Introduction to Dialect & Dichos in Cuba

“Cuban Spanish is so distinct that the University of Habana teaches the Spanish language with textbooks publiushed in Cuba with specific sections dedicated to Cuban-specific linguistic phenomena."

 History

            The majority of US Americans have at the very least a basic familiarity with the Spanish language, as more than 12% of our population is Spanish-speaking (and in states like Texas and California this statistic increases dramatically.)[1]  Spanish is the native language of over 300 million people in the world today in areas including the United States, Spain, Puerto Rico, and the majority of countries and island-nations in Latin America, Central and South America and the Caribbean. [2] 

            Linguistic variances exist in the Spanish spoken in each of these countries, often with regional and generational differences within the countries themselves.  However, throughout my years as a student of the Spanish language, I have frequently heard that “Cuban Spanish” is the most difficult to learn and understand.  Indeed, while over 300 million people may speak Spanish, only 11 million speak Cuban. [3]

            Cuban Spanish is complex, and is a prime example of a language with strong regional and generational distinctions within the nation.  Young Cubans living in Habana speak very differently than the old guajiros in Granma, both in speech pattern, vocabulary, slang and rate of speech.  In her article “Lengua de Cuba”, Marlen Domínguez explains, “These mixed dialects, like our skin and culture, are characteristics of [Cuba].” [4] Clearly, cubanidad (Cuban characteristics or Cuban-ness) [5] materializes in daily life on the island in a variety of ways, including language, that demand further examination.

Blog Topics

            Posts in this category will vary from brief explanations of peculiar Cuban expressions and hand signals, jokes and regionally- and generationally-specific slang and speech pattern.  In addition, I will link these specifically-Cuban linguistic phenomenon to popular culture and the history of the nation, exploring the societal focus on history through language, a cultural phenomenon of the island that I find quite fascinating.    

            On a more practical note for travelers and Spanish students, I will also highlight basic challenges in understanding Cuban Spanish for non-native speakers like myself and offer survival tips if you are to ever find yourself in a conversation with a habanero.

Author’s Objectives        

            The language of a group or nation is one of the most basic and powerful manifestations of culture.  Often, we overlook the overwhelming evidence of our society’s culture or our nation’s history in the words and expressions we use and hear every day.  A thorough examination of these specific Cuban dialects and dichos (expressions) reveals interesting aspects of Cuban culture and history evident in daily conversation that I hope will be of interest to my readers as you learn more about the Cuban culture and people.

 

This Cuban boy proves that some forms of communication, like the peace sign, are universal.

Suggestions

To my readers:  Having read the introduction for this blog category, if you have a relevant topic or event that you would like to learn more about, please mention it in the ‘COMMENTS’ section of this page.  (Even if it is not in Habana, I am happy to travel to the other provinces for a good story!) I will do my best to research and write on all suggested topics.

 

Notes:

            [1] Puig Pernas, Yareira, Me Gusta Hablar Español (la habana: CENDA, 2008),

12.

            [2] ibid, 10.

            [3] ibid, 131

            [4] The concept of cubanidad and cubanía are ideas of famous Cuban

intellectual Don Fernando Ortiz (1881-1969). A more detailed account of his life and role in the formation of Cuban culture and the Cuban identity will follow in upcoming articles.

Hart Dávalos, Armando, Perfiles (la Habana: Editorial Pueblo y Educación, 2002),116-126.

            [5]  Colectivo de autores, Aprendemos Español, Tercera Parte (la Habana,

Editorial Felix Varela, 2008), 168.