"Gracia." We hadn't even stepped out of the airport or had a chance to notice the perfect weather and gorgeous scenery of Puerto Rico before we had our first Borinquen experience: Puerto Rican Spanish.
"Did you hear that?" I asked Homer. "That guy just said 'gracia' without an 's' at the end. I wonder if that's how it's pronounced here." Homer doesn't come from a family of language lovers like I do (growing up, grammar and word-choice were frequently discussed, even heatedly debated, over dinner at my house), so I think he often tunes out my word-obsession... except when traveling, that is. When abroad, Homer is equally interested in getting to the heart of local language idiosyncrasies. And so we were both instantly on the alert for more Puerto Rican-isms.
We quickly noted that "buenos días" and "buenas noches" followed the same pattern as "gracias," becoming "bueno día" and "buena noche," no 's' to be heard.
Asking locals for their explanation offered little clarification. But I imagine Puerto Ricans must get grilled on this regularly, because most were quick to respond with, "I don't know why we drop the 's,' but it's not because we're lazy."
A little bit of digging eventually turned up a fascinating explanation:
Many of the early Spanish colonists to arrive in Puerto Rico came from Andalucía, the southernmost region of Spain. In Andalucía, post-vocalic syllable-final consonants are aspirated. In other words, a consonant that follows a vowel and is at the end of a syllable (or word) is not pronounced in a way "we" expect to hear, but rather comes out like the sound of a breath, a sound which we might not notice at all. And so "gracias" becomes "gracia," ending with the faintest hint of a breath sound.
Andalusian Spanish had another influence on Puerto Rican Spanish: the substitution of "l" for "r." Unfortunately, we didn't pick up on this on-the-ground, but did enjoy seeing it exemplified here:
Youtube commenters clearly disagree on the degree to which this substitution is universally Puerto Rican. We're looking forward to tracking it ourselves on a return trip.
And if you beat us to PR, stop back by to let us know what you hear. ¡Gracia!