Taíno language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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.

Relationship to other languages[edit]

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 the Garífuna language 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.

Another Arawakan language, the Goajiro language (also known as Wayuu), is believed to be Taíno's closest relative among the better attested Arawakan languages. The Goajiro language is spoken in in northwestern Venezuela and northeastern Colombia on the Guajira Peninsula. Scholars have suggested that the Goajiro are descended from Taíno refugees, but the theory seems impossible to prove or disprove.


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.


The following are reconstituted phonemes of the Taino language[2]:


Bilabial Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosives p b t d k
Fricatives s h
Nasals m n
Laterals l
Flaps r
Approximants w y


Front Unrounded Central Unrounded Back Rounded
Close i u
Mid e, ɛ o
Open a


Personal pronouns[edit]

Taino personal pronouns are shown below[3]:

singular plural
1st person daka wakía
2nd person bukía hukía
3rd person likía (he), tukía (she) hakía, nakía


Verbs in the Taino language follow similar conjugation patterns as seen in other Arawakan languages. Below is an example of how a regular verb (asika: give) is conjugated[4]. Notice that the prefixes on the various verb forms reflect the same beginning consonants as their corresponding personal pronouns.

singular plural
1st person dasika wasika
2nd person busika husika
3rd person lusika, nusika (he gives)

tusika (she gives)



Taino words in English[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. Below is a list of several English words derived from the Taino language.[5]

barbecue - barbacoa

potato - batata

cacique (Latin American native chief) - kasike

cannibal - kaniba

canoe - kanowa

Caribbean - karibe

cassava (yucca) - kasabi

cay - kaya

ceiba (a type of tropical tree) - seiba

coquí (a small frog found in Puerto Rico) - koki

guava - wayaba

hammock - hamaka

hurricane - hurakan

iguana - iwana

maize (corn) - mahisi

manatee - manati

mangrove - manwe

mauby (a type of Caribbean tree whose bark is used in making a fermented drink) - mabi

papaya - papaya

savanna - sabana

tobacco - tabako

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[6] (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. ^ Granberry, Julian & Vescelius Gary. Languagues of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. The University of Alabama Press 2004. p. 92
  3. ^ http://tainolanguage.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/100-words.pdf
  4. ^ https://tainolanguage.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/taino-and-arawakan-conjugations/
  5. ^ http://www.elboricua.com/vocabulary.html
  6. ^ Anglería, Pedro Mártir de (1949). Décadas del Nuevo Mundo, Tercera Década, Libro VII (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Editorial Bajel. 

External links[edit]