Monday, May 21, 2012

Hablando Dominicano

This post is dedicated to my lovely cousin Caroline, a Spanish student after my own heart. Spanish was one of my favorite subjects in middle school and high school, and I've had the chance to put it to very good use. In a few years, maybe she'll get to use Spanish as much as I do, although I hope her experience involves few mosquitoes!

"¿Aonde tú 'taba?"
"Mete lo guineo en la funda."
"Paco 'ta 'cotao."
"Dame un chin desa lechosa."
"¡Mi mai 'ta guapa!"

For those of you who thought you spoke Spanish, don't worry if you can't decode the lines above; they're written in Dominican, which sometimes seems like it should be classified as another language.
Living here in the DR, I've enjoyed not just learning more about how the Spanish language works, but also learning about what makes the Dominican dialect different from other varieties of Spanish. In this post I'll be explaining some of the features of Dominican Spanish which makes it different than the Spanish I learned in school.


Phonetics is a linguistic term used to talk about the sounds used in language, and it's probably this that sets Dominican Spanish apart more than anything else. 

1.) The most famous example is the letter S: Dominicans almost never pronounce the S a the end of a syllable.

English Standard Spanish Dominican Spanish
I'm looking for the matches Busco los fósforos. Buco lo fóforo.

Not all the S's disappear, but only the ones at the end of a syllable. Also, it's the S sound, and not the letter, so Z and C can also be affected.

English Standard Spanish Dominican Spanish
tailor sastre satre
system sistema sitema
rice arroz arró
pencil lápiz lapi

Not pronouncing S at the end of words can cause some confusion. It's not always clear whether a word is singular or plural, but that usually doesn't impact the meaning enough to cause trouble. The real problem is with verbs, because an S is the only difference between 'you talk' (hablas) and 'he/she talks' (habla) or 'you have' (tienes) and 'he/she has' (tiene). In places like this where the meaning would be unclear, Dominicans use the pronoun (tú), even though pronouns usually get left out in Spanish

English Standard Spanish Dominican Spanish
What do you have? ¿Qué tienes? ¿Qué tú tiene?
How are you? ¿Cómo estás? ¿Cómo tú 'ta?

2.) Most Dominicans know that more 'formal' or 'sophisticated' Spanish has more S's, so they'll sometimes add them back in when they want to sound more educated. The problem is, they usually don't know where the S's are supposed to be, so they add them in the wrong places! Linguists call this 'hypercorrection'...they 'correct' things that don't need to be corrected.

My name is Agustín (ah-goos-teen) which becomes Agutín (actually, when a word ends in N it usually becomes NG, so they pronounce my name 'a-goo-teeng'). But my name can pick up one or two extra S's and turn into Asgusting or even Asgustins. I've had someone offer me a ride on a 'mosto' (should be 'moto' – motorcycle), and one little girl asked to borrow my 'cásmara' (camera).

3.) Another common phonetic change in Dominican Spanish is dropping the letter D from between two vowels.

English Standard Spanish Dominican Spanish
tired cansado cansao
nothing nada
everything/all todo


Lexicon is the linguistic term for vocabulary. Dominicans use a few words that don't exist in other dialects of Spanish, although some of them belong to the whole Caribbean, not just to the Dominican Republic. Here are some of the common ones:

English Standard Spanish Dominican Spanish
a little un poco/poquito un chin
bus autobús guagua
thing cosa vaina (sometimes considered impolite)
small pequeño chiquito
banana banana guineo
papaya papaya lechosa
goat cabra chivo
tree árbol mata
dad papá pai (from 'papi')
mom mamá mai (from 'mami')
where dónde aónde (from 'adónde')
to where adónde pa'onde (from 'para adónde')

'Para' very often gets shortened to 'pa' or even just 'p'.

There are also some standard Spanish words that have a different meaning here in the DR:

Word Standard Meaning Dominican Meaning
guapo pretty/handsome angry
bolsa bag scrotum
funda pillowcase bag



Finally, here are the sentences from the start of this post, translated twice: first from Dominican into Spanish, and then into English!
DominicanStandard SpanishEnglish
¿Aonde tú 'taba? ¿Dónde estabas? Where were you?
Mete lo guineo en la funda. Mete las bananas en la bolsa. Put the bananas in the bag.
Paco 'ta 'cotao. Paco está acostado. Paco is lying down.
Dame un chin desa lechosa. Dame un poquito de esa papaya. Give me a little bit of that papaya.
¡Mi mai 'ta guapa! ¡Mi madre está enojada! My mom is angry!

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