Taíno language

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Native to Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, Leeward Islands
Ethnicity Taíno, Ciboney, Lucayan
Extinct 16th century[1]
  • Classic Taíno
  • Ciboney
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tnq
Glottolog tain1254[2]
Languages of the Caribbean.png
Taíno dialects, among other Pre-Columbian languages of the Antilles

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

By the late 15th century, Taíno had displaced earlier languages except for western Cuba and pockets in Hispaniola. As the Taíno culture declined during Spanish colonization, the language was replaced by Spanish and other European languages. It is believed to have been extinct within 100 years of contact[1] but possibly continued to be spoken in isolated pockets in the Caribbean until the late 19th century.[3] As the first native language encountered by Europeans in the New World, it was a major source of new words borrowed into European languages.


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

  • Classic (Eastern) Taíno, spoken in Classic Taíno and Eastern Taíno 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 Taíno 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) Taíno, 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 Taíno) 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 Taíno language was not written. (The Taínos used petroglyphs, which may be interpreted as "pre-writing" or proto-writing,[4]) but there has been little research in the area. The following phonemes are reconstructed from Spanish records:[5]

Reconstructed Taíno consonants
Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d
Fricative s h
Nasal m n
Approximant w l j

There was also a flap [ɾ], which appears to have been an allophone of /d/.

Reconstructed Taíno vowels
Front Central Back
Close i
Mid e
Open a

A distinction between /ɛ/ and /e/ is suggested by Spanish transcriptions of e vs ei/ey, as in ceiba "ceiba". The /e/ is written ei or final é in modern reconstructions. There was also a high back vowel [u], which was often interchangeable with /o/ and may have been an allophone.

There was a parallel set of nasal vowels. The only consonant at the end of a syllable or of a word was /s/.


Taíno is very poorly attested.[1] Nouns appear to have had noun-class suffixes, as in other Arawakan languages. Attested Taíno possessive prefixes are da- 'my', wa- 'our', ni- 'his' (sometimes with a different vowel), and ta- 'her'.[5]

Attested verbs are ka 'be', ka 'kill', ibá 'go', hiya 'speak', ã 'hear', (a)rikẽ (/dikɛ̃/?) 'see', ya 'do', bu 'be important'. Verb-designating affixes are a-, ka-, -a, -ka, -nV in which "V" is an unknown or changeae vowel. A few conjugated verbs ;da-ka "I am", wa-ibá "we go", and wa-rikẽ "we see") suggest that verbal conjugation for subject resembled the possessive prefixes on nouns. The only attested object suffix was -wo 'us', as in ahiyaka-wo 'speak to us'. The negative prefix was ma-, as in ma-kabuka 'it is not important'.


Taíno 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 Taíno language:[6]

Taíno meaning English
barbakoa cooking frame barbecue[citation needed]
kasikɛ chief cacique
kaimã crocodile caiman
kaniba Carib cannibal
kanowa boat canoe
kasabi cassava cassava
kaya island cay
seba ceiba tree ceiba
wayaba guava guava
hamaka hammock hammock
hurakã (/hodakã/?) storm? hurricane
iwana iguana iguana
mahis, máhisi maize maize
manatí manatee manatee
papaya papaya papaya
batata sweet potato potato[citation needed]
sabana (few trees?) savanna
taí-no good-pl Taíno
tabako tobacco[citation needed]

Taíno songs in the Taíno language

Taíno calling song - https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=w7Lv4377mpI

Place names

Taíno etymologies of place names:[5]

  • Grand Bahama: ba-ha-ma 'large-upper-middle'
  • Bimini: bimini 'twins'
  • Inagua: i-na-wa 'small eastern land'
  • North Caicos: ka-i-ko 'near-northern-outlier'
  • Borinquen (confederated kingdom of Puerto Rico): bo-rĩ-kẽ (people's homeland)

The following are the major geographic features of the Caribbean, with their Taíno names (Carrada 2003):[unreliable source?]

  • 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] (the latter 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 (island): 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. ^ a b c Alexandra Aikhenvald (2012) Languages of the Amazon, Oxford University Press
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Taíno". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ Reyes, David (2004). "The Origin and Survival of the Taíno Language" (PDF). Issues in Caribbean Amerindian Studies. 5 (2). Retrieved February 19, 2017. 
  4. ^ http://www.tainoage.com/meaning.html
  5. ^ a b c Granberry, Julian & Vescelius, Gary. Languagues of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. The University of Alabama Press 2004. p. 92.
  6. ^ Granberry & Vescelius, 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. Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2007. 

External links

  • Alfred Carrada, 2003. The Dictionary of Taíno Language (only partially reliable)
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