In 1986, Senator Sergio Peña Clos presented Bill 857
to establish Spanish as the only official language of Puerto
Rico. This legislation, later presented as Bill 417 and
subsequently passed into law caused a great deal of debate during
the following election year. The language issue which had been
somewhat dormant since the 1960's came into the public light once
In 1987, Pedro Juan Rua, social science professor at the
University of Puerto Rico, formed the group "Acción Nacional para
la Defensa el Vernáculo" (National Action for the Defense of the
Vernacular), and in 1989, The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture
declared April 17th (José De Diego Day) National Reaffirmation of
the Spanish Language Day.
The issue of reaffirmation arose again in 1990. At public hearings
with representatives of the U.S. Congress to determine the nature
of a future plebiscite on political status for the Island,
protesters expressed their position that the Spanish language was
not negotiable under any of the proposed political statuses
Soon after his election in 1992, Governor Pedro Rosselló
reestablished English as an official language of the Island.
This sparked even more debate, particularly as the plebiscite
on political status of Puerto Rico neared, and protests to the
governor's action were voiced. In 1993, the Committee for the
Defense of Spanish, Committee of Syndicated Organizations,
Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, Ateneo of Puerto Rico, Puerto
Rican Foundation for the Humanities, Puerto Rican Language Academy
and many other organizations joined to march protesting the
reestablishment of English as an official language (Gallisá, 1993,
p. 5; García, 1993, p. 4). Union leaders also sent a letter to
Governor Rosselló reminding him of his duty to defend the
vernacular (Delgado, 1994), and Carmelo Delgado Cintrón, newly
designated director of the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture,
declared his intentions to battle for the defense of Spanish as the
sole official language.
On November 14, 1993, a local plebiscite on political status of
Puerto Rico was held. Initially, efforts were made to pass a Bill
in U.S. Congress for a plebiscite on the Island and for action to
be taken based on the results; however, these endeavors failed.
Islanders went ahead with the plebiscite at a local level, and
during the campaigns prior to the vote, all three statuses proposed
made mention of the preservation of the Puerto Rican language and
culture to some degree. The statehood party explicitly a
guaranteed of the preservation of both English and Spanish while
the pro-independence party spoke of affirming the Spanish language.
The third political party, which proposed retaining Puerto Rico's
current commonwealth status, spoke only of preserving the Puerto
Rican identity with no explicit mention of language (Promotional
materials from all three parties)
In 1994, April was designated as the month of Reaffirmation of
the Spanish language, and the new director for the Institute of
Puerto Rican Culture, Awilda Palau specified her view that this
institution had an obligation to rescue, promote and preserve
Puerto Rican cultural values, including the Spanish language (Perla
del Sur, 1994, April 20-26, p. 20).
She also acknowledged the various programs in the mass media,
specifically newspapers, radio and television, dedicated to the
task of preserving the Spanish language.
In the newspapers on the island, there are special sections
dedicated to the correct usage of Spanish such as "Punto y Coma"
(Period and Comma) in the newspaper Diálogo, "Dígalo Así, Dígalo
Bien" (Say it this way, say it right) in El Nuevo Día and "Hablemos
Español" in Claridad.
Several radio stations were also recognized as contributing to
the preservation of the Spanish language including WEUC's "En
Defensa del Idioma" (In Defense of the Language), and another radio
program "Senderos del Aire" (Paths of the Airways). Television
programs such as "La Palabra de Hoy" (The Word for Today) and
"Errores y Horrores" (Errors and Horrors) were given special
recognition by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. From the
moment the United States forces occupied the island of Puerto Rico
and began to promote the use of English there, they were met with
resistance. A highly articulate educated group of individuals
paved the way for a persistent defense of the Spanish language that
has continued even today.
The rationale used by these intellectuals in defense of the
Spanish language had essentially two characteristics. The first
was the use of the Spanish language as a symbol or important
element of national and cultural identity of the Puerto Rican. The
second characteristic almost always coupled with the first was the
presentation of the perception of English, Americanization and
United States presence in general as a threat to national identity.
