An indisputable influence in the formation of Latin American Spanish, often overshadowed by discussion of the `Andalusian' contribution, is the Canary Islands.  Beginning with the first voyage of Columbus, the Canary Islands were an obligatory way-station for Spanish ships sailing to the Americas, which often stayed in the islands for several weeks for refitting and boarding of provisions.  Canary Islanders also participated actively in the settlement and development of Spanish America. 

The Canary Islands merit a bizarre entry in the history of European geography, since the islands were well known to ancient navigators, only to pass into oblivion by the Middle Ages.  After the early descriptions of Pliny and other writers of the time, more than a thousand years were to pass before the Canary Islands were mentioned in European texts, although contact between the indigenous Guanches and the nearby north African coast continued uninterrupted.

Spain colonized the Canary Islands beginning in 1483, and by the time of Columbus's voyages to the New World, the Canary Islands were firmly under Spanish control.  The indigenous Guanche language disappeared shortly after the Spanish conquest of the islands, but left a legacy of scores of place names, and some regional words.  From the outset, the Canaries were regarded as an outpost rather than a stable colony, and the islands' livlihood revolved around maritime trade.  Although some islanders turned to farming, particularly in the fertile western islands, more turned to the sea, as fishermen and sailors.  With Columbus's discoveries, the Canary Islands became obligatory stopover points en route to the New World, and much of the islands' production was dedicated to resupplying passing ships.  Seville still held a monopoly on commerce, but an ever-growing Canarian merchant class began to challenge that domination.  The islands were ideally situated for influencing trans-Atlantic trade, and Canarian merchants began to implement their own agenda, fitting ships to sail directly to the Americas.  Many islanders signed on as sailors, joining hands with Andalusians, Galicians and Asturians in providing Spain with a trans-Atlantic seafaring class.  The Canary Islands were also the site of the first Spanish-owned sugar plantations, and when sugar was introduced into the Antilles, it was from the Canary Islands, complete with Canarian experts in sugar cultivation.  The flourishing Caribbean sugar industry overtook the originally prosperous Canary Island production, initiating the economic decline of the islands which would ultimately result in heavy emigration to the Americas.

With the sugar industry already in disarray, islanders turned to winemaking, an activity which still continues.  For more than a century, Canarian wines were in demand both in Spain and in the Americas, but once again Peninsular winemaking overshadowed insular production, which was reduced to a cottage industry.  The islands next turned to the harvest of dyestuffs, including orchilla, made from a lichen, and cochinilla or cochineal, made from an insect which infests cactus plants.  By this time however, all possibilities for the Canary Islands to compete economically with Spanish America had disappeared, and in ever larger numbers the islanders turned to emigration, temporarily or permanently.

Once the settlement of Spanish America was underway, Spain established administrative centers in the Canary Islands, in an attempt to halt the flagrant contraband and illicit commerce between the islands and the Americas.  A Juzgado de Indias or judicial zone was established in the islands in 1566.  This entity undertook, among other duties, the inspection of ships bound to and from the Americas, to assure compliance with Spanish laws.  For most of the period of island trade, only Tenerife was authorized as a port of exportation; later, Puerto de La Luz near Las Palmas de Gran Canaria also became important.  Islanders who ended up in the Americas were often from the two largest islands, whose speech has always showed more Andalusian traits and fewer archaic curiosities of the sort that abound in the more isolated islands. 

At the American end, trade with the Canary Islands was extremely limited at first, due to the strict Spanish monopolistic practices which limited official trade to a handful of Latin American ports.  Beginning in the 18th century and continuing until colonial independence in the 1820's, Spain loosened its grip, forced by the growing discontent among colonists and merchants at home.  Canarian ships regularly travelled to Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Santo Domingo, La Guaira, Cumaná, Chagres, Portobelo, Riohacha, Santa Marta, Cartagena, Veracruz, Campeche, Omoa, and several smaller ports. 

The climate of the Canary Islands is capricious.  The easternmost islands receive hot winds off the Sahara Desert, and support only sparse vegetation and a few vegetable crops.  The western islands are greener, but undergo periodic droughts which make stable agriculture risky.  Canary Islanders repeatedly petitioned the Spanish government for relief, but the Spanish Crown was more concerned with extracting wealth from its American colonies, and the Canarian pleas fell on deaf ears.  Since many islanders had already travelled to the Americas as sailors or in pursuit of island-based commercial activities, emigration to the New World was a logical next step.  Emigration was not based only on economic necessity, for the Spanish government at times actively recruited islanders for various settlement plans.  Emigration from the Canary Islands to the Americas began almost as soon as the latter region became settled, in small numbers and leaving no verifiable linguistic traces.  It was not until the 18th century that any large-scale emigration began, following well-established trade routes to the Caribbean (Morales Padrón 1951, 1977).  The Antilles and Venezuela were the preferred destinations, although Canary Islanders settled in other regions.  In the last decade of the 18th century, Spain actively recruited Canary Islanders to settle areas of Louisiana, establishing a territorial presence against real or imagined French encroachment.  These settlers were later abandoned following the transfer of Louisiana to French and then American ownership, and the descendents lived in relative isolation in central and extreme southeastern Louisiana.  The latter group, the Isleños of St. Bernard Parish, still retains the Spanish language (Armistead 1992, Lipski 1990c, MacCurdy 1950), while descendents of the first group, known as Brulis (Armistead 1978, 1983, 1985, 1991, 1992; MacCurdy 1959; Holloway 1998oH) have lost the Spanish language.  Canary Islanders were also settled in the western areas of Santo Domingo to counter the increasing French presence (Moya Pons 1980:  107-8, 127).  To this day, the speech of this region bears great similarity with the rustic vernacular of the Canary Islands.

