Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Education Policy in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a relatively small island that along with Cuba and the Dominican Republic is part of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Spain governed from about 1508 until 1898; but rather than gaining independence from Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898 it became a U.S. Commonwealth, making it one of the last countries that is still a colony in the 21st century. Race and cultural roots are taught to be Indigenous, African, and Spanish.


Language education policy includes Spanish and English, presuming the Indigenous language to be extinct yet with mostly lexical contributions. The most widely spoken language is Spanish, although differing from Castillian Spanish. Regionalisms throughout the island include ‘jibaro’ or ‘country’ styles of speech, possibly disappearing due to standardization of language through schooling. Other factors that influence the study of language in Puerto Rico are the usual factors that influence the Creole languages that emerged out of empires and forced language shift: the Indigenous language(s)--debated to be Arawak or Mayan in origin--spoken by non-European inhabitants of the island that were either present at the time of contact or migrated; African languages brought by slaves; immigrant languages from different provinces of Spain, other European countries such as Ireland and Italy, other Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Arabic speaking countries such as Lebanon, and since 1947 Palestinians fleeing Israel. Debates over the fate of the Indigenous people and their likely survival much longer than 1550, if resolved, would open the door to a much richer contribution. In other words, if Indigenous people were not really extinct so early; neither was their language necessarily extinct.


Language and education policies usually focus on the use and teaching of (‘correct’) Spanish as a national and native language. English was made the official language early in the 20th century, but this reverted to Spanish again in 1991. Many say that Puerto Ricans have resisted Americanization by resisting English, and cultural roots are mostly centered on Spanish with some African contributions. The island is not fully bilingual, and in fact, outside the metropolitan San Juan area, English is rarely spoken and fluency is low. English is, nevertheless, present in much advertising, and there are a few English TV channels. Because more than 4 million Puerto Ricans live in the United States, more than the island’s population of 3.7 million, English is a complex issue. Puerto Ricans make up a majority of second language English speakers in the United States, and English words are appearing more and more in Puerto Rican Spanish.


English was imposed unsuccessfully as the language of instruction in schools from 1902-1948, and is still taught as a school subject. Private schools and colleges/universities maintain higher levels of bilingualism or English-only teaching. These vary in the use of English or Spanish teaching, often with English materials but Spanish teaching or combinations of such according to discipline and professor. Public schools through the Department of Education (DE) offer specialized bilingual schools in a few cities, although the methods vary. For example, at the DE bilingual school in San Juan, classes are taught in Spanish, and Spanish as a Second Language classes are given; whereas in Añasco, classes are taught in English, and there are no remedial courses for non-Spanish students.


Program about Spanish in Puerto Rico:




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Aquino, L. H. (1993). Diccionario de voces indígenas de Puerto Rico. Editorial Cultura de Puerto Rico.


Alvarez Nazario, Manuel. (1977). El influjo indígena en el español de Puerto Rico. Editorial Universitaria, Universidad de Puerto Rico.


Alvarez Nazario, Manuel. (1990). El Habla Campesina del Pais: Origenes y desarrollo del espanol en Puerto Rico. San Juan: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.


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Claudio Tirado, Ramon. (2003). Cien anos de educacion y de administracion educativa en Puerto Rico: 1900-2000. Hato Rey: Publicaciones Puertorriquenas.


Dávila, A. M. (1997). Sponsored Identities: Cultural Politics in Puerto Rico. Temple University Press.


del Moral, S. (2013). Negotiating Empire: The Cultural Politics of Schools in Puerto Rico, 1898–1952. University of Wisconsin Press.


Du Bord, E.M. (2004). La Mancha del Platano: The Effect of Language Policy on Puerto Rican National Identity in the 1940’s. Master’s Thesis. University of Arizona.


Feliciano-Santos, S. (2011). An Inconceivable Indigeneity: The Historical, Cultural, and Interactional Dimensions of Puerto Rican Taíno Activism (Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan).


Guitart, J. M. (1997). Variability, multilectalism, and the organization of phonology in Caribbean Spanish dialects. F. Martinez-Gil & A. Morales-Front (Eds.), Issues in the phonology and morphology of the major Iberian languages, 515-536.


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Mazak, C. M. (2012). My Cousin Talks Bad Like You: Relationships Between Language and Identity in a Rural Puerto Rican Community. Journal of Language, Identity & Education, 11(1), 35-51.


Mazak, C. M. (2006). Negotiating el dificil: English literacy practices in a rural Puerto Rican community (Doctoral dissertation, Michigan State University. Department of English).


Mellado Parsons, Ramon. (1980, May). La interaccion entre un pueblo y su lengua. Educacion, 47.


Morales, A. (1999). Bilingüismo y planificación lingüística en Puerto Rico. In Actas Simposio Internacional de la lengua española: pasado, presente y futuro. Austin, Texas: Universidad de Texas.


Navarro Tomás, Tomás & María T. Vaquero de Ramírez. (1999). El español en Puerto Rico: contribución a la geografía lingüística hispanoamericana. San Juan: La Editorial.


Pousada, Alicia. (2008). Puerto Rico, School Language Policies. Encyclopedia of Bilingual Education. SAGE Publications.>.


Pousada: Alicia. (1999). The singularly strange story of the English language in Puerto Rico. Milenio, 3, 33-60.

Pousada, A. (1996). Puerto Rico: On the Horns of a Language Planning Dilemma. TesolQuarterly, 30(3), 499-510.

Schweers, C. W., & Hudders, M. (2000). The reformation and democratization of English education in Puerto Rico. International journal of the sociology of language, 142(1), 63-88.

Vélez, J. A., & Schweers, C. W. (1993). A US colony at a linguistic crossroads: The decision to make Spanish the official language of Puerto Rico. Language Problems & Language Planning, 17(2), 117-139.


Vélez, J. A. (1996). Toward a language policy that addresses Puerto Rican reality. Rethinking English in Puerto Rico: exploring language myths and realities. Río Piedras: University of Puerto Rico.

Note: The author of this page is currently living and doing research in Puerto Rico. See her forthcoming dissertation:

Harrison, Kristine M. (forthcoming). Curriculum as Indigenous Language Education Policy and Teachers as Policymakers in Borinquen (Puerto Rico). Madison, WI: University of Wisconson-Madison, School of Education. 



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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as


Harrison, K. M. (2015). Language Education Policy in Puerto Rico. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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