Texas Tech University

Puerto Rico and the Problem of Linguistic Shaming

by Giovanni Chavarría Álvarez

Linguistic shaming undermines people's pride in their cultural heritage.

Puerto Ricans are a vibrant community with a rich cultural heritage. We have a diverse mix of Spanish, African, and indigenous Taíno influences that come together to create our unique and fascinating identity. The warmth and hospitality of Puerto Ricans is legendary, and our love for music, dance, and colorful festivities is contagious. The island's music scene is a lively assortment, with genres like salsa, reggaeton, and bomba y plena originating here. Across our complex history we have been influenced by indigenous traditions, Spanish conquistadors, African slaves, and American colonialism. Puerto Rico's essence lies in the beauty of its people and our culture.

And yet, for many decades, many Puerto Ricans have been subjected to linguistic shaming, which is the act of criticizing or mocking someone's speech patterns, accent, or choice of words. Perpetuated mainly in the United States, the phenomenon is largely due to a widespread perception that Spanish – the language spoken by most Puerto Ricans – is inferior to English. The effects of linguistic shaming are far-reaching and long-lasting. They can involve a loss of confidence or self-esteem, a disconnection from one's cultural heritage, and may ultimately limit an individual's mental health and ability to succeed in life.

linguistic shaming

Linguistic shaming occurs because of a widespread perception that Spanish is inferior to English.

For Puerto Ricans, this experience can be particularly painful, as our cultural identity is shaped by a complex mix of Spanish and American influences. When someone is constantly told that their way of speaking is inferior or wrong, it can create a deep sense of self-doubt. What's more, linguistic shaming can have practical consequences, limiting a person's access to education and employment opportunities. People who are stigmatized for their way of speaking may feel discouraged from pursuing higher education or certain careers.

Linguistic diversity should be celebrated, not stigmatized. Rather than discounting someone's speaking style simply because it doesn't fit our conventional notion of discourse, we should strive to understand and appreciate the richness and complexity of different languages and dialects. When it comes to Puerto Ricans, this includes recognizing the unique speech contributions to the broader Spanish-speaking world and embracing the diversity that makes our global community so wonderful.

After all, Spanish is not just a language; it's a fundamental part of Puerto Rican cultural identity. Bilingual speakers who feel pressure to choose between their Spanish and English language identities may, in turn, find it difficult to embrace their Spanish heritage and pass it on to future generations.

One example of how linguistic shaming has affected my life is in the case of my mother, who is constantly given bad reports at work because of her way of speaking. She is told that she is too loud and talks in a bodacious tone that is inappropriate. At times, she is even excluded from projects because her speech mannerisms offended someone. As a child in Kosovo, I remember experiencing this same shame through classmates and even teachers. I was made fun of because I spoke another language. In another instance, while speaking Spanish through the phone at a park, a group of people overheard me and called me a drug dealer. Criminality was the first thing they associated with a Latino speaking Spanish. I was 12 at the time.

I admire the artist Bad Bunny because he has embraced his Spanish language roots. Through his music, he has demonstrated that the Spanish language can be just as creative, powerful, and meaningful as its English-language counterpart. He has helped create a space where Spanish music can thrive and where people can express themselves in their own language. In his song "Mía", Bad Bunny uses the word "puñeta" (a term for masturbation) in a playful way to convey a sense of excitement and energy. Bad Bunny's music has also been praised for bringing visibility to important social issues, such as gender equality and mental health, and for showing that linguistic differences should not be a barrier to artistic expression or success.

My fear is that linguistic shaming has become so normalized that Puerto Ricans have become used to it in their daily lives. We all have a responsibility to pay attention to our attitude toward others who speak differently. We should reflect on how we, ourselves, might have contributed to linguistic shaming in the past and make a conscious effort to change our behavior. It is also essential to educate oneself about different cultures to reduce stereotypes and misunderstandings. Supporting individuals who have been affected by linguistic shaming, such as Puerto Ricans, by listening to our experiences and respecting our heritage will create a more inclusive society that values diversity. It is essential to recognize the value of Spanish and not allow linguistic shaming to limit the potential of individuals or the Puerto Rican community.

Giovanni Chavarría Álvarez is a driven computer science student with a love for both coding and kickboxing. His scholarly interests lie in the fields of artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, and he is constantly seeking new ways to merge his passions for technology and physical fitness. Giovanni is always seeking new ways to innovate and improve himself. His commitment to excellence both in the gym and in the classroom is a testament to his unwavering drive to succeed.

Learn more about a Texas Tech education in Costa Rica.