Ask almost anyone about La República Dominicana, and you’ll soon learn of Punta Cana, the swim-up bars, and the beach tourism that has skyrocketed the island’s popularity. But it would be a shame to paint the whole country with the same brush! If sipping colorful drinks and enjoying fresh tropical fruit isn’t your style, you’ve still much to discover about the Dominican Republic.
Ditch the crowds and find remote beaches accessible by ATV or motorcycle near the fishing village of Las Terrenas, savoring your catch straight from the sea. Enjoy adventure sports in Cabarete, and wade among the starfish in the turquoise blue water of Isla Saona. Catch a glimpse of the humpback whales near Samaná Bay.
Leave the ocean behind to promenade through the capital of Santo Domingo. Its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, allowing you to walk through a snapshot of history. Enjoy the cathedral, palaces, art galleries, and on your way, happen upon anything from a monastery to a cigar shop.
Whatever your travel rhythm, let the pulsating beats of merengue and bachata form the soundtrack of your experience, with their mix of modern beats and tradition. Let your Spanish flow, and challenge your comprehension! Rosetta Stone can help guide you through the basics and beyond, to help you engage with the language in confidence, and learn some distinctive characteristics of Spanish in the Dominican Republic without relying on memorization alone.
Where is Dominican Spanish spoken?
Other than the island of Hispaniola, with the Dominican Republic on the East and Haiti on the West, you’re likely to hear Dominican Spanish in the United States and Spain. Many United States citizens can trace their ancestry to the DR, and adding their number to recent migrants, over 2.3 million Dominican Spanish speakers call the US their home.
New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut have the highest concentration of Dominican Americans. Close to 40% live in the Bronx and other boroughs of New York City. In almost any major city of the United States you will find speakers of Dominican Spanish or those who have family ties with the dialect.
Among Dominican Americans, fully half are Spanish-dominant, and close to half are fully bilingual in Spanish and English. It is common to keep the Spanish language as an important part of a family identity even among those who have lived among native English speakers for generations.
Why is Spanish spoken in the Dominican Republic?
As with most of Spain’s former colonies and the Caribbean islands that were involved in the grim era of the transatlantic slave trade, the history of La República Domincana led to the dominance of the Spanish language throughout the country.
After Columbus first landed on the island in 1492, naming it Hispaniola, or “Little Spain,” Spanish settlers followed up in 1496, setting up the first Spanish colony in the Western hemisphere at Santo Domingo. This city would subsequently serve as capital of all of the Spanish colonies in the Americas.
The colonial powers suppressed the use of the indigenous Caribbean languages and the languages of the enslaved Africans, and used Spanish in all aspects of life, including government, education, and religion, leading to the dominance of Spanish. Spanish is still the official language of the island, and is spoken by almost all of its population.
Much of the speech patterns and accent that is used today reflects the Spanish that was spoken in the Canary islands during the 19th and 20th centuries, mixed with West African and other Caribbean influences, such as the Taíno Arawakan language. Mixing vocabulary, pronunciation, and structures from all of these sources, it evolved into its own regional dialect.
Haitian Creole is a minority language, given the proximity of the two countries on the shared island. It does not share official status, however, with Spanish. There are also Samaná English speakers, descendents of Black immigrants from the United States, who use an English Creole.
How many people speak Spanish in the Dominican Republic?
Approximately 9 million people speak Spanish in the Dominican Republic, representing over 90 percent of the population of the country. It is the official language of the country, and the main language used for commerce, education, and public life. That number rises to around 13 million people if you include those who are living in other countries after the Dominican diaspora.
Fleeing economic and political instability, frequent natural disasters, and in search of greater educational opportunity, Dominicans and their descendents have found communities in the United States, Spain, and around the world. Large numbers of Dominican Spanish speakers live in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Florida, as well as Puerto Rico.
What does a Dominican Spanish accent sound like?
