Caribbean Spanish

Quick Answer

Caribbean Spanish (el español caribeño) refers to the Spanish spoken on the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, as well as on the Caribbean coasts of Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia.

The Caribbean Accent

Elimination of the D Sound

One of the distinctive characteristics of spoken Caribbean Spanish is the elimination of the letter d. When the letter d appears between two vowels, it is generally not pronounced. For example, enamorado(in love) is pronounced enamorao.

Feminine nouns that end in -ada are pronounced with a stress on the second-to-last a, and the d sound is omitted entirely. For example, a woman would say estoy cansá instead of estoy cansada(I'm tired).

Aspiration or Elimination of the S

Like speakers of Andalusian Spanish, speakers of Caribbean Spanish tend to aspirate or eliminate the s sound at the end of syllables and words. For example, the word pescado(fish) sounds like pecao. As another example, ¿Qué quieres?(What do you want?) sounds like ¿Qué quiere?

If you’re not familiar with this accent, you could easily mistake the form for the ustedform, but it’s just an omission in the pronunciation of the verb.

Nasalization of Vowels

In Caribbean Spanish, a vowel is nasalized when in contact with a nasal consonant (m or n). In turn, the nasal consonant is either dropped with nasalization of the preceding vowel, or it takes on the /ŋ/ sound, which is similar to the ng sound in the word mango.

In the phrase en San Juan(in San Juan), for example, the n would be pronounced as /ŋ/ or would be dropped completely with nasalization of the vowels.

Elision or Substitution of L for R

In Caribbean Spanish, the consonant r is sometimes elided when it comes before any word that begins with a vowel, or when it appears at the end of a phrase. For example, Vamos a comer arriba.(We’re going to eat upstairs.) would be pronounced Vamo a comé arriba. Also, ¿Quieres venir?(Do you want to come?) would be pronounced as ¿Quiere vení?

In Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, many speakers substitute the l for the r when it appears before a consonant. For example, the word puerta(door) would be pronounced puelta and the word cerdo(pig) would be pronounced celdo.

In Cuba and Colombia, r and l sometimes assimilate to the consonants that follow. For example, por dónde(through where) would be pronounced as pod dónde.

The r can also be pronounced like h by some Caribbean Spanish speakers. For example, the word virgen(virgin) sometimes sounds like vihhen.

Grammatical Changes

In Caribbean Spanish, the subject pronoun usually comes before the verb in questions. For example, a Caribbean Spanish speaker might ask ¿Qué quiere? instead of ¿Qué quieres ?(What do you want?).

It is also common to use a subject pronoun before an infinitive. For example, para yo tenerlo(for me to have it) and después de yo llegar(after I arrived).

The position of possessives occasionally changes as well. For example, sometimes el hijo míois used instead of mi hijo(my son).

Vocabulary

Caribbean Spanish has its own unique set of vocabulary and expressions. The Caribbean varieties of Spanish owe much to indigenous languages, such as kikongoand taíno(Taino). The Andalusian-Canary Island heritage of Caribbean Spanish is also evident in the vocabulary. Moreover, at the start of the twentieth century, Caribbean Spanish also incorporated vocabulary words used by immigrants from Galicia, Asturias and País Vasco(Basque Country).

It’s also important to mention that Caribbean Spanish has incorporated vocabulary from North American English and from the English-speaking Caribbean. This phenomenon owes itself to the geographical contact with these areas, as well as to their deep economical, political, and cultural connections.

Do you want to learn more about regional differences in Spanish? Check out these articles!