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CugelTheClueless's avatar

Puerto Ricans: what does bilingualism mean to you?

Asked by CugelTheClueless (1534points) February 14th, 2015

I just got back from a trip to Puerto Rico, where I was reminded that the most completely bilingual people I’ve ever met have been Puerto Ricans. If there are any Puerto Ricans here, would you care to comment on bilingualism and how it relates to your culture, identity, or politics?

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14 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I suggest you visit Montreal. That to me is more bilingual than Puerto Rico. I was shocked when I worked in Puerto Rico how many people weren’t fully bilingual.

Hell, go to Miami and there are just as many bilingual people as Puerto Rico. I’m curious, where do you live? If you are American there are many groups of people in the continental 48 who grow up bilingual and bicultural.

CugelTheClueless's avatar

I’ve spent time in most of the regions of the US. When I lived in Chicago, I noticed that the Puerto Ricans I worked with weren’t just fluent in Spanish and English, they seemed to think in both. They would start a sentence in one language and end in another, especially when talking to each other. I’m not saying that all Puerto Ricans are bilingual, but some of those that are seem to have internalized both languages to a greater degree, at an earlier age, and with less formal instruction than, say, the bilingual Dutch or German people I’ve met in Europe.

As it happens, I hung out with a couple from Montreal while in Puerto Rico. They were fluent in English but it was clearly their second language and took some effort.

JLeslie's avatar

I guess that is just completely average and normal to me. My husband was born and grew up in Mexico, lived in America for two years of high school and then finished high school at the American school in Mexico. His second cousins (younger) crossed the border every day to go to school in America.

When I was growing up many of my friends came to America as children or had parents who had immigrated here, and they grew up bilingual. Most of my life I have been around people who are fully bilingual and who move between two languages almost equally or equally. Not just Spanish speaking. I had friends from Lebanon, Pakistan, Vietnam, India, Korea, Japan, the whole world.

Generally, the language depends on who you are talking to more than being fluent in both. My husband speaks to me in English, but his sister in Spanish, even though his sister is fully bilingual too. However, some words he doesn’t know in Spanish (which is his first language really) so when he talks to his sister he uses English for those words.

Back in the day when some Miami schools taught half the subjects on Spanish and half in English that caused a lot of the Spanglish you speak off. An “American” woman I know went to one of those schools and her geography class was in Spanish, so most of her geography knowledge is in Spanish.

Also, most bilingual people do math in their mother tongue, or whatever language the math was taught to them in.

Pandora's avatar

In what sense? Children are taught English in grade school. Puerto Rico is a common wealth of the United States. I think it also depends on what generation you are speaking about. Puerto Ricans in the states vary a great deal in being bi-lingual. My parents were were both born and raised in Puerto Rico till they were about 18 and 20. So growing up I picked up spanish from my parents. But they learned English in school., My dad was only educated till the 6th grade, so he picked up English here. My mom did too. At home we spoke mostly english unless we had other relatives who didn’t understand English. My sister and I did the best learning spansih because we were interested in learning. My children understand a little but do not speak it. My son learned 3 other languages.

My point is that first generation speaks it fluently, and second will break it up because they are usually not immersed. If you have met Puerto Ricans who speak fluent English in Puerto Rico, it is usually because of the following. Their parents moved the family back to Puerto Rico or they are studying English because a lot of government work requires them to be fluent in both, or their parents where american born and moved to Puerto Rico because their business moved there and they adapted and learned the language.

There are two things required to learn another language. First is the interest. Second is some intelligence to be able to deal with the different rules pertaining to each language.

As for politics. I don’t think it has a big rule in politics, except for when it comes to which language should be the primary language. Many people are afraid of statehood and what that would mean Spanish being the primary language. Other than that possibly effecting our culture in a negative way, it will also threaten many jobs for those who do not have the skill set to pick up a second language late in life.

JLeslie's avatar

I will say this, each language seems to carry a different emotion and tone with it, which also you can see in the culture. I find Spanish speakers to be more emotional in the words they choose than English speakers. Part of it is the culture, but the language and culture are married in a way. Some things translate, but some don’t. Sometimes the speaker more directly translates and brings it from one language to another, and sometimes they don’t. That partly depends on how immersed they are in which culture.

CugelTheClueless's avatar

Thanks for answering. I’m asking because I see that support seems to be growing for statehood. In the past, I had misgivings about admitting Puerto Rico as a state because of the language issue. In every other country that has distinct language communities, the language divide is a problem. After visiting Puerto Rico, though, I am less concerned that we might see the sorts of problems that Canada has seen in Quebec and more favorably inclined toward statehood.

CugelTheClueless's avatar

Oh, and JL, congrats on your Oliver Twist award ;-)

JLeslie's avatar

I never look at the awards. I’ll have to check out what that is for.

I doubt PR will vote for statehood. They have the best of both worlds how it is. As far a language, there is an overall resentment in QC that they are forced to learn English, but PR would not feel that way. I don’t think language has ever been the obstacle or reason for preventing Puerto Ricans from getting the majority to vote for statehood. I think for the most part Puerto Ricans just don’t see the change in status as necessary. They can come to the US whenever they feel
like it.

