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Cuban Spanish - a language variety with many influences

Cuban Spanish is a versatile and complex variety. Here you will learn everything about the language of the Caribbean state, which is influenced by many other languages.

The sociolinguistic reality of Cuba is extremely heterogeneous. It is the result of the coexistence of different languages, cultures and ethnic groups that have been in exchange for many years. From a linguistic point of view, this was initially language Arahuaca the indigenous indigenous people who came into contact with several other languages. The Arahuaca-Speakers adopted many expressions from the newly imported languages ​​- on the one hand to fill lexical gaps and describe new realities of life, on the other hand to be able to communicate with the various newcomers. Here I have listed the languages ​​that have most clearly shaped Cuban Spanish.

Cuban Spanish: a Brief Definition

Cuban Spanish is a versatile and complex variety and, along with Dominican and Puerto Rican, belongs to the Antilles Spanish.

Due to its specific social and linguistic characteristics, it is considered a national variety, which in turn has a large number of sub-varieties. So Cuban Spanish is more than just a dialect and has complex structures that are very different from European Spanish.

It has some phonetic and lexical peculiarities and features that immediately catch the eye. These peculiarities are mainly due to the multicultural influence, to countless loan words from different languages ​​and to innovative morphological developments.

Before colonization

It is believed that there were around 123 language families in pre-Columbian America.

In Cuban Spanish, numerous linguistic relics from indigenous languages ​​can still be recognized today, both so-called aruaquismos (Words and expressions taken from the Arahuaca originate) as well as loan words from other Amerindian languages ​​such as Carib (both island and continental caribs), Nahuatl and Quechua.

Most of the adopted words refer to place names and names of residents as well as the native flora and fauna. Here are a few examples of Amerindian loanwords. You will be surprised how many of them you know because they were also taken over into German:

  • From the Taíno (insulares Arahuaco): ají (a type of chilli), barbacoa ("Grill"), batata ("Potato"), caimán ("Caiman"), canoa ("Canoe"), caoba ("Mahogany"), carey ("Tortoiseshell"), cayo ("Flat island"), enaguas ("Petticoats"), guacamayo ("Era"), guanábana ("Sauer Apple, Sour Sack") guayaba ("Guava"), güiro ("Bottle gourd"), hamaca ("Hammock"), huracan ("Hurricane"), iguana ("Iguana"), jíbaro (an Indian people), liana ("Liana"), maíz ("Corn"), mamey ("Big Spot"), maní ("Peanut"), tiburón ("Shark"), yuca ("Manioc").
  • From the Carib: arepa ("Corn cake"), butaca ("Armchair"), cacique ("Chief"), caníbal ("Cannibal"), colibrí ("Humming-bird"), Daiquiri ("Daiquiri"), guasón ("Joker"), loro ("Parrot"), manatí ("Manatee, manatee"), mico (a long-tailed monkey species), papaya ("Papaya"), piragua ("Canoe"), sabana ("Savannah"), turpial ("Turpial, Yellow Bird").
  • From the Nahuatl: aguacate ("Avocado"), cacao ("Cocoa"), chapapote ("Tar"), chicle ("Chewing gum"), Chile ("Chili"), chocolate ("Chocolate"), guacamole ("Guacamole"), hule ("Rubber"), petaca ("Travel bag, hump"), petate ("Backpack"), taco ("Taco"), tamal (a kind of corn pie), tiza ("Chalk"), tomato ("Tomato").
  • From the Quechua: carpa ("Carp"), chirimoya ("Cherimoya, cinnamon apple"), guano ("Guano", a type of fertilizer), father ("Potato").


The first documented language contact between the indigenous Cuban language and another language took place in the 16th century with the arrival of the Spanish colonialists. The Spanish imported from Europe in this way was largely shaped by Andalusian and Canarian dialects, as many settlers came from these regions of Spain.

At the level of pronunciation

Here this is reflected in the following phenomena that are characteristic of Cuban Spanish:

  • the Seseo - a pronunciation variant of Spanish in which the / s / sound and / θ / sound coincide to form [s], so the letters “c” and “z” are not “lisped”
  • apocopying - the elimination of speech sounds at the end of certain words, for example para ("For") to pa, todo ("everything to to
  • the omission of / s / at the end of the word
  • the omission (or aspiration) of / s / before consonants
  • the omission of / d / between two vowels after a stressed syllable - for example becomes peludo ("Hairy") so too pelúo
  • the infinitive of verbs, which in Spanish always ends in -ar, -er or -ir, without / r / at the end
  • a softer pronunciation of "j" than ch as in "I" instead of as in "Bach"

Also at the vocabulary level

The Andalusian influence can be clearly seen here: amarrar instead of high Spanish atar ("tie"), guiso ("Stew") instead guisado, limosnero ("Beggar") instead pordiosero.

Likewise, in Cuban Spanish vocabulary, which has its origins in the Canary Islands, there is: ensopar ("Soak") instead empapar, mordida ("Bite") instead mordisco and cerrero (“Uneducated”) inculto. Other expressions that come from Canarian Spanish are: acotejar ("organize"), chiflar ("Whistle, mock"), fajarse ("Put on a sash"), golondrino ("Tramp"), gofio ("Cornmeal"), tentempié ("Snack") and others.

Also words from Arabic and the Gitano-Slang got into the Cuban variety via the Andalusian and Canarian dialects.

