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Languages of the Pre-Columbian Antilles

Written by Julian Granberry and Gary Vescelius

Publication Year: 2004

A linguistic analysis supporting a new model of the colonization of the Antilles before 1492.

This work formulates a testable hypothesis of the origins and migration patterns of the aboriginal peoples of the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico), the Lucayan Islands (the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the Crown Colony of the Turks and Caicos), the Virgin Islands, and the northernmost of the Leeward Islands, prior to European contact. Using archaeological data as corroboration, the authors synthesize evidence that has been available in scattered locales for more than 500 years but which has never before been correlated and critically examined.

Within any well-defined geographical area (such as these islands), the linguistic expectation and norm is that people speaking the same or closely related language will intermarry, and, by participating in a common gene pool, will show similar socioeconomic and cultural traits, as well as common artifact preferences. From an archaeological perspective, the converse is deducible: artifact inventories of a well-defined sociogeographical area are likely to have been created by speakers of the same or closely related language or languages.

Languages of the Pre-Columbian Antilles presents information based on these assumptions. The data is scant—scattered words and phrases in Spanish explorers' journals, local place names written on maps or in missionary records—but the collaboration of the authors, one a linguist and the other an archaeologist, has tied the linguistics to the ground wherever possible and allowed the construction of a framework with which to understand the relationships, movements, and settlement patterns of Caribbean peoples before Columbus arrived.

"This exhaustive study . . . does a splendid job in pulling together the disparate data of the Ta&iactue;no and other pre-Contact languages of the Caribbean and organizing them into a coherent whole."—Charles Ewen, East Carolina University

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page/Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

The chapters in this volume, originally written as separate essays at different times over a period of years, have been reedited together to suggest the formulation of a testable language-based hypothesis concerning the origins of the Pre-Columbian cultures and peoples of the Caribbean Antilles. Unlike Languages of the West Indies, written in 1977 by the dean of Antillean language ...

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1. The Pre-Columbian Antilles: An Overview of Research and Sources

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pp. 1-6

The Caribbean Antilles have been home to a kaleidoscopic series of human societies since 4000 B.C. To most people, the very word ‘Antilles’ summons up visions of heavily jungled, mountainous islands jutting from sapphire seas under azure skies, lulled by the waves which lap their sandy shores, or of serene low-lying atoll-like isles, their beaches covered in forests of swaying coconut ...

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2. The Languages of the Greater Antilles: A Documentary View

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pp. 7-25

In referring to the Greater Antillean islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba,and Jamaica, Bartolomé de Las Casas, primary sixteenth-century chronicler of the Indies, reiterates many times in his epochal Historia de las Indias (1875:I:326,among others) that “”—“in all these islands they speak a single language.” This statement has, out of context, been ...

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3. Anomalous Non-Ta

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pp. 26-38

We have over 200 attested Classic Ta

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4. The Primary Archaeological Correlates of Language Data from the Greater Antilles and Their Outliers

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pp. 39-47

The available archaeological data from the Greater Antilles, the Lucayan Islands, and the Virgin Islands match the linguistic data discussed in the previous chapters remarkably well. As Rouse (1986, 1992), Kozlowski (1975), and Veloz Maggiolo (1976) have recently summarized, the earliest known human occupation of the Antilles is that defined by the Lithic Age complexes of Cuba and ...

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5. Languages of the Greater Antilles: A Working Hypothesis

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pp. 48-50

To summarize the data of the previous chapters, the ethnohistoric record indicates that there were five different speech communities in the Greater Antilles at the time of Spanish intervention: Classic Ta

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6. The Languages of the Lesser Antilles and Their Archaeological Correlates

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pp. 51-62

We have commented earlier that the identification and definition of Lesser Antillean aboriginal languages presents fewer problems than the identification and definition of the aboriginal languages of the Greater Antilles. While this is certainly the case, the difficulties of identifying and defining Lesser Antillean languages are far from fully resolved. We are, however, extremely fortunate in ...

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7. The Toponymic Method and the Derivation of Ta

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pp. 63-79

It is unfortunate, being untrained in and unfamiliar with the field, that so few American archaeologists make use of toponymic data in their studies of human migrations and settlement patterns, unlike their colleagues across the sea, who have over several centuries perfected toponymy to the status of a fine-tuned science. English-speaking Caribbeanists in particular most often dismiss ...

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8. Toponyms and the Settlement of the Lucayan Islands: A Methodological Test

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pp. 80-86

One of the first tests of the validity and interpretive propensities of the authors’ toponymic method was its application to an analysis of the place-names of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, an area of particular concern to the senior author and one in which he has done archaeological work since 1950. A fairly significant number of the aboriginal names of the islands have survived in-...

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9. Some Principles of Ta

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pp. 87-99

While nothing has survived in the way of lengthy utterances in the Ta

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10. A Short Lexicon of Ta

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pp. 100-122

This lexicon includes both the known primary morphemes of the Taíno language—free bases and affixes—as well as the majority of single and multimorphemic words which appear in written form in the sixteenth-century Spanish sources, with the exception of toponyms and the names of a large number of unidentified, and unidentifiable, plants. Completion of the analysis ...

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11. Antillean Languages: An Afterview

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pp. 123-132

In the previous ten chapters we have attempted to describe the pre-Columbian languages of the Greater and Lesser Antilles as seen through the surviving data, providing examples of the lesser known ones—Ciguayo, Macorís, Guanahatabey, and, particularly, Taíno—and referring the interested reader to additional materials on Lesser Antillean Eyeri/Island Carib/Kalíphuna/Garífuna and the ...


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pp. 133-148


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pp. 149-153

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381912
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817351236

Publication Year: 2004