Cuban Spanish
español cubano (Spanish)
Pronunciation[espaˈɲol kuˈβano]
Native speakers
11 million (2011)[1]
Early forms
Latin (Spanish alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
Regulated byAcademia Cubana de la Lengua
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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Cuban Spanish is the variety of the Spanish language as it is spoken in Cuba. As a Caribbean variety of Spanish, Cuban Spanish shares a number of features with nearby varieties, including coda weakening and neutralization, non-inversion of Wh-questions, and a lower rate of dropping of subject pronouns compared to other Spanish varieties. As a variety spoken in Latin America, it has seseo and lacks the vosotros pronoun.


Cuban Spanish is most similar to, and originates largely from, the Spanish that is spoken in the Canary Islands and Andalusia. Cuba owes much of its speech patterns to the heavy Canarian migrations of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The accent of La Palma is the closest of the Canary Island accents to the Cuban accent. Many Cubans and returning Canarians settled in the Canary Islands after the revolution of 1959. Migration of other Spanish settlers (Asturians, Catalans, Castilians), and especially Galicians[2] also occurred, but left less influence on the accent.

Much of the typical Cuban vocabulary stems from Canarian lexicon. For example, guagua ('bus') differs from standard Spanish autobús. An example of Canarian usage for a Spanish word is the verb fajarse ('to fight').[3] In Spain, the verb would be pelearse, and fajar exists as a non-reflexive verb related to the hemming of a skirt.

Much of the vocabulary that is 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 the Canary Islands, such as Andalusian or Galician.

The West African influence is due to the large Afro-Cuban population, most of whom are descended from African slaves imported in the 19th century. Some Cuban words of African origin include chévere 'wonderful', asere 'friend', and orishá 'Yoruba deity'. In addition, different Afro-Cuban religions and secret societies also different African languages in their practices and liturgies.[4]

Many Afro-Cubans in the 19th century also spoke Bozal Spanish, derived from the term bozales, which originally referred to muzzles for wild dogs and horses, and came to be used to refer to enslaved Africans who spoke little Spanish. Some elements of Bozal Spanish can still be found in the speech of elderly Afro-Cubans in remote rural areas, in Palo Mayombe chants, and in trance states during possession rituals in Santería.[4]

Due to historical commercial ties between the US and Cuba, American English has lent several words, including some for clothing, such as pulóver (which is used to mean "T-shirt") and chor ("shorts", with the typical Spanish change from English sh to ch, like mentioned above, ⟨ch⟩ may be pronounced [ʃ], the pronunciation of English "sh"). Anglicisms related to baseball, such as strike and foul, are frequently employed, with Spanish pronunciation.[5]


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;[6] word-final /n/ becomes [ŋ];[7] syllable-final /r/ may become [l] or [j], or even become entirely silent. Final /r/ more frequently becomes /l/ in the eastern and central regions of Cuba.[6] Postvocalic [ð] tends to disappear entirely. 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 place of historical origin of these characteristics.

One of the most prominent features of Cuban Spanish is the debuccalization of /s/ in syllable coda i.e. /s/ becomes [h] (resulting in a phonetic merger with /x/) or disappears. 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 (Eso' perro' no tienen dueño')
[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,[8] 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 [dihfɾuˈtaɾ], and fresco ("fresh") becomes [ˈfɾehko]. In Havana, después ("after[ward]") is typically pronounced [dehˈpwe] (de'pué'/despué').

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 (-ao/-a'o), as in cansado (cansao/cansa'o) [kanˈsao] "tired"). More typical of Cuba and the Caribbean is the elision of final /r/ in some verb infinitives, or merger with -/l/; e.g. parar, 'to stop', can be realized as [paˈɾal] or [paˈɾa] (paral/pará).

The voiceless velar fricative [x] (spelled as ⟨g⟩ before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ and ⟨j⟩) is usually aspirated or pronounced [h], common in Andalusian and Canarian dialects and most Latin American dialects.

In some areas of Cuba, the voiceless affricate [] (spelled as ch) is deaffricated to [ʃ].

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.[9]

In western Cuba /l/ and /ɾ/ in a syllable coda can be merged with each other and assimilated to the following consonant, resulting in geminates. At the same time, the non-assimilated and unmerged pronunciations are more common. Example pronunciations, according to the analysis of Arias (2019) which transcribes the merged, underlying phoneme as /d/:[10]

