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All these expressions are well established in the Dominican vocabulary, harking back to well before the more recent influence of globalized popular culture whose lingua franca is English, the increasing number of bi-lingual schools or the cross-fertilization with the Spanglish of the Dominican community in the US.

Many an English speaker has felt confused after having struggled bravely to remember the correct Spanish word, to find that it not the right one after all. Even stranger, the word being used by Dominicans sounds surprisingly familiar.

Consider some of the vocabulary for items of clothing: ‘Brasier’ is a bra (from brassiere, while the standard Spanish is ‘sostén’), a ‘poloché’ (polo shirt), ‘pantis’ (panties) and ‘ténis’ – sports shoes.

Baseball is another case in point. Most of the vocabulary associated with baseball is made up of anglicisms: ‘batear’ (to bat), ‘pichar’ (to pitch) and ‘jonrón’ (home run). The correct ‘cuadrangular’ is seldom used. The baseball pitch is always ‘El Play’, pronounced the English way. This, however, is not unique to the DR. All Latin American countries where baseball is popular, like Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba and Venezuela have adopted these terms in preference to their Spanish translations.

Some foods are called by peculiar adaptations of their English names, which might not be immediately obvious to the untrained ear. ‘Greifrú’ is grapefruit as well as the more standard Spanish ‘toronja’, and ‘cachú’ is ketchup. ‘Crinchí’ is cream cheese, and ‘chizqué’ is cheesecake. Makes complete sense, now, doesn’t it?

At the hardware store you will be pleased to discover that ‘teipi’, not ‘cinta adhesiva’ is adhesive tape, ‘swiche’ is light-switch, not ‘interruptor’, and ‘playú’ is plywood. What else?

When it comes to motor vehicles, you peer through the ‘winchí’ (windshield, standard Spanish is ‘parabrisas’), engage the ‘cloche’ (clutch, standard Spanish is ‘embrague’) and if you’re lucky, you’re driving a ‘yipeta’ (four-wheel drive vehicle, from the word ‘jeep’), which is the ultimate ingredient of the Dominican dream.

The Spanish influence, in terms of population movement, came from Galicia and the Canary islands, traditionally the regions in Spain that provided the majority of migrants to Latin America. If Dominican surnames are anything to go by, there is also an important Catalan, Basque and Andalusian heritage. All these migrants brought over their language with them, including provincial idiosyncrasies and words that were in common usage in Spain at the time. As a result, a number of words that are now defined as archaic in Spain are still alive and well in the Dominican Republic. Three common examples are ‘apear’ meaning ‘to get down’ or ‘to get off’, ‘asechar’ which means ‘to look’ or ‘to watch’, and ‘prieto’ for black. These have fallen out of everyday use in modern Spain, but have endured in the lands colonised and settled by the Spanish, in the same way as some 16th century English words and grammar still appear in present day Caribbean English (‘vexed’) and US English (‘gotten’).

Then there are the Dominicanisms that are definitely and distinctively Dominican, but are of obscure origin. ‘Un chin’ (a little bit, also ‘un chinchin’ – a tiny bit) is one example. ‘Chele’ meaning ‘cent’ is another uniquely Dominican word, with no obvious origin.

Some words have different, and sometimes potentially problematic, meanings in the Dominican Republic. ‘Guapo’ is handsome (‘guapa’ – beautiful) in standard Spanish, while in the DR it means angry or tough. ‘Un guapo’ in the DR is a tough guy, in Venezuela for example he would be a pimp, and in Mexico or Spain, a matinee idol. Not quite the same thing! It’s also useful to remember to say ‘funda’ for ‘bag’, instead of the standard ‘bolsa’ which is vulgar. ‘Nalgas’ is the acceptable term for buttocks. The standard Spanish ‘culo’ is never used in polite conversation.

When a foreigner says these words, some, but not all Dominicans will be aware of the standard meaning, and realise what you’re on about. The challenge is to learn which of these words are uniquely Dominican and which are not. You’ll also need to know this if ever you are going use your Spanish in any different Spanish speaking country, especially if you want people to actually understand what you’re saying.
 
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