Taíno language Article

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Native to Bahamas, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, Leeward Islands
Ethnicity Taíno, Ciboney, Lucayan
Extinct16th 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 a 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 in 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 indigenous 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.

Columbus says that from Bahama to Cuba, Boriquen to Jamaica, the same language was spoken in various slight dialects, but understood by all. [4]


The Taíno language was not written. The Taínos used petroglyphs, [5] but there has been little research in the area. The following phonemes are reconstructed from Spanish records: [6]

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 [u]
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', li- 'his' (sometimes with a different vowel), and to-, tu- 'her'. [6]

Verb-designating affixes are a-, ka-, -a, -ka, -nV in which "V" is an unknown or changeable vowel. This suggests that, like many other Arawakan languages, verbal conjugation for a subject resembled the possessive prefixes on nouns.

The Taíno language had an SVO word order which might be hard to see when copulas are being used. Often, however, words can be placed around quite freely. For example, Dawaria Boriken ("I-from [Puerto Rico]") can also be arranged as Boriken dawaria ("I-[Puerto Rico]-from"). What is of most concern in word order for the Taíno language nowadays is the most practical way to speak it; This tends to favor the least agglutinative approach.

The negation prefix is ma- meanwhile the attributive prefix is ka- as in makabuka "it is not important or not important". But literally means "Negation-attributive-past" or "Without past"

Some conjugated verbs include Daka (I am), Weiba (We go), Warike (We see) Attested object suffix includes -wo (we, us) as in Ahiyawoka (Speak to us) [7]


English words derived from Taino are: canoe, cassava, cay, hammock, hurricane, iguana, macana, maize, and potato, as well as possibly mangrove, tobacco, and savanna. [4]:229

Taino loanwords in Spanish are: aguti, aji, cacique, maguey, nigua, tiburon, tuna.

Place names

Taíno etymologies of place names: [6]

  • 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'
  • Boriken (confederated kingdom of Puerto Rico): boriken, boriquen, bori (native) -ke (land) "native land"
  • Jamaica: Ha-my-ka 'land of wood and water'


  • 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. ^ a b Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1836), "The Haytian or Taino language", The American Nations, 1, pp. 215–253
  5. ^ http://www.tainoage.com/meaning.html
  6. ^ a b c Granberry, Julian & Vescelius, Gary. Languagues of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. The University of Alabama Press 2004. p. 92.
  7. ^ Estevez, Jorge. "Origins of the word TAINO". Academia. Retrieved 10 June 2018.