Jose de Diego was among the first to actively defend the Spanish
language in Puerto Rico. He spoke not only of defending the
language but included it with the defense of traditions, faith and
ethnic elements. It was he who proposed the foundation of the
Antillean Language Academy which had among its primary objectives
the preservation of the purity and enrichment of the vernacular in
order to preserve and retain the national personality (Fonfrías,
Luis Muñoz Rivera, another vociferous defender of the language,
often used Spanish as a symbol of national identity. In 1905, he
spoke of the expression of all that is Puerto Rican though the
language as he fought for the placement of Puerto Ricans in
positions of power within the government. He stated, "They are
something ours, something from Puerto Rico, something that is
expressed in our language, something that pulses through our race
and our blood [tr. s.c.] (Muñoz Rivera, 1925, p.37)
Muñoz Rivera continued his fight to prove the worth of the
Island people by emphasizing the cultural values of the Puerto
Rican including its language. In an attempt to show the people
that their culture and language were as valuable as those of the
United States, he stated that Puerto Rico did not owe the United
States its birth, its language, its culture or its riches (1925, p.
The beginning of an association of language and culture by
public figures of the time can be seen in the early years, but by
the late 1920's , figures such as Fernández-Vanga became much more
explicit about the issue. In 1927, for example,Fernández-Vanga
wrote of Puerto Rican's losing their soul as they lose their
language (Fernández-Vanga, 1931, p. 174) and again in 1928, he
writes that the mother tongue was the only language that responded
to the heart and intelligence of the Puerto Rican
This use of language as a symbol of Puerto Rican national
identity continued throughout the history of the island even into
recent years. In the 1990's, as the bill which would make Spanish
the sole official language of the Island was being debated,
Representative López-Galarza spoke of Spanish as ,"...a reflection
of our personality and our idiosyncrasy as a nation, the vehicle of
our maximum expression of our spirit and our existence as Puerto
Ricans..."[tr. s.c] (López-Galarza et. al, 1990).
In a forum held after the "Spanish Only" law was overturned by
Governor Rosselló, Alfonso L. García Martínez, a lawyer, spoke of
Spanish as the spiritual integrity of Puerto Rican nationality
(1993). And Hector Luis Acevedo, Mayor of San Juan, spoke of
Spanish as the identity and nature of Puerto Rico as a nation
(Ortega-Borges, 1993, p. 16).
The defense of Puerto Rican nationality through the defense of
the Spanish language is repeatedly seen in the discourse and
literary works of Puerto Ricans from 1898 to present. However,
perhaps more interesting was the coupling of Spanish as identity
with the presentation of a threat to its existence due to the
United States' presence on the Island. One of the first examples
of this tendency was seen in the justification for establishing the
Antillian Language Academy. Among the objectives of this
institution was the identification of languages that were
corrupting the vernacular (Fonfrías, 1988). Use of the term
"corruption" has a distinctively negative connotation. When joined
with other objectives which singled out anglicisms as a possible
source of corruption, it paints a picture of English as a threat to
Fernández-Vanga spoke openly and explicitly about the impending
"destruction"[tr. s.c.] of Spanish as a result of the United
States governance of Puerto Rico (1931, p. 174). He stated that
as long as the U.S. Congress had control of Puerto Rico, they would
force their language on the people eventually causing them to lose
their native language (1931, p. 174). When Fernández-Vanga spoke of
English in the school system, he spoke of the intentions to
"rip-out" the mother tongue to replace it with English. (1931, p.
97). In fact, in almost all of Fernández-Vanga's discourse on
language in Puerto Rico, the United States and English were
portrayed as destroyers of the Spanish language.
In 1955, the Puerto Rican Academy of Language was inaugurated,
and Luis Muñoz Marín spoke of the deprivation of freedom as one
language is substituted for another. This language academy, like
its precursor the Antillian Language Academy founded by José De
Diego in 1916, had as its principal objective the conservation and
enrichment of the Spanish language (Fonfrías, 1988, p. 55).
In the 1960's, there was great concern over the impact that the
English language was having on the Spanish spoken in Puerto Rico.
English was seen as a corrupting factor, and many articles and
books were published analyzing anglicisms in the language. One of
the most well known publications in this area is Germán de Granda
Gutiérrez's (1968) book Transculturation and Linguistic
Interference in Contemporary Puerto Rico [tr. s.c.] . De Granda
described Spanish as "suffering" from the linguistic impact of
This same perception of a disintegration of Spanish under the
threat of English led to the formation of the Augusto Malaret
Institute for Hispanic Lexicography in 1969 (Fonfrías, 1988, p.
