In Cuba and perhaps to a lesser extent the Dominican Republic (and perhaps other countries), the 's' is often silent.

How and why did this come to be?

A layperson's guess (and I am a layperson) is the French influence. Is there a more detailed explanation for this?

  • Are you talking specifically about loss of s before other consonants, as in words like esto? Or is s also lost in other positions?
    – TKR
    May 9, 2014 at 16:13
  • 4
    It isn't that they're "silent", exactly. Quite often in Amererican Spanish dialects (especially in the Caribbean area) a final or clustered /s/ is pronounced as [h], which non-natives often don't hear. In English, /h/ only occurs before vowels, and English speakers particularly are apt to miss a clustered [h] fricative, like está [ɛh'ta] or word-final ones, like buenos dias ['bwenoh 'diah].
    – jlawler
    May 9, 2014 at 17:24
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    It's not just the Caribbean islands and surrounding coasts (except Yucatan peninsula) though it's most noticeable there. A lot of Mexican coastal areas' dialects have this pronunciation, appears in a softened version in the dialect of Buenos Aires (ARG) as well as in areas of southern Spain, where it actually originated. It affects only 's' which are at the end of a word or sometimes within words at the end of a syllable - always when followed by a consonant, if followed by a vowel they're almost always fully pronounced.
    – Joe Pineda
    May 10, 2014 at 17:26
  • I think this change is common also in Argentina and Uruguay - as in Amelita Baltar singing this song by Piazzola, youtube.com/watch?v=XLVJxxq0ncU - which should be pretty safe from French influences (and then the problem becomes how to explain such change - and others, such as "piantao" for "piantado", or /dʒo/ and /dʒamo/ for "yo" and "llamo" - through the "influence" of Italian - a language that notoriously lacks /h/ and /ʒ/ and pronounces intervocalic "d" quite conspicuously...) Mar 19, 2018 at 0:52
  • You don't have to have an influence from a language with a property in order for a property to develop. Some properties are just common: palatalization, lenition, r-dropping, s->h, etc. To have good plausibility for influence there should be a good historical record of population mixing (a colonial prestige language, imperialism, population mixing etc). I don't think there's a good record of that between French and Cuban. It's more likely that s->h is an easy sound change in any context.
    – Mitch
    Mar 20, 2018 at 12:52

2 Answers 2


As jlawler says in his comment, what's really going on is that [s] has become [h] in certain positions. This is a pretty common type of sound change, which falls under the rubric of "debuccalization". Phonetically, what happens in this type of change is basically that the articulation becomes laxer, in that (in this case) the near-closure at the alveolar ridge which is needed to produce an [s] sound is no longer being made, and all that's left in a puff of air, i.e. [h].

That's the "how"; as for the "why", that's a more difficult question, as is usually the case in linguistics generally and with sound changes specifically. Seeing that this kind of change occurs fairly often in unrelated languages (see the Wiki page for a similar example from Ancient Greek), it seems to be simply an articulatory tendency that some languages show and others not -- why is anyone's guess. I'm no Romance historical linguist, but French influence doesn't seem impossible in this particular case: the French were colonizing the Caribbean at about the same time that they were losing syllable-final consonants, and if French [s]-loss went through an [h] stage, it's possible that that remained as a substrate influence in Caribbean Spanish. But you could imagine other language-contact scenarios, e.g. possible influence from indigenous languages that lacked an [s] sound. In any case, though, a language-contact explanation isn't really needed here, since this is a common enough type of change that it could have happened on its own without any outside influence.

  • 4
    Not just the Caribbean, southern Spain also whence it spread. In this video Puerto Rican Ricky Martin and an Andalusian band Spanish singing together, check girl's pronunciation at 1:28. Some final 's' turn 'h', others are elided completely, some intervocalic 'd' are elided, no distinction between s/z (shared with all Latin American dialects). youtube.com/watch?v=QjR3uQqzXWY
    – Joe Pineda
    May 10, 2014 at 19:18
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    French and Amerindian languages in Buenos Aires, Andalusia and Tenerife? Mar 16, 2018 at 21:40

Caribbean style Spanish (with aspirated s sounding like an h) is actually directly related to Canarian Spanish. In the canary islands the Spanish spoken is very similar. It's so similar that Puerto Ricans and Canarians can be confused in certain areas (I imagine Andalusian as well ass this can sound similar in some areas). I am sure this confusion also occurs between Canarians and other Caribbeans as well. I recommend reading about Canarian Spanish (in addition to Caribbean Spanish as a whole).

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