Taino words in your everyday
Sadly, the language of the Taino people was never written down so we don’t know that much detail about the grammatical structures and vocabulary.
However, some Taino words survived to influence language and made their way into modern English, Spanish and French.
The Caribbean is a cornucopia of fruit and vegetable varieties. It is therefore fitting that we received the words cassava, guava, maize, and potato from the Taino language.
Word histories are often uncertain, but there are those who think the words banana, coconut, cocoa, tomato and yam also have roots in Taino.
It makes sense that we get the words caiman, cay, mangrove, tobacco and canoe from the indigenous Caribbean peoples. But, more unexpectedly, they also gave us indigo, mahogany and savannah.
Savannah came through the Spanish ‘sabana’ but was a Taino word ‘zabana’ for sheet. A savannah nowadays is a large plain grassland.
You may well associate savannahs with Africa, given that nearly half of this massive continent is covered in the sparse grasslands. There are significant savannahs in South America, India and Australia, too.
Hammocks were used by the Taino people to keep off the ground and out of reach of insects. Their word ‘hamaca’, meaning fish net, came into Spanish and then English. The Spanish colonists adapted the Taino hammock idea so they could sway in their ships, and not fall out of bed!
We get the word hurricane from the Taino ‘hurakan’, or ‘god of the storm’.