World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Taíno language

Article Id: WHEBN0031710876
Reproduction Date:

Title: Taíno language  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of English words from indigenous languages of the Americas, Taíno, List of Spanish words of Indigenous American Indian origin, Island Carib language, Columbus Letter on the First Voyage
Collection: Arawakan Languages, Extinct Languages of North America, Indigenous Languages of the Caribbean, Languages of Antigua and Barbuda, Languages of Cuba, Languages of Haiti, Languages of Jamaica, Languages of Puerto Rico, Languages of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Languages of Saint Martin, Languages of the Bahamas, Languages of the British Virgin Islands, Languages of the Dominican Republic, Languages of the United States Virgin Islands, Taíno, Taíno Language
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Taíno language

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 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, 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.


  • Relationship to other languages 1
    • Garífuna (Black Carib) 1.1
    • Goajiro (Wayuu) 1.2
  • Dialects 2
  • Phonology 3
    • Consonants 3.1
    • Vowels 3.2
  • Grammar 4
    • Personal pronouns 4.1
    • Verbs 4.2
  • Vocabulary 5
    • Taino words in English 5.1
    • Place names 5.2
  • Literature 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Relationship to other languages

Garífuna (Black Carib)

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.

Some time around the year 1450AD, shortly before the arrival of the Spanish, a Cariban-speaking people from the Guianas, known as the Kalínago (or Kalíphuna), began invading the Lesser Antilles which were inhabited by the Eyeri people. The Eyeri (also called "Iñeri " or "Igneri") were an indigenous Arawakan-speaking people, whose language, although sharing a common Northern-Arawakan ancestor with Taino, was distinct and mutually unintelligible with Taino.[2] As the Caribs conquered the Eyeri, they took female captives as their wives. The women continued to speak their Arawakan language, 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 Arawakan, their Carib became mixed, with Carib vocabulary on an Arawakan grammatical base. Over time the amount of distinct male Carib vocabulary was eroded, both as boys retained more and more Eyeri from their first language and as women adopted male Carib words. This resulted in the development of the Island Carib language as both sexes spoke the Eyeri language with a strong Carib component and a decreasing amount of exclusively male Carib vocabulary.

During European colonization in the interiors of the Lesser Antilles, escaped African slaves further mixed with the Island 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.

Although the Taíno language is now extinct in the Lesser Antilles, the related Garífuna language is the most numerous indigenous language in Central America. It is currently spoken in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Belize. The language 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.

Goajiro (Wayuu)

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


Carrada (2003) lists five dialects, though three of them occur in Hispaniola:[3]

  • Baicagua (Baykawa) on Hispaniola. Bay means 'house, dwelling' and kawa means 'cave'.
  • Cayaba on Hispaniola (Haiti) and on "islands". 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. 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 did not have a system of writing; therefore, the following are reconstituted phonemes:[4]


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

Taino personal pronouns are shown below:[5]

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.[6] 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

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.:[7][8]

barbecue - barbakoa

cacique (Latin American native chief) - kasike

caiman - kaimā

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

potato - batata

savanna - sabana

tobacco - tabako

Place names

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[9] (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. pp. 23-25.
  3. ^ Carrada, Alfred. The Dictionary of Taino Language. 2003.
  4. ^ Granberry, Julian & Vescelius, Gary. Languagues of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. The University of Alabama Press 2004. p. 92.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Granberry, Julian & Vescelius, Gary. Languagues of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. The University of Alabama Press 2004. pp. 101-122
  9. ^ Anglería, Pedro Mártir de (1949). Décadas del Nuevo Mundo, Tercera Década, Libro VII (in Spanish). Buenos Aires: Editorial Bajel. 

External links

  • Alfred Carrada, 2003. The Dictionary of Taino Language (only partially reliable)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.