Spanish is unique in every Latin American country to the point that they could be considered separate languages or dialects. It’s not only the different accents that bring diversity to the language but also the words we use, including slang. Many of these are not included in Spanish dictionaries and are only acknowledged online by the people who use them, creating hierarchies among Spanish speakers that can be harmful and invalidating. For example, in Puerto Rico, there are hundreds of place-specific words like “perreo,” “jurutungo,” “güira,” and “juyilanga” that have yet to be acknowledged in the dictionary of the Real Academia Española, or Spanish Royal Academy, which is considered the most “official” Spanish dictionary across the globe. But that hasn’t kept institutions like the Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española, or the Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language, as well as people on the island, from doing the work to ensure that Puerto Rican words are not only included in the dictionary but also celebrated and seen, according to NBC News.
“It is very important that we are represented because we are Spanish speakers and we are role models,” academic secretary of the Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española María Inés Castro Ferrer told Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día. “We have managed to maintain a language despite ideologies and policies to replace one language with another.”
Puerto Rican Spanish is unique in that it was formed directly as a result of its Indigenous and African history, as well as Spanish colonization and its status as a U.S. territory. Their Spanish has become more than language; for many on the island, it’s a form of rebellious self-expression and cultural identity. As someone from P.R., Bad Bunny is just one example of how important Spanish is not only to LATAM as a whole but the island specifically, and how important it is that it’s recognized. Just look at an Indigenous-influenced word like “güira,” meaning easy thing, or “jurutungo,” which has African roots and means in the middle of nowhere, or “perreo,” which is danced to the Puerto Rican genre of reggaeton, and it’s easy to see how Puerto Rico’s history is written and threaded through the words they use.
The Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language, which promotes “the preservation and study of Puerto Rican Spanish on the island,” has documented all of these words and more, and has submitted at least 300 terms to the Real Academia Española. Of those, only about 70 were accepted, due to the Academy’s strict vetting process that demands definitions, documents, and evidence as proof that the word is used on a significant enough scale to be included. There is also another side where Spanish words that are already included are recognized for their use in Puerto Rico like “pipón,” a word for a pot-bellied person that is also used in Bolivia and Colombia. All of these types of words are important to acknowledge and its an indicator of increasing respect and celebration of different types of Spanish. outside the dialects we know.
“The richness of our culture in Puerto Rico is almost a separate language, in terms of words,” dean of the Ferré Rangel School of Communication Gabriel Paizy told El Nuevo Día. “In recent years there has been increasing recognition and they will continue to join.”