Ciboney languages

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Ciboney
(cultural / historical)
Ethnicity: Ciboney people
Geographic
distribution:
Greater Antilles
Linguistic classification: unclassified
(not known to be related to each other)
Subdivisions:
Glottolog: (not evaluated)

The Ciboney languages are the presumed languages of Cuba, Hispaniola, and the other islands of the Antilles which preceded the Arawakan and Cariban languages Taíno and Galibi.

The name Ciboney is Taíno, in which it referred to the Arawakan population of Cuba. However, in English it has come to be applied to the pre-Arawakan population of all the islands of the Caribbean.

Languages[edit]

There were three Ciboney populations at the time of the Spanish Conquest, and they were extinct within a century. These were the Guanahatabey of western Cuba, the Macorix (Mazorij) of southeastern Hispaniola (modern Dominican Republic), the Ciguayo (Siwayo) of northeastern Hispaniola (Samaná Peninsula), and possibly a population in southwestern Hispaniola (modern Haiti, Tiburon Peninsula). They were evidently completely unintelligible with Taíno. Ciguayo and Macorix were apparently moribund when chronicler De las Casas arrived on the island in 1502. He wrote in his Historia (1527–1559),

Es aquí de saber que un gran pedazo desta costa, bien más de 25 ó 30 leguas, y 15 buenas, y aún 20 de ancho, hasta las sierras que hacen desta parte del Norte la Gran Vega inclusive, era poblada de unas gentes que se llamaban mazoriges, y otras ciguayos, y tenían diversas lenguas de la universal de toda la isla. No me acuerdo si diferían éstos en la lengua, como ha tantos años, y no hay hoy uno ni ninguno a quien lo preguntar, puesto que conversé hartas veces con ambas generaciones, y son pasados ya más de cincuenta años[1]
"It's worth noting here that a large section of this coast, at least 25 or 30 leagues, and a good 15 or maybe 20 wide, up to the hills which together with the Great Plain make up this part of the coast, was populated by peoples known as Mazorij, and others [known as] Ciguayos, and they had different languages than the one common to the entire island. I don't remember if they differed [from each other] in language, as it's been many years, and there is not a single person today to ask, as I've spoken often enough with both generations, and more than 50 years have passed."

However, elsewhere he notes that the neighboring languages were not intelligible with each other,

Tres lenguas habia en esta Isla distintas, que la una á la otra no se entendía; la una era de la gente que llamábamos del Macoríx de abajo, y la otra de los vecinos del Macoríx de arriba, que pusimos arriba por cuarta y por sexta provincias; la otra lengua fué la universal de toda la tierra,[2]
"Three language on this island [of Hispaniola] were distinct, in that they could not understand one another; the first was that of the people [of the region] we called the lower Macorix, and the other that of their neighbors of the upper Macorix [the Ciguayos], which we described above as the 4th and 6th provinces; the other language was the universal one of all the land [Taíno]".

Classification[edit]

Little else is known of the Ciboney languages apart from the word for gold in Ciguayo, tuob, mentioned in the sentence immediately preceding the first passage above:

Aquí no llamaban caona al oro como en la primera parte desta isla, ni nozay como en la isleta de Guanahaní o San Salvador, sino tuob.
"Here they don't call gold caona as in the first part of this island, nor nozay as in the islet of Guanahani or San Salvador, but tuob."[1]

Tuob, whether two syllables or one ([tu.ob] or [twob]), is not a possible Taíno word. Both the Arawak and Carib languages had a simple CV-syllable structure, suggesting that Ciguayo wasn't just unintelligible, but actually of a different language family than the two known languages of the Caribbean. Granberry (1991) has speculated that they may have been related, not to the languages of South America as Taíno was, but to languages of Central America which had more similar syllable structures.[3] Western Cuba is close enough to the Yucatán Peninsula for there to have been crossings by canoe at the time of the Conquest.

From Ciguayo we also have a proper name Quisqueya (Kiskeya), and from Macorix a negative form, baeza. The Guanahani Taino (Ciboney in the original sense) word for gold, nozay, elsewhere spelled nuçay (nosay, nusay), may be of Warao origin, as the Warao word for gold is naséi simo 'yellow pebble'. However, trade words like 'gold' are readily borrowed.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bartolomé de las Casas, Historia de las Indias, 1986 edition, vol. 1, chap. LXVII.[1]
    Transcribed in the 1875 edition [2] as, Aquí no llaman caona al oro como en la primera parte desta isla, ni nozay como en la isleta de Guanahani ó Sant Salvador, sino tuob. Es aquí de saber, que un gran pedazo desta costa, bien más de 25 ó 30 leguas, y 15 buenas y áun 20 de ancho hasta las sierras que hacen, desta parte del Norte, la gran vega inclusive, era poblada de una gente que se llamaban mazoriges, y otras cyguayos, y tenian diversas lenguas de la universal de toda la isla. No me acuerdo si diferian estos en la lengua, como ha tantos años, y no hay hoy uno ni ninguno á quien lo preguntar, puesto que conversé hartas veces con ambas generaciones, y son pasados ya más de cincuenta años.
  2. ^ Bartolomé de las Casas, Historia de las Indias escrita, vol. 5, chap. CXCVII.[3]
  3. ^ Julian Granberry (1991): "Was Ciguayo a West Indian Hokan Language?", International Journal of American Linguistics, 57:4 (Oct., 1991), pp. 514–519.
  4. ^ Douglas Taylor, "Languages and Ghost-Languages of the West Indies", in the International Journal of American Linguistics, 22:2 (April 1956).