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

English Language Influence

Delano, Jack, photographer. [Untitled photo, possibly related to: San Juan, Puerto Rico. Street scene]. 1941. Prints and Photographs Division.

In 1898, Spain and the U.S. declared an official war proclamation. After the U.S. defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War and came to an agreement under the Treaty of Paris, Spain relinquished Puerto Rico to the United States. In the present day, Puerto Rico remains a territory of the U.S. Once Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the American nation, the U.S. established a military government and implemented Americanization throughout the island. This ideology aimed to teach young Puerto Rican students American customs and ideals and promote loyalty to U.S. interests and philosophies. As with Spanish colonization, the U.S. used language as a means for assimilation and loyalty to the new colonizing power.

In 1900, the U.S. transitions students from Spanish as the language of instruction until the eighth grade to English instruction in secondary school. By 1902, English was the medium of instruction at all levels of education. During this era, Puerto Rico hired U.S. teachers to teach English. Soon after it was mandatory for all teachers to use English as the language of instruction.

In 1912, Puerto Ricans established the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Teachers Association) as a form of resistance against the forceful use of language for the promotion of U.S. ideologies. The association’s central objective was to reestablish Spanish as the instructional language.

Resistance to the imposition of English, unsuccessful indoctrination, and multiple language policy reforms, led Puerto Rican officials to recognize Spanish as the primary language of instruction with English taught as a subject across all levels. This change also evolved as a result of Congress allowing Puerto Ricans to elect their own governor after 1947, with Luis Muñoz Marín as the first elected governor of Puerto Rico. He was from the Popular Democratic Party, which advocated for Puerto Rican nationalism.

Since 1949, the Spanish Language has sustained as the primary language of instruction in public schools and English continues as a required subject. In contrast, private schools offer bilingual curriculums and most promote English-only instruction.

Currently, both English and Spanish are co-official languages in Puerto Rico. Because of the island's relationship with the U.S., English has a significant presence and is notable in various media outlets including newspapers, magazines, TV, radio stations, and commercial signs. As a result, Puerto Ricans have a tendency to incorporate English into their Spanish in the form of anglicisms, loanwords, and phonological and morphological changes. Puerto Ricans often mix elements of the English language into their own, developing new linguistic forms.

The following items focus on the English influence and linguistic borrowings found in Puerto Rican Spanish.


These print materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digitized versions are provided when available.

The Library of Congress subscribes to a large number of diverse databases which are cataloged and accessible via the E-Resources Online Catalog (EROC). The following selected databases range from freely available to on-site available resources. The databases marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

These selected resources offer materials related to the imposed English language in Puerto Rico as a consequence of U.S. invasion after the Spanish-American war.

Freely Avilable Databases

Subscription Databases

In addition to print materials, the Library of Congress offers digitized resources accessible to the general public.

These materials showcase selected articles in the Chronicling America Digital Collection, which delve into the topics involving the history of Puerto Rico, language policies, and discussions of English language influx on the island.

Would you like to supplement your research? The following external websites can be useful for expanding your search on topics regarding English language in Puerto Rican linguistic habits as a consequence of English language policies in Puerto Rico.

This tab contains a compilation of subject areas related to English language 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.

U.S. Invasion and Education in Puerto Rico

The following images display the U.S. occupation of Puerto Rico through an educational lens, as U.S. officials brought forth an indoctrination plan using the Department of Education as the main tool to spread the English language and North American customs throughout Puerto Rico. These images range from the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection to the Miscellaneous Items in High Demand. The FSA/OWI Collections form a pictographic record of American life between 1935 and 1944. The Miscellaneous Items category consists of more than 80,000 descriptions of individual images from a variety of the Prints & Photographs Division's photographic, print, drawing, and architectural holdings. These items were singled out for description because copy photographs or digital copies were requested for a publication, exhibition, or other special project that increased demand for the pictures.