56). The Institute which was formed by the Puerto Rican Language
Academy took over those functions related to the study of
Americanisms found in Spanish usage in Puerto Rico.
In more recent years, the perception of English as a threat
arose as a consequence of the law which would eliminated English as
an official language of the Island. Later, the law was overturned,
and English was placed on equal legal ground with Spanish once
again. This action caused even more debate, with English viewed as
an enemy of Spanish.
In 1990, Representative López Galarza spoke before the House as
he presented the Bill that would eliminate English as an official
language of Puerto Rico. Even as he defended Spanish as a symbol
of national identity, he also made mention of its "decadence",
implying that Spanish was somehow in a process of deterioration and
in need of defense. He stated, Language is...an affirmation of
the national personality and history of a nation... with its
decadence come the spiritual decadence of a nation. The nation must
maintain its language at a level of authenticity and originality,
care for it, defend it; ...This language is a reflection of our
personality...[tr. s.c.] (López Galarza, et. al.,1990). The
implication of a threatening deterioration of the Spanish language
was clearly present.
Pedro Juan Rua echoed these sentiments in 1992 as he spoke of
the threat of the English Only movement in the United States. He
spoke of Spanish in Puerto Rico under a possible attack and in
imminent danger if such a movement were to succeed in the United
After the law making Spanish the sole official language was
repealed, and English was once again included as an official
language, fresh voices of protest arose. The repeal of this law by
Governor Pedro Rosselló was criticized as being an attack on Puerto
Rican nationality (García-Martínez, 1993). It was portrayed as an
action against Puerto Rican identity (Ortega- Borges, 1993, p. 16)
and as an attempt to annihilate Puerto Rican nationality (García,
V., 1993, p.37).
Socialist party leader, Carlos Gallisá, also claimed that Gov.
Rosselló was striving towards "the destruction of the Puerto Rican
nationality as an indispensable step towards statehood" (Suárez,
1993, p. 8). He went on to say that by placing English at the same
level as Spanish, Rosselló was "declaring war on Puerto Rican
nationality" [tr. s.c.] (Delgado-Cintrón,, 1993, p. 11).
Ex-governor Rafael Hernández Colón, a major proponent of the
law removing English as an official language, spoke out against the
law's repeal. He stated that the use of both languages as
official languages created confusion about Puerto Rican identity.
He went on to say that placing English on an equal basis with
Spanish would lead to the deterioration of national pride
(Estrada-Resto, 1995, p. 15).
Alejandro Torres Rivera, a lawyer, viewed the action by Gov.
Rosselló as a clear intent to facilitate the abolition of national
identity by North Americans (Torres-Rivera, 1993, p. 8). This same
sentiment was expressed by Doris Pizarro, secretary for the
Socialist party (Muriente-Pérez, 1993, p. 5).
In the months that followed the restoration of English as an
official language of Puerto Rico, public protests continued.
Almost all of those opposing the action presented it as a clear
threat to the Spanish language and Puerto Rican identity. The fact
is, throughout Puerto Rico's history whenever attempts were made to
defend the Spanish language as a symbol of national identity,
English was portrayed as a threat to the same. Dr. C. William
Schweers and Dr. Jorge Vélez from the University of Puerto Rico
expressed the situation of English learning in Puerto Rico as
a case of being damned if you do (you're betraying your
Hispanic heritage and giving in to the forces of Americanization
from the North) and damned if you don't (you are severely limiting
your potential for socioeconomic mobility)...Thus, English and
Spanish are etaphorically paired off as irreconcilable adversaries
and Puerto Ricans are challenged to defend their heritage and
vernacular (1992, p. 13-14).
Puerto Rican nationalists' defense of Spanish language took
various forms. First, the Spanish language was presented as an
inseparable and intrinsic element of national identity. Second,
the English language was portrayed as equivalent to United States
culture and Americanization. Finally, the English language was
presented as a threat to Puerto Rican national identity. Attempts
to defend the vernacular in Puerto Rico became an "either-or"
situation where the decisions of Puerto Ricans came down to either
English or Spanish, either Yankee or Puerto Rican.
