Some Comments on the Taino Language

This note is based on some notes that I have taken while reading a book called Languages of the Pre-Columbian Antilles. I am definitely a Taino Language entusiast. Sure, it might not be the language of business, like English or Chinese is today; and it is not the language of the Qur’an and Hadeeth, as is Arabic, but I still like it. It is not even a language that is written or spoken, but I know that it has value. And Allah says, “And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for those who know” [Quran 30:22].

There are lots of vowels which are strongly nasalized, which have always been represented in early accounts by a vowel followed by the letter N. The most conspicuous example being the word Borinken. In this word, the “ri” and “ke” really possess these nasalized vowels. I imagine them sounding like the ikhfa I wrote about in my previous note.

The most normal syllable expressions are: 1. Consonant-Vowel, Consonant-Vowel; 2. Consonant-Vowel; and 3. Vowel, Consonant-Vowel. Occasionally there is a Consonant-Vowel-Consonant, and I think I saw a Vowel-Vowel before, but there is never a Consonant, Consonant. All this makes it sound very cool, melodious and natual, which is how Las Casas, a Spanish priest described it– as a ‘beautiful language, the softest of all Indian tongues … rich in vowels and free from gutturals … the enunciation is distinct and melodious.’

99 percent of the indigenous toponyms from the Greater Antilles are of Taino origin. They number in the thousands. There are at least seven distinct sentences from the language. The authors of the book describe it as being most closely related to modern day Lokono and Guajiro, and somewhat related to Garifuna. Interestly, Taino was the one language understood throughout the Greater and Lesser Antilless, although there were at least five other languages, maybe up to seven. At one point, the authors state that it is possible that five hundred years ago, Taino and Guajiro were actually distant dialects of a distinct language, and were mutually intelligible. I am not convinced just yet.

It does share some prefixes with Lokono, which I have also been reading up on. Such as the prefix “ma”, which denotes something like “non” or “un” (like Arabic). Also,”ka”, which the authors term as a “noun designator” or even at one time as the equivalent of “the”. But, it seems to be more like the Lokono version of the prefix, which is stapled to a verb so that it becomes “one who [add action]”.

There is a bunch of other things that are interesting about the language. As I read more I hope to post more.

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