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More precisely, the term refers to the Spanish language as spoken in the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, as well as in Panama, Venezuela and the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
Frequently, word-final /s/ and /d/ are dropped (as in compás [komˈpa] 'beat', mitad [miˈta] 'half'). Syllable-final /s/ (as well as /f/ in any context) may also be debuccalized to [h]. Similarly, syllable-final nasals and /ɾ/ in the infinitival morpheme may also be dropped (e.g. ven [bẽ] 'come', comer [koˈme] 'to eat'); the dropping of final nasals doesn't result in further neutralization compared to other dialects since the nasalization of the vowel is maintained. Several neutralizations also occur in the syllable coda. The liquids /l/ and /ɾ/ may neutralize to [j] (e.g. Cibaeño Dominican celda/cerda [ˈsejða] 'cell'/'bristle'), [l] (e.g. alma/arma [ˈalma] 'soul'/'weapon'), or as complete regressive assimilation (e.g. pulga/purga [ˈpuɡɡa] 'flea'/'purge').
These deletions and neutralizations show variability in their occurrence, even with the same speaker in the same utterance, implying that nondeleted forms exist in the underlying structure. This is not to say that these dialects are on the path to eliminating coda consonants, since these processes have existed for more than four centuries in these dialects. Guitart (1997) argues that this is the result of speakers acquiring multiple phonological systems with uneven control similar to that of second language learners.
Other features include
- Intervocalic /d/ is often deleted (at times causing diphthongs): cansado /kanˈsau/ ('tired'), nada /na/ ('nothing'), and perdido /perˈdio/ ('lost').
- /x/ is aspirated to glottal [h]
- /r/ is often pronounced [x] and aspirated, especially in Puerto Rico: e.g. revolución [xʰeβoluˈsjoŋ] ('revolution')
- Word-final /n/ is realized as velar [ŋ], meaning [ŋ] is an allophone of /n/ before velar consonants and word-final position; e.g. consideran [kõnsiˈðeɾãŋ] ('they consider') and Teherán [teeˈɾãŋ] ('Tehran'); in Venezuela, syllable-final /n/-velarisation, or /n/-assimilation prevails: ambientación ("atmosphere") becomes either [ãŋbjẽŋtaˈsjõŋ] or [ãbjẽtaˈsjõ]..
- The second-person subject pronouns—tú (or vos in Central America) and usted—are used more frequently than in other varieties of Spanish, contrary to the general Spanish tendency to omit them when meaning is clear from the context (see Pro-drop language). Thus, tú estás hablando instead of estás hablando. This tendency is strongest in the island countries and, on the mainland, in Nicaragua, where voseo (rather than the use of tú for the second person singular familiar) is predominant.
- So-called "wh-questions", which in standard Spanish are marked by subject/verb inversion, often appear without that inversion in Caribbean Spanish. Thus "¿Qué tú quieres?" for standard "¿Qué quieres (tú)?" ("What do you want?").
- Boyd-Bowman, Peter (1975), "A sample of Sixteenth Century 'Caribbean' Spanish Phonology.", in Milán, William, Colloquium on Spanish and Portuguese Linguistics, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, pp. 1–11
- Guitart, Jorge M. (1997), "Variability, multilectalism, and the organization of phonology in Caribbean Spanish dialects", in Martínez-Gil, Fernando, Issues in the Phonology and Morphology of the Major Iberian Languages, Georgetown University Press, pp. 515–536
- Gutiérrez-Bravo, Rodrigo (2008), "Topicalization and Preverbal Subjects in Spanish wh-interrogatives", in Bruhn de Garavito, Joyce; Valenzuela, Elena, Selected Proceedings of the 10th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium, Somerville, MA: Cascadilla, pp. 225–236
- Labov, William (1994), Principles of Linguistic Change: Volume I: Internal Factors, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers
- Lipski, John (1977), "Preposed Subjects in Questions: Some Considerations", Hispania 60: 61–67, doi:10.2307/340393
- Cedergren, Henrietta (1973), The Interplay of Social and. Linguistic Factors in Panama, Cornell University
- Poplack, Shana (1979), Function and process in a variable phonology, University of Pennsylvania