Spanish is the official and most widely spoken language in Costa Rica. All major newspapers and official businesses are conducted in Spanish. English is widely spoken in most places, especially those frequented by tourists, and information for visitors is often bilingual or even exclusively in English. A number of shops run by European owners can receive customers in Spanish, English and their mother tongue.
Some colloquial expressions from Costa Rica :
- Mae or sometimes “Maje” is used in reference to the American English word “dude”. Generally spoken among the male population or among friends. It is as informal as the word “mate”. Mae is mostly used by the younger population and maje by the older population. It is pronounced “maheh”.
- Pura vida, literally translated as “pure life”, is a common expression in Costa Rica. It can be used in many contexts, as an expression of enthusiasm, approval or greeting. It is pronounced “poora veeda”.
- Tuanis, means “OK” or “cool”. It was thought to be derived from the English expression “too nice”, but it is actually a word borrowed from the Código Malespín, a code used during the various civil wars in Central America in the 19th century.
A common version of slang in Costa Rica and other parts of Latin America is called “pachuco”, “pachuquismo” or “costarriqueñismo” and is used by all social classes (to some extent), but can sometimes be vulgar and is considered an informal way of speaking.
For the word “you” (informal singular form), most people in the Central Valley use “vos” (as in “vos sos” – you are) instead of “tú”, which is also common in other Latin American nations (Argentina, Uruguay), but the word “usted” is prominent in the South Pacific of Costa Rica and is preferred to “vos”. In all cases, formal Spanish is understood and you can use any form of the word “you” that you deem appropriate.
Costa Ricans tend to use the term regálame, literally “give me”, instead of “take me”. For example, when a Costa Rican says “regálame la cuenta”, it literally means “give me the bill”, which is unusual in other Spanish-speaking countries but very common in Costa Rica. Another case is when Costa Ricans want to buy something. In this case, they use the expression in the following way: “Regáleme un confite y una Coca“, literally “Offer me a sweet and a Coke”, but it is understood that the person asking will buy these things and does not expect the other person to offer them to him. A more accurate formulation in standard Spanish would be: “Me vende un confite y una Coca“, which means: “Sell me a sweet and a Coke”.
Limonense Creole (Mekatelyu)
In addition to Costa Rican Spanish, there is also an English-based Creole language spoken in the province of Limón on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. It is called Limón Creole or Mekatelyu. This Creole language is essentially a localised form of Jamaican Patois and is similar to varieties such as Colón Creole, Miskito Coastal Creole, Belizean Kriol and San Andrés and Providencia Creole. The name Mekatelyu is a transliteration of the phrase “make I tell you”, or in standard English “let me tell you”.