from these two languages. The islands’ first recorded inhabitants, the Taíno Indians, were the first to establish a system of communication. As Spanish settlers occupied the island and introduced new customs, ideologies, and language, the island underwent a drastic change. Despite concerted efforts to eradicate the native Taíno language during 400 years of Spanish rule, the Taíno language is still tangible in Puerto Rican Spanish; and it blends with other cultural systems of communications.

The African customs, ideologies and languages enslaved Africans brought over as a result of being transported as a workforce for the island, made an indelible mark on the already fused language of this Caribbean island. This blending of many African languages, prospective blending among indigenous languages, and fusion in European languages had already permanently influenced the vernacular spoken in Puerto Rico, when the Spanish-American War (1898) further complicated Puerto Rico’s history. The Spanish-American War (1898) brought a second wave of colonization to Puerto Rico. During this second wave, the United States took control of the island, which remains a territory of the nation until present day. Consequently, the political and sociolinguistic panorama of the island experienced another radical change through the 20th century. Initially, the U.S. established English as the official language throughout the island, making it the language of instruction. After heavy resistance from the Puerto Rican people, officials declared Spanish the language of instruction, with English as a required subject. In the present day, Spanish and English are both official languages in Puerto Rico. And yet, Puerto Rican language is unique as a result of successive waves of language changes and cultural influences that ensure a hybrid identity.

This guide provides digitized sources, selected books, online databases, and external sources that delve into the history of Puerto Rico and its inevitable effect on the development and use of language. The resources are in English, with the exception of primary material written in Spanish. For specific questions or assistance using the Library’s resources, use the Ask a Librarian service to contact a reference librarian within the Hispanic Reading Room.

Timeline: Language and Education under Colonization

1493 Christopher Columbus sets foot in Puerto Rico and encounters the native Taínos. This encounter introduces the Spanish language into the already established Taíno language and culture. The Taíno and Spanish languages blend leading to the incorporation of Taíno words into the Spanish used and taught in the island.
1508 Juan Ponce de León is named governor of the island and establishes the first Spanish settlement, Caparra.
1512 The encomienda system is implemented by the Spanish as a form of communal slavery. As part of the encomienda system the native Taínos are forced to provide free labor to the Spanish Crown in exchange for instruction of the Spanish language and Christianity. Under the encomienda system the native population was also granted protection from enemies but was forced to adapt to Spanish customs.
1517 Spanish conquistadors transport enslaved Africans to Puerto Rico to supplement the decimated native workforce. Upon arrival the Spanish implement Spanish as the language of instruction leading to another linguistic fusion. This linguistic fusion integrates African words and sounds into the language spoken in the island.
1770 School structures are established in towns throughout Puerto Rico, under the first government ruling for formal instruction of male students. The focus of this ruling, is teaching male students reading and writing skills.
1779 Schools under Spanish sovereignty were opened for female students.
1856 Rural schools were established around the island.
1864 79.6% of the Puerto Rican population were documented as illiterate under the island’s census.
1898 U.S. forces attack San Juan during the Spanish-American War. On December 1898, the Treaty of Paris is signed,ceding Spain’s control over Puerto Rico to the United States.
1898 — 1917 The U.S. focuses on reformation of public education in Puerto Rico and implements English as the language of instruction.
1949 — present After seven different language policies were implemented in Puerto Rico’s public education system, by 1949, Spanish was determined the language of instruction with English as a required subject.

Puerto Rico’s Culture: Beyond Language

English as a Second Language

Both Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico, but Spanish is
without a doubt the dominant language, as the majority of the people in Puerto Rico
are not proficient in English. Fewer than 20 percent of Puerto Ricans speak English
fluently, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Language has been a central issue in Puerto Rican education and
culture since 1898. Until 1930 U.S. authorities insisted upon making
English the language of instruction in the schools, the intent being to
produce English-speaking persons of American culture in the same way this
is done in the United States public schools. But strong resistance to the
policy finally brought a change to the use of Spanish as the basic school
language, English becoming a second language studied by all. In 1991 the
Puerto Rican legislature, following the lead of the pro-commonwealth
Popular Democratic Party and the governor, Rafael Hernández Colon,
endorsed a bill that made Spanish the island’s official language, thus
reversing a 1902 law that gave both Spanish and English official
recognition. In 1993 the pro-statehood governor, Pedro J. Rossello, signed
legislation restoring equal status to Spanish and English.

