Similar to its people, the Dominican Republic is also geographically diverse—from mountain ranges and open plains to jungle areas and vast savannahs.
The northern coast connects to the Atlantic Ocean, while the south connects with the Caribbean Sea. The indigenous named the land Quisqueya, meaning “mother of all lands.”
With modern day Haiti occupying the western parts of the island, the Dominican Republic is made up of three major regions in the north, south and east: El Cibao, El Sur, and El Este.
Each region has its own customs, accent, and expressions.
The Eastern Region: El Este
Now if you head to El Este (the eastern region), you will begin to see vast stretches of dry land and dead head. El Este is well known for its major provinces: La Romana, Higuey, and Punta Cana. The beaches are beautiful, as you are now in the Caribbean Coast of the country, and tourism is much higher in this region than any other.
In La Romana, and especially Punta Cana, you will find the largest hotels and resorts in the country. Many Dominicans from all over travel there to work. Unlike in the rest of the country, El Este is much quieter and docile.
The people there mostly speak a Spanish that is very direct, with no regional accent and blunt pronunciation. Here you will find the majority of Catholics and Evangelicals. And even though they may seem a bit intimidating to talk to, their hearts are in the right place.
Northern Region: El Cibao
The largest region is El Cibao, which spreads through the north, northeast and central parts of the country. There you will find the longest, highest mountain ranges and fertile land. The El Cibao region accounts for almost all of the country´s agriculture and diverse wildlife species, which can be found in Constanza, Santiago, and Puerto Plata (three of the most prominent provinces in El Cibao).
The Cibaeños (people from El Cibao) are well known for their inviting character, laid back attitude, and witty country grammar. They often speak quickly and with a low voice, almost forcing you to lean in on the conversation. Cibaeños would best be described as southern country folks in the United States.
Many would describe the dialect as speaking Spanish with your mouth full. But even though it may be tricky, once you get the hang of it, it makes Spanish all the more colorful and entertaining. The majority of singers in the country, mainly in the bachata and merengue genres, use this dialect to add authenticity to their music.
Changing the Letter “R” to “I”
Cibaeños are also known for changing words ending in “er” to the “ei” sound (pronounced like the long letter “A” in English). For example, instead of saying “comer” (to eat), they would say “comei.” And rather than saying “beber” (to drink), they would say “bebei.”
Changing the Letter “I” to “R”
The letter “I” also gets switched to an “R” in the middle of words. For example, the word aceite (oil) is pronounced “acerte.”
Changing the Letter “L” to “I”
The letter “L” also can get switched to the “I” sound. For example, the word “vuelta” would be pronounced “vueita” and the word “puerta” is pronounced “pueita” in the northern region.
The Southern Region: El Sur
As you travel to El Sur (the south), you’ll begin to notice larger open spaces and more urban territory. Here you won’t find any large rural areas, as the demographic is predominantly urban.
Changing the Letter “L” to “R”
In the southern region, you will hear the letter “L” replaced with the letter “R” in spoken Spanish. The word “espalda” (back) would be pronounced “esparda.” A common Dominican saying, “Anda el diablo” is pronounced “Anda er diablo.”
Santo Domingo (the nation’s capital or “La Capital”) is in the southern region of the country. In “La Capital” you will notice the people there are less inviting, but much more exciting. Tall buildings, endless traffic jams, and salsa music abundantly echoing from cars are common sights and sounds in El Sur. Stores, known as Colmados, line the streets and you can hear Dominican hip-hop, reggaeton, and dembow music.
Unlike the Cibao, the Capital is full of American franchises and venues. Some music stations only play Hip Hop and Electro Dance music to satisfy the ever-growing population of youth. Here, the Capitaleños (people from La Capital) speak Spanish with a great deal of slang terms, such as words like “capiar,” “joseo,” and “fronteo”—all derived from American English slang “to cop,” “hustle,” and “fronting.”
Puerto Rican Influence: Speaking with an “L”
Many Capitaleños also have a slight Puerto Rican accent, mainly due to the popularity of Reggaeton in the urban areas. Words ending in “ar”, “er,” and “or” are pronounced with the “R” turning into an “L” sound.
For example, instead of saying “chofer” (driver), they would say “chofel” and instead of “manejar” (to drive), you would hear “manejal.”
The Spanish spoken by Capitaleños may be more understandable than that of their Cibaeño counterparts, but riddled with Urban American influence you may it still may be difficult to decipher if you’re not familiar with the expressions.