Facts About the Dominican Republic for Spanish Students

Island's Spanish Has Caribbean Flavor

The Dominican Republic makes up the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola, a Caribbean island. After Cuba, it is the second-largest country (in both area and population) in the Caribbean. During his first journey to the Americas in 1492, Christopher Columbus claimed what is now D.R. territory, and the territory played a vital role in the Spanish conquest. The country is named after St. Dominic (Santo Domingo in Spanish), the country's patron saint and the founder of the Dominican Order.

Linguistic highlights

Flag of the Dominican Republic
Flag of the Dominican Republic.

Spanish is the country's only official language and is almost universally spoken. There are no indigenous languages remaining in use, although a Haitian creole is used by Haitian immigrants. About 8,000 people, mostly those descended from U.S. slaves who came to the island before the U.S. Civil War, speak an English creole. (Source: Ethnologue)

Spanish vocabulary in the D.R.

More than most Spanish-speaking countries, the Dominican Republic has its distinctive vocabulary, brought about by its relative isolation and the influx of vocabulary from indigenous people as well as foreign occupiers.

Taíno words in the D.R. vocabulary naturally include many things for which the occupying Spanish didn't have their own words, such as batey for a ball court, guano for dried palm leaves and guaraguao for an indigenous hawk. A surprising number of Taíno words became part of international Spanish as well as English — words such as huracán (hurricane), sabana (savannah), barbacoa (barbecue) and possibly tabaco (tobacco, a word that some say is derived from Arabic).

American occupation resulted in further expansion of Dominican vocabulary, although many of the words have become barely recognizable. They include swiché for a light switch, yipeta (derived from "jeep") for an SUV, poloché for a polo shirt and "¿Qué lo what?" for "What's happening?"

Other distinctive words include vaina for "stuff" or "things" (also used elsewhere in the Caribbean) and un chin for a tiny bit.

Spanish Grammar in the D.R.

Generally, grammar in the D.R. is standard except that in questions the pronoun is often used before the verb. Thus while in most of Latin America or Spain you might ask a friend how she is with "¿Cómo estás?" or "¿Cómo estás tú?," in the D.R. you'd ask "¡Cómo tú estás?"

Spanish Pronunciation in the D.R.

Like much Caribbean Spanish, the rapidly paced Spanish of the Dominican Republic can be difficult to understand for outsiders used to hearing the Spanish of Spain or standard Latin American Spanish such as that found in Mexico City. The main difference is that Dominicans frequently drop the s at the end of syllables, so singular and plural words ending in a vowel can sound alike, and estás can sound like etá. Consonants in general can be quite soft to the point where some sounds, such as that of d between vowels, can almost disappear. So a word such as hablados can end up sounding like hablao.

There is also some merging of the sounds of the l and the r. Thus in some parts of the country, pañal can end up sounding like pañar, and in other places por favor sounds like pol favol. And in still other areas, por favor sounds like poi favoi.

Studying Spanish in the D.R.

Beach at Punta Cana
Beaches such as this one at Punta Cana are the main tourist draws of the Dominican Republic. Photo by Torrey Wiley used under terms of Creative Commons license.

The D.R. has at least a dozen Spanish immersion schools, most of them in Santo Domingo or at the coastal resorts, which are especially popular with Europeans. Costs begin at around $200 U.S. per week for tuition and a similar amount for accommodations, although it is possible to pay considerably more. Most schools offer instruction in classes of four to eight students.

Most of the country is reasonably safe for those who follow the normal precautions, although overland travel to Haiti can be problematic.

Vital Statistics

With an area of 48,670 square miles, making it about twice the size of New Hampshire, the D.R. is one of the world's smallest countries. It has a population of 10.2 million with a median age of 27 years. Most people, about 70 percent, live in urban areas, with about 20 percent of the population living in or near Santo Domingo.

As of 2010, about a third of the population lived in poverty. The top 10 percent of the population had 36 percent of the household income, while the bottom 10 percent had 2 percent, making the country rank 30th worldwide in economic disparity. (Source: CIA Factbook)

About 95 percent of the population is at least nominally Roman Catholic.

History

Map of the Dominican Republic
Map of the Dominican Republic. CIA Factbook

Before Columbus' arrival, the indigenous population of Hispaniola was made up of Taínos, who had lived on the island for thousands of years, probably having come by sea from South America. The Taínos had a well-developed agriculture that included crops such as tobacco, sweet potatoes, beans, peanuts and pineapples, some of them unknown in Europe before they were taken there by Spaniards. It is not clear how many Taínos lived on the island, although they could have numbered well over a million.

Sadly, the Taínos were not immune to European diseases such as smallpox, and within one generation of Columbus' arrival, thanks to disease and a brutal occupation by the Spaniards, the Taíno population had been decimated. By the middle of the 16th century the Taínos had become essentially extinct.

The first Spanish settlement was founded in 1493 near what is now Puerto Plata; Santo Domingo, today's capital city, was founded in 1496.

In subsequent decades, primarily with the use of African slaves, the Spaniards and other Europeans exploited Hispaniola for its mineral and agricultural wealth. The French dominated the western third of the island, and in 1804 its colony gained independence, forming what is now Haiti. In 1821, colonists based in Santo Domingo claimed independence from Spain, but they were conquered by Haitians. Dominicans led by Juan Pablo Duarte, known today as the founder of the country, led a bloodless coup that regained Dominican authority, although authority was briefly ceded to Spain in the 1860s. Spain finally left for good in 1865.

The republic's government remained unstable until 1916, when U.S. forces during World War I took over the country, ostensibly to prevent European foes from gaining a stronghold but also to protect U.S. economic interests. The occupation had the effect of shifting power to military control, and by 1930 the country was under the nearly complete domination of Army strongman Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, who remained a strong U.S. ally. Trujillo became powerful and extremely wealthy; he was assassinated in 1961.

After a coup and U.S. intervention in the early 1960s, Joaquín Baleguer was elected as president in 1966 and maintained a grip on the country's operations for most of the next 30 years. Since then, elections have been generally free and have moved the country into the political mainstream of the Western Hemisphere. Although much wealthier than neighboring Haiti, the country continues to struggle with poverty.

Trivia

Two styles of music native to the D.R. are merengue and bachata, both of which have become popular internationally.

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Erichsen, Gerald. "Facts About the Dominican Republic for Spanish Students." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/dominican-republic-facts-3079018. Erichsen, Gerald. (2017, March 2). Facts About the Dominican Republic for Spanish Students. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/dominican-republic-facts-3079018 Erichsen, Gerald. "Facts About the Dominican Republic for Spanish Students." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/dominican-republic-facts-3079018 (accessed December 17, 2017).