English in Puerto Rico
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 English an official language on several occasions while removing it from that status in as many occasions. As of 2012, English remains an official language in the Commonwealth.
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. Various surveys have found that the majority of Puerto Ricans are not fully fluent in English. The 2000 US Census found that 71.9% of people in Puerto Rico spoke English less than "very well." It also found that 85.6% spoke a language other than English at home (mostly Spanish).
The history and use of the English language in Puerto Rico has taken place primarily on at least three fronts: government, the populace, and education.
The U.S. invaded and 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.
After the invasion of 1898, 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. 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." 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. 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, indistinctly, as official languages of the government of Puerto Rico.
The 1902 English language Law had the dual purpose of providing for the proper functioning of government but also aimed at Americanizing 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. 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.
The same 21 February 1902 law that ordered the use 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. 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. 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.
The official languages of the executive branch of government of Puerto Rico 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. All official business of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, however, is conducted in English.
Population at large
Although English is one of the two official (i.e., governmental) languages in Puerto Rico, it is spoken by a small minority—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. 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. Various surveys have found that the majority of Puerto Ricans are not fully fluent in English. The 2000 US Census found that 71.9% of people in Puerto Rico spoke English less than "very well." It also found that 85.6% spoke a language other than English at home (mostly Spanish).
According to a 2009 study by the University of Puerto Rico, nine of every ten Puerto Ricans residing in Puerto Rico do not speak English at an advanced level. 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." The 2000 U.S. Census had reported that 71.9% of Puerto Rico residents spoke English less than "very well".
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. English is taught as a second language and is a compulsory subject from elementary levels to high school. In 2012 pro-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 meet 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. 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. A similar approach has been instituted in public schools across California, including Chula Vista, Laguna Niguel and Sacramento. In these and other public schools, dual-language immersion programs have been implemented to “prepare pupils for the global economy” and “to be prepared to be competitive in world markets”, as stated by the principal of the Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School. There are currently 318 bilingual immersion programs in the state of California.
Linguistic influence of English on Puerto Rican Spanish
The presence and influence of the English language in Puerto Rico was inevitable. Because of the island’s current relationship with the U.S., the presence of English is vast and is seen in all sorts of media outlets including: newspapers, magazines, cable TV, radio stations, commercial signs, etc. 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. 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 elèctrica, niña eschucha, 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 correct 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 as silenciador. 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 means “language”, however, it has been given the English meaning of the English word romance. Another example of this is the Spanish word bloques, which means “building blocks”, but is giving the English meaning of “street blocks”. The actual Spanish word that means “street blocks” is cuadras. The Spanish word for romance is actually idilio. In syntactical borrowing, Spanish words are used in an English sentence structure. For example, in Spanish, personal pronoun subjects are not included as frequently 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 “El ha cordialmente invitado a su amigo” instead of “El ha invitado cordialmente a su amigo."
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:
"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."
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- Language Use and English-Speaking Ability: 2000 Census 2000 Brief