Calo in Cuba

In his book, Inmigración y lengua nacional (Editorial Academia, La Habana: 1994), the renowned Cuban linguist, Sergio Valdes Bernal compiled a list of words from the Caló language that are used in popular Cuban speech. Caló is the language of the Spanish Roma (the group known as “gitanos” in Spain, “Gypsies” in English, and “ciganos” in Portuguese). The list includes words such as, ‘jamar’, ‘sandunga’, ‘chusma’, ‘mangar’, ‘furnia’, and ‘chaval’ that are widely used in Cuba and not only among the lower social classes, as many linguists have stated. The Caló language has profoundly influenced the Spanish spoken in Andalusia (the region of southern Spain) and, as Valdés Bernal has indicated through his analysis of Cuba speach, areas where Andalusians settled in the New World. Since Andalusians were one of the largest groups of Spaniards to emigrate to the Americas, the influence of Caló lexicon can be looked at as one of many unifying characteristics of the Spanish spoken in the New World.

These linguistic contributions could be been seen as icons that indicate a much larger transculturation that took place in Andalusia and later in the Americas. Along with dozens of words that Valdés Bernal has identified as so-called “gitanismos” (‘Gypsyisms’) in Cuban Spanish, there are also strong remnants of Roma culture in the religious imagery and musical traditions of Cuba, to mention only two areas of influence.

The Andalusian and Romaní influence on Cuban music is yet another example of the vast connections between these cultures. From “el llorao” (the cry that often opens Flamenco and Cuban Rumba numbers and appears in emotionally climatical moments), to “el laleo” (the harmonious and rhtymic use of the sound ‘la’ in Flamenco and Rumba), to dance steps, it becomes clear that what we see in terms of Caló influence on Cuban Spanish is a small part of a more expansive dialogue between Roma, Andalusian, and Cuban cultures.

A list of Caló words used in Cuba (Valdes Bernal, Sergio. Inmigración y lengua nacional. Editorial Academia, La Habana: 1994):

Acurdar. Emborrachar
Achuntar. Sujetar
Acharés. Dar
Alares o jalares. Pantalones
Andoba. Nombre propio, por fulano, el que esta a la vista
Baré o Barí. Bueno, a propósito, completo
Belén. Amor, alboroto, enredo, zafacoca, cuento, confusión
Berri o Berro. Cólera, coraje, berrinche
Birlar. Quitar a uno valiéndose de alguna intriga, estafar, engañar
Bisnar o Binar. Vender
Bureo. Paseo
Butén. De primera
Caló. Habla gitano
Camelar. Engañar
Camelo. Enano, estafa, decepción
Coba. Halago o adulación fingida
Cúmbila. Camarada, amigo de confianza, lobo de la misma camada
Cuna. Gente de barrio, rincón, esquina
Curda. Embriaguez, borrachera
Chalao. Loco
Chaladura. Locura
Chamullar. Hablar
Chamullo. Conversación
Changüí. Broma, engaño
Chapatalear. Nadar
Chaval. Joven
Chiringa. Un papalote pequeño o volatín con que juegan los muchachos. de uso exclamativo.
Chiva o Chivato.  Soplón, delator
Chola. Juicio
Chunga. Broma, guasa, burla festiva,
Chusma. Muchedumbre de baja categoría
Espichar. Morir, perecer
Furnia. Cueva, cavidad
Garito. Casa de juego
Guillarse. Irse, hacerse pasar por algo distinto de lo que se es, volverse loco,  hacerse el loco, ir de prisa, enloquecer
Jamar. Comer
Jarana. Fiesta, diversión
Jaranear. Hablar en broma
Jaranero. Bromista
Jeta. Cara, hocico
Jindama. Miedo, cobardía
Jiñar. Defecar, ensuciar, apestar, orinar
Jiribilla. Mujer que tiene sal, gracia, donaire. Astucia, sagacidad
Mangar. Pedir, mendignar, disfrutar, percibir, aprovechar algo
Manguindó. Hombre holgazán, que anda de vicioso en donde quiera, presentándose al estilo de tonto y frecuentemente de gorra
Mangué. Equivale l pronombre personal me, mi
Menda. Yo
Pargo. Bugarrón
Parguela. Homosexual
Piratear. Fornicar
Pirar. Ir, andar a alguna parte
Postín. Importancia, rango, brillo, lujo
Prajo. Cigarro
Puró. Padre, el viejo
Sandunga. Gracia, donaire, garbo
Sornar, surnar. Dormir

This transatlantic continuity, one that reaches back to India and speaks of the profound impact of Roma culture on Spain and the Americas, is also one pillar of what we are trying to understand as a system of cultural patterns that embody the Sirocco region and that travel like the Sirocco winds.


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