With the coming of independence to most of Latin America in the early 19th century, Spanish trade with the New World diminished considerably.  The Canary Islands increased their commercial traffic with the United States, and emigration concentrated on the two remaining Spanish-American colonies, Puerto Rico and particularly Cuba.  Alvarez Nazario (1972a) has traced the successive waves of Canary Island immigration to Puerto Rico, where entire villages were formed of relocated islanders.  In Cuba, the isleño became a well-known personage, characterized by a combination of industriousness and peasant superstition, and the speech and behavior of Canary Islanders figure prominently in Cuban literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Spain was always ambivalent about the Canary Islands and its inhabitants.  Islanders were viewed as provisioners of passing ships, and as a ready source of cheap labor, military conscripts, and settlers for new colonies.  During most of the colonial period, Canary Islanders were officially prohibited from travelling to the American continent except as soldiers.  In practice, this prohibition was seldom respected.  As traffic with the Caribbean grew, so did the number of Canary Islanders residing in the Americas.  Given the preferred trade routes, the majority ended up in Venezuela, with a large number also reaching the Antilles. 

Some representative figures hint at the magnitude and linguistic importance of the Canarian presence in Latin America.  In 1714, for example, the governor of Caracas observed that half the white population of the city was composed of Canary Islanders (Béthencourt Massieu 1981:  18).  Following the wars of colonial independence and until 1853, official Spanish policy allowed islanders to emigrate only to the remaining Spanish possessions:  Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.  Few took the last option, but emigration to Cuba grew steadily during the remainder of the 19th century.  In 1853, a royal decree permitted emigration to all American territories, whether Spanish colonies or free nations.  This increased Canary emigration to other Latin American areas, especially Argentina and Uruguay, as well as providing more immigrants for Venezuela, but the majority continued to head for Cuba.  Accurate figures for immigrants during the 19th century do not exist, but an approximate picture can be reconstructed (Hernández García 1981).  In the 20-year period from 1818-1838 for example, more than 18,000 islanders emigrated to the Americas, most to Cuba and proportionately fewer to Venezuela and Puerto Rico.  This represents a significant proportion of the islands' population, and given the relative size of cities in Latin America in the early 19th century, a not inconsiderable shift in the linguistic balance of such places as Caracas, Havana and Santiago de Cuba.  In the half century from 1840 to 1890, as many as 40,000 Canary Islanders emigrated to Venezuela alone.  In the period from 1835-1850, more than 16,000 islanders emigrated to Cuba, a rate of approximately 1000 per year.  In the 1860's, Canary emigration to the Americas took place at the rate of over 2000 per year, at a time when the total islands' population was perhaps 240,000.  In the 2-year period 1885-6, more than 4500 Canarians emigrated to Spanish possessions (including the Philippines and Fernando Poo), of which almost 4100 went to Cuba and 150 to Puerto Rico.  During the same time period, some 760 Canary Islanders emigrated to Latin American republics, with 550 going to Argentina/Uruguay and more than 100 to Venezuela.  By the period 1891-1895, Canary emigration to Argentina/Uruguay was slighly more than 400, to Puerto Rico was 600, immigrants arriving in Venezuela numbered more than 2000, and to Cuba more than 17,000.  By comparison, in the same half century or so, emigration to Cuba from other regions of Spain included:  14,000 from Barcelona, 18,000 from Asturias and more then 57,000 from Galicia.  During the same period more than 18,000 Galicians arrived in Argentina/Uruguay, but only a handful arrived in Venezuela.  These are only official figures; when clandestine emigration is taken into account, the numbers would be much larger.  For example, Guerrero Balfagón (1960) has documented the illegal but significant immigration of Canary Islanders to Argentina and Uruguay in the first half of the 19th century.

Following the Spanish-American War of 1898, Cuba and Puerto Rico were no longer Spanish territories, but Canary immigration to the Americas continued.  Until the Spanish Civil War of 1936, most islanders arrived in Cuba, and it is difficult to find a Canary Island family today in which some family member did not go to Cuba during the early decades of the 20th century.  In some of the poorer regions, entire villages were left virtually without a young male population.  Many islanders returned after a few years, although some made several trips to Cuba or remained indefinitely, thus increasing the lingusitic cross-fertilization between the two regions.  Following the Spanish Civil War, which created even more severe economic hardships in the Canary Islands, islanders once more turned to Venezuela as the preferred area of emigration, a trend which continued until the early 1960's.  Contemporary Venezuela still harbors a large Canary-born population, which retains much of the vocabulary, traditions and speech forms of the Canary Islands, more so than in any other region of Latin America.  In 19th century Cuba and Puerto Rico, Canary Islanders worked principally in agriculture, particularly the sugar industry, and to a lesser extent in urban areas.  In the 20th century, islanders in Cuba and Venezuela found more employment in cities, although some moved to rural areas in search of permanent homesteads. 

The linguistic contributions of Canary Islanders are difficult to separate from those of Andalusia, given considerable similarities as well as the close linguistic and cultural contacts between Andalusia and the Canaries.  Few exclusively Canary lexical items penetrated Latin American Spanish, so the fact that a given term is used in the Canary Islands and also in Latin America does not automatically entail direct transfer.  Sometimes the choice of competing variants can be influenced by migratory trends.  Thus, for example, Laguarda Trías (1982:  50) suggests that the preference for durazno instead of melocotón `peach' in the Southern Cone may reveal a Canary influence.   Cubans and Venezuelans know the word gofio, although the word no longer designates the same mixture of ground toasted grains as in the Canary Islands.  The word was once used in Argentina and Uruguay, especially by the canarios, a term coming to mean all rural dwellers regardless of origin (Guarnieri 1978:  32-3).  The term guagua is used in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Puerto Rico to refer to a city bus.  At the turn of the 20th century, the term referred to a horse-drawn wagon, and viajar de guagua meant `to ride for free.'  The same term is found in the Canary Islands, with identical meaning, and is used even in the most remote regions, on all seven islands.  Most analyses of Canary Spanish attribute this term to Cuban influence, brought back by returning islanders who had lived in Cuba.  The use of guagua in Equatorial Guinea (formerly Fernando Poo) has also been attributed to the Cuban exile and slave population which was sent to the island in the mid 1800's (González Echegaray 1959:  64).  The form, however, bears the characterstic shape of Guanche words, and the existence of this word among the Isleños of Louisiana, whose ancestors left the Canary Islands in the late 1700's, suggests the opposite route of transfer.  The general absence of the word in the Spanish of Venezuela, where the Canary Island presence was also strong, adds to the confusion concerning the origins of guagua.

Several syntactic patterns found in the Caribbean region may be of Canary origin, or may have been reinforced by the arrival of large numbers of Canary Islanders (Gutiérrez Araus 1991).  One such case is the combination más nada `nothing else,' más nunca `never again,' más nadie `no one else,' used very frequently in Caribbean and Canary dialects.  Other Spanish dialects prefer the reverse word order, although combinations beginning with más are occasionally found in Andalusia and elsewhere in Latin America.  These combinations bear a close resemblance to Galician-Portuguese constructions, and in view of the documented Portuguese/Galician influence in the Canary Islands, may be part of the Galician/Portuguese contribution.  In Cuba and Venezuela, the Canary influence cannot be entirely separated from the direct influence of Galician Spanish speakers.

Non-inverted questions of the sort ¿qué tú quieres? `what do you want?' are usual in Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican Spanish, somewhat less so in Venezuelan and Panamanian Spanish, and quite uncommon in the remainder of Latin America, as well as being extremely rare in the Iberian Peninsula.  In the Canary Islands, non-inverted questions are not as common as in the Caribbean, but among older speakers in rural regions, the frequency rises appreciably, indicating a higher rate of usage in the past, when the Canary influence on Caribbean Spanish was strongest.  Galician/Portuguese also employs non-inverted questions, but not due to the cliticization of subjects but rather to the general lack of subject-verb inversion.  The tight concentration of non-inverted questions in Latin American Spanish, limited to the Antilles and a few coastal Caribbean regions, correlates neatly with Canary Island influence, and also with recent Galician arrivals.

Found throughout the Caribbean are combinations in which an infinitive is preceded by an overt subject, usually following a preposition, with para being the most common preposition:  para yo salir `in order for me to leave,' para ellos entender `for them to understand,' antes de yo venir `before I came,' etc.  Unlike noninverted questions or the word guagua, preposed subjects of infinitives are not limited to the Antilles or the Caribbean, although they are most common in that area.  On the other side of the Atlantic, such constructions are usual in the Canary Islands.  In peninsular Spain, infinitives with preposed subjects are not unknown in Andalusia, although never common.  In Galicia, such combinations occur in Spanish as translations of Galician patterns.  In Latin America, the Canary/Galician contribution converged most strongly in the Caribbean, which is where infinitives with preposed subjects are most frequent.  This distribution provides circumstantial evidence in favor of a Canarian contribution in the Caribbean zone (cf. Lipski 1991).

Phonologically, Canary Island Spanish could easily be confused with Cuban, Panamanian or Venezuelan Spanish by the casual observer (cf. Almeida 1989a, 1989b, 1990; Alvar 1959, Catalán 1960, 1964; Lorenzo Ramos 1976; Samper Padilla 1990).  Even members of these speech communities are not always able to distinguish between a Canary Islander and a speaker of Caribbean Spanish.  Although some have seen a direct Canary Island influence in Caribbean Spanish pronunciation (e.g. Alvarez Nazario 1972a), this cannot be objectively verified.  The phonological patterns of the Canary Islands continue the patterns of consonantal weakening found throughout southern Spain, but do not differ qualitatively from Andalusian and Extremaduran dialects.  Canary Island immigration to the Caribbean added to phonetic tendencies which were already well-developed, but the overall Canarian contribution is largely supportive rather than innovative.

