Puerto Rico had been a Spanish colony for more than three centuries when it was ceded to the United States of America after the Spanish-American War in 1898. Since then it has been a U.S. territory. Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917. In 1952, Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth (an English translation of the Spanish term "Estado Libre Asociado”, literally ‘free associated state’), with the U.S. Congress legislating over many fundamental aspects. Even though Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they do not enjoy all the rights of mainland U.S. citizens.
The large majority of today’s 3.5 million Puerto Ricans live on the main island, with only a small proportion of inhabitants living on the two smaller islands of Vieques (pop. ca. 10,000) and Culebra (pop. ca. 2,000). A considerable number of Puerto Rican residents are return migrants from the U.S. At approximately five million, the number of Puerto Ricans (or people of predominantly Puerto Rican ancestry) living on the U.S. mainland outnumbers the population of Puerto Rico proper.
Today both Spanish and English are official languages in Puerto Rico. Spanish is clearly the main first language. Levels of fluency in English vary across social groups, and although not all members of the Puerto Rican elite are bilingual, there is a general correlation between proficiency in English, socio-economic status, level of formal education, and income. Many place names and words from the field of flora and fauna used in both Spanish and English derive from the indigenous Taíno language. Other words (including terms for foods, cultural practices, religious concepts) have West African roots.
In almost all state-funded schools, Spanish is the language of instruction, while English as a second language is taught as a compulsory subject from primary to high school. As far as domains are concerned, English is frequently used for professional purposes (notably in trade, tourism, and at some levels of the legal system) and in the media and the healthcare system. Resistance to using English in a wide array of social domains has long been associated with policies and critiques of U.S. colonialism; however, shifts in language attitudes today are evident among many university students and other groups. In addition, complex and dynamic patterns of codeswitching involving alternation between Spanish and English are common among many younger Puerto Ricans.
Fayer, Joan M. (2000) Functions of English in Puerto Rico. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 142: 89–102.
Pousada, Alicia (1999) The singularly strange story of the English language in Puerto Rico. Milenio 3: 33–60.