Most people can’t perceive their own accent, but almost everyone’s speech is affected by where they grew up. English speakers from around the world all seem to have vastly different pronunciation and tone, but can understand each other. Compare Louisiana to Liverpool, or Sydney to Scotland, and you can understand what we mean when we discuss the diversity of regional accents!
It would not be accurate to discuss just one single Dominican Spanish accent, as differences exist due to region, generation, gender, and socio-economic factors. The specific local accent might be obvious for a Dominican Spanish speaker, whereas for a learner, many of the Caribbean Spanish accents might sound quite similar. If you’re a careful listener, there could be a few hints that set Dominican Spanish speakers apart!
- Eliminating “s” sounds and other final consonants
- muchas gracias sounds like mucha gracia
- feliz sounds like felih
- ustedes can sound like u’tede
- verdad may sound like velda
- pasar could be shortened to pasá
- Switching the “r” sound for an “l” (or “i”, especially in el Cibao in the North)
- verde may sound like velde
- puerta can sound like puelta
- hablar can sound like hablal or hablai
- jugar can sound like jugal or jugai
- amor can be amol or amoi
- In the South, the dialect finds balance! All of those switched r and l sounds will reverse!
- capital may sound like capitar
- Miguel can sound like Miguer
What are the differences between Dominican Spanish and Latin American Spanish?
One might say that Dominican Spanish speakers talk as though there were a time limit. Compared to other languages, Spanish is one of the fastest spoken, so when you add the Dominican Spanish tendency to speak at a naturally fast pace, use contractions, and drop a lot of the letters altogether, learners can certainly find listening a challenge!
Contractions can be so drastic that it may seem that Dominican Spanish speakers use a different phrase altogether. Mixing and contracting words is very common in this dialect.
Po’tá bien = Pues, está bien.
¿Cómo tú tá? = ¿Cómo estás (tú)?
vua = voy a
Influence of other languages
Dominican Spanish vocabulary carries the fingerprints of other languages with which its speakers have interacted, including the historical ties with indigenous Taíno Arawakan language.
Un conunco (a farm), una arepa (a corn cake), una maraca (a rattle made from a gourd), and el tabaco (tobacco) are all words that were originally borrowed from the Arawakan language.
Los conflé (cornflakes), un polo ché (a polo shirt) and la vaguada (bad weather) are terms derived from an accented pronunciation of English words.
Like in most Latin American dialects, there is no use of vosotros for a plural informal “you.” Though vos can be heard in some Caribbean and South American regions, it is almost unknown in Dominican Spanish.
In Standard Latin American Spanish, pronouns are typically omitted or placed after the verb in a question:
¿Qué quieren (ustedes) comer? = What do you want to eat?
But in Dominican Spanish, the placement of the pronoun might be before the verb.
¿Qué ustedes quieren comer? = What do you want to eat?
Other grammar differences
If you’ve been picky and particular about all of your grammar rules, be ready to tolerate some variation when you’re in the Dominican Republic.
|Common Dominican Spanish||Standard||Grammatical difference|
|Nos bañábanos||Nos bañábamos||Change in the -ábamos ending of the imperfect|
|Yo ha hecho esto||Yo he hecho esto||Substituting the third person “ha” for the first person “he”|
|Hacían tres meses que no te veía||Hacía tres meses que no te veía||Third person plural agreement of “hacer”|
|Habían pocos que sabían||Había pocos que sabían||Third person plural agreement of “haber”|
|Lo aprendí fácil||Lo aprendí fácilmente||Use of adjective instead of the adverb|
|Son muy dificil||Son muy dificiles||No agreement of difícil|
|Sabía durar dos horas||Solía durar dos horas||Substitution of saber for soler|
A classroom teacher may have corrected your grammar in some of these cases, but would you really be able to call them “mistakes” if it seems most Dominican Spanish speakers would understand and accept these variations?
