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Yo Soy (I am): The Historical Trajectory of Language in Puerto Rico

African Language Influence

30. View of stone wall ruins of slave quarters. - Hacienda Azucarera La Esperanza, Mill (Ruins), 2.65 miles North of PR Route 2 Bridge Over Manati River, Manati, Manati Municipio, PR. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Waves of resistance have an undeniable impact on the Puerto Rican identity. The Spanish and other European travelers brought enslaved African peoples  to the island during the 16th century in an effort to substitute the Taíno population, which had suffered decimation as a result of of resistance, maltreatment, and European diseases. Enslaved African peoples brought an array of customs that drew from various African cultures, but studies suggest the vast majority were captured from the Yorubas and Igbo tribes in Nigeria and the Bantus from the Guineas. Linguists document the tonal language of Yoruba as the most present linguistic influence in Puerto Rico's mixed culture. Instruments such as barriles, a cuisine rooted in African ingredients, and dance forms such as bomba and plena are some of the enriching elements enslaved Africans peoples brought forward in the Puerto Rican identity.

The African language gave Puerto Rican Spanish a distinctive sound. Words like chévere (a colloquial word for something special or 'cool'), food like ñame (mashed yam), and gandules (pigeon peas) are all examples of Puerto Rican expressions with African origins.

The African languages in Puerto Rico also influenced the phonology of Puerto Rican Spanish with the deletion of final consonants like /s/ and /n/, and the alternation of the /l/ and /r/ consonants. These phonological changes are recognizable linguistic habits in Puerto Rican language. Much like with the Taíno language, traces of the African languages coexist in the Puerto Rican language.

The following items delve into the African linguistic influences that resulted from the importation of enslaved African people during the 16th century.


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This tab contains a compilation of subject areas related to African influence in Puerto Rico that link directly to the Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS) database. HLAS includes annotated citations for books, journal articles, book chapters, conference papers, maps and atlases, and e-resources.