The “Gua” Prefix: Working Hypotheses on the Resilience of the Taíno Language
Antonio Yaguarix de Moya [i]
Guabancex Wind & Water Taíno Society [ii]
Objective: To start “excavating” some of the hidden secrets about the present use of Taíno, a supposedly extinct polysynthetic Caribbean Arawak language, through the analysis of the frequently used “gua” prefix. The analysis purports to show how much of original Taíno “became” Spanish, is still in use, or has fallen into disuse.
Methods: One-hundred and seventy-one Taíno morphemes that start with “gua” were found and analyzed. Controversial hybrid or obviously misspelled words were excluded from the analysis. The syllabic composition of the morphemes, their presence or absence from Spanish dictionaries, and their presence in today’s Dominican speech were explored.
Results: Out of the 171 documented Taíno morphemes, 44 (26 percent of the total) were adopted by the Spanish language. Thirty-two (73 percent) of those adopted are presently used in Dominican speech; only 27 percent are in disuse. One-hundred and twenty-seven Taíno words were never adopted by Spanish (76 percent of the total). Forty-four of such Taíno morphemes (26 percent of all; 35 percent of those non-adopted), are used today in the D.R. Eighty-three non-adopted Taíno morphemes (49 percent of the total; 65 percent of those non-adopted) are probably extinct. Only one monosyllabic word starting with “gua”; 31 two-syllabic words (18 percent of the total); 71 three-syllabic words (42 percent); and 68 tetra-syllabic words (40 percent) were found.
Conclusions: These findings provide evidence that around half of the original Taíno lexicon related to the important “gua” prefix survived the notion of extinction. The polysynthetic nature of Taíno morphemes is demonstrated by the fact that around four-fifths of them are either three-syllabic or tetra-syllabic. These characteristics suggest that Spanish adopted the simplest Taíno lexicon, while Taíno descendants have kept the more complex lexical parts. The resilience of words may be associated with older age, higher education and social class, and individuals’ regional origin.
Key words: Taíno, lexicon, polysynthesis, resilience, Dominican Republic
In 1993, for the first time, an internationally authorized English-language dictionary, the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, asserted that the Taíno were an ancient people of the Greater Antilles, eliminating the eroded cliché about the old myth of their extinction. Ever since, for this and other dictionaries, the term “extinction” has continued to be applied to the language, but not to the population.
In the following exercise, which has no intentions other than opening an urgent debate among linguistic scholars and students, as well as inciting rigorous research on our language and culture, we ask ourselves whether it has any sense, thinking it over, that a population such as the Dominican Republic’s (D.R.), could survive, while its language vanishes. This could be no more than a childish historical misnomer.
According to Emilio Tejera (1988),  at the beginning of the European conquest of America, the Spanish chronicler Pedro Mártir de Anglería wrote that the “gua“ syllable was the most frequent word particle used by the Taíno people. He and other authors in the 16th and 17th centuries, also quoted by Tejera, say that “gua” was the “equivalent of a determinative article… which could be translated as ‘he/she who is,’ ‘this who is’” (Zayas, pp. 21, 24). The priest Velasco (1562-1613) also states that “some people say that it denotes ownership of something signified by the name to whom it is attached, some others say that it is a particle of respect….  Four centuries later, Febres Cordero (p. 162), quoted by Tejera, wrote that in 1892 he published “a list of 500 [Amerindian] geographical words in which gua appears as a radical, and more than 200 words where it is a suffix.”
Taking into account the apparent resilience of this grammar particle and its frequent use in present–day Dominican speech, it was decided to make a brief incursion into a handful of documents, with the objective of starting to “excavate” some of the possibly hidden secrets about the use of our speech. In this way, it was possible to inductively explore both Tejera’s quoted text and the List of Places in the D.R. that start with the prefix “gua” (http://ww.fallingrain.co/world/DR/a/G/u/a),  in order to unveil this language’s vitality as we examine it more closely.
One-hundred and seventy-one morphemes  with obvious Taíno, Arawak, or possibly Guarani origins, which start with “gua” were found and analyzed Those words whose linguistic origin could be controversial (because of likely hybridization with Spanish or with African languages) or that are obviously misspelled were excluded from the analysis. The syllabic composition of the morphemes vis-à-vis their likely polysynthetic characteristic,  their presence or absence from the Windows Modern-Spanish Dictionary,  and their presence in today’s Dominican speech were explored. It is important to recognize that the truth of this last assertion could be highly variable and controversial, due to its likely association to variables such as age, education, social class, and individual regional origin.
The analysis unveiled the following findings:
Forty-four (26 percent of the total) Taíno words entered the Spanish lexicon; 127 words (74 percent) were not incorporated into Spanish. Only one monosyllabic morpheme with the prefix “gua” was found that had not been adopted by the European Spanish-language that is still used in the D.R.: “guay,” a heavily loaded emotional interjection that seems to be a death cry.
Eighteen disyllabic morphemes that entered the Spanish lexicon were detected. Twelve of them are still used today in the D.R., namely: guaba, guaca, guacal, guagua, guaicán, guama, guanín, guao, guaro, guasa, guate, and guayo. Six have tended to fall into disuse: guaco, guama, guamo, guana, guaní, and guara. Thirteen disyllabic Taíno morphemes were not incorporated into Spanish; of them, 8 morphemes are still used in the D.R.: guací, guaicí, guaigüey, guaigüí, guaiza, guano, guatiao, and guaucí. Five words not adopted by Spanish apparently have fallen into disuse in the country: guabá, guacón, guaibá, guamí, and guarey.
Eighteen three-syllabic morphemes entered the Spanish lexicon. Thirteen are used nowadays in the D.R.: guabina, guácima, guajaca, guajiro, guanaja, guaraná, guaraní, guarapo, guásima, guataca, guayaba, guayacán, and guayana. Five are not used anymore: guaniquí, guaruma, guayaco, guaguanche, and guaguaza. Fifty-three words were not incorporated by Spanish; 18 of them are presently used in the D.R.: Guabancex, Guabate, guácara, guanima, Guanuma, guárana, guararé, Guarionex, Guaroa, guarúa, Guayama, guáyiga, guaymama, Guaymate, Guaynabo, Guayubín, guayuyo, and guázuma. Thirty five words are not presently used: guacaica, guacana, guacaox, guacayo, guagaica, guaguací, guaguari, guaiquía, guajaba, guajagua, guajayán, gualete, guamira, guanabax, guanabo, guanabrei, guanaguax, guanama, guanara, guanía, guanibán, guaoxerí, guaquía, guaragüey, guaraiba, guaraje, guarianón, guaurabo, guavanaán, guayagan, guayagua, guayaro, guaybana, guaymosa, and guázara.
Eight tetra-syllabic morphemes entered the Spanish lexicon; 7 are still in use in the D.R.: guacamayo, guachupita, guanábana, guaraguao, guatemala, guayacanes, and guazábara. One has fallen into disuse: guanabina. Sixty tetrasyllabic words were not incorporated into Spanish; of these, 17 are used today in the D.R.: guaconejo, guagugiona, guajimía, guanahaní, guananico, guