English language in Puerto Rico

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English, along with Spanish, is an official language of the Government of Puerto Rico. Spanish has been an official language in Puerto Rico since it was colonized in the 15th century. English, on the other hand, was first introduced as an official language when the United States occupied the island during the Spanish–American War. Since then, the Puerto Rican government has declared Spanish an official language on several occasions while removing it from that status on as many occasions.

Spanish is the most widely spoken and written language,[1] and the vast majority of Puerto Ricans do not use English regularly other than some borrowed English words in their ordinary Spanish speech.[2] Various surveys have found that the majority of Puerto Ricans are not fully fluent in English.[3][4] The 2000 US Census found that 71.9% of people in Puerto Rico spoke English less than "very well."[5] It also found that 85.6% spoke a language other than English at home (mostly Spanish).[5]



The U.S. seized the island from Spain in 1898, and in 1902 as part of the Foraker Act, the Official Languages Act was instituted mandating that English and Spanish should be "used indiscriminately" in all official and public activities, with translation provided as necessary. Some interpret this as part of an Americanization process, others as a necessity for the functioning of the Executive Council in charge of Puerto Rico at the time, of which few or none of the mainland appointees spoke Spanish.[6]

After the Spanish–American War, English was the sole language used by the military government of Puerto Rico, which consisted of officials appointed by the US Government. On 21 February 1902 a law was passed to use both English and Spanish as co-official languages in the government.[7] When the new political status, the Commonwealth, came into effect in 1952, the Constitution stated nothing about the official language that would be used by the new government.

In 1991 the government of Puerto Rico, under the administration of PPD's Rafael Hernández Colón, made Spanish its sole official language through a law that was commonly called the "Spanish-only Law."[8] In recognition of the historical defense of the Spanish language and culture, the Spanish Monarchy awarded Puerto Rico the Principe de Asturias' Prize that same year.[9] On January 4, 1993, the 12th Legislative Assembly, with the support of the newly elected PNP government of Pedro Rosselló González passed Senate Bill 1, establishing both Spanish and English as official languages of the government of Puerto Rico.[10]

The people

In 2007, the Spanish-language newspaper Hoy reported that Spanish was still used on road signs such as "Pare" (Stop) and "Estacionamiento" (Parking), despite U.S. attempts to impose English on Puerto Rico since 1898.[11] However, in 2009, the grassroots community cultural organization Unidos por Nuestro Idioma ("United for our language"), whose goal is "defending Spanish in Puerto Rico", expressed concern that the use of English terms on official road signs reading "Welcome to Guaynabo City", and on mass transit ("City Hall" and "Downtown") as well as police cruisers ("San Juan Police Department") were evidence of the English language replacing Spanish in official use. The group advocates the defense and use of Spanish in Puerto Rico. The group states it is not against the use of English, recognizing the importance of Puerto Ricans learning it, but states that it should not displace Spanish.[12]


The same 21 February 1902 law that ordered the use of both English and Spanish as co-official languages in the government of Puerto Rico also made English the obligatory language of instruction in Puerto Rican high schools.[7] This practice, however, was officially modified in 1948, when English was required in schools only as a second language, and not as a language of instruction in all academic high school subjects.[13] The new 1948 practice was the result of a 1947 decree by Education Commissioner Mario Villaronga ordering that Spanish be the language of instruction for all but the English course. The decree is binding only on public schools and private schools continue the use of English.[14]

Present use


The official languages[15] of the executive branch of government of Puerto Rico[16] are Spanish and English, with Spanish being the primary language. Spanish is, and has been, the only official language of the entire Commonwealth judiciary system, even despite a 1902 English-only language law.[17] All official business of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, however, is conducted in English.[18][19]

Population at large

Although English is one of the two official (i.e., governmental) languages in Puerto Rico, it is spoken by less than 10% of the population. Spanish is the dominant language of business, education and daily life on the island, spoken by over 95% of the population.[20] That is, Spanish predominates as the national language. Regardless of the status of English as an official language or not, Spanish continues to be by far the most widely spoken and written language by the Puerto Rican people at large, and the vast majority of Puerto Ricans do not use English regularly other than some loaned English words during their ordinary Spanish-language speech.[2] Various surveys have found that the majority of Puerto Ricans are not fully fluent in English.[3][4] The 2000 US Census found that 71.9% of people in Puerto Rico spoke English less than "very well."[5] It also found that 85.6% spoke a language other than English at home (mostly Spanish).[5]

According to a study done before 2009 by the University of Puerto Rico, nine of every ten Puerto Ricans residing in Puerto Rico do not speak English at an advanced level.[21] More recently, according to the 2005–2009 Population and Housing Narrative Profile for Puerto Rico, among people at least five years old living in Puerto Rico in 2005–2009, 95 percent spoke a language other than English at home. Of those speaking a language other than English at home, more than 99 percent spoke Spanish and less than 0.5 percent spoke some other language; 85 percent reported that they did not speak English "very well."[22] The 2000 U.S. Census had reported that 71.9% of Puerto Rico residents spoke English less than "very well".[23]

Education and schooling

Public school instruction in Puerto Rico is conducted entirely in Spanish. In 2012, however, there were pilot programs in about a dozen of over 1,400 public schools aimed at conducting instruction in English only.[24] English is taught as a second language and is a compulsory subject from elementary levels to high school. In 2012 pro-U.S. statehood Governor Luis Fortuño proposed that all courses in Puerto Rico public schools be taught in English instead of Spanish as they currently are. The proposal met with stiff opposition from the Puerto Rico Teachers Association while others, including former Education Secretary Gloria Baquero, were pessimistic about the success of the governor's plan overall for reasons that ranged from historical to cultural to political.[25] This 10-year plan is still underway, but there are some private schools that already have existing English-based curriculums. Washburn School, located in the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico, is a private, multi-cultural, total English immersion school for grades Pre-K to 12th. All classes are taught in English, with the exception of Spanish class, foreign language classes and Puerto Rican history class. The purpose of such private institutions is to provide students with full bilingual knowledge and ability, and to prepare students for the demands of collegiate school, both in Puerto Rico and outside.[26]

Linguistic influences

English on Spanish

Because of the island's current relationship with the U.S., English has a substantial presence and is seen in various media outlets including newspapers, magazines, cable TV, radio stations, and commercial signs.[27] As a result of this exposure, Puerto Ricans often mix elements of the English language into their own Spanish language, developing new linguistic forms. This kind of incorporation of English into Puerto Rican Spanish is called anglicism, and three prominent forms of anglicism present in Puerto Rico are total linguistic borrowing, semantic borrowing, and syntactical borrowing.[28] [28]

Total linguistic borrowing occurs when an English word is used in Spanish with more or less the same pronunciation. A few examples in which the complete English word has been borrowed are: flash light, Girl Scout, and weekend. The correct Spanish word for these are linterna, exploradora, and fin de semana, respectively. Examples in which the English words or terms are used while pronounced according to the native rules are seen for the English word/term to park, where it is said and pronounced as parquear, instead of the South American/Caribbean-Spanish word for to park which is estacionar. Other examples of this are the English word pamphlet, said as panfleto instead of folleto, and the English word muffler, said as mofle instead of silenciador.[28]

In semantic borrowing, the meaning of a Spanish word is altered or changed because of its similarity to an English word. For example, the Spanish word romance refers to a poetic literary composition, however, it has been given the English meaning of the English word romance. The Spanish word for romance is actually idilio. Another example of this is the Spanish word bloques, which means "building blocks", but is given the English meaning of "street blocks". The actual South American/Caribbean-Spanish word that means "street blocks" is cuadras.[28]

In syntactical borrowing, Spanish words are used in an English sentence structure. For example, in Spanish, personal pronoun subjects are not included as frequently as in English: "I run" is often said as "yo corro" instead as "corro". Another example: "He has cordially invited his friend" is often said as "Él ha cordialmente invitado a su amigo" instead of "Él ha invitado cordialmente a su amigo" or "Ha invitado cordialmente a su amigo." There is a phonological influence of American English on Puerto Rican Spanish, wherein syllable-final /r/ can be realized as [ɹ], aside from [ɾ], [r], and [l]; "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;

