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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

Unveiling the spice behind Puerto Rican Spanish

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Door with the Puerto Rican flag on June 26, 2022 in Ponce, Puerto Rico. (Angelina Santos)

Written by: Angelina Santos 🇵🇷

The topic of language and linguistics, when discussed in the context of Latinos is an interesting and diverse conversation. There is no one way to speak the Spanish language. Across many different countries, and continents it is spoken in incredibly different ways, and not just when thinking about the slang that different nations use.

Puerto Rico is unique in the fact that the island is a melting pot of many different ethnicities and races. Puerto Rico has a history of colonization, but Taíno origins or words can still be picked up on in Puerto Rican communication. This is despite efforts to eradicate their language when Puerto Rico was under Spanish rule. Puerto Rico was originally under Spanish rule for over four centuries before being handed over to the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.

That being said, a big influence on Puerto Rican Spanish comes from settlers from Andalucia and Canary Islands, in Spain. However settlers also came from Germany, Portugal, France (who actually had an influence on our phonetics), Italy, Ireland and even Scotland. Arab people came too, and even a number of Chinese families.

Not to mention, there were enslaved African people on the island as well as our original native Taínos. Oh, and we can’t forget to mention the English influence on the island by the United States, from Puerto Rico’s second round of colonization. (Fun fact, initially, the U.S. tried to make English the official language of Puerto Rico, but this was rightfully met with resistance.)

Growing up Puerto Rican in the DMV, I was able to feel the difference in my Spanish compared to Central American people, especially when I came to live in the PG County area, to go to university.

I could see other Latinos looks of curiosity when conversing with them and I could tell they had thoughts on my Spanish. Sometimes I would use words that do not exist in their countries, or they would be surprised by how much my accent is guttural around the rs. I use all sorts of contractions (combining words to increase speaking speed is very Puerto Rican), and I cut corners around words all the time.

It made me curious about Puerto Rican Spanish. Sure there’s the little things about all of us Latinos or Spanish speakers like the differences in accent or slang, but a lot of us including Puerto Ricans, have words that we use that are entirely unique to our culture and nation.

To end this off I wanted to share eight of my favorite words that are unique to Puerto Ricans (but are honestly most likely shared with Dominican people as well).

Pantallas: This one always gives me the most stares, pantallas en Puerto Rico es lo mismo que los aretes.

Janguear: Easy to see the English influence here, un jangueo or janguear is a hangout or to hangout.

Zafacón - Trash Can! For us Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, with roots in Arab languages.

Enfogonar- Heard this a lot growing up, if you have Puerto Rican parents you get me, but we say enfogona’ when we are mad sometimes instead of enojada.

Corillo- Corillo is like your group of friends - shout out to mi Mami she said this was her favorite Puerto Rican word.

Guagua - This one also gets attention, and I got asked about it after Bad Bunny pego una cancion con esta palabra, pero si, en vez de usar autobús decimos guagua.

Fo - If you smell something stinky, you can say Fo and the nearest Puerto Rican will know not to smell what you just smelled. It’s essentially a word that means ew!

Al garete - When something is hardcore or a crazy moment. You can probably pick this up from a lot of reggaetoneros.

For more fun words or maybe you want to see some fun words from your Latin or Spanish speaking country check out La Voz Latina’s Lexico Latino page, where we try to capture the fun diversity of our shared language.

For more Puerto Rican words and slang here’s a link to a boricua dictionary!

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