In the discussion that follows, the three basic areas addressed
in the research: language shift/maintenance, nationalism and
language planning are examined and the three cases compared and
contrasted. The presence or absence of the different shift factors:
societal bilingualism, migration, industrialization, government's
and school's use of English and urbanization are analyzed along
with the language situations in Guam, Puerto Rico and the
Philippines. The different groups in each of the countries and the
language planning efforts that have taken place are examined.
One of the shift factors known to be related to language shift
is societal bilingualism. This factor was found to be present in
Guam (where Chamorro and English are used by natives) and in the
PhilippInés (where English and Pilipino or Tagalog are both spoken
extensively as well as the many different vernaculars). However,
Puerto Rico had for the most part remained a monolingual Spanish
speaking society in spite of its almost 100 years of association
with the United States.
Migration, another shift factor that was examined, was found to
be absent from Puerto Rico. The number of American soldiers
originally occupying the island was minimal, and there was a
well-documented lack of native speaking teachers of English
available on the island. Puerto Rico was found to be a primarily
homogeneous society; however, this cannot be said for the
Philippineswhich had an extremely diverse ethnolinguistic
population. The movement of different language speaking groups
within the Philippines created a need for a lingua franca on the
English was used for this purpose for many years; however, it
appeared that Pilipino (or Filipino or Tagalog) was occupying this
role in more recent years. The vernacular was still spoken in the
home. On Guam, the early migration of American soldiers and the
more recent migration of people from Micronesia and Asia seemed to
have put Chamorro in a precarious position. Initially, the contact
with the large number of American soldiers occupying the island
appeared to have contributed to the spread of English there, and in
more recent years, the large number of non-Chamorro speaking
immigrants had placed the English language in the role of lingua
Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico all had economic and
industrial ties with the United States which may have been linked
to the spread of English to some degree. The exception of course
was Puerto Rico, which although depending heavily on the United
States for its economy, continued to be a Spanish speaking nation
with very few English speakers.
Where more similarities were found among the three cases was in
the school's and government's use of English in the early years of
U.S. occupation. Governments made up of U.S. personnel were set up
in each of the possessions, and English was used extensively in
government transactions, reports and communications. English was
used as the medium of instruction in the schools established in
Guam, the PhilippInés and Puerto Rico, and the Americanization of
the native populations was one of the primary goals of the school
systems. However, while the historical beginnings of English in
the schools and governments of these three areas were similar, the
subsequent transformations of the school and public language
policies made them strikingly different (See Figure 2).
| ||Gov. & School||Migration||Soc.
Figure 2. Shift Factors
In Guam, the school and government continued to use English as
the medium of instruction and communication. Only token efforts
have been made to integrate the native language of Chamorro which
was taught 20 minutes a day in the school system. The government
of Guam had included the Chamorro language, together with English
as its official languages; however, official documents were still
submitted in English. In the Philippines, because of the many
different languages that exist, one language was chosen as a
national language. Because it was still in a process of
development, there is doubt as to whether Filipino was in effect a
new language or just a variant of Tagalog. Pilipino, perceived as
Tagalog, had been used as a medium of instruction together with
English since 1956 in the school system. Prior to that time,
English was the sole language of instruction. So that
one of the native languages did form part of school language
policy; however, the institutions of higher education continued to
use English as the medium of instruction. The government of the
Philippines used spoken Filipino; but most written correspondence,
documents, and official communication were still carried out in
Puerto Rico, almost a mirror image of Guam linguistically
speaking, had continued to use Spanish as the language of
instruction with English as a subject taught 50 minutes a day.
With the exception of a brief period of time from 1903-1917 when
English was used as the medium of instruction at all levels,
Spanish had always been a part of the public school system in
Puerto Rico. At the conclusion of this study, it was the language
of instruction at all levels of the public school system as well as
at the institutions of higher education. The government of Puerto
Rico had retained both English and Spanish as the official
languages since 1902. In 1990, an attempt was made to
eliminate English as an official language, something that had never
been done in either Guam or the Philippines. The law was passed and
for a short period of time, Puerto Rico's only official language
was Spanish until 1993 when the law was repealed.