Portuguese presence in the Canary Islands

The Portuguese presence in the Canary Islands began in the 15th century, and continued for several centuries thereafter.  As a result, Canary Island Spanish has absorbed numerous Portuguese/Galician lexical items, and possibly some grammatical constructions.  The Canary Islands were known to the ancients of the Mediterranean region, only to be collectively forgotten during the Dark Ages.  The development of the compass, the rudder, and the availability of more accurate maps spurred exploration of the near Atlantic beginning in the 13th century, and Genoese, Moroccans, and possibly even Castilians had visited the Canary Islands by the end of the century.  In 1336 the Genoan sailor Lancelotto Malocello arrived on the island of Lanzarote, whose name is derived from that of the Italian navigator.  The first known map of the Canary Islands was drawn in Mallorca, in 1339.  In 1341 the king of Portugal sent a military expedition to the islands, under the command of Niccoloso da Recco; Florentines, Genoese, Portuguese, and Castilians were included in the force.  Four indigenous Canarians were captured and taken as slaves; the soldiers also obtained samples of gofio, the staple food made from toasted grains, Canary millo or millet, and several cultural artefacts.  During the following years the king of Mallorca and the Avignon Pope Clement VI authorized settlements, and by 1352 a Catalan-Aragonese expedition, headed by Arnau Roger, left for the islands with the intent of establishing a colony and converting the native Guanche population to Christianity.  The shipwreck of a Castilian vessel in 1382 briefly brought a Castilian presence to the islands, and by 1402 the newly arrived French conquerors described the activities of previously-established Castilian and Aragonese pirates.  By this time, hundreds of Guanches had been sold as slaves in Morocco and Andalusia, while European diseases had decimated the Guanche population remaining on the islands.

The definitive European colonization of the Canary Islands began with the French invasions of 1402 and the succeeding years.  The Guanches resisted tenaciously, but the French prevailed along coastal areas, and a few years later the `Kingdom of the Canaries' was proclaimed.  Indigenous uprisings and resistance did not cease until the final decades of the 15th century, and at best the European colonies were no more than fortified coastal enclaves surrounded by hostile natives.

By 1424 the ships of Portuguese Prince Henry `the Navigator' attempted to take possession of the Canary Islands.  These initial skirmishes were followed by full-scale Portuguese invasions in 1446 and 1468, although the Portuguese never wrested control of the islands from the French.  By the end of the 15th century the Canary Islands already contained a considerable Portuguese population, thus beginning the linguistic cross-fertilization that was to shape the emerging Canary Spanish dialect.  With the death of King Henry IV of Portugal in 1474 a fierce war between Portugal and Castile broke out.  The Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella claimed the `Guinea Coast' (the Senegambia region and the Windward coast to the south), in an attempt to slow the Portuguese expansion in West Africa.  The Portuguese responded by stepping up their agression against the Canary Islands.  A peace treaty signed in Alcáçovas in 1479 resulted in Castile's desisting in its claims to West Africa and the definitive renunciation of navigation rights in African waters.  The Portuguese agreed to stop their attacks on the Canary Islands, but the Portuguese presence on the islands continued to grow, dominating agriculture and commerce during the 16th century.

Spain launched its first serious effort to capture the Canary Islands in 1461, with attacks by Diego García de Herrera.  In 1478 the Catholic Kings sent another expedition headed by Juan Rejón, who built a fort on Gran Canaria.  From this beachhead Spain began its systematic attacks on the native population, obtaining a final surrender in 1483.  Spanish attacks on Tenerife began in 1496, and by the end of the 15th century the Canary Islands were under nominal Spanish control, although native insurrection continued for many more years.

The Spanish occupation of the Canary Islands coincided with the massive deportation of Guanches, many of whom were sent as slaves to Spain and other European countries.  The Guanches who remained on the islands were forced to work on the estates and in the businesses run by the new masters.  A contigent of Spanish Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula arrived in the islands beginning in 1492; following the establishment of the Inquisition in 1499 some emigrated to the Americas.

Although Spain effectively controlled the Canary Islands by the turn of the 16th century, heavy immigration of Portuguese and Genoan colonists continued, spurred by the liberal immigration policies of Alfonso Fernández de Lugo, the first governor of Tenerife and La Palma.  Fernández de Lugo recognized that the islands contained much fertile land, and encouraged the planting of sugar cane.  The first sugar mill was constructed in 1484 in Agaete, on Gran Canaria.  Another mill was built by a Genoan entrepreneur in 1501 in Gáldar, Gran Canaria, and much Genoan investment capital arrived to support the new sugar industry.

During the 16th century numerous Portuguese immigrated to the Canary Islands.  Many came from the Madeira islands, where they were engaged in sugar cane cultivation.  Others arrived directly from Portugal and worked in agriculture.  Portuguese settlers also worked as artesans and laborers, and a considerable number managed to acquire small properties.  At the beginning of the sugar industry in the Canary Islands the technical personnel were almost all Portuguese, having obtained their experience in Madeira, whence sugar cultivation techniques had arrived via Genoans and Sicilians, who had transplanted the sugar industry from the Mediterranean to the Portuguese Atlantic islands during the 15th century.  Guanche slaves were eventually deported from the Canary Islands and sent to Madeira, thus forming a vicious circle of sugar and slavery, which would be replicated a century later in the infamous sugar-slave-rum triangle encompassing Europe, West Africa, and the Caribbean.

