Friday, March 2, 2012

Introduction to Cuban Spanish and Culture

Many people don't know this, but traveling to Cuba is actually legal! Under new rules, US citizens can apply for a Visa to travel to Cuba for 12 reasons. You can download the official guidelines here:

Bolder Languages is working with many of our students to help them prepare for a trip to this magical island, 90 miles off the coast of Florida. There are a few things you should know before traveling to Cuba, and knowing the language and the culture can ensure that your trip is a rich cultural exchange and full of fun.

Cuban Spanish

Spanish is the official language of Cuba, although walking through down town Havana, you might not guess it. Cubans speak a Caribbean dialect of Spanish with a very distinct accent, but on top of this have many of their own words that exist only in Cuba. Furthermore, within many circles where African religions and music have continued to thrive, Nigerian, Congolese, and other African languages may be used interchangeably with Spanish, much like Latinos in the US do with English. Finally, American English has had a significant impact as well, so one will hear many "Americanized" terms in Spanish you would not hear in other Spanish speaking countries.

There are a few things the Spanish language shares throughout Caribbean countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic that makes it an official dialect. One of the biggest changes the Spanish speaker will note is the way they shorten and mix words, specifically losing a lot of consonants (debuccalization). The most prominent difference seems to be dropping the S off of words:

"Los perros" would sound more like "lo perro".

Sometimes, they drop the front off of words:

"Estoy triste" would sound more like "toy trite".

In Spanish, to turn many verbs into adjectives, you change the ending to "ado"
  • Lavar (to wash) - Lavado (washed)
In Cuba, it is a simple "ao", so lavado becomes lavao.
  • Ex: Lo plato estan lava'os.
A final difference with the Caribbean dialect is the diminutive ending with ico/ica instead of ito/ita like in most Spanish speaking countries. For example, to make a plate a little plate, you change plato to platito. In Cuba, you would say platico.

The written Spanish often changes too. It is not a rule nor is it taught, but often you will see b's and v's used interchangeable, as well as y's for ll's.
  • Ven acá/ben acá (come here),
  • ¿A qué hora llegas?/¿A qué hora yega?
Next, Cubans incorporate a lot of African words into everyday conversation, especially within certain circles. The slave trade brought many different groups of Africans to Cuba, where they mixed together along with the Spaniards, and formed a unique mixture of the languages. The heaviest influences come from Nigeria and Congo. Here are a few words that you may hear:
  • Santo (Spanish for Saint) is code for Orisha, an African power from Nigeria.
  • Oti is Yoruba, and may be used instead of beer or rum.
  • Akuko means a rooster, and this comes from the Yoruba of Nigeria.
  • Lukumi is the Cuban version of Yoruba, but can also mean the language or people.
  • Palo is Spanish for stick, but has various meanings. Among drummers this is slang for an awesome drummer: "Él e un palo." - " He is a really good drummer." Among religious folks, Palo is a religion that comes from the Congo.
  • Ide is Yoruba for pulsera, which is a bracelet
  • Collar is Spanish for collar, but will often be used to describe a necklace, which will also be referred to as an "eleke".
  • Changó in Cuba is the African Orisha syncretized with St. Barbera. The cubans are probably not referring to chango, which in Mexico means monkey.
If you hear anyone saying these African words and using them interchangeably, they are more than likely practitioners of Santeria or Palo, two of the most prominent Afrocuban Religions and subcultures.

Cuban Culture

You are in for a wild ride in Cuba! This is one of the most "culture-shocking" countries you can possibly travel to, in so many ways. The music, dance, and other arts are a giant source of Cuban pride, and some of the best in the world. Cubans tend to be incredibly warm, easy going people that love to party. Another great thing about Cuba is the cuisine coming from the Island. Taking the time upfront to study not only the language, but the various aspects of the Cuban culture, will add to the enjoyment of your trip.

The smaller things in life are much more appreciated. Because Cubans simply can't purchase most things and don't use modern technology, it is a much more social and caring environment. Every where you go, you will see people listening to live music, dancing, and enjoying life. Cubans love Son, Salsa, Afrocuban Drumming (Rumba, Guanguanco, Columbia, etc.), and Reggaeton, and they play this music and dance to it better than anywhere else in the world. It is one of the few places that you can go to and see live music as opposed to DJ's in the night clubs. On top of this, bands tend to be more like orchestras, often with 20 or more people playing and dancing on stage. To help you prepare for your trip, buy a Celia Cruz and Aldaberto Alvarez album and find a good salsa instructor, and you will really be on your way to fitting in once you arrive. Once you find yourself in Havana, a bottle of rum and a deep appreciation for these types of music will help you make friends everywhere you go, as well as give you a really fun thing to do!

Another thing principal to the Cuban culture is food. Being a tropical Island, you will have many new fruits to try, and you can find a lot of rich sweets and shakes coming from these fruits. Next, pork is probably one of the most popular items on the menu, including many variations such as lechon or the Cuban sandwich. And no meal is complete with out a side of rice and black beans. To drink you can try one of the beers, but much more common is rum, straight out of the bottle. An interesting thing to note is that Cuba is a bit of a melting pot in the Carribean, so if you want a break from Cuban food, you can easily find Italian, Chinese, and other restaurants too.

We are sure that you will have a great time in Cuba if you do your research in advance, study the language and the culture, and be respectful of them and the people while you are there. If you have any questions, please let us know how we can help!

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

I have been looking to learn spanish since long time and I am glad that i found online website that offers Free Spanish Classes. They offers LIVE one-way video chat that is very helpful for those who are looking to learn spanish online.

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