Figure 3. Official Language Policies
Urbanization or a move to urban areas by a population has
been know to be related to language shift. Generally, this move,
which is related in part to migration and industrialization, will
bring the speakers of the native language in contact with English
speakers. This was the case with Guam as the native speakers of
Chamorro came in contact with military personnel located near the
larger urban areas; however, in the case the PhilippInés, the
migration of speakers of different ethnolinguistic groups to the
urban area of Manila had brought them in contact with Tagalog
speakers as well. In Puerto Rico, similar
circumstances were found with a small movement to urban areas
bringing natives in contact with both English and Spanish speaking
intelligentsia. A secondary eventuality related to the move to
urban areas is that the population comes in contact with the
educated sector of society that is normally found in urban areas.
These intellectuals may also be the defenders of national identity.
In all three cases, the intelligentsia, defenders of the vernacular
or national language, were located in the urban areas usually in
universities, government or publication centers.
The situations at the time of the study of Guam, the
Philippines and Puerto Rico in relation to language found three
very distinct circumstances (See Figure 4).
Figure 4: Societal Domains
Guam and Puerto Rico were almost like mirror images with English
used in the government, schools and most other societal domains of
Guam, and the nativelanguage used in a very limited and restricted
manner. Puerto Rico, on the otherside of the mirror, used the
native language of Spanish almost exclusively with English taught
only as a subject in the schools and as a symbolic gesture in the
official language policy of the island. The Philippines had
incorporated two languages other than the vernacular as a medium of
instruction and as an official language of the nation. Filipinos
learned and used their vernacular at home or in the community where
they resided and then were expected to learn both English and
Pilipino in the schools. The government continued to use English in
most written documents and speeches. English in the Philippines,
which was originally presented as the great equalizer that would
allow all social classes to succeed, had instead occupied a role of
prestige among the educated class.
Where the biggest differences were seen among the three
countries under study was in the existence of an educated group to
defend the native languages. In Guam, for example, an educated
sector did not exist until thirty or forty years after the U.S.
occupation of the island, while in Puerto Rico a highly educated
and politically active group of intellectuals from different
professions was found by the U.S. military. In the Philippines,
there was a very small number of people educated by the Spaniards
who occupied the island prior to the United States.
Figure 5. Existence of Nationalist Groups
It is necessary for an intelligentsia to exist in order for a
nationalist sentiment related to language to occur, for it is this
group that best manipulates and uses the language. It is also this
group that feels most threatened with the loss of power and
positions allotted to them because of their education.
However, when the case of Guam was examined, there was no
established school system to speak of upon the arrival of American
troops, and those that did go on to achieve college degrees did so
much later on, usually in United States universities. The
intelligentsia of Guam, who would began to raise consciousness
about the Chamorro language and culture, were also decidedly
In Puerto Rico, the opposite is true. The Puerto Rican
intelligentsia was in existence when the United States occupied the
island, and were already playing an active role in local politics.
Their positions of power were threatened as U.S. military personnel
took over major functions of the government. This may have been
related then to the anti-English, anti- American sentiments
expressed in their defense of the Spanish language and Puerto Rican
identity in general.
In the Philippines, the educated were put into positions of
power in the government so that they did not feel threatened by the
United States presence in thearchipelago. The initial opposition
to the use of English in the schools was pedagogical in nature, not
nationalist. In fact, although the Filipinos expressed the need
for a national language to represent them as early as 1934, it was
only during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines that
anti-English, anti-American campaigns and a nationalist defense of
the language, Tagalog (and Japanese) existed. In fact, defense of
the vernaculars per se did not arise outside of the schools or when
challenging the choice of Tagalog over the many other vernaculars
as the national language.
The parallels among the language situations and history of
Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico are basically in the early
years of occupation where similar attempts were made to establish
a stateside-style school systems including the use of English as a
medium of instruction. The presence of an educated group to defend
the national language was also found in all three areas, but in
Guam, it did not develop until much after the initial occupation.
However, the nature of these defenses seems to be one of the
main differences found. Whereas Guam's defense of Chamorro and the
Philippines defense of the national language did not include any
anti-American sentiments or the presentation of English as a threat
to national identity, in Puerto Rico, this was the basis of the
defense in many cases.