How do Cubans talk

Cubanisms? 10 Phrases You'll Only Understand If You're From Cuba

Let's travel to an island with its own wonderful language, personality, authenticity and freshness, which is located in the middle of the Caribbean. That sounds difficult, doesn't it? However, if we whispered "Cuba" in your ear, you would likely find that this incredible Caribbean island fits all of the above criteria perfectly.

The people there are warm, welcoming and have a great zest for life, one of their most distinctive features being their special way of speaking Spanish, which is colloquially known as Cuban expressions or Cubanisms. Words, idioms or short phrases of Castilian Spanish that the Cubans vehemently defend as part of their particular worldview. Before we take a look at their 10 most amusing and peculiar expressions, however, let's learn a little more about the Cubans' rich history and how it influenced their unique way of using the Cervantes language.

A little history

After being inhabited by migrant fishermen from Central America and other nomadic communities at the mouth of the Mississippi for more than ten thousand years, Cuba was colonized by Spain through the discovery of America (1492), allowing the Spanish to shape the locals through their own identity. One thing is certain: the settlers did not plan to cross the Atlantic on old wooden galleons to chat and chat with the locals. The main goals were to impose one's own traditions, expand the colonial empire and plunder resources, with the conveyance of the language, culture and traditions at each settlement being a kind of secondary collateral damage, to put it colloquially. For centuries, Spanish slowly but surely permeated culture and became an excellent vehicle for the unity of all generations of Creoles, Indians and Mestizos, who all lived under the same flag of the Spanish Empire in Central America, the Caribbean and South America.

Cuba had been owned by the Spanish Crown for more than 400 years when it became known to the rest of the world following its independence in 1898 and the subsequent treaty with the United States. A few decades later and after the Cuban Revolution, the country was shaped by a troubled military regime that spread for years under the influence of Russian ideology. It can be concluded that the long period of Spanish rule, combined with the influence of the United States and the influence of Russia over the past few decades, has resulted in a Spanish language full of words made up of a diverse mix of these in particular three languages ​​(although there are also moderate influences from French and, to a lesser extent, Portuguese) and their respective pronunciation.

Another aspect that contributed to Cuba's historical development was the massive influx of African slaves. Since the native population was almost completely decimated at the beginning of the conquest, it was necessary to import cheap labor. The galleons were brought in slaves, the purpose of which was to build cities, churches, bridges and also fortresses to protect the colonies from ships and troops from other colonial empires (such as that of the Dutch or the English). In fact, there are still Afro-Cuban communities from various African countries in every Cuban city today.

The Cuban education system

While it is easy to think of Cuba as an impoverished country, it is noteworthy that it is actually one of the countries with the highest school enrollment rate on the planet. The free and universal nature of the education system (from elementary school to university), the commitment to professional training and the strong promotion of culture at all levels of the state were the main reasons for the high literacy rate of the population and their excellent general knowledge of culture.

Cuba's lack of material and human resources on an economic level over the past few decades is undoubtedly a factor to be considered when examining the way people express themselves in Spanish. Even so, there are many intellectuals in the country who are able to produce astute, profound, and high quality literature.

The most common local expressions used by Cubans can be identified in the way they conjugate verbs, in the gender and number match, in the famous filler words, or in the inversion of complex sentence structures. It should also be emphasized that in many cases the correction of the typographical syntax of official and professional texts (e.g. medical or administrative documents) is left exclusively to the computer software proofreaders. Since our language is so rich, diverse and varied, it means that it is practically impossible to do this process with a machine. Hence, it is imperative to employ a professional linguist or proofreader.

The negative effects that SMS services have had on cell phones around the world also play a major role. The immediacy of the responses and the lack of control over the most important writing conventions when exchanging messages have resulted in young people in particular accepting serious grammatical errors in terms of syntax and spelling as the norm.

Special features of Castilian Spanish in Cuba

Because it is broadly similar to Spanish spoken in the Antilles and other surrounding countries, its small differences are based on certain lexical and phonetic aspects. It is also worth noting that within the same island there are different cultural expressions depending on the area one is in, but without attaining the rank of a real dialect. The main difference is probably between the western areas (with a more modern, dynamic and up-to-date language) and the eastern areas of the island (where a more traditional and conserved Spanish is spoken). In addition to the location, other factors such as age and gender also have a strong influence.

The most common general characteristics of Cubanism include:

  • Emphasis on the letter "S" like a "J". An example of this is the word "casco" [caj-co].
  • Assimilation of the "R" by the following consonant in the order of the respective word. A prime example of this standard is the word ‘argolla’ [ag-goy-a].
  • Replace the letter "R" with the letter "L". The word 'amor' is one of the most universal examples of this pronunciation [a-mol].
  • Use of personal pronouns (yo, tú, él, ella) in any situation and context, possibly due to the influence of English, and the predominance of the informal pronoun 'tú' as a way of rebellion against norms, one of the most traditional features of Cuban People.
  • Avoid using the second person plural pronoun (vosotros).
  • Vocabulary. Undoubtedly, this aspect of the language represents the greatest range of variation. The Cuban lifestyle, their love of fun, partying and everything to do with the social sphere has had an enormous amount of rich and new cultural expressions over the centuries spawned.

