The Morpheme of “K-“

Across the entire spectrum of Arawakan languages, perhaps no characteristic unites group more than the morpheme k-. The Taino language, Garifuna/Karifuna, Loko, and Wayuu all use k- in similar manner, albeit with different frequency in each language with respect to its various uses. Although k- is used both as a prefix and a suffix, its prefix form dominates, and that is the focus of this post. 

K- as a Noun-forming Prefix

In terms of Arawakan morphology, k- is used to transform a noun or verb into a noun that characterizes the person or things that it describes as being possessed of, proficient in, or associated with a particular trait. English translations of the word can include phrases such as “the one that is”, “the one that has”, and the like. For example, the famous Taino word “kacike” denotes the boss or leader of a group. This word is created by combing k- and the word for “head”, “ike” (ichi, isi, iki depending on the language and translator), thus signifying “the one in charge” (the head honcho :)).

Another example from Taino is “Kawonabo”,* the famed kacike of Hispaniola. This word is formed by k-, “awo“, which is a morpheme that signifies gold or something golden, and “abo”, which means “with” in speech, but also carries a morphemic function meaning “having or possessing”. Thus, Kawonabo means something to the effect of “the golden one” (perhaps intended to signify wealth or nobility).

The preceding are two examples of proper nouns, but the nouns formed with k- are not always simply the sum of their parts. For example, “karakarakol” means a scabby person or one afflicted with skin disease. But literally, it is composed of k-, then “ura” (skin), then k- and “ura” again, and then “-l”, which signifies that the word applies to a human, usually a male. Examples of this use abound in other Arawakan languages. For example, the Loko word “kabarali”, which means “man”, but literally is “the hairy one”. (k-, “barah(u) (hair)”, “li (male)”). The point is that these words are full of meaning in the same way as “breakfast” for example. When we use that word we are not even subconsciously thinking that the word means “the meal with which I break my fast”.

On another note, the preceding are only examples of morphing a noun into another noun, but k- is also used in order to turn a verb into an associated noun. In this case, the use is similar to its use with nouns in that it denotes a great capability or general characteristic of the person or thing. For example, the Karifuna word “kategati”, which means that one is very able at something.* (eg very good at swimming or cutting trees). This word is formed by morphing k-, “ateca”, which means “to do”, and “ti”, which when attached to a verb means “the one that”. “Ti” is a morpheme similar to “er” in English, “dor” in Spanish, and “meem” in Arabic, and it is common in both Taino and Garifuna/Karifuna, and perhaps other Arawakan languages. Thus, we get “kategati”, one who is very good at something.

K- as a Verb 

In its verbal sense, k- simply means “to have” or “to be with”.* There are two situations in which k- will be used in this manner. The first is when k- is attached to a noun. In this case, it will mean that the person or thing mentioned has the thing to which k- is attached. For example, in Taino we could say Shi kani, or “He has water”. Or in Wayuu, we could say El Isbani ka’ap(u)la,* which comes from k- and a’ap(u)la (weapons), (i.e. “El Isbani has weapons).

In the second case, k- is used as a form of positive emphasis on certain verbs; in which case, it is classified as an entire conjugation form. For example, in Karifuna, “katachiti” (he cast evil spells), versus “marachiti”* (he does not cast spells).   However, these examples from Karifuna cited are clearly nouns that are used verbally, as the copula (i.e. “is) is often omitted in Arawakan languages. 

Although, in other examples from Wayuu, k- will create from a noun or adjective a verb that signifies an action that is characterized by (often metaphorically)  that root word. For example, “Kakuaa” means “to blow (as in wind)” in Wayyu. This comes from k- and the word “akua”, which means “speed”. However, this is theoretical as applied to Taino, and has not yet been attested to by this author. What is clear is that there are many verbs and verb conjugations that implicate k- in other Arawakan languages (as a prefix and as a suffix), and its use in Taino must be explored dedicatedly in another post. 

K- as the Definite Article

Lastly, there is a third use of k- that is rarely attested to, but not opposed by scholars. It is a use similar to “the” or “our” when applied to a preexisting noun. You see, as in Loko, in Taino (and perhaps in other Arawakan languages), the definite article “the” is rarely used, particularly when referring to human beings, for whom we will never speak to as simply “Dad”, “Mom”, or “Boss”. Rather, the possessive pronoun “wa” (our) is often used generically, or the corresponding personal pronoun when used literally (E.g. “My Dad”, “His Mom”, or “Our Boss”). In place of this, rather than using “the” or a personal pronoun, k- can be used, although it should not be abused and must be understood not to create a new word.


The use of k- is a rule from among many rules in Taino; however, it is a living rule and can be applied to new words. There is no reason to have to introduce new words from others languages merely as a necessity because by learning the rules of morphemes such as k-, we can create new Taino words for our everyday life. Taino, like all other Arawakan languages, is soft and pliable. So learn this rule, and if you want to play with it, go ahead and introduce a new word that you made up on the comments below.

–El Isbani

Notes:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       * There are many nasalized letters in Taino and Arawakan languages in general. Because there is no standard method of signifying these letters, and because nasalization often has morphemic significance in Taino, these letters will be bolded.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

* As in Spanish and other languages, the line between noun and adjective is blurred in Arawakan languages.                         

* For this reason, among others, it is my belief that the Ajami script of West Africa is most suitable for writing both Taino and its cousin languages; however I will deal with this in a later post God Willing. 

* The morpheme “M-” is similar to k- in multiple ways as its negative counterpart. Another post will follow describing m- soon, God Willing.                                                                                                                                                                                                           

* Using “(u)” being another example of the inadequacy of the Roman script for writing Arawakan languages.


4 thoughts on “The Morpheme of “K-“

  1. On the ‘k’ the UCTP language committee is in agreement with most of your conclusions. However, with respect to the translation of “kasike” originally glossed as ‘casique’ we are in disagreement with your final assessment.

    If you look at the old Lokono and Eieri word for sun, the word is ‘kasi’ sometimes glossed as ‘cachi’ and event kati in Wayuu. Kati in Loko and Eieri means moon.

    We know that over time lokono dialects changed so ‘-ti’ changes to ‘-chi’ or ‘-si’ etc.

    If we look at it from this perspective we can combine ‘Kasi’ with the Lokono word for ‘covering, covered, etc.’ which is ‘eke’.

    When we do this we align the translation of kasike (kasi: eke) with the known philosophy of the people, which links leaders to the ‘sun’. This connection is sometimes referred to by academics as the ‘solar cult’.

    So following this line of thinking, Kasike would translate to “sun covered” indicating a spiritual luminous blessing validating the authority of office.

  2. Becase “kasike” is used even in several modern spoken languages, it has meanings that are not even discussed hear. It’s be interesting to read about how it has been used in writing/speech across time.

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