As the Guanche population was diminishing--through deportations and European diseases--the newly arrived colonists turned to the importation of black slaves from the Senegambia and from the nearby Barbary Coast (Lobo Cabrera 1982).  The arrival of black slaves in the Canary Islands coincides chronologically with the initial presence of West Africans in Portugal and Andalusia.  Granda (1972) speculates as to whether a bozal Spanish was ever formed in the Canary Islands, similar to the Afro-Hispanic pidgin which was to be found in major Peninsular cities during the 16th and part of the 17th centuries.  To date, no credible evidence has come to date, but the sociodemographic conditions on some of the islands were similar to those which obtained in the Iberian Peninsula.  The Spanish also captured `Moorish' slaves from the neighboring coast of Morocco and Mauritania, thereby creating a linguistic and cultural mosaic which presaged the African communities in the large cities of Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries.  Berber slaves arrived in the eastern Canary Islands, the `moriscos' who served as crewmembers on Canary ships.  By the end of the 16th century, it is estimated that the `moriscos' constituted a majority of the population of Lanzarote.

By 1600 the Guanches had for all intents and purposes vanished from Canary life, although a few remote settlements continued to exist in isolation.  Portuguese emigration to the Canaries dwindled during the first decades of the 17th century, as Portugal fought to free itself from Spanish domination.  With the definitive independence of Portugal in 1640, Portuguese immigration to the Canary Islands increased once more, spurred by the economic devastation  suffered in Portugal, a situation exacerbated by the war with the Dutch over African and South American colonies. 

The Portuguese presence in the Canary Islands profoundly affected the vocabulary of Canary Spanish, and may have left traces in grammatical constructions as well.  The now somewhat moribund non-inverted questions of the sort ¿Qué quieres?, overt subject + infinitive (te digo eso para tu entender las consecuencias), and the combinations más nunca, más nada, más nadie, are all found both in Portuguese and in Canary Island Spnaish, as well as in Latin American dialects heavily influenced by Canary immigration.  Scholars have proposed that dozens of lexical items also bear a Portuguese imprint.  Of these, faca `dagger,' fechar, `to close, bolt shut,' guinchar `to scream,' jeito `cunningness,' rapadura `crystalized unrefined sugar' are the most notorious, but hundreds of other supposed Portuguese incursions have been collected by Pérez Vidal (1991); Morera (1994a) gives a more detailed analysis..  Many of these words have to do with meterological phenomena, particularly variants of light rain and drizzle:  cheire `thick fog/drizzle,' cherizo `cold drizzle,' chobasco `drizzle,' choricera `drizzle with strong breeze,' chumbar `persistent drizzle,' chumirisquear `intermittent drizzle,' chumisca `drizzle of short duration,' churiza `persistent drizzle with light breeze,' churume `drizzle with breeze,' churivisca/chuvisca `drizzle of short duration,' chuvizna `drizzle,' gargón `drizzle with northwest wind,' garubar `light rain with wind,' garuga `fine drizzle with fog,' garuja/jaruya `drizzle,' moliña `cold drizzle without wind,' moraliña `drizzle with wind,' morriña `drizzle,' muña `light rain,' etc. (Pérez Vidal 1991:  154-9).  Most of these items are found only regionally and only among older rural residents, although some are known throughout the islands.


Studies of Canary Island Spanish


Numerous monographs and articles have explored various facets of Canary Island Spanish, initially from a purely descriptive perspective, and more recently incorporating sociolinguistics, phonological theory, syntactic theory, and semantics.  Medina López (1996) surveys the literature, and the remaining articles in Medina López and Corbella Díaz (1996) provide a useful cross-section of recent research.  Almeida and Díaz Alayón (1988) and Lorenzo Ramos (1988) summarize many features of Canary Island Spanish. Medina López (1995, 1999) offers a trans-Atlantic perspective on Canary Spanish.  Alvar (1975b) is a linguistic atlas of the Canary Islands, based on Alvar’s personal fieldwork.  As with similar linguistic atlases from Spain and other European countries, the principal methodology consisted in the elicitation of individual words—often monosyllabic—in isolation, with the result that apparent patterns of regional variation appear which do not always correspond with observed speech in the same regions.  Alvar (1959) is an early monograph on the Spanish of Tenerife, while Alvar (1972) provides a first glimpse into social variation in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.  Almeida (1989, 1990) provides monographic treatments of rural and urban Gran Canaria speech, while Samper Padilla 1990, 1996) offers a sociolinguistic treatment of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria utilizing contemporary variational methodology.  Torres Stinga (1995) is a monographic treatment of Lanzarote Spanish, while Morera (1994b) describes the popular speech of Fuerteventura.  C. Alvar (1975) conducted a rudimentary survey in a fishing village on La Gomera, while Trujillo (1970) is a monograph on the speech of a village on Tenerife.  Lorenzo Ramos (1976) is an exceptionally detailed monograph on another town on Tenerife, and many typically Canarian traits are described in this book.  Trujillo (1978) is a phonetic study of the whistled language of La Gomera, now virtually defunct.  Piñero Piñero (2000) is a study of verbal constructions in the educated speech of Las Palmas, while Troya Déniz (1998) describes periphrastic constructions based on the infinitive in the same dialect.  Almeida (1999) examines aspects of rhythm in Canary speech..  Medina López (1993) gives a glimpse into the sociolinguistics of pronominal usage in one rural community.  Cáceres Lorenzo (1992) is a more general study of adverbial expressions. 

