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Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with over 500 million native speakers globally. In the United States, Spanish is the second most spoken language after English. But did you know that there is a U.S. territory where Spanish is an official language? Keep reading to find out the answer.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Puerto Rico is the U.S. territory that uses Spanish as an official language.

In this comprehensive guide, we will dive deep into the history and status of Puerto Rico as a U.S. territory, its people and culture, and the role of the Spanish language on the island. We will also look at other U.S. territories like Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands and see why Spanish is not an official language there.

Background and History of Puerto Rico as a U.S. Territory

Puerto Rico, an island located in the Caribbean Sea, has a rich and complex history as a territory of the United States. This article will explore the timeline of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States, its legal status, and the unique governance and citizenship rights of its residents.

When and How Puerto Rico Became a U.S. Territory

Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. As part of the Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, along with the Philippines and Guam, to the United States. This marked the beginning of a new chapter for Puerto Rico, as it transitioned from being a Spanish colony to becoming an unincorporated territory of the United States.

The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States has evolved over the years. In 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act granted U.S. citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico. However, it wasn’t until 1952 that Puerto Rico adopted its own constitution, establishing a Commonwealth status and granting more autonomy to the island.

The Legal Status of Puerto Rico

The legal status of Puerto Rico is a topic of ongoing debate and discussion. While Puerto Rico is considered a U.S. territory, it is not a state. It is classified as an unincorporated territory, which means that the U.S. Constitution does not fully apply to Puerto Rico. Instead, Congress has the power to make decisions regarding Puerto Rico’s governance and relationship with the United States.

Over the years, there have been discussions and initiatives to change Puerto Rico’s status. Some Puerto Ricans advocate for statehood, while others support independence or maintaining the current commonwealth status. However, any changes to Puerto Rico’s status would require congressional approval.

Citizenship and Governance

As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans have the same rights and protections as citizens residing in any of the 50 states. They can travel freely between Puerto Rico and the mainland United States, serve in the U.S. military, and participate in federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

However, Puerto Rico has a unique system of governance. The island has its own governor and legislature, responsible for making decisions on local matters. The relationship between the Puerto Rican government and the U.S. federal government is governed by the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act, which outlines the parameters of their relationship.

Spanish Language and Culture in Puerto Rico

Spanish as the Official and Dominant Language

When it comes to languages spoken in Puerto Rico, Spanish takes the center stage. In fact, Spanish is not only widely spoken but also the official language of the island. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico’s official languages are Spanish and English. However, Spanish is the dominant language used in everyday communication, business transactions, and government affairs. It is estimated that more than 95% of the population speaks Spanish fluently.

Spanish has a rich history in Puerto Rico and has been deeply ingrained in the culture for centuries. The language was brought to the island by Spanish colonizers during the early days of European exploration and colonization. Over time, Spanish has evolved and developed its own unique dialect in Puerto Rico, known as Puerto Rican Spanish or “español puertorriqueño.” This dialect contains influences from African, Taíno, and English languages, reflecting the island’s diverse cultural heritage.

Influence of Spanish Culture

The Spanish language is not the only aspect of Spanish culture that has had a significant influence on Puerto Rico. Spanish customs, traditions, and values have also played a major role in shaping the island’s cultural identity. From music to cuisine, architecture to literature, Spanish influences can be seen and felt throughout Puerto Rico.

One of the most notable contributions of Spanish culture to Puerto Rico is its music. Traditional Puerto Rican music, such as salsa, merengue, and bomba, has strong roots in Spanish rhythms and melodies. These musical genres showcase the fusion of African, Taíno, and Spanish influences that have shaped Puerto Rico’s unique cultural landscape.

The Spanish language and culture have also influenced Puerto Rican cuisine. Many traditional dishes in Puerto Rico, such as arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), lechón asado (roast pork), and mofongo (mashed plantains), have Spanish origins. These dishes not only reflect the flavors of Spain but also incorporate local ingredients and techniques, creating a distinct Puerto Rican culinary tradition.

Language Preservation Efforts

While Spanish is deeply rooted in Puerto Rican culture, efforts are being made to preserve and promote the language. Organizations like the Academia Puertorriqueña de la Lengua Española (Puerto Rican Academy of the Spanish Language) work to ensure the correct usage and preservation of the Spanish language in Puerto Rico.

Furthermore, there are initiatives in place to promote bilingualism and improve English proficiency among Puerto Ricans. English is taught in schools, and many Puerto Ricans are bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English fluently.

Other Major U.S. Territories and Their Languages


Guam is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States located in the western Pacific Ocean. The official languages of Guam are English and Chamorro, a language native to the Chamorro people of the Mariana Islands. English is widely used in government, business, and education, while Chamorro is spoken by a significant portion of the population. The preservation and promotion of the Chamorro language and culture are important to the people of Guam, and efforts are made to ensure its vitality.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands, located in the Caribbean Sea, is also an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. The official language of the U.S. Virgin Islands is English, which is widely spoken and used in government and education. However, due to its proximity to Puerto Rico and the influence of the Spanish language in the region, Spanish is also commonly spoken, especially by the Hispanic community. The use of Spanish adds to the cultural diversity and richness of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

American Samoa

American Samoa is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the South Pacific Ocean. The official languages of American Samoa are English and Samoan. English is widely used in government, business, and education, while Samoan is the language spoken by the majority of the population. The unique blend of English and Samoan culture and language shapes the identity of American Samoa and contributes to its rich cultural heritage.

Northern Mariana Islands

The Northern Mariana Islands, situated in the western Pacific Ocean, is a commonwealth of the United States. The official languages of the Northern Mariana Islands are English and Chamorro. English is widely spoken and used in government, business, and education, while Chamorro is the native language of the Chamorro people. The preservation and promotion of the Chamorro language and culture are valued in the Northern Mariana Islands, and efforts are made to ensure its continued use and vitality.

For more information about the U.S. territories and their languages, you can visit the official websites of each territory:


In conclusion, out of all the current U.S. territories, Puerto Rico stands out as the only one that uses Spanish as an official language. This is due to its unique history as a former Spanish colony that came under U.S. control in the late 19th century. While English has gained ground, Spanish remains the predominant language on the island. The culture and daily life of Puerto Ricans are heavily influenced by their Spanish roots.

So there you have it – the answer to the question of which U.S. territory uses Spanish as an official language is Puerto Rico. Hopefully this guide gave you a comprehensive overview of Puerto Rico’s history, culture, and linguistic profile within the context of the United States and its territories.

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