|Native to||Formerly, Canary Islands|
|Region||Limited to the islands|
|Extinct||? Possibly around the 18th century|
Guanche is an extinct language that was spoken by the Guanches of the Canary Islands until the 16th or 17th century. It is only known today through a few sentences and individual words recorded by early travellers, supplemented by several placenames, as well as some words assimilated into the Canary Islanders' Spanish. Relationships with other languages have therefore been difficult to determine with certainty; however, it is almost certainly Afro-Asiatic, and many linguists consider Guanche to likely be one of, or to be related to, the Berber languages.
The name Guanche originally meant "man from Tenerife", and only later did it come to refer to all native inhabitants of the Canary Islands. Although different dialects were spoken across the archipelago, they are all thought to have been varieties of the same language.
The first reliable account of Guanche language was provided by Genovese explorer Nicoloso da Recco in 1341, with a list of the numbers 1–16, possibly from Fuerteventura. Recco's account reveals a base-10 counting system with strong similarities to Berber numbers.
Silbo, originally a whistled form of Guanche speech used for communicating over long distances, was used on La Gomera, El Hierro, Tenerife, and Gran Canaria. As the Guanche language became extinct, a Spanish version of Silbo was adopted by some inhabitants of the Canary Islands.
Guanche numerals are attested from several sources, not always in good agreement (Barrios 1997). Some of the discrepancies may be due to copy errors, some to gender distinctions, and other to Arabic borrowings in later elicitations.
|Marín de Cubas
(copy of 1678)
(attrib. to 1632)
|1||vait*||*be||ben, ven-ir-||becen~been, ben-ir-||ben, ben-ir-||been (ben?), ben-i-||*wên||*yiwan|
|2||smetti, smatta-||*smi||liin, lin-ir-||liin, sin-ir-~lin-ir-||lini (sijn)||lini, lini-||*sîn||*sin|
|3||amelotti, amierat-||*amat||amiet||amiet~amiat, am-ir-||amiat (amiet)||amiat||*amiat||*karad|
* Also nait, an apparent copy error. Similarly with alda-morana for expected *alda-marava.
Later attestations of 11–19 were formed by linking the digit and ten with -ir: benirmarago, linirmarago, etc. 20–90 were similar, but contracted: linago, amiago, etc. 100 was maraguin, apparently 10 with the Berber plural -en. Recco only recorded 1–16; the combining forms for 11–16, which did not have this -ir-, are included as the hyphenated forms in the table above.
Many dialects of Spanish do not distinguish [b] and [v], so been is consistent with *veen. The Berber feminine ends in -t, as in Shilha 1: yan (m), yat (f); 2: sin (m), snat (f), and this may explain discrepancies such as been and vait for 'one'.
Cairasco is a misparsed counting song, besmia mat acosomuset tamobenir marago. Ses '6' may have got lost in the middle of somuset ( ← *somussesset).
Starting with Cedeño, new roots for '2' and '9' appear ('9' perhaps the old root for '4'), new roots for '4' and '5' (arba, kansa) appear to be Arabic borrowings, and old '5', '6', '7' offset to '6', '7', '8'.
- Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Guanche". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
- Richard Hayward, 2000, "Afroasiatic", in Heine & Nurse eds, African Languages, Cambridge University Press
- Andrew Dalby, Dictionary of Languages, 1998, p. 88 "Guanche, indigenous language of the Canary Islands, is generally thought to have been a Berber language."
- Bynon J., "The contribution of linguistics to history in the field of Berber studies." In: Dalby D, (editor) Language and history in Africa New York: Africana Publishing Corporation, 1970, p 64-77.
- "Section 14". The Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1910. p. 650.
- José Barrios: Sistemas de numeración y calendarios de las poblaciones bereberes de Gran Canaria y Tenerife en los siglos XIV-XV (PhD Dissertation, 1997)
- Gerhard Böhm: Monumentos de la Lengua Canaria e Inscripciones Líbicas (Department of African Studies, University of Vienna - Occasional Paper No. 4 / February 2006)