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
Baicawa (Hispaniola)
Cayaba (Haiti and Florida Keys)
Cubaba (Cuba and Hispaniola)
Classic Taíno (Puerto Rico)
Lucayo (Bahamas)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tnq
Glottolog tain1254[1]
Taíno dialects

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 Taínos' sphere, which included the Bahamas, most of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Turks and Caicos Islands, 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.


Carrada (2003) lists five dialects, though three of them occur in Hispaniola:[2]

  • Baicagua (Baykawa) on Hispaniola. Bay means 'house, dwelling' and kawa means 'cave'.
  • Cayaba on Hispaniola (Haiti) and on the Florida Keys. 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. (Igñeri/Eyeri is generally considered a separate but related language.)

Lucayo dialect had "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.

Bartolomé de las Casas (1875) describes three dialects (see map at top right):


The Taino language is not known to have had a writing system. The following are reconstructed phonemes:[3]


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:[4]

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.[5] 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:[6][7]

Taino English
barbacu barbecue
cacique cacique (chief)
caiman caiman
caniba cannibal
canowa canoe
caribe Caribbean
casabi cassava
kayo cay
ceiba ceiba
coquí coquí
guayaba guava
jamaca hammock
juracán hurricane
iguana iguana
mahiz maize
manatí manatee
manwe 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
  • Cuba: Cubao[8]
  • Florida keys: Matacumbe
  • Gonaïves (Haiti): Guanabo, Guanahibe
  • Grenada: Beguia
  • Grand Turk: Abawana
  • Great Inagua: Babeque
  • Guadalupe: Curuqueira, Guacana, Tureyqueri, Turuqueira
  • Haiti: Ayiti
  • Hispaniola: Ayiti, Bohio, Quisqueya[9] (supposedly Taíno but research shows otherwise)
  • Isle of Youth/Pines: Siguanea
  • Jacmel (Haiti): Yaquimel
  • Jamaica: Xaymaca[10]
  • Long Island, Bahamas: Yuma
  • Martinique: Iguanacaire
  • North Caycos: Kayco
  • Puerto Rico: Boriken
  • San Salvador (islamd): 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", 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. ^ Carrada, Alfred. The Dictionary of Taino Language. 2003. http://www.alfredcarrada.org/preface.html
  3. ^ Granberry, Julian & Vescelius, Gary. Languagues of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. The University of Alabama Press 2004. p. 92.
  4. ^ http://tainolanguage.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/100-words.pdf
  5. ^ https://tainolanguage.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/taino-and-arawakan-conjugations/
  6. ^ http://www.elboricua.com/vocabulary.html
  7. ^ Granberry, Julian & Vescelius, Gary. Languagues of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. The University of Alabama Press 2004. pp. 101-122
  8. ^ The Dictionary of the Taino Language (plate 8) Alfred Carrada[unreliable source?]
  9. ^ Anglería, Pedro Mártir de (1949). Décadas del Nuevo Mundo, Tercera Década, Libro VII (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Editorial Bajel. 
  10. ^ "Taíno Dictionary" (in Spanish). The United Confederation of Taíno People. Retrieved 18 October 2007. 

External links[edit]