Phonetics and phonology

Although there is considerable regional and social variation in Canary Island Spanish, there is considerable homogeneity in pronunciation, with the major differentiators being social class and the rural/urban axis, together with age/generation.  The principal features are:

(1)  Syllable-final /s/ is uniformly aspirated in preconsonantal and word-final prevocalic position throughout the Canary Islands.  Phrase-final /s/ is more frequently lost.  The isolated dialect of El Hierro is reputed to tenaciously retain syllable- and word-final /s/ as a sibilant.  While this may once have been true, currently such sibilant pronunciation is found only among the oldest rural residents, combined with high rates of aspiration and loss of /s/ in the same positions.  There are also some elderly speakers in isolated villages of La Gomera who spontaneously retain word-final /s/ as [s] in some instances.

(2)  No Canary Island dialect distinguishes /s/ and /θ/, despite occasional assertions that the dialects of El Hierro maintain this opposition.  Ceceo or realization of all sibilants as [θ] is quite rare.  The usual Canary Island /s/ is a plain alveolar fricative, similar to the /s/ found widely in Latin America and western Andalusia.  Table 1 gives data on pronunciation of /s/ in key Canary Island dialects, the vestigial Canary-derived speech of the isleños of Louisiana, and selected dialects of southern Spain and the Caribbean.

(3)  Phrase-final and word-final prevocalic /n/ is usually velarized in Canary Island Spanish, and sometimes the velar nasal disappears, leaving only a nasalized vowel.  There is no evidence of a completely denasalized final vowel, e.g. in the third person plural verbal paradigm, as sometimes occurs in vernacular Andalusian Spanish.  At the same time, the rates of retention of alveolar [n] are higher in Canary Island dialects than in Andalusian and Caribbean Spanish.  Moreover, in the more isolated islands such as El Hierro and La Gomera, where in rural areas the speech is in general more archaic, rates of retention of final [n] are proportionately higher.

(4)  Striking in the speech of all the islands is the retention—general in rural speech and increasingly less common in urban speech—of the palatal liquid /λ/, which when present is always given a liquid pronunciation, and is never realized as a fricative.  Generally considered an archaism in the modern Spanish-speaking world, retention of /λ/ in the Canary Islands correlates well with other archaic features found in the more isolated Canary dialects.  Among Canary Islanders, awareness of the existence of /λ/ is high, but urban speakers report that only old speakers and those from totally rural areas use this phoneme.  In reality, even many younger urban Canary Islanders occasionally use /λ/, but its exclusive use appears to be on the decline throughout the archipelago.

(5)  There is considerable reduction and neutralization of syllable- and word-final liquids in Canary Spanish, with no single phonetic result predominating, even in the same dialect region.  Word- and phrase-finally, total loss of /l/ and /r/ is the most common manifestation, as it is throughout Andalusia, Extremadura, and surrounding areas, but lateralization of final /r/ to [l] occurs sometimes, particularly in Las Palmas.  Word-internal preconsonantal liquids show a much greater variation, with [l], [r], [Ø], [h], doubling of the following consonant, and even [n] being the most common manifestations.  Currently there is almost no trace of the vocalization of syllable-final /l/ and /r/ to [i], a trait once common in rural Canary Island speech.

(6)  The affricate /č/ shows a variety of realizations throughout the Canary Islands, with a fronted variant approximating [ty] being the most common alternative to the etymologically expected [č].  Deaffrication to [š] is quite uncommon, in comparison with western Andalusia where the fricative pronunciation predominates.

(7)  Intervocalic /d/ is frequently lost in the desinence –ado and to a lesser extent in other contexts.  Massive loss of intervocalic /d/ is correlated with the lower sociolinguistic registers.  Word-finally, /d/ routinely elides, and often remains elided in plural forms.