Must-know Dominican Spanish words and phrases
Because of the proximity to Puerto Rico and Cuba, there are likely a lot of words that overlap between these dialects. Three for the price of one!
|¡Ay ombe!||a reaction to something cute or sad|
|¿Qué lo qué? ¿Dime a ve? ¿Dame lu?||what’s up? (informal greetings)|
|“Alante alante”||You’re way ahead of the game!|
|“Te pasaste.”||You crossed the line, you pushed it too far|
|chin / chin chin||a little bit, few|
|chulo||cute, or attractive|
|dar brocha||exaggerating or bragging with pride|
|En tu mente.||That’s what you think.|
|estar en olla||broke, without money|
|estar jarto||to be fed up. (equivalent in peninsular spanish is “estar harto,” but the j sound is pronounced in dominican spanish)|
|guapo||brave, angry, or upset|
|Hacer un coro||To hang out, spend time together|
|jablador||liar (similar to hablador – talkative)|
|la bandera||a popular dish made with rice, beans, sauce, and a protein (literally “the flag”)|
|la vaina||thing, stuff / “cosa”|
|má ná||no more (“nada más”)|
|Mai / Pai||Mom / Dad|
|manso||Chill, relax! / meek|
|Móntame la pura.||Tell me the truth.|
|nítido||great, that’s good|
|pana||buddy, mate, dude, bro|
|pila||so much, too much|
|Tumba eso||Drop it. Forget it .|
|un colmado||a “bodega” or small convenience store|
|un concho||a car version of public transportation routes. like a taxi but it follows a route like a bus or subway line would.|
|un guachiman||a mispronunciation of the english word “watchman.” a security guard.|
|un motoconcho||a motorcycle version of public transportation routes. like a taxi but it follows a route like a bus or subway line would.|
|una chercha||a party|
|una funda||a bag|
|una guagua||a bus|
|una lechosa||a papaya|
|vacano / bacano / jevy||cool (slang)|
Slang is common in Dominican Spanish, and could change meaning depending on context, tone, or formality of the situation. Frequent use of slang terms can throw a curveball in your comprehension, and you’re unlikely to find all of the terms in a Standard Latin American Spanish dictionary. Even if you could, the nuance of meaning can very much depend on the person you are speaking to.
If you can find a sympathetic native speaker who can help to translate to a more neutral expression, explain the deeper meaning beyond the words in a given situation, and correct your mistakes, you have truly found a treasure for your language learning. The Dominican culture tends to be warm, accepting, and proud of the Spanish language, so you’re likely to find lots of help with this challenge.
In the meantime, you could take advantage of online resources, blog posts, and videos on social media to help you explore, slow down, and understand Dominican Spanish at a deeper level. You’ll soon find in the comments that even those with family connections are constantly learning about their own dialect. You don’t have to do it alone!
Explore Spanish in every region with Rosetta Stone
With 20 countries officially recognizing Spanish as an official language, close to 500 million native Spanish speakers, Spanish being the 4th most spoken language in the world and also the second most-used language on the internet, you will never be done learning Spanish! Learning the basics and more universal vocabulary words can open the keys to an array of language communities, but no matter where you choose to travel, study, or do business, there will be regional specifics to keep you motivated! Poco a poco (step by step), you can dip your toes in both the warm sand of La República Dominicana and the linguistic diversity of Dominican Spanish.
Rosetta Stone can help you by focusing your language learning journey on what matters most. As a Rosetta Stone learner, you’ll capitalize on early successes to boost your confidence fast. Our Dynamic Immersion method provides maximum exposure to a new language, through audio spoken by native speakers, written words, and real-world images. Everything is presented in the new language, providing a truly immersive experience. Say hola to your new language and get started today!
Written by Jamie Edwards
Jamie is a learner and teacher of Spanish and French. When she’s not learning new words, you’ll find her on the soccer sidelines, ski slopes, and track and field bleachers enjoying the four seasons of Western New York.