/l/ or /r/ + /f/ > /d/ + /f/: [ff] a[ff]iler, hue[ff]ano (Sp. 'alfiler', 'huérfano')
/l/ or /r/ + /s/ > /d/ + /s/: [ds] fa[ds]a, du[ds]e (Sp. 'falsa or farsa', 'dulce')
/l/ or /r/ + /h/ > /d/ + /h/: [ɦh] ana[ɦh]ésico, vi[ɦh]en (Sp. 'analgésico', 'virgen')
/l/ or /r/ + /b/ > /d/ + /b/: [b˺b] si[b˺b]a, cu[b˺b]a (Sp. 'silba or sirva', 'curva')
/l/ or /r/ + /d/ > /d/ + /d/: [d˺d] ce[d˺d]a, acue[d˺d]o (Sp. 'celda or cerda', 'acuerdo')
/l/ or /r/ + /g/ > /d/ + /g/: [g˺g] pu[g˺g]a, la[g˺g]a (Sp. 'pulga or purga', 'larga')
/l/ or /r/ + /p/ > /d/ + /p/: [b˺p] cu[b˺p]a, cue[b˺p]o (Sp. 'culpa', 'cuerpo')
/l/ or /r/ + /t/ > /d/ + /t/: [d˺t] sue[d˺t]e, co[d˺t]a (Sp. 'suelte o suerte', 'corta')
/l/ or /r/ + /ʧ/ > /d/ + /ʧ/: [d˺ʧ] co[d˺ʧ]a, ma[d˺ʧ]arse (Sp. 'colcha o corcha', 'marcharse')
/l/ or /r/ + /k/ > /d/ + /k/: [g˺k] vo[g˺k]ar, ba[g˺k]o (Sp. 'volcar', 'barco')
/l/ or /r/ + /m/ > /d/ + /m/: [mm] ca[mm]a, a[mm]a (Sp. 'calma', 'alma o arma')
/l/ or /r/ + /n/ > /d/ + /n/: [nn] pie[nn]a, ba[nn]eario (Sp. 'pierna', 'balneario')
/l/ or /r/ + /l/ > /d/ + /l/: [ll] bu[ll]a, cha[ll]a (Sp. 'burla', 'charla')
/l/ or /r/ + /r/ > /d/ + /r/: [r] a[r]ededor (Sp. 'alrededor')

Morphology and syntax

Cuban Spanish typically uses the diminutive endings -ico and -ica (instead of the standard -ito and -ita) with stems that end in /t/. For example, plato ("plate") > platico (instead of platito), and momentico instead of momentito; but cara ("face") becomes carita.[11] This form is common to the Venezuelan, Cuban, Costa Rican, Dominican, and Colombian dialects.

The suffix -ero is often used with a place name to refer to a person from that place; thus habanero, guantanamera, etc.[12] A person from Santiago de Cuba is santiaguero (compare santiagués "from Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain)", santiaguino "from Santiago de Chile").

Wh-questions, when the subject is a pronoun, are usually not inverted. Where speakers of most other varieties of Spanish would ask "¿Qué quieres?" or "¿Qué quieres tú?", Cuban speakers would more often ask "¿Qué tú quieres?"[13] (This form is also characteristic of Dominican, Isleño, and Puerto Rican Spanish.[14][15])

Cuban Spanish also frequently uses expressions with personal infinitives, a combined preposition, noun or pronoun, and verbal infinitive where speakers in other dialects would typically use a conjugated subjunctive form. For example, eso sucedió antes de yo llegar aquí, instead of …antes de que yo llegara… 'that happened before I arrived here'. This type of construction is found elsewhere in the Caribbean and occurs in all speech styles.[6]

Cuban Spanish uses the familiar second-person pronoun in many contexts where other varieties of Spanish would use the formal usted. While Cuban Spanish has always preferred to usted, the use of usted has become increasingly rare after the Revolution.[6] Voseo is practically non-existent in Cuba.[16] It was historically present in the countryside of eastern Cuba. Pedro Henríquez Ureña alleged that it often used the object and possessive pronouns os and vuestro instead of te and tuyo. Its present-tense conjugations ending in -áis, -éis, and -ís, and future-tense conjugations in -éis.[17][18]

In keeping with the socialist polity of the country, the term compañero/compañera ("comrade" or "friend") is often used instead of the traditional señor/señora.[19][20] However, Corbett (2007:137) states that the term compañero has failed to enter the popular language, and is rejected by many Cubans opposed to the current regime, citing a misunderstanding with a Cuban who refused to be addressed as compañera.

See also


  1. ^ Spanish (Cuba) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Lipski (2011:540)
  3. ^ fajar at Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  4. ^ a b Lipski (2011:541–542)
  5. ^ Lipski (2011:541–542)
  6. ^ a b c d Lipski (2011:542)
  7. ^ Canfield (1981:42)
  8. ^ Guitart (1997)
  9. ^ Lipski (1994:227)
  10. ^ Arias (2019).
  11. ^ Lipski (1994:233)
  12. ^ Lipski (1994:233)
  13. ^ Lipski (1994:233)
  14. ^ Lipski (1994:233)
  15. ^ Lipski (1994:335)
  16. ^ Lipski (1994:233)
  17. ^ Henríquez Ureña (1940:49)
  18. ^ Real Academia Española. "voseo | Diccionario panhispánico de dudas". «Diccionario panhispánico de dudas» (in Spanish). Retrieved 28 April 2022.
  19. ^ Brumfield, Brittany; Carpenter, Lisa; Sloan, Loren. "Social Life in Cuba". Archived from the original on 12 February 2019. In a social setting, the use of compañero/compañera has almost entirely replaced the more formal senor/senora. This does not apply when speaking to elderly or strangers, where Cubans use formal speech as a sign of respect.
  20. ^ Sánchez-Boudy, José (1978). Diccionario de cubanismos más usuales (Cómo habla el cubano) (in Spanish). Miami: Ediciones Universal. En Cuba, hoy en día, se llama a todo el mundo «compañero».