(8)  The most striking departure from a simple rule of `continuant spreading' comes in the Spanish dialect of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands.  In Las Palmas Spanish (LPS), as in all other Canarian varieties, voiced obstruents receive a continuant pronunciation following syllable‑final consonants, thus falling in line with `mainstream' Spanish dialects.  However, among the lower sociolinguistic strata, although /b/, /d/ and /g/ are uniformly fricative following [h] < /s/, when preconsonantal /s/ is elided altogether, the following obstruent receives a stop articulation (cf. Almeida 1989:  57; 1990:  48‑52; Alvar 1971:  100; Catalán 1960, 1964; Felix 1979; Samper Padilla 1990:  chap. 3; Trujillo 1981:  164‑5).  This results in minimal pairs such as [laβaka] la vaca vs. [labaka(h)] las vacas `the cow(s).'  Catalán (1960) describes the situation thus:  `la aspiración, al desaparecer, convierte a la consonante sonora inmediata en una oclusiva [b], [d], [g],' noting that residents of Tenerife, for whom voiced obstruents are always fricative following any manifestation of /s/, interpret Las Palmas speech as containing an /n/ (after which voiced obstruents are stops in all Spanish dialects):  lambaca < las vacas, landó < las dos, etc.  Catalán (1964) notes that this `refuerzo de la explosión' also occurs before voiceless obstruents, citing the novel by Pancho Guerra (1977:  67) in which the author transcribes Las Palmas as Lan Parmas, in mimicking the speech of the latter city.  Almeida (1990: 48-52) and Samper Padilla (1990:  chap. 3) provide data on the sociolinguistic stratification of this pronunciation, while Almeida (1989:  57) provides data suggesting a rural origin for this process, which is not found elsewhere in the Canary Islands.  The phonetic particulars of the stop/fricative alternation in LPS have been described by several observers, with results which do not always converge.  Alvar (1972:  100) asserts that the stop pronunciation is most frequent in the case of /b/:  `se produce una tensión articulatoria que lleva a la h al alargamiento de la fase tensiva de la b con relación siempre oclusiva ... y a veces, parecía percibirse un conato de ensordecimiento.'  Alvar (1972:  102) also observed the apparent nasalization of preconsonantal /s/, although noting that gemination of the voiced obstruent was more common:  `entonces, la posición débil de la h y fuerte de la b permitió la atracción de la primera a la realización de la segunda:  es el grupo -bb-, que se documenta sin dificultades ... la doble b ... exige una tensión articulatoria muy fuerte que ... obliga a la diferenciación de un mismo sonido articulado en dos momentos diferences ... la lengua resuelve la cuestión eliminando una de esas oclusivas.'  Trujillo (1981:  165) also claims prior gemination of the voiced obstruent in compensation for the loss of /s/:  `... una geminación, acompañada de gran tensión articulatoria, aunque en pronunciación rápida se reduce normalmente a una simple oclusiva de efecto acústico muy semejante a la geminada, pues mantiene siempre toda su tensión.' Trujillo (1981:  164-5) explains the matter thus:


... ante consonante sonora continua que pudiera tener variante oclusiva, la sonorización de [-h] y su posterior asimilación resultaba perfectamente viable, porque se mantenía la integridad silábica, alargando la articulación y dividiéndola en dos, con una oclusión en medio ... debió pasarse, pues, de la sonorización de la aspirada a la igualación de ambas consonantes en una articulación única, partida por una oclusión que, al mismo tiempo, aumentaba considerablemente la intensidad de la consonante ... el resultado ... es con frecuencia una geminación, acompañada de gran tensión articulatoria ... en todo caso, geminada, alargada o más o menos breve, lo que se conserva inconmovible es la tensión fuerte.


Trujillo (1981:  165) claims prior gemination of the voiced obstruent in compensation for the loss of /s/:  `... una geminación, acompañada de gran tensión articulatoria, aunque en pronunciación rápida se reduce normalmente a una simple oclusiva de efecto acústico muy semejante a la geminada, pues mantiene siempre toda su tensión.' For Trujillo, partial assimilation of [h] to a following consonant, first voicing and then point of articulation, eventually provoked an increased articulatory tenseness.  Almeida (1982, 1989) suggests the opposite course of events, namely that increased articulatory tension has induced gemination and/or shortening of the preceding vowel. 

According to Trujillo's description, preconsonantal /s/ is never realized as [h] in LPS, so that the only realizations of the combination /s/ + voiced obstruent are a single or geminate voiced stop (preconsonantal sibilant [s] is artificial and unnatural in this dialect and is not to be considered as a legitimate phonological variant).  Almeida (1982), on the other hand, tabulated many instances where /s/ remained as [h], but where a single or geminate stop instantiated the following voiced obstruent.  Felix (1979) provides a somewhat different description of LPS, claiming that /d/ is realized as a stop following /r/ (as in orden) and following sibilant [s] (as in desde).  /b/ is pronounced as a stop following sibilant [s].  The stop articulation is retained when the /s/ is aspirated or deleted altogether.  Felix also states that the stop articulation following elided /s/ occurs only after final plural -/s/ or final /-s/ in words like pues, dos and más, and suggests a functional hypothesis.  In second person singular verb forms ending in elided /-s/, Felix claims that a following voiced obstruent is realized as a fricative.  Many of these conclusions, particularly the noncontinuant realization of /d/ following [s] and [r], are contradicted by other researchers, including Samper Padilla (1990:  67).  My own fieldwork, carried out on LPS in 1983 and involving extensive recorded materials, confirms occlusive pronunciation of voiced obstruents following elided /s/, but reveal a dearth of conclusive cases involving [h] followed by a voiced obstruent.  Regardless of discrepancies among different observers, and of differences in research technique (Alvar 1972 and Trujillo 1981 relied on real-time transcription, Felix 1979 employed tape recordings, while Almeida 1982 not only taped examples, but subjected them to spectrographic analysis), a common core of observations remains, which challenges currently available models of Spanish phonology.

(9)  There is some voicing of intervocalic/word-initial postvocalic /p/, /t/, and /k/ throughout the Canary Islands (Torres Stinga 1995:62-4; Trujillo 1980a; Morera 1994:55).

(10)  Intervocalic /s/ is occasionally aspirated or lost, although not to the extent found, e.g., in Honduras, El Salvador, and New Mexico (Torres Stinga 1995:73-5).  Morera (1994:65) reports on the scarcity of this variant in Fuerteventura.

Canary Islanders abroad.