CugelTheClueless's avatar

^That’s what I had thought, but it turns out that there was a non-binding referendum in 2012 in which a majority voted for statehood (with asterisks due to ballot wording, etc.). The US Congress could vote to admit PR, but this congress is unlikely to do that because it would add Democratic congresspeople. A longtime resident I talked to on the plane said that there are also a lot of practical details that would have to be worked out, especially dealing with taxes.

Pandora, would you agree that Puerto Ricans generally do not resent English in the way that many Quebecois seem to?

JLeslie's avatar

I didn’t realize there was a vote in 2012. I just read a little about it. Some people said the wording wasn’t great on the ballot. It definitely could have been written in a more simplistic way, but it wasn’t extremely bad.

Interesting that the tide is turning. Gonna have to squeeze one more star on the flag if that goes through I guess. I wonder how Guam and other territories feel about becoming a state.

Pandora's avatar

@CugelTheClueless I really couldn’t say. I would have to know a lot of people on both sides to have an opinion on that. I think (only my opinion) that Puerto Ricans in general aren’t to upset to have to learn English because they have a lot of relatives in the states that they communicate with. My husbands family has some Quebecois that seem to be stubborn about learning English but there are some that absolutely have no problem with English. I think people who have a hard time picking up 2 languages are going to be frustrated and annoyed with people who don’t bother to learn their primary languages.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora What do you mean annoyed with people who don’t learn their primary language? I don’t understand that sentence. Can you expand or reword it?

When I was in Quebec City the accents were so extreme when they spoke English it was difficult to understand some people, and usually am very good with accents. I was talking to a tour guide who had an extremely thick accent and she said the English teachers in their schools up where she lived speak with heavy accents so that’s what the kids learn and grow up with since the smaller towns only really use French. In Montreal just the opposite. Many people there speak English as a first language or are fully bilingual including accents. Even those who speak English as a second language spoke with accents that were not very thick. It was amazing the difference from one part of the province to another.

Pandora's avatar

@JLeslie By primary language, I mean the primary language spoken in the region, or another way to put it, is the common language spoken in the region. English is spoken in the US and yet if you go to different regions, you will hear different words or terms or accents. There is only one English taught in school however. In the south you will hear, you’all spoken together in some regions. Yet in school, people are taught to say, all of you. So in the south, you may hear the sentence. How dare you’al come in here. In school, (even in the south) children would be taught to say, How dare all of you come in here.

I once spoke to a man who could not be understood by several people. He was from deep in the mountain area of North Carolina. Only one person in our group understood him. It sounded like complete gibberish to our ears. He sounded like someone who had had a stroke. Not meaning to make fun. But he went to 5 people before me. Each of us passing him along because he seemed stressed about something. Finally I asked an associate at my job if she could help us. I remembered that she was born in the mountain region. She absolutely was able to understand him. He was lost and asking for driving directions. He understood us fine. We just did not get him. He smashed words together and made up a few. Ah, best description is King of the Hill, Boomhower character.

We felt uncomfortable not being able to help him but at the same time annoyed that he never bothered to practice the English that is spoken in most of the country. I grew up in the Bronx and was taught proper American Engish in school. In my neighborhood slang words and cuss words were commonly used but I felt if I spoke that way, I would sound uneducated. I did have the New York accent for many years but after being gone so many years, the accent isn’t so noticeable.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora I think it’s funny (in a nice way) that you don’t know how to spell y’all. I’m not going to put words in your mouth, I’ll just speak for myself and some people I know, to people from outside of the south a lot of the “southern” commonplace word usage sounds less intelligent. Y’all is interesting, because even the very educated use it. The rest of their dialect and accent can be almost neutral and they still might throw a y’all in. Y’all for many means you. “All y’all” is all of you. However, people to do say y’all to mean the plural also. It’s interesting because in the tri-state area you will never here an educated person say “yous guys” yet that’s what is always made fun of when people sarcastically talk about the great use of the language Yankees have.

The man who spoke gibberish from the mountains of NC probably didn’t go to school, or didn’t go for very long, and very possibly can’t read. We see that too often in the Memphis area too. Being able to read really helps our ability to pronounce words well, because it clarifies how something is said by how it’s written.

My mom is from the Bronx and still says idear instead of idea. LOL. But her accent overall isn’t very strong (but still it is very NY). She hasn’t lived in NY for almost 40 years now.

I was confused by your statement in the answer above because in Puerto Rico their primary language is Spanish. In Quebec the primary language is French. In the US there isn’t even an official language, but Canada does have both English and French as official languages as far as I know. I think that more for government and business though. The requirement of documents being provided in both languages.

If I understand correctly you are differentiating primary from first language. I have friends born in the US whose first language is not English, but by your definition I would say their primary language is English. I’ve never heard primary used that way before and I think a lot of people would misinterpret it without clarifying it is the language most spoken in the country.

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