Taino: a dead language rises from the ashes

Today is the day when many bloggers write posts commemorating Columbus Day.  Even more write pieces celebrating the Native American contribution to the New World.   I was leaving my “Columbus had a Norwegian Map” slogan on a comment thread as my own ethnic Scandinavian take on the holiday when I came across a comment about the first edition of a Taino dictionary.


According to the message: “Taínos come from the Guaraní tribes from South America which migrated to the Caribbean islands.” Looking further, wikipedia informs us that Taino is one of the dead languages of the maritime branch of northern Maipurean family of South American languages and includes the dialects Baicawa in Hispaniola (now Haiti), Cayaba in Hispanola and the Keyes, Cubaba in Cuba and Hispanola, Eyeri in Boriquen (now Puerto Rico), and Lucayo in the Bahamas.

So Taino is a dead language–and now it has a dictionary?  Looking further, the dictionary seems to be the project of Puerto Ricans who have preserved some of their language in the mountainous regions of their country.  Why am I not surprised.

Last week I read somewhere that you don’t really know a language until you write a dictionary of it. How do you write a dictionary, I thought? That might be interesting to try. Then I forgot all about it until this week when some language buffs were buzzing about whether the ideal Chinese dictionary could be compiled with a donation of a million dollars from Bill Gates, or if it would take $50 million. So much for my hypothetical dictionary, I thought.

But take a look at these Tainos.  They don’t know a dictionary takes a million dollars and a bunch of impossible credentials.   They don’t even know their language is dead.  They just went ahead and did it. I kind of like these Taino folks, whoever they are.

Oh, and they have dance music.