Adverbs in Taino and Arawakan Languages

In the Taino language, there is a suffix that is prominent in the recorded vocabulary usually seen written as “coa”. For purposes of this note, I will write the suffix as “kowa”.

Also seen written as “gua”, “kua”, “gwa”, “giwa”, and “kwa”, the suffix “kowa” has many functions in Arawakan languages. This note deals with its use as an adverb.

An adverb modifies a verb or adjective. Let’s look at some example from English:

I run quickly.

We are speaking intellectually.

He is athletically inclined.

This is all well and good; however, remember that in Taino, just as the line between noun, adjective, and verb is not a severe limitation, as it can be in English, the case remains the same for nouns, verbs, and adverbs in Taino.

Kowa as a Nominizer

Think about some Taino names for places. Need some examples? How about:

  • Yabucoa (Place of water)
  • Baracoa (Beside the sea)
  • Jarabacoa (Place of flowing waters)
  • Guanabacoa (Land of river and hills)

Perhaps you can think of a half-dozen more places off of the top of your head.

These place-names demonstrate the nominal function of –kowa: In describing a person, place, thing, or idea, the created noun signifies that the thing the word is ascribed to is intrinsically similar to the word preceding -kowa.

In this sense, it functions much like the “Oa-Stem” verbs described in Pet, Willem Jan Agricola, Lokono Dian, The Arawak Language of Suriname: A Sketch of its Grammatical Structure and Lexicon. Agricola states that this stem creates passive and reflexive verbs. Most of you are familiar with this from studying other languages, or from looking at the note Verb Creation in Taino and Arawakan Languages on this site. Remember, these verbs are reflexive, non-transitive; or at least very personal in nature.

Try to understand the function as in the Spanish particle “se”. Look at these sentences:

La mesa, se come.

El piso, se camina.

What is being said in these sentences? That the table is eaten? No, but rather that the table is the place where eating takes place and the floor is where walking happens. Hence, “Baracoa” can mean “of the sea”, or we could just say “seaside”. And, Majibacoa can mean a place without great forests, or we could just say “prairie”.

However, Kowa is not simply a way to make a noun–it is also the adverb form of Taino.

-Kowa as a Pure Adverb

In order to understand the way that -Kowa is an adverb, we have to look at the phonology of Arawakan languages. Notice, that in all the languages, aside from Loko, a letter-combination of Consonant/Consonant or Vowel/Consonant is rare.

Look at the words in Arawakan languages and look again, as Las Casas himself described, it is rich in vowels. How often do words end in consonants? We have well known examples in Wayuu and Taino (the nasalized “N”). Also, in Taino, the medieval Spanish consonant “X”.

However, we see many a time that Arawakan languages that have phonological or Mora-logical cognates from Loko will compensate for a double consonant or a consonant at the beginning or ending of a syllable by 1) dropping a consonant; or 2) adding a vowel.

For example, the verb “to like” in Loko:

  • “Kanshi” in Loko, we see that in Wayuu the first letter “K” is dropped, as is the third letter “N”. The verbal suffix “Ka” is then added making the variant    “Ache’Ká”.
  • Or, the Loko word “Aitha” for “to know”. The word contains the emphatic “T” (Th) well-known in Loko. In Wayuu, the “I” is not pronounced, and the “T” is given a vowel to make “Atu’já”.
  • Lastly, the Loko word for “Hand” is “Khabo”. In Garifuna and Wayuu, the emphatic “K” is dropped and a vowel is given in its place, giving us “Uhabu” and “Aja’pû”, respectively in each language.

Taino has similarities with all Arawakan and Caribbean languages, and they all have special affinities with each other. Some of them cannot simply be explained off by saying that they came from each other. My personal theory is that, yes, Loko is very close to the mother of all of these languages, so therefore the similarities are obviously present. However, we should remember that these were civilizations. It is well known that Taino was a lingua franca, and it was spoken throughout the Greater and Lesser Antilles. And, it is well known that the Karifuna traveled throughout South America and the Antilles conquering, bringing with them what they did of their language and assimilating much along the way. As for Wayuu, suffice it to say that it is one of the least moribund of all indigenous languages, and this is enough to demonstrate their civilization. What I mean in a single phrase, these were and are civilizations—not peoples isolated from the world.

Back to the point, however. According to the great Loko scholar John Peter Bennett, the suffix –Kwañ is used to create adverbs in the same way as –Ly in English. However, note that words ending in ñ are scarcely present in the other Arawakan languages, and not present in their adverbs. This goes back to the point mentioned above. For example, in Garífuna, “Lubaramagiwa” is the word for “previously”. The final consonant has been dropped. The same for “Ubúgua” for “possibly”; the final consonant has been dropped. It is apparent that Taino shares this affinity.[1]

Hence, we see that the letter ñ has been dropped in the Taino and Garífuna languages as it pertains to Kowa (Kwañ). So a word like Baracoa (Seaside), I would use also as “Nautically”, etc.

The Difference between –Wa and -Kowa

The note Expressing Abstract Concepts in Taino: -Hu, -Wa, -Ya, and –Ni has some potential to cause confusion as to the difference between –Kowa and –Wa. Therefore, think of it like this: -Kowa is like the –Ly in “Liberally” and –Wa is like the –Ty in “Liberty”. Make sense?

Back to our primary (abawa) example, “Baracoa”.

  • As a reflective nominal adverb (I know how that sounds), it would mean “Seaside”.
  • As a pure adverb, it would mean “Nautically”.
  • But, by removing –Kowa and adding –Wa, we would have “Barawa”, which would mean “Nautical” or “Maritime”.

Furthermore, just as in English, -Kowa and -Wa changes the word and makes it something new. It can be literal or poetic—God willing, by your use, you will make the call!


In conclusion, it is important for us not only to understand the way to use suffixes such as –Kowa, but also to actually USE them. Everyday the English and Spanish languages create new words, and the speakers do not answer to anyone. In doing so, we English and Spanish speakers do not depend on conventions from any language but our own, and related languages, such as Greek, Latin, German, and maybe neighboring languages such as Turkish, Arabic, or Hebrew. If we are to encourage indigenous language, and if we are to have an actual conversation in Taino, we need to use these words to make new words from our own language.



[1] Examples in Wayuu are not as instructive, but suffice it to say that the ñ or similar sound is omitted consistently.


One thought on “Adverbs in Taino and Arawakan Languages

  1. Another excellent example is the use of “coa”, (Kowa in this post, and “qa” according to new orthography for the blog is its use in Garifuna numbers.

    biámagua (Biama+gua): double, in a pair, two at a time
    ürüwagua: (uruwa+gua): triple, triplets, three at a time

    and so on, and so on.

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