A Puerto Rican Phenomenon

Can Muecas be considered a language?

Muecas have been a norm my entire life. Muecas is how many if not all Puerto Ricans communicate with their faces and facial gestures. My ultimate goal is to decipher if Muecas can be considered a language. I will begin with what is language according to the universal norm; I will then explain Muecas and finally decide if they can be considered a language. I will base this on research of language itself and some interviews and surveys I have gathered. Enjoy and be prepared to learn another language.

What is Language?

In order to determine if Muecas are a language we need to understand what language is. From the minute we are born someone begins to communicate with us through language. As we grow we are taught sounds and how to place those sounds on a paper via symbols, all considered language.

We know what the English language sounds like; most of us especially here in New York have heard many other languages including Spanish, Italian, French and many others. We also recognize sign language when it is being done. We know all of these to be languages even if we do not understand them. So, if there are a group of people communicating solely with their faces and we do not understand them, could that also be considered a language?

As Stated in the Journal of Communication in 1965, “There has been little investigation of facial expression as a communication phenomenon. In this relatively neglected area of human communication one can conceive of facial expression as a visual code available to the human source for the encoding and transmission of purposive messages.” Since then there have been studies of facial expressions and the correlation to a language. In 1975 there was another paper that discussed how “Current studies and reanalysis of older experiments have clearly shown that facial expressions can provide accurate information about emotion”. Accurate information about emotion, this is saying that one does not have to say verbally I am sad, mad or happy? It is said in the face, language maybe?

There was more interest in the study of facial expressions as a language as time moved on. In the Canadian Journal of Communication, the article Power In Language,discusses how silence can be as strong as verbal speech and is a form of language. Another study stated by Russell James states that “people everywhere can infer something about others from their facial behavior.” It was also studied that nonverbal behaviors, which included facial expressions added to power.

Lisa Wise stated in her research that “Siang mien, the art of reading faces, has survived in Chinese culture for over 3000 years. This art is also important in Chinese medical treatment, according to Kuei, a Chinese medical practitioner now working in Munich. Kuei uses 180 drawings to show how faces can be read”

According to an article written by Deborah Blum in Psychology Today “Growing out of resurging interest in the emotions, psychologists have been poring over the human visage with the intensity of cryptographers scrutinizing a hidden code. Displays of emotion are only half the equation, of course. How viewers interpret those signals is equally important.”

Displays of facial expressions were even mentioned in the Financial Times of London. According to the article when it comes to lying some are better at it than others and a common tell is the face can give away non-verbal clues as a shifty expression or blushing.

Body movements such as gestures, facial expressions, eye communication, tactile communication and paralanguage have been identified by researchers as principle non-verbal cues (DeVito, 1989; Leathers, 1989; Kendon, 1983).

Most recently there was a study of facial expressions at different levels of intensity. The article was called Cultural Differences In Recognition Of Subdued Facial Expressions Of Emotions. It was featured in a publication titled Motivation and Emotion. The study stated that people of the same culture could recognize subtle facial expressions easier than trying to recognize those of another culture. “The present findings suggest that the in-group advantage resides in recognizing expressions of mid-range intensities but

diminishes in recognizing milder expressions, and when the in-group advantage stops, cultural differences in sensitivity to very subtle expressions come to fore, at least for negative emotions involving potential threats to social harmony.”

All of these articles and studies while they have not formally created a dictionary have stated one way or another that facial communication is real and happens on a daily basis for different reasons.

According to Webster’s dictionary communication is the act or process of using words, sounds, signs, or behaviors to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else; and language is the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other.


In order to properly answer my thesis of Muecas being a language, I needed to gather data. The data on Muecas did not exist so I reached out to family and friends and conducted a survey to gather the information needed. This was by far the hardest part not the actual conducting of the surveys but getting people to respond. The ones that did I wish to publicly thank for their assistance.


I was able to video interview seven people and get twelve written surveys to the following questions:



Are you bilingual?

If so, how much?

Do you read and write in Spanish?

Do you know what Muecas are?

Do you do them?

How often?

Can you demonstrate some, and what they mean?

Can Muecas be mean or nice?

How long have you been doing Muecas?

Who taught you?

Have you taught others?

Are Muecas done by other cultures or just Puerto Ricans?

Do you consider Muecas a language?

Big image

I have been doing Muecas longer than anyone in this report!

Mama Mueca Edited
Cookie Video
Dad Mueca.wmv
JC Mueca
Betsy Video
Loli Video
Chloe Video


The following personal data I was able to retrieve revealed the following statistics:


So you have seen some Muecas and some of their meanings. As stated earlier language is the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other. After my research, interviews and surveys I have come to the conclusion that Muecas can be considered a language. While my survey group was small it was a broad spectrum of gender and age. I would love to see one day a more extensive research on this Puerto Rican phenomenon. I hope you have all learned at least one Mueca.


Williams, F., & TOLCH, J. (1965). COMMUNICATION BY FACIAL EXPRESSION. Journal of Communication (Pre-1986), 15(1), 17. Retrieved from

Blum, D. (1998, Sep). Face it! Psychology Today, 31, 32-39+. Retrieved from

Wise, L. S. (1998). Face reading: Keys to instant character analysis. Library Journal, 123(13), 116-117. Retrieved from

Russell, J. A. (1995). Facial expressions of emotion: What lies beyond minimal universality? Psychological Bulletin, 118(3), 379. Retrieved from

Zhang, F., Parmley, M., Wan, X., & Cavanagh, S. (2015). Cultural differences in recognition of subdued facial expressions of emotions. Motivation and Emotion, 39(2), 309-319. doi:

Boucher, J. D., & Ekman, P. (1975). Facial areas and emotional information. Journal of Communication (Pre-1986), 25(2), 21. Retrieved from

Pincock, S. (2005, Jul 16). Deceit on the street lying is an important survival tactic and, from father christmas to mendacious facial expressions, we do it more than we think. Financial Times Retrieved from

Aguinis, H., Simonsen, M. M., & Pierce, C. A. (1998). Effects of nonverbal behavior on perceptions of power bases. The Journal of Social Psychology, 138(4), 455-469. Retrieved from

Ng, S. H., & Bradac, J. J. (1995). Power in language: Verbal communication & social influence // review. Canadian Journal of Communication, 20(2), 278-280. Retrieved from

Yammiyavar, P. Y., Clemmensen, T. C., & Kumar, J. K. (2008). Influence of cultural background on non-verbal communication in a usability testing situation. International Journal of Design, 2(2) Retrieved from