Puerto Rico’s Spanish colonial past, Indigenous origins, African ancestry and American influences have created a distinct lexicon that is key to defining the cultural identity of its people.
“Perreo.” “Jurutungo.” “Güira.” “Jevo.” “Lambeojo.” “Juyilanga.”
These distinct Puerto Rican words — which are used casually and mostly have humorous connotations — are part of a long list of terms people on the island are trying to include in the dictionary of the Real Academia Española, or Spanish Royal Academy, which is considered by many as the final arbiter on the use of the Spanish language around the world.
As a U.S. territory with a Spanish colonial past, Indigenous origins and African ancestry, Puerto Rico’s lexicon has become a fundamental part of its distinct cultural identity.
That’s why institutions like the Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española, or the Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language, promote the preservation and study of Puerto Rican Spanish on the island. As part of this work, they have led the charge in making sure that Puerto Rican words are recognized by the Real Academia Española.
Spanish words with Indigenous influence such as “güira” (easy thing) and with African influence such as “jurutungo” (a remote place) are evidence of Puerto Rico’s past history.
Other terms, like “perreo,” the name of the dance performed to the rhythm of the now globally popular Latin urban genre reggaeton, which has deep roots in Puerto Rico, respond to the island’s more recent history.
A combination of all these influences have created distinct terms used by generations of islanders and U.S.-based Puerto Ricans, such as “jevo” (love interest), “juyilanga” (an escape) and even “lambeojo” (which literally means “eye licker,” but its meaning is similar to the term “kiss ass”).
Since 2021, the Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española has submitted hundreds of Puerto Rican Spanish terms such as the ones already mentioned to the Real Academia Española for consideration. Other terms that may stand out are “jumeta” (drunkness), “jampearse” (binge-eat) and “mofongo” (one of the island’s signature dishes, made of mashed green plantains).
But getting the Real Academia Española to officially accept them is quite a difficult task.
With every word suggested, experts must include ample evidence and documents showing the term’s widespread use, as well as a brief definition based on lexicographic criteria. The Real Academia Española then analyzes the information and makes a determination.
Of the hundreds of Puerto Rican terms sent to the Real Academia Española last year, the definitions of about 70 were accepted, according to María Inés Castro Ferrer, academic secretary of the Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española.
“It is very important that we are represented, because we are Spanish speakers and we are role models,” she recently told the Puerto Rican national newspaper El Nuevo Día in Spanish. “We have managed to maintain a language despite ideologies and policies to replace one language with another.”