  • From the Arabic you can find words like aceite ("Oil"), albahaca ("Basil"), alfiler ("Pin"), algarroba ("Locust bean gum"), algodón ("Cotton"), aljibe ("Water tank"), almacén ("Warehouse"), almíbar ("Syrup"), almohada ("Pillow"), arroz ("Rice"), azúcar ("Sugar"), azul ("blue"), candil ("Oil lamp"), naranja ("Orange"), tarea ("Task"), toronja ("Grapefruit"), zapato ("Shoe").
  • From the Gitano-Slang: belén ("Bethlehem, Nativity"), bureo ("Pleasure"), chalao ("Crackhead"), chaval ("Type"), jarana ("Party, pub crawl"), jeta ("Visage"), menda ("Anyone"), postín ("Pompousness"), sandunga ("Gaudi, fun").

The African influence

Shortly after the arrival of the Spanish settlers, the shipping of black African slaves from sub-Saharan areas to America began. The new languages ​​of the arriving Africans enriched the vocabulary of the Cuban variety. However, the African influence on American Spanish cannot be pinpointed today because it has not been adequately documented. This fact is mainly due to racism and the social exclusion of the African population.

What is certain, however, is that the slaves shipped to Cuba belonged to many different ethnic groups, and so the Africanisms used in Cuba today do not come from a single language, but from many languages ​​spoken in West Africa.

The main West African languages ​​that influenced Cuban Spanish are: Kikongo, Kimbundu, Yoruba, Calabar, Igbo, Hairdryer and the Akan-Languages.

Vocabulary based on these languages ​​is found primarily in the colloquial context in the field of gastronomy, music events, terms for flora and fauna as well as for everyday objects and folklore of Afro-Cuban culture.

  • Examples of Africanisms are:bachata (Caribbean dance), banana ("Plantain"), bemba ("Thick-lipped mouth"), cumbé (folk dance from Guinea), cachimbo ("Tobacco pipe"), conga (Dance), chekeré ("Shékere", West African rattle), chimpancé ("Chimpanzee"), dengue ("Dengue fever"), fufú (Porridge made from cassava and plantains), guaguancó (pantomime dance), guineo ("Banana"), jimagua ("Twin"), jubo (Venomous snake species), macuto ("Backpack"), majá (Snake species), mambo ("Mambo", dance), marimba ("Marimba", a kind of xylophone), Surname ("Yams"), quimbombó ("Okra, vegetable marshmallow"), rumba ("Rumba", dance), sirimba ("Fainting spell"), tonga ("a lot").

Even if it has not yet been clearly proven, it is assumed that typical Cuban pronunciation phenomena such as the exchange of / r / and / l / (cupid ("Love") is called amol pronounced), the gemination (consonant doubling) of / r / before a consonant (tarde ("Late") becomes to tadde) and the intonation of Cuban can be traced back to African influences.

Older Afro-Cubans can sometimes still do something Yoruba or Kikongoif only in the context of religious ceremonies. However, Afro-Cuban society consists not only of the descendants of slaves who were shipped to Cuba directly from Africa, but also of immigrants from other Caribbean countries such as Jamaica or Haiti. These in turn brought English, French and Dutch-based Creole languages ​​as well as Papiamentu and Palenquero with them to Cuba.

Other interesting influences on Cuban Spanish

Another typical feature of Cuban Spanish is the inversion of the subject pronoun, such as in ¿Qué tú me dices? instead of ¿Qué me dices (tú)? ("What do you tell me?"). This syntactic influence may come from Portuguese.

In addition to all of the influences on Cuban Spanish mentioned, there are numerous others:

  • So did the Contact with the English to Anglicisms, as in so many languages: blúmer ("Panties"), budín ("Pudding"), chance ("Chance"), clinch ("Clinch"), cloche ("Coupling"), closet ("Closet"), elevador ("Elevator"), guajiro ("Farmer"), panqué ("Cake"), parquear ("park").
  • From the French come from words like afer ("Affair"), afiche ("Poster"), carota ("Insolent person"), chofer ("Chauffeur"), creyón ("Pencil"), crupié ("Croupier"), cheslón ("Armchair"), matiné ("Matinee"), pantuflas ("Slippers"), rendivú ("Date"), trusó ("Dowry").
  • From the Italian we find expressions like arlequín ("Harlequin"), contralto ("Alt", tone of voice), duo, espagueti ("Spaghetti").
  • From the Japanese: biombo ("Screen"), catana ("Plunder"), judo, kimono, samurai, soy, sunami ("Tsunami")
  • From the Chinese: caolín ("Kaolin, china clay"), charol ("Patent leather"), ("Tea").

Thus, Cuban Spanish also represents the island's cultural identity, which impresses with its uniqueness. It manifests itself in the view and way of life of the people of Cuba, who have taken something out of all the languages ​​with which the island has come into contact over time in order to develop it further and use it in a new context. So Cuban Spanish is more than just a dialect: it is the result of a mixture of many ethnicities and different socio-cultural influences. In other words: It is a language variety that has it all!

Do you feel like learning Spanish and discovering Cuba? Try your first free lesson today!
Paloma Lirola
Paloma Lirola is an entertainer who sings, composes, does stand-up comedy, writes articles, gives music lessons and even takes her ukulele to the gym. She also organizes city tours to make the magical places of Berlin's Roaring 20s better known.
Paloma Lirola is an entertainer who sings, composes, does stand-up comedy, writes articles, gives music lessons and even takes her ukulele to the gym. She also organizes city tours to make the magical places of Berlin's Roaring 20s better known.

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