Taíno language

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Native to Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos
Region Caribbean (Greater Antilles)
Ethnicity Taíno, Lucayan
Extinct Closest relative believed to be Goajiro language
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tnq
Glottolog tain1254[1]
Taíno archeological zones

Taíno is an extinct Arawakan language historically spoken by the Taíno people of the Caribbean. At the time of Spanish contact, it was the principal language throughout the Caribbean. Classic Taíno (Taino proper) was the native language of the northern Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and most of Hispaniola. At the time of the Spanish conquest, it was expanding into Cuba. Ciboney is essentially unattested, but colonial sources suggest it was a dialect of Taino. It was the language of westernmost Hispaniola, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and most of Cuba.

By the late 15th century, Taíno/Ciboney had displaced earlier languages except for western Cuba and pockets in Hispaniola. 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.


Taino dialects, among other precolombian languages of the Antilles
  Ciboney Taino
  Classic Taino

Granberry & Vescelius (2004) distinguish two dialects, one on Hispaniola and further east, and the other on Hispaniola and further west.

  • Classic (Eastern) Taino, spoken in Classic Taino and Eastern Taino cultural areas. These were the Leeward Islands north of Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, central Hispaniola, and the Turks & Caicos (from an expansion in ca. 1200). Classic Taino was expanding into eastern and even central Cuba at the time of the Spanish Conquest, perhaps from people fleeing the Spanish in Hispaniola.
  • Ciboney (Western) Taino, spoken in Ciboney and Lucayan cultural areas. These were most of Cuba, Jamaica, western Hispaniola, and the Bahamas.

The Lucayo (Bahamian) subdialect (or perhaps the Ciboney dialect) had /n/ where other dialects (or perhaps Classic Taino) had /r/. There is variation in accounts between "e" ~ "i" and "o" ~ "u", perhaps reflecting transcription of the three stable vowels of Arawakan into the five vowels of Spanish.


The Taino language is not known to have had a writing system. The following are reconstructed phonemes:[2]


Bilabial Alveolar Velar /
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d
Fricative s h
Nasal m n
Flap ɾ
Approximant lateral l
central w j


Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ
Open a


Personal pronouns[edit]

Taino personal pronouns are shown below:[3]

singular plural
1st person daka waka(Example: Wakayarima)
2nd person buka huka
3rd person lika (he), tuka (she) naka


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 lisika, (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][6]

Taino English
barabakoa barbecue
kacike cacique (chief)
kaiman caiman
kaniba cannibal
kanoa canoe
karibe Caribbean
kasabi cassava
kayo cay
ceiba ceiba
kokí coquí
wayaba guava
hamaka hammock
hurakán hurricane
iwana iguana
mahix maize
manatí manatee
maniwa mangrove
mabi mauby
papaya papaya
batata sweet potato
sabana savanna
tabacu tobacco

Place names[edit]

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

  • Antigua: Yaramaqui (Yaramaki)
  • Cuba: Cubao (Kubao)[7]
  • Florida keys: Matacumbe (Matakumbe)
  • Gonaïves (Haiti): Wanabo, Wanahibe (Wanahibo)
  • Grenada: Beguia
  • Grand Turk: Abawana
  • Great Inagua: Babeke
  • Guadalupe: Kurukeira, Wakana, Tureykeri, Turukeira
  • Haiti: Ayti
  • Hispaniola: Ayti, Bohio, Kiskeya[8] (supposedly Taíno but research shows otherwise)
  • Isle of Youth/Pines: Siwanea
  • Jacmel (Haiti): Yakimel
  • Jamaica: Xamaika, Xaymaka[9]
  • Long Island, Bahamas: Yuma
  • Martinique: Iwanakairi (Iwanakaera)
  • North Caycos: Kayco
  • Puerto Rico: Boriken
  • San Salvador (islamd): Wanahani
  • St. Croix: Ayay, Cibukeira
  • St. Vincent: Bayaruko
  • Tortuga Island (Haiti): Kahimi, Waney
  • Vieques: Bieke


  • Payne D.L., "A classification of Maipuran (Arawakan) languages based on shared lexical retentions", in: Derbyshire D.C., Pullum G.K. (eds.), Handbook of Amazonian Languages, vol. 3, Berlin, 1991.
  • Derbyshire D.C., "Arawakan languages", in: Bright, William (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, vol. 1, New York, 1992.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Taino". Glottolog. 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. ^ Granberry, Julian & Vescelius, Gary. Languagues of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. The University of Alabama Press 2004. pp. 101-122
  7. ^ The Dictionary of the Taino Language (plate 8) Alfred Carrada[unreliable source?]
  8. ^ Anglería, Pedro Mártir de (1949). Décadas del Nuevo Mundo, Tercera Década, Libro VII (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Editorial Bajel. 
  9. ^ "Taíno Dictionary" (in Spanish). The United Confederation of Taíno People. Retrieved 18 October 2007. 

External links[edit]