Puerto Rican Spanish (español puertorriqueño) 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. It belongs to the group of Caribbean Spanish variants.
Since most of the original settlers of Puerto Rico between the 15th and 18th centuries came from Andalucia, 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/ (coSer) and /θ/ (coCer) that are both pronounced /s/ in much of Andalusia and generally in all Latin America dialects. This merger is called 'seseo' and makes pairs like cocer/coser, abrazar/abrasar, has/haz, vez/ves homophonous. Another Andalusian trait is the tendency to weaken postvocalic consonants, particularly /-s/: 'los dos > lo do, 'buscar' > buhcá(l). Pronouncing "l" instead of "r" is also a trait of Puerto Rican Spanish that has its origin in southern Spain.
Canarian Spanish (from Spain's Canary Islands) also made a major contribution to Puerto Rican Spanish as one of the basis of Puerto Rican Spanish. Many Canarios came in hopes of establishing a better life in the Americas. Most Puerto Rican immigration in the early 19th century involved Canary Islands' natives, 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.
When the Spanish settlers colonized Puerto Rico in the early 16th century, many thousands of Taíno people lived on the island. Taíno words like hamaca ('hammock'), hurakán ('hurricane'), and tobacco came into general Spanish as the two cultures blended. Puerto Ricans still use many Taíno words that are not part of the international Spanish lexicon. The Taíno influence in Puerto Rican Spanish is most evident in geographical names, such as Mayagüez, Guaynabo, Humacao, and Jayuya.
The first African slaves were brought to the island in the 16th century. Although 31 different 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. Words like mondongo (tripe soup), gandul (pigeon pea), fufú (a spell), and malanga (a root vegetable), are commonly used and are of African origin.
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.
To understand the concept of the Puerto Rican accent in Spanish, one must remember that every country in Latin 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.
Arawak indigenous culture (in Puerto Rico, specifically that of the Taíno Amerindian), though destroyed by Spanish slave owners, survived through its miscegenated descendants and, as the first fusion of a non-European language to Spanish, became the major tying force which brought together all the other cultural contributions which would soon come. The Arawak language, Lokono, has left behind thousands of words. It has added to Puerto Rican Spanish the pleasant speaking tone which is often said to roll off the tongue like a song.
Africans in Puerto Rico were brought in as slave labor, the majority for work on coastal or lowland sugar plantations. They contributed hundreds of words, colloquialisms, intonations, and rhythm.
The Puerto Rican accent is very strikingly 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). It also continues to be similar to the accent of the Canary Islanders and Andalusians in southern Spain. However, many Puerto Ricans find a great distinction between their accent and other Caribbean accents.
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 Chicago, 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.
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 when speaking. Others will develop different variations of the accent depending on who or what the main influence was during the learning process. This is due not only to the fact that English is taught from the first grade in most schools, but also that 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 speaking English, similar to that of nearby islands in the West Indies. A Puerto Rican's accent depends entirely on who or what was the main influence during the learning process of the English language. Because of this, there is no definitive Puerto Rican accent in English.
Book: Navarro Tomás, Tomás. El español en Puerto Rico: Contribución a la geografía lingüística de Hispanoamérica. Universidad de Puerto Rico. Río Piedras. 1948.
Phonology and Phonetics:
Book: Alemán, Iris. Tesis de maestría.. Desdoblamiento fonológico en el español de Puerto Rico.. Universidad de Puerto Rico. Río Piedras. 1977.
Book: Figueroa, Neysa L.. Héctor Campos, Elena Herburger, Alfonso Morales-Front y Thomas J. Walsh. An acoustic and perceptual study of vowels preceding deleted post-nuclear /s/ in Puerto Rican Spanish.. Cascadilla Press. Somerville. Papers from the 3rd Hispanic Linguistics Symposium, ed.. Hispanic Linguistics at the Turn of the Millennium. 66–79. 2000.
Book: López Morales, Humberto. Estratificación social del español de San Juan de Puerto Rico.. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. 1983.
Book: Medina-Rivera, Antonio. Variación Fonológica y Estilística en el Español de Puerto Rico.. Tesis doctoral. University of Southern California. 1997.
Book: Valentín-Márquez, Wilfredo. Doing being boricua: Perceptions of national identity and the sociolinguistic distribution of liquid variables in Puerto Rican Spanish. University of Michigan. Doctoral dissertation. Ann Arbor. 2007.