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Puerto Rico’s Unique Mix of Languages

Over the centuries different languages have been introduced to the Puerto Rican culture for a variety of reasons. Before the island experienced any significant changes in terms of culture and languages, the island's population was made up entirely of aboriginal people. This changed in 1493 the Spanish took over Puerto Rico, followed by Columbus who was on his second voyage to the area. The native Taino people were nearly exterminated about four hundred years later due to the harsh colonial rule that was being exercised on the island. Only a few Amerindians survived by escaping to the mountainous regions.

With the shortage of native people, African slaves were brought over from Sudan, Senegal, Congo, Sierra Leona, Senegal and other countries to contribute to the labor needs of the ruling group. In the early ninetieth century the Spanish-American War took place which later resulted in Puerto Rico falling under American power. This added a strong American influence to the Puerto Rican culture. From this point on all citizens of Puerto Rico were given US citizenship and since the 1950’s they have experienced internal self-government instead of being controlled by the American government. Today Puerto Rico is a complex mix of race and culture.

The mid-nineteenth century saw Chinese, Italians, Germans, French and Lebanon laborers being imported to help build roads in Puerto Rico. Apart from laborers, people from different countries have regularly made their way to the island over the ages, especially when these people have suffered under times of distress in their home countries. Today languages used by small communities on the island include Corsican, Haitian Creole French, Eastern Yiddish, French, Italian, North & South Levantine, Ladino, Papiamentu, Standard German, and Chinese.

The official language of Puerto Rico is Spanish but English and Puerto Rican sign language can be included in this category. In total there are about 3.950 million people who live in Puerto Rico, of which it is estimated that about 3.800 million people speak mainly Spanish and only about 82,000 speak English. You will find a lot of people are bilingual, or can at least understand English reasonably well, especially in the larger metropolitan areas. At the schools, students are taught English as a second language through their elementary and high school careers.