Old San Juan
Photo: Magaly Rivera

According to
Spanish is the second language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and
ahead of English.
Spanish is spoken by more than 400 million people worldwide, primarily in Spain
and Latin America. Spanish is the official language in 24 countries, with over
323 million native speakers, Puerto Rico accounts for less than 4 million (figure
from the 15th Edition of the Ethnologue).
With such large geographic expanse the Spanish language has developed many local variations or dialects.

These variations are the result of different regions and countries integration
of their local history and culture — creating differences in concepts, usage,
idioms and vocabulary; and distinct accents.

Puerto Rico has developed a unique version of Spanish. The language was greatly
influenced by Puerto Rico’s history. Puerto Ricans integrated thousands of
Taíno words, adopted some pronunciation habits from African dialects, and
incorporated English words or phrases (known as «Spanglish») into the language.

Puerto Ricans can understand Spanish speakers from other countries, while there
may be some differences, such differences are not excessive and does not obstruct

Regardless the fact that Puerto Ricans are taught English as a second language from kindergarten through high school,
communicating in English can be a little difficult at times. Sometimes you will find
yourself surrounded by Spanish speakers only. There is much diversity in the level
of English proficiency.

Body Language and Gestures

Language is more than just words, it is the position of one’s body,
the look on their face, and their body’s motion.

Puerto Ricans are known for their friendliness and warmth.
Hand gestures and movements are often used in daily conversation.
Puerto Ricans tend to interrupt each other
frequently, sometimes even finish the other’s thought
and are not upset when this occurs.

Many Puerto Ricans will stand fairly close to one another
in social settings. In contrast, North
Americans and many Europeans believe
that people should stand about an arm’s length from one another.
Moving away from a counterpart may be considered offensive or insulting.

A warm and friendly handshake is the customary form of greeting,
but often a nod of the head is sufficient.
Men who are close friends will embrace, and women
friends will engage in a brief hug and a kiss on the cheek.

Address people by a title, such as
Señor, Señora, Professor and Doctor when first introduced or in
formal situations. Puerto Ricans have two surnames: one from their father,
which is listed first, followed by one from their mother.

Other Resources

  • All’s Well That Ends Well: A Lesson in Suffixes

We speak Spanish

Abla Español? Do you speak Spanish? Although the people of the Canary Islands speak Castilian Spanish, the accent you hear here has a lot in common with Spanish in Latin America (it is spoken in South American countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Puerto Rico and is different from Spanish in which the inhabitants of the continental part of Spain speak). Common among the inhabitants of the Canary Islands and Latin America is not only pronunciation, but also a rich vocabulary — evidence of long-standing and extensive ties between the Canaries and Latin American countries.

Canarians don’t normally pronounce the «s» at the end of a word. In addition, they do not pronounce the letter «z» as an interdental sound (as in the Spanish mainland), but rather as an «s». They also pronounce the letter «c» before «i» and «e» as «s». In addition, Canary Islanders often shorten words, and sometimes combine them together in a sentence, which can further confuse guests listening to them.

Although the language of the original Guanches did not survive to this day, some of its words still survive, especially in place names: they often begin with the letters «gua-«, which are pronounced like «wah». Local dialects are more likely to be heard in rural areas than in cities. However, guests should not try to learn the local dialect, but instead stick to the Spanish spoken in mainland Spain. And if your Spanish isn’t that great, keep in mind that most Canarians you meet have a basic knowledge of English or one of the common Western European languages, primarily French, German, Italian and Portuguese.

For travel away from the main resorts and cities, it is worth taking a small Spanish-Russian dictionary or phrase book. In addition, rich resources for learning a foreign language can be found on the Internet: there are many sites on the net where you can find basic Spanish vocabulary, as well as numerous automatic translation programs.

