Costa Rica was a Spanish colony that never aroused a desire for settlement or that presented probabilities of rapid enrichment as its neighbors Guatemala, Mexico or Panama, which had prosperous settlements long before the colonizing process began.
During colonial times Costa Rica was the southernmost territory of New Spain (a colonial territory of the Spanish Empire, north of the Isthmus of Panama) and one of the least influenced by the Spanish Crown.
Despite its small territorial size, each province in Costa Rica has distinctive features in its speech, accent, and phonetics. The province of Guanacaste (to the north) has much influence of the neighboring Nicaragua.
The Central Valley (Cartago, San Jose, Alajuela, and Heredia) maintain a common line, but even so, the sayings, expressions and phonetics change according to the education and social class of the speaker.
The province of the Costa Rican Caribbean: Limón, presents totally unique characteristics in its speech and culture, influenced by the Creole English and the Jamaican immigration that occurred there.
Costa Rica, like many other countries, is rich in expressions or idioms, and among its characterizations are costarricanisms. Some expressions have a national origin (güila, playo), while others are clearly imported (birra, wata).
They can also be classified according to the age of the population that uses them, since there are common
expressions throughout the population (zaguate, carajillo), while others are common to the youth (tuanis, mae).
Many of these idioms (playo, tombo) are not intelligible by other Spanish speakers, while some others are, although they are not known in advance (pura vida).
The distinguishing characteristics of Costa Rican phonetics include the following:
- Many Costa Ricans pronounce the “rr” not as an alveolar trill, as it is done in most Spanish-speaking regions, but as a [ɹ̝] with a sound similar to the /r/ of American English.
- The implosive “s” in most of the country, contrary to the rest of Central America where it is often omitted, in Costa Rica, rather, an emphasis is placed on it when it is pronounced.
- In rural areas, the pronunciation of the ‘d’ at the end of a word is omitted and the last vowel is accentuated. (Eg calidad-calidá / usted-usté).
Costa Ricans are colloquially called “ticos” (based on the frequent use of the diminutive ending -ico), and thus colloquial expressions characteristic of Costa Rica are called tiquismos.
Tiquismos and pachuquismos are used frequently in Costa Rica. The latter are expressions of popular street Spanish which can be considered vulgar and offensive if used in the wrong context. Many of these words, even when found in a standard Spanish dictionary, do not have the same meaning there as in Costa Rica.
Learning colloquial expressions can be a guide to understanding the humor and character of the Costa Rican culture.