Dominicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, coastal Colombians, coastal Panamanians, Argentinians, and Andalusian/Canarian Spaniards generally tend to omit certain syllables and letters in our Spanish accents. For example “Como tu estas?” can easily be said “Como tu ‘ta?” when we speak. We tend to shorten some words and omit certain syllables which makes our words flow smoother and faster. Similar to spoken British English vs. American English: where the British tend to omit their R’s “Party” vs. “Pah-tee.” Or the differences within American English: “Do not go” can be pronounced “Don’t go” or “Want to go” and “wanna go”.
With 21 different Spanish-speaking countries, just like with any language, through time the accents and dialects naturally evolve and diverge with their own distinctions. But for some reason, even though other groups have similar traits in their accent… It feels as if it is us Caribbean folks, especially Dominicans, who received the most dismissal for our Spanish accent. Why? Well, the reasons I’ve gotten have ranged from illogical to plain ole’ racist.
Related: Read our round-up of 40+ Unique Dominican Slang Words & Phrases You Should Know.
Living in the Spanish cities of Barcelona, Ibiza, and Seville no one ever bothered me about my thick Caribbean accent. Not once. Studying in Buenos Aires and traveling through Peru, Costa Rica, Nicaragua they either thought it was so cute like “awww” or they didn’t care one bit either.
But then and most recently… when I first moved to Cuba, I noticed cringes and outright verbal disapproval. Yes. In Cuba. Where they basically sound just like us but with a different canto and slang. Yes in Cuba, where in addition to S’s they also rarely pronounce their R’s. I was perplexed. If anything I should have felt right at home here. But instead based on a sliver of nuanced difference, I was being told I sounded inferior. I’m very proud of my Dominican culture which is intrinsically tied to my accent. So the denigration almost felt like prejudice against my identity. And it wasn’t just me. Another Dominican-American at the University of Havana had to tell our professor “I’m Dominican and this is my accent and it’s not gonna change! Hmph!”
And as I grew older and traveled around Latin America, I’d notice a lot of other Latinos calling out the accent as “improper”, including some of our very own Dominicans who seemed ashamed of their accent. Yikes.
What is the Proper Spanish Accent?
So it got me thinking. What is the “proper” or the “right” Spanish accent? One that sounds the most like Spain’s accent? (“La Madre Patria” as some colonized minds like to say). Well, actually in the country of Spain alone there are FIVE DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. Only one is Spanish. And of that Spanish, there are various accents such as the in the south (Andalucia) and the Canary Islands where they also omit their S’s and various syllables.
Fun Fact: The Canary Islands and Andalucia (both in Spain) is where we Caribbean Latinos, the first to be colonized, get much of our Spanish accents from. The first conquistadores came from Andalucia and stopped by the Canary Islands (picking up more people) on their voyages to Hispaniola/the Caribbean. So, actually, our accent sounds VERY Spaniard (not that I’m vying for colonizer approval). So if many of the Spaniards themselves barely pronounce all the letters and syllables, while others in Latin America are… then who’s really speaking with the alleged “proper” or “right” Spanish accent based on this fallacious logic?
Don’t believe me on the Spanish Canary accent? Watch this video below!
Or is the most proper Spanish accent the one that pronounces all their syllables and letters? Because then only a small handful of Spanish-speaking countries fit into this category. Just because a word is spelled with certain letters doesn’t mean that the most proper way to pronounce it is by pronouncing every letter. If that were the case, then the British are all speaking improperly. For instance, they don’t pronounce all their R’s (“The party is over there” = “Tha pa’-ty is ova’ the’a”) And the French.. forget it. What makes the French language so hard is that what you write is nothing like what you pronounce.
So then what is it? Why are we the ones not only frowned upon so much for our accent but also why do even some Dominicans negatively scrutinize themselves for it? Is it our colonized minds trying to adhere to some erroneous paragon of Spaniard properness? Is it because we’re black? Because many of the Argentines, Chileans and the Spaniards also don’t pronounce all their letters or syllables but I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone complaining about them. And in Cuba, although they all skipped a few S’s and R’s, it was the Eastern Cubans (where the proportion of Black Cubans is higher) that receive the most prejudice against their accent. And perhaps our tone is more Afro-influenced, similar to the way West Africans speak French.
The Narcissism of Small Differences?
And/or is it just in our human nature to be prejudiced against each other for silly differences to make each other feel superior? Such is Freud’s theory coined the narcissism of small differences. One instance is the British people’s own prejudices against other British accents which also correlates with the rampant classism within their own society; an incredibly underrated and ongoing issue.
Spanish Dialects & Accents vs. Content & the Richness of a Language
It is one thing to say that you find an accent ugly. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But it is another thing to say that someone’s accent is wrong. Think about it. Is there even such a thing as the “right” or “wrong” accent when more than one group of people with different influences, geographic locations, and histories speak the same language?
It’s also one thing to protest the content of someone’s words, to point out their spelling/grammar, or to want to improve the richness of the expression of your language. This is an entirely different matter. For instance, in the Dominican Republic many are working towards making education more accessible for all, the way that countries like Cuba and Argentina have made it free, so that we can better enrich and improve upon our communication, political systems, economy, social issues… this is a conversation I completely support in the Dominican Republic and everywhere else.
But for someone to claim that another person is inferior based on what they deem to be the “right” accent is ignorant, often racist, and highlights the accuser’s prejudices and lack of education on the roots, nuanced distinctions of the Spanish accent, and its evolutions through time and around the globe.
Dominican identity is so complex. For so many underrated and understudied reasons. After writing this, I decided to see who else is speaking up on this topic. Unfortunately, not too many of us… yet! But here are a few other related articles on Dominican accent and identity.
- How I learned to love my Dominican accent
- DOMINICANISMOS: How Dominicans Speak
- Perceptions of Dominican Spanish and Dominican Self-perception in the Puerto Rican Diaspora