Below is an easy-to-follow glossary with a range of Spanish words and expressions that you may find useful:

Desayuno [desayuno] — ‘Breakfast’
Comida [comida] — ‘Food’
Camarera [kamarera] — ‘Wairess’
No entiendo [but entiendo] — ‘I don’t understand’
Cuánto es? [cuánto es] or Cuánto vale? [cuánto vale] or Cuánto cuesta? [cuánto cuesta] — ‘How much does it cost?’
Escríbamelo, por favor [escribamelo, por favor] — ‘Write this, please’
Sí [si] — ‘Yes’
No [but] — ‘No’
Buenos días [buenos dias] — ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon’ (before lunch)’
Buenas tardes [buenas tardes] — ‘Good afternoon’ (after lunch) or ‘Good evening ‘(earlier evening)
Buenas noches [buenas noches] — ‘Good evening’ (later evening and night) or ‘Good night’
Por favor [por favor] — ‘Please’
Perdóneme [perdoneme] — ‘Sorry ‘
Habla usted ruso (Inglés)? [ábla ustéd russo (ingles)] — ‘Do you speak Russian (English)?’
Donde está…? [donde está. ..] – ‘Where is…?’
A que distancia? [a ke distance] — ‘At what distance?’
De nada [de nada] — ‘Nothing’
Gracias [grásias] — ‘Thank you’
Adios [adyos] — ‘Goodbye’
Hasta Luego [ásta luego] — ‘See you’
Bienvenido [bienvenido] — ‘Welcome’
Bueno [bueno] – ‘Good’
Malo [small] – ‘Bad’
Cerrado [serrádo] – ‘Closed’
Abierto [abierto] – ‘Open’
Aeropuerto [aeropuerto] – ‘Airport’
Oficina de Correos [Officina de Correos] – ‘Post Office’
Farmacia [pharmacy] — ‘Pharmacy’
Finca [Finnish] — ‘Plot of land’
Calle [calle] — ‘Street’
Ciudad [syudád] — ‘City’
Gasolina [gasolina] — ‘Petrol’
Alquiler [alquiler ] — ‘Rent, hire’
Alto [álto] or Pare [pare] — ‘stop’
Camino cerrado [camino serrado] — ‘The way is closed’
Ceda el paso [ceda el paso] — ‘Give way’
Coche [ koche] — ‘Car’
Encrucijada [enkrucijada] — ‘crossroad’
Cuidado [kuidádo] — ‘Careful’
Derecha [derecha] — ‘To the right’
Izquierda [isquierdo] — ‘To the left’
Arriba [arriba] — ‘Up (-y)’
Bajo [báho] — ‘Down (-y)’
Salida [salida] — ‘Exit’
Semáforo [semáforo] — ‘Traffic light’

Where they speak Spanish

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Where Spanish is spoken

Knowing Spanish is very useful. It is the second language in the world, after Chinese, which is considered native to the largest number of people. Believe it or not, it is the main language of about 400 million people. Another 100 million use Spanish, its words and phrases as a second language. Given that there are hundreds of languages ​​on the planet, this means that Spanish is definitely the language to start learning which is worth considering.

The Spanish language comes from Spain, of course, but in fact South America has the largest number of people who speak Spanish. This language is spoken in Mexico (the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world), Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Panama and Equatorial Guinea. To a large extent, this is Central and South America, with the exception of Brazil, Belize and a few other very small countries.

Spanish in Spain and Spanish in Central and South America are slightly different, just like British and American English. This means that no matter which variant of the language you are learning, you will be able to communicate with people anywhere where Spanish is spoken. The main difference is that in South America the form «vosotros» (« you») is not used. Also, some Spanish words and phrases differ from country to country, but these differences are minor. So, whether you’re studying Spanish in Spain or Spanish in South America, you won’t have any problems.

Within South America, their own variants of the Spanish language have appeared. The continent can be divided into two parts: the northern part (Central America and Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia), where people speak quite slowly and clearly, and the southern part (Argentina and Chile), where they speak quickly and the language sounds more solid. The vocabulary is also partially different, but these differences are so minor that problems never arise. It’s the same language.

Spanish belongs to the Romance language family, which also includes Italian, French and Portuguese. One of the advantages of knowing Spanish is that knowing it makes it much easier to start learning another language from this group, since they are all quite similar. Knowing Spanish words and phrases will definitely help you in learning French, Italian or Portuguese . However, don’t get carried away. Start with Spanish, and only when you master it, try to learn another from this family.

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