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Cuban Spanish is the variety of the Spanish language as it is spoken in Cuba. As a Caribbean language variety, Cuban Spanish shares a number of features with nearby varieties, including coda deletion, seseo, and /s/ debuccalization.
Characteristic of Cuban Spanish is the weak pronunciation of consonants, especially at the end of a syllable. Syllable-final /s/ weakens to [h] or disappears entirely; word-final /n/ becomes [ŋ]; syllable-final /r/ may become [l] or [j], or even become entirely silent. The fricative variants of /d/, /b/, /g/ (i.e. [ð], [β], [ɣ]) are also significantly weakened when occurring after a vowel: [ð] tends to disappear entirely, while [β] and [ɣ] become weak approximants, with no friction at all and often barely audible as consonants. All of these characteristics occur to one degree or another in other Caribbean varieties, as well as in many dialects in Andalusia (in southern Spain) — the historical origin of these characteristics.
One of the most prominent features of Cuban Spanish is the debuccalization of /s/ in syllable coda. This trait is shared with most American varieties of Spanish spoken in coastal and low areas (Lowland Spanish), as well as with Canarian Spanish and the Spanish spoken in the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula.
Take for example, the following sentence:
- Esos perros no tienen dueños
- [ˈesoh ˈperoh no ˈtjeneŋ ˈdweɲoh]
- ('Those dogs do not have owners')
Also, because /s/ may also be deleted in the syllable coda and because this feature has variable realizations, any or all instances of [h] in the above example may be dropped, potentially rendering [ˈeso ˈpero no ˈtjeneŋ ˈdweɲo]. Other examples: disfrutar ("to enjoy") is pronounced [dihfruˈtar], and fresco ("fresh") becomes [ˈfrehko]. In Havana, después ("after[ward]") is typically pronounced [dehˈpwe].
Another instance of consonant weakening ("lenition") in Cuban Spanish (as in many other dialects) is the deletion of intervocalic /d/ in the participle ending ‑ado, as in cansado [kanˈsa.o] "tired"). More typical of Cuba and the Caribbean is the dissimilation of final /r/ in some verb infinitives; e.g. parar, to stop, can be realized as [paˈral].
Another characteristic of Cuban Spanish is the use of the diminutive endings -ico and -ica instead of the standard -ito and -ita. This use is restricted to words with /t/ in the last syllable. For example, plato ("plate") > platico (instead of platito), and momentico instead of momentito; but cara ("face") becomes carita. This form is common to the Venezuelan, Cuban, Costa Rican and Colombian dialects.
In keeping with the socialist polity of the country, the term compañero/compañera ("comrade") is often used instead of the traditional señor/señora. (For a contrary view, see Corbett (2007: 137).)
The Spanish of the eastern provinces (the five provinces comprising what was formerly Oriente Province) is closer to that of the Dominican Republic than to the Spanish spoken in the western part of the island.
Origins of Cuban Spanish
Of all the regional variations of the Spanish language, traditional Cuban Spanish is most similar to, and originates largely from the Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands of Spain. Cuba owes much of its speech patterns to the heavy Canarian migrations of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Migrations of other Spaniards such as Galicians, Catalans, Basques and Asturians also occurred, though without as great an influence.
Much of the typical Cuban replacements for standard Spanish vocabulary stems from Canarian lexicon. For example, guagua ('bus') differs from standard Spanish autobús. The word guagua originated in the Canaries and is an onomatopoeia stemming from the sound of a Klaxon horn. An example of Canarian usage for a Spanish word is the verb fajarse ('to fight'). In standard Spanish the verb would be pelearse, while fajar exists as a non-reflexive verb related to the hemming of a skirt.
Much of the vocabulary peculiar to Cuban Spanish comes from the different historic influences on the island. Many words come from the Canary Islands, but some words are of West African, French, or indigenous Taino origin, as well as peninsular Spanish influence from outside of the Canary Islands, such as Andalusian or Galician. American English has lent several words, including some for clothing, such as pulóver [sic] (which is used to mean "T-shirt") and chor ("shorts", with the typical Spanish change from English sh to ch).
When speaking to the elderly or to strangers, Cubans sometimes speak more formally as a sign of respect. They shake hands upon both greeting and saying farewell to someone. Men often exchange friendly hugs (abrazos) and it is also common for both men and women to greet friends and family with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Cubans tend to speak familiarly: informalities like addressing a stranger with mi corazón ("my heart"), mi vida ("my life"), or cariño ("dear") are common. Mi amor ("my love") is used, even between strangers, when at least one of them is a woman (for example when being served in a shop). Cubans are less likely to use the formal second person singular pronoun usted when speaking to a stranger, elder or superior. The familiar tú is considered acceptable in all but very formal situations; regular use of the usted form can be seen by some Cubans as an affectation or a mark of coldness.
- Spanish (Cuba) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Guitart (1997)
- "Social Life in Cuba"
- José Sánchez-Boudy, Diccionario de cubanismos más usuales (Cómo habla el cubano), Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1978. "En Cuba, hoy en día, se llama a todo el mundo «compañero»."
- Ben Corbett, This is Cuba: An Outlaw Culture Survives (Westview Press: 2002).
- fajar at Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
- Guitart, Jorge M. (1997), "Variability, Multilectalism, and the Organization of Phonology in Caribbean Spanish Dialects", in Martínez-Gil, Fernando; Morales-Front, Alfonso, Issues in the Phonology and Morphology of the Major Iberian Languages, Georgetown University Press, pp. 515–536