The streets of Havana are full of life

The famous and celebrated intellectual Argelio Santiesteban from Havana declared a few years ago in various press conferences in European capitals that “Spanish in Cuba is part of a collective daily effort by Cubans to find the artist that everyone carries within them”. The average Cuban is resourceful, lively and cheerful and his outlook on life is shaped by the street on which he thrives in contact with his social circle. "The metaphor is without a doubt one of our strengths."

The truth is that the words and phrases the average Cuban uses contain a huge amount of traditions, humor, myths, and deep popular sentiments. It must be stressed that, while it is true that this is an intrinsic feature of every place on earth, it has reached unimaginable heights and in that respect is most likely one of the most intelligent and inventive communities in the world.

For example, people who are not very bright are asked "not to throw stones at the Morro" (no tiren piedras al Morro) in relation to the seclusion and height of the structure on the other side of Havana Bay while it is said of those on the verge of a major disaster: “You are at the head of the canoe” (están en el pico de la piragua). Euphemisms are also particularly influential in Cuban culture. Some examples are the way they relate to the flu ('la cariñosa', meaning 'the lovers') or to death ('ir a vivir el reparto bocarriba' literally means 'face up' on the Go to the cemetery and lie there ').

The most common proverbs include many versions and adaptations of traditional Castilian Spanish sayings. They are short and crisp sentences with double meanings that have preserved the oldest and most deeply rooted folk knowledge for centuries.

From the most sophisticated culture to the most primitive instincts

Various studies show that in recent decades there has been a gradual convergence of vocabulary and expression among the Cuban elite and common people, a phenomenon that has been openly celebrated by the national authorities. The urbanization and reconstruction of cities, the mobility related to work or the social purposes that everyone experiences in the country, the standardized education system or the slow but steady process of creating an industrial fabric in the more rural areas, together with others Factors such as the centralization of administration or the lack of diversity in the media have all contributed to an overall uniformity that was passed on to all Cubans. Argelio Santiesteban, the Cuban linguist mentioned, said: “Despite this standardization, Cuban jargon has not suffered any loss as it is spoken everywhere, from palaces to brothels, from beach promenade to political party meetings.

In addition, Cuba stands for light, laughter, transparency, the ease of life, openness and the sincerity of open hearts. Its residents express this through their own version of Spanish. There is no room for sobriety, respect, propriety or grace as this Spanish is spoken in the most vivacious and spiritual way on Cuba's streets. Souls that seek connection with other souls without time to think about anything other than emotions. Egalitarianism in the truest sense of the word.

It should be mentioned, however, that there are people who are not in favor of total equality, at least in this cultural sense. Some respectful forms of address (especially for the elderly or authorities), the use of slang words in difficult or sensitive situations, or the growing tendency among young people to confuse trust with disrespect have led to different intellectuals for the first time in some time spoke up and called for more scrutiny and action.

10 of the most popular and amusing expressions or cubanisms

Although we've left out hundreds of phrases, here are some of the funniest phrases used in Cuban usage today:

  1. Asere ¿Qué volá? [Acere Ke Boola] - How are you? All right, buddy?
  2. Ando a la my love [Ando a la mailó] - synonym for "relaxed" and "carefree". It also means being naked.
  3. Coger botella - Hitch.
  4. Irse pa’l yuma - Literally this means to travel to the United States, but in the recent past it has also been used as a synonym for “traveling abroad”, that is, to any country. The word "Yuma" is also used as an appreciative suffix for people from the United States.
  5. ¡Sirvió Rodríguez! - This is an astute play on words with the Spanish affirmation "sirvió" and the name of the famous Cuban poet Silvio Rodríguez. It is used to show enthusiasm for something that went perfectly according to plan or for meeting friends, and the word “sirvió” can be replaced with the word “jugó”.
  6. Tirar un cabo - It's not about throwing a lit cigarette butt at someone, on the contrary, this expression simply means helping someone. For example, you can "tirarle un cabo a do amigo en la mudanza ”(helping your friend move) or helping someone with their exam or taking care of their children. If you are in Cuba and have a flat tire or your car breaks down, you can go to the first Cuban, "Socio, hazme el favor y tírame un cabo con el carro ”(Sorry, can you do me a favor and help me with the car?).
  7. Eres un punto - A pejorative term used in Cuba to denote naive people who can easily be “deceived” or “deceived”. This phrase can also be used when someone is being betrayed by their partner or to refer to people who are very honest and kindhearted.
  8. Las tengo a pululu - Often used by men to brag about sleeping with different women.
  9. Completo Camagüey - This means that something is done or has reached its end, e.g. B. to refer to the completion of a work.
  10. “… ARRIBA DE LA BOLA!” - Be up to date and familiar with the latest news or trends. The biggest.

These Cubanisms are examples of how an indomitable community of people, used to expressing themselves without fear, speaks the Spanish language and brings it to life. Of the many expressions we have shown you only 10 of the most interesting and amusing ones. It's just a glimpse of the way this vibrant Caribbean community speaks.