  • either a trill, a tap, approximant, [l], or elided when followed by a consonant or a pause, as in amo[r ~ ɾ ~ ɹ ~ l] paterno 'paternal love', amor [aˈmo]),
  • a tap, approximant, or [l] when the followed by a vowel-initial word, as in amo[ɾ~ ɹ ~ l] eterno 'eternal love').

Spanish on English

There is an important influence of Puerto Rican Spanish on the accent of American English. 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 areas with large populations of African descendants such as Loiza, or the islands of Vieques and Culebra, tend to acquire a distinct Caribbean accent when speaking English, similar to that of nearby islands in the West Indies, most notably the nearby Virgin Islands. These residents typically retain American English phonology. 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.

Cultural issues

2012 Republican primary

In 2012 U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum caused a firestorm during the runup to the Puerto Rican Republican primary by stating that if Puerto Rico opted to become a state, it would have to make English its primary language. As the New York Times reported:[29]

His remarks drew immediate criticism, and prompted one delegate who had been pledged to him to quit, saying he was offended. There is no rule in the Constitution requiring the adoption of English for the admittance of new states, and the United States does not have an official language.

On Thursday Mr. Santorum and his aides scrambled to contain the damage, with the candidate saying several times that the local media had misquoted him as saying he wanted English to be the "only" language, whereas he believed that English should be the "primary language."

Santorum opponent Mitt Romney's campaign issued a statement contrasting his position on the issue with Santorum's. "Puerto Rico currently recognizes both English and Spanish as the official languages of the commonwealth," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "Gov. Romney believes that English is the language of opportunity and supports efforts to expand English proficiency in Puerto Rico and across America. However, he would not, as a prerequisite for statehood, require that the people of Puerto Rico cease using Spanish."[30]

See also


  1. ^ Juan Bobo: A Folkloric Information System. Sarai Lastra. Pennsylvania State University. Library Trends. Winter 1999. p530.
  2. ^ a b Translation in Puerto Rico. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b "¿Se discrimina al usar el inglés en algunos tribunales de Puerto Rico?" Prensa Asociada. New York Daily News. 24 February 2009. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  4. ^ a b 2005–2009 Population and Housing Narrative Profile for Puerto Rico. Archived October 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine U.S. Census Narrative Profile. U.S. Census. 2005–2009. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d "Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. October 2003. p. 5. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  6. ^ Morris, Nancy (31 August 1995). "Puerto Rico: Culture, Politics, and Identity". Praeger – via Google Books.
  7. ^ a b Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, 12ma Asamblea Legislativa, 1era Sesión Ordinaria, Senado de Puerto Rico: Proyecto del Senado 1 (4 de enero de 1993)
  8. ^ ENGLISH LANGUAGE VALORIZATION IN PUERTO RICO: A REVIEW OF LITERATURE. Maritza Sostre Rodríguez, Ed. InterAmerican University of Puerto Rico, San Juan Campus. Revista Kalathos. Page 4. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 March 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Nancy Morris (1995). Puerto Rico: Culture, Politics, and Identity. Praeger/Greenwood. p. 62. ISBN 0-275-95228-2.
  11. ^ " El uso del español se impone al del inglés en Puerto Rico: A pesar de las medidas de EE.UU. para potenciar el inglés, el español sigue siendo «el idioma del pueblo", IÑAKI ESTÍVALIZ, Hoy (Badajoz, Spain) (The use of Spanish imposes on English in Puerto Rico: Despite U.S. measures to strengthen (the use of) English, Spanish continues to be the "language of the people")
  12. ^ ""Unidos en la defensa del idioma español" (United in defense of the Spanish language), 23 April 2009, Primera Hora, 23 April 2009". Archived from the original on 4 May 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  13. ^ Puerto Rico Schools Embrace Bilingualism. FoxNews Latino. August 08, 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Informe Final sobre el Idioma en Puerto Rico" (Final report about language in Puerto Rico), Senate of Puerto Rico, Commission of Education, Science, and Culture. January 2, 2001. Page 457. Submitted by Commission President Hon. Margarita Ostolaza Bey. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  15. ^ "Official Language", Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language, Ed. Tom McArthur, Oxford University Press, 1998.
  16. ^ Pueblo v. Tribunal Superior, 92 D.P.R. 596 (1965). Translation taken from the English text, 92 P.R.R. 580 (1965), p. 588–589. See also LOPEZ-BARALT NEGRON, "Pueblo v. Tribunal Superior: Espanol: Idioma del proceso judicial", 36 Revista Juridica de la Universidad de Puerto Rico. 396 (1967), and VIENTOS-GASTON, "Informe del Procurador General sobre el idioma", 36 Rev. Col. Ab. (P.R.) 843 (1975).
  17. ^ The Status of Languages in Puerto Rico. Muniz-Arguelles, Luis. University of Puerto Rico. 1986. Page 466. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  18. ^ The mandatory use of English in the federal court of Puerto Rico. Alicia Pousada. Pages 2 and 3. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  19. ^ "The mandatory use of English in the federal court of Puerto Rico." Alicia Pousada. Centro Journal. Vol. XX. Number 1. Spring 2008. The City University of New York. Latinoamericanistas: Pages 136-155. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
  20. ^ Bureau, U. S. Census. "American FactFinder - Search". factfinder.census.gov. Archived from the original on 16 May 2013.
  21. ^ Prensa Asociada (24 February 2009). "',¿Se discrimina al usar el inglés en algunos tribunales de Puerto Rico?', New York Daily News. Feb 24, 2009. (In Spanish)". Daily News. New York. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  22. ^ "2005–2009 Population and Housing Narrative Profile for Puerto Rico". U.S. Census Narrative Profile. U.S. Census. 2005–2009. Archived from the original on 8 October 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  23. ^ figure for 2000 from "Table 2. Language Use and English-Speaking Ability for the Population 5 Years and Over for the United States, Regions, and States and for Puerto Rico: 1990 and 2000" in Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000 Census 2000 Brief, p.5, U.S. Census Bureau
  24. ^ Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño Proposes Plan For Island's Public Schools To Teach In English Instead Of Spanish. Danica Coto. Huffington Latino Voices. 05/08/12 (8 May 2012). Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  25. ^ Coto, Danica (8 May 2012). "Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño Proposes Plan For Island's Public Schools To Teach In English Instead Of Spanish". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  26. ^ "Washburn School – A place of opportunity in Southern Puerto Rico.  – About Us – Washburn School". www.washburnschoolpr.com.
  27. ^ http://aliciapousada.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/0/2/10020146/being_bilingual_in_puerto_rico2.pdf
  28. ^ a b c d https://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/tech_journals/Anglicisms_in_Puerto%20Rico.pdf
  29. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q.; Parker, Ashley (15 March 2012). "Santorum Addresses Firestorm Over Puerto Rico Remarks" – via NYTimes.com.
  30. ^ "Romney, Santorum continue sparring over English in Puerto Rico.". Archived from the original on 30 March 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2012.

Further reading

  • Muniz-Arguelles, Luis. The Status of Languages in Puerto Rico. University of Puerto Rico. 1986. Page 466. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  • Pueblo v. Tribunal Superior, 92 D.P.R. 596 (1965). Translation taken from the English text, 92 P.R.R. 580 (1965), p. 588-589.
  • Lopez-Baralt, Negron. Pueblo v. Tribunal Superior: Espanol: Idioma del proceso judicial, 36 Revista Juridica de la Universidad de Puerto Rico. 396 (1967).
  • Vientos, Gaston. "Informe del Procurador General sobre el idioma", 36 Rev. Col. Ab. (P.R.) 843 (1975).

External links

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