Taíno language

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Region Caribbean
Ethnicity Taíno, Igneri, Lucayan
Extinct (Igñeri survives in Garífuna)
Baicawa (Hispaniola)
Cayaba (Haiti and Florida Keys)
Cubaba (Cuba and Hispaniola)
Eyeri (Puerto Rico)
Lucayo (Bahamas)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tnq
Glottolog tain1254[1]

Taíno was an Arawakan language historically spoken by the Taíno people of the Caribbean. At the time of Spanish contact, it was the principal language throughout the Taínos' sphere, which included the Bahamas, most of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the northern Lesser Antilles.

In the late 15th century Taíno had displaced earlier languages except for pockets in western Cuba and western Hispaniola. It may have been spoken in the Lesser Antilles until the Taíno were displaced by the Carib. As the Taíno declined during Spanish colonization the language was replaced with Spanish and other European languages. As the first native language encountered by Europeans in the New World, it was a major source of new words borrowed into European languages.

Influence on other languages[edit]

As the language of first contact, Taíno was one of the most important sources of Native American vocabulary in Spanish, involving hundreds of words for unfamiliar plants, animals, and cultural practices, and through Spanish to other European languages such as French and English. Several common English words, such as barbecue, canoe, and potato, are of Taíno or related derivation, as well as cannibal, Caribbean, cassava, cay, guava, hammock, hurricane, iguana, maguey, maize, manatee, mangrove, papaya, pawpaw, savannah, tobacco, and yucca.

In the Lesser Antilles, the Carib conquest (which had advanced to Puerto Rico by the time of the Spanish conquest, and is still occurring to some extent among the Carib and Arawak in South America) created a sociolinguistically interesting situation. Carib warriors invading from South America took Taíno wives, or raided north and took female Taíno captives back to the southern Antilles. The women continued to speak Taíno, but the men taught their sons Carib. This resulted in a situation where the women spoke an Arawakan language and the men an unrelated Cariban language. However, because boys' maternal language was Arawak, their Carib became mixed, with Carib vocabulary on an Arawak grammatical base. Over time the amount of distinct male Carib vocabulary was eroded, both as boys retained more and more Arawak from their first language and as women adopted male Carib words, so that both sexes came to speak Arawak (Taíno) with a strong Carib component and a decreasing amount of exclusively male Carib vocabulary.

In the interiors of the Lesser Antilles, escaped slaves bolstered the remnant Taíno–Carib population, gradually changing the racial makeup but retaining the language. This mixed population, called Black Carib, took their Arawakan language (now pronounced Garifuna, from Galibi 'Carib') with them when the Saint Vincent population was deported to the Bay of Honduras by the British in 1796. The Taíno language is now extinct in the Lesser Antilles, but Garífuna is the most numerous indigenous language in Central America. It retains the gender distinction in vocabulary, though to a minimal extent, primarily in the personal pronouns and in the choice of grammatical gender agreement of abstract words.


Carrada (2003) lists five dialects, though three of them occur in Hispaniola:

  • Baicagua (Baykawa) on Hispaniola. Bay means 'house, dwelling' and kawa means 'cave'.
  • Cayaba on Hispaniola (Haiti) and on "islands".[clarification needed] From cay 'small island' and -ba locative.
  • Cubaba on Cuba and Hispaniola. From cuba 'Cuba' and -ba locative.
  • Lucayo / Yucayo in the Bahamas. From lu ~ yu 'white', cay 'small island', and -o 'where'.
  • Eyeri on Puerto Rico (and the Lesser Antilles?), the dialect of the Igñeri Taino.[citation needed] The word for 'man' in Island Carib.

Lucayo dialect has n where other dialects have r. Eyeri had a for o. There was variation between e ~ i and o ~ u, perhaps reflecting the three stable vowels of Arawakan. Igñeri is generally considered a separate but related language.

Place names[edit]

The following are the major geographic features of the Caribbean, with their Taíno names (Carrada 2003):

  • Antigua: Yaramaqui
  • Cuba: Cuba ~ Coba
  • Florida keys: Matacumbe
  • Gonaïves (Haiti): Guanabo, Guanahibe
  • Grenada: Beguia
  • Grand Turk: Abawana
  • Great Inagua: Babeque
  • Guadalupe: Curuqueira, Guacana, Tureyqueri, Turuqueira
  • Hispaniola: Ayiti, Quisqueya[2] (supposedly Taíno but research shows otherwise)
  • Isle of Youth/Pines: Siguanea
  • Jamaica: Jamaica, Amayca
  • Long Island, Bahamas: Yuma
  • Martinique: Iguanacaire
  • North Caycos: Kayco
  • Puerto Rico: Boriken
  • San Salvador (isl.): Guanahani
  • St. Croix: Ayay, Cibuquiera
  • St. Vincent: Bayaruco
  • Tortuga Island (Haiti): Cajimi, Guaney
  • Vieques: Bieque


  • Payne D.L. A classification of Maipuran (Arawakan) languages based on shared lexical retentions // Derbyshire D.C., Pullum G.K. (Eds.) Handbook of Amazonian languages, vol. 3. Berlin, 1991;
  • Derbyshire D.C. Arawakan languages // International encyclopedia of linguistics, ed. William Bright, vol. 1. New York, 1992;


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Taino". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Anglería, Pedro Mártir de (1949). Décadas del Nuevo Mundo, Tercera Década, Libro VII (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Editorial Bajel. 

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