The frequent emigration of Canary Islanders over the past four centuries resulted in numerous transplanted Canarian communities throughout North and South America.  Linguistic traces of Canary Island Spanish continue to persist in the Caribbean, particuarly in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.  During the course of the 18th century, Spain sent large numbers of settlers from the Canary Islands to hold the line against French incursions at the western edge of the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo.  The significant proportion of Canary Islanders in rural western regions and also in the capital city may account for some of the features of Dominican Spanish, particularly the use of non-inverted questions.  Golibart (1976) believes that vocalization of syllable-final /s/ and /r/ (e.g. mujer > mujei, carta > caita, algo > aigo) in the northern Cibao region of the Dominican Republic is of Canary Island origin, although this pronunciation is very rare in contemporary Canary Spanish.  Megenney (1990a:  80f.) hints at an African origin for the same pronunciation.  Few other areas of Latin America have ever manifestated this phenomenon.  Puerto Rican jíbaro speech of the 19th century apparently had this trait, now absent in all Puerto Rican dialects (Alvarez Nazario 1990:  80f.).  Vocalization of liquids was also prevalent among the negros curros of 19th century Cuba, free blacks living in Havana who adopted a distinctive manner of speaking (Bachiller y Morales 1883, Ortiz 1986), more related to Andalusian than to Afro-Hispanic patterns.  It is thus possible that vocalization of liquids was once more common in many Spanish-speaking regions, being now reduced to a few small areas.  Granda (1991) believes that liquid vocalization is due primarily to sociolinguistic marginality, rather than to substrate influences.

In Cuba, immigration from Spain was especially heavy in the second half of the 19th century, particularly from Galicia/Asturias and the Canary Islands.  Canarian immigration peaked in the first decades of the 20th century, and was responsible for a not inconsiderable amount of linguistic transfer between the two territories.  So concentrated was Spanish immigration that Cubans began to refer to all Spaniards from the Peninsula as gallegos `Galicians,' and to the Canary Islanders as isleños `islanders.'  Alvarez Nazario (1972) gives an overview of the Canary Island influence on Puerto Rican Spanish.



Table 1:  Behavior of /s/ in Canary Island and other Spanish dialects


/sC/                  /s#C/                /s##/                /s#V/                /s/#v

[s] [h] [Ø]            [s] [h] [Ø]       [s] [h] [Ø]       [s] [h] [Ø]       [s] [h] [Ø]



11  76  13            3  62  35        4  11  85        49  30  21        10  57  33


Fuerteventura (rural)

 3  82  15            0  88  12        0  17  83        53  46   1          1  92   7


La Gomera (rural)

 5  93   2            2  94   4          11  12  77        84  11   5          4  93   3


Gran Canaria (rural)

 0  88  12            0  87  13        0  11  88        73  21   6          0  94   6


El Hierro (rural)


46  54   0            15  84  1          70  16  14        89   9   2          13  87   0


Lanzarote (rural)

 7  82  11            0  83  17        0  20  80        74  24   2          3  80  17


La Palma (rural)

 3  89   8            1  93   6          2  18  80        48  52   0          3  94   3


Tenerife (rural)

 2  66  32            0  90  10        3  19  78        84  16   0          3  87  10



 0  95   5            0  91   9          5   2  93        69  10  21        1  46  54



 0  82  18            0  85  15        1   2  97        0  15  85        2  50  48



 3  97   0            2  75  23        61  13  26        48  28  25        10  53  27


Dominican Republic

 8  17  75            5  25  70        36  10  54        50   5  45        17  22  61



 2  89   9            1  82  17        25   6  69        69  17  14        2  39  59



Puerto Rico

 3  92   5            4  69  27        46  22  32        45  32  23        16  53  31



 7  40  53            3  47  50        38  16  46        57  26  17        15  52  33


Legend:  C = consonant; # = word boundary; ## = phrase boundary;

         V = stressed vowel; v = unstressed vowel



Table 2:  Behavior of word‑final /n/ in Canary Island and other dialects


Dialect                                     /n/##                            /n/#V

                                                [n]   [ŋ]   [Ø]                   [n]    [ŋ]   [Ø]


Isleño                                       82     2     16                    94      0     6

Fuerteventura                           30    54   16                    50     37    13

  (Pto. Rosario)

Fuerteventura                           17    26   57                    56     21    23


La Gomera                               27    51   22                    55     34    11

 (S. Sebastián)

La Gomera (rural)               49    18   33                    80     11     9

Las Palmas de G. C.                18    49   33                    54     34    12

G. Canaria (rural)               29    29   42                    73     10    17

El Hierro                                  71     5   24                    96      0     4


Lanzarote                                 39    32   29                    57     17    26


Lanzarote (rural)               31     8   61                    76      4    20

La Palma (S. Cruz)                3      63  34                    55     23    22

La Palma (rural)               34    32  32                    61     18    21

S. Cruz de Tenerife                        13    51  36                    63     19    18

Tenerife (rural)             36    35  29                    63     26    11

Sevilla                                      2      42  36                    40     38    22

Granada                                   0      77  23                    48     35    17

Cuba                                        8      54  38                    3       59    38

Panama                                    1      88  11                    5       80    15

Puerto Rico                              22    69    9                      8       79    13

Venezuela                                1      86   13                    13     72    15


Legend:  /n/ ## = phrase-final (muy bien);  /n/ #V = word‑final prevocalic (bien hecho)