To understand Cuban Spanish today, we need to look at history. The island of Cuba, along with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, were the first places the Spanish colonizers arrived in the Americas and from there they made expeditions to the continent.
The island was occupied by indigenous Taino and Siboney and Guanahatabey people who disappeared during the early stages of colonization for different reasons such as new diseases introduced by the colonizers and the mistreatment of these diseases, among other things.
However, their languages also had significant impacts on the Cuban way of speaking, and we can find their footprints in the names of different buildings, places, foods and objects of everyday life (jaba < bag).
Also, many of the Spanish settlers who came to live in Cuba had lived in the West Indies, and as such their accents also showed Caribbean features.
We should add that the first Spanish immigrants were mostly from the Canary Islands and Andalucía and had the typical features of these places in their way of speaking such as the lisp or the weakening of the “s” at the end of words.
As well as all of this, there was also an important African influence due to the great number of slaves who came to Cuba with the colonizers. By the mid-nineteenth century, the number of Africans on the island was so high that the white population was a minority.
There is a hypothesis that the final change of “l” and “r” (mejor < mejol), the gemination of the “r” plus consonant (puerta < puetta) or the tone of Cuban speech could be of African origin, but there are similar features of the speech in different parts of Spain and for this reason there is not a consensus view.
We also cannot forget 2 other languages that had an important impact in the evolution and development of Cuban Spanish: English and French.
French was brought through Spain by the Bourbons of the 18th and 19th centuries and can be seen today in certain words that reflect this influence such as “chofer” and “bulevar”.
On the other hand, English gained strength as an influential foreign language, replacing French, starting with the first US intervention on the island in 1899.
At the same time, although its legacy has not been quite as strong, we can find traces of German in words such as “kindergarten”.
In general, the following are some characteristics of Cuban Spanish:
- In questions, the subject goes before the verb
- The second person pronoun “vosotros” is not used
- Predominance of the use of “tú”, though “usted” is used to show respect.
- Use of the simple past tense for actions that have just happened.
- Redundance of subject pronouns in a sentence.
- Loss of the intervocalic “d”
- The “s” after a vowel is final or disappears
- Yeísmo (use of “ll” like “y”)
- Gemination or assimilation of the “r” with the following consonant
- Interchange of the implosive “l”and “r”.
Below, as a reflection of all of the influences that comprise Cuban Spanish as we know it today, are listed some interesting “cubanismos”:
- Ambia = friend, a person of trust
- Bala= cigarette
- Cajetilla=mouth , teeth
- Empatar=To conquer someone of the opposite sex
- Fachar=to rob
- Grillo=an unattractive woman
- Indio=the sun
- Jintear=to prostitute
- Monja=5 peso bill
- Ñampiarse=to die
- Ocambo=an old man
- Quemar el tenis=to leave quickly
- Sanaco=a fool
- Yuma=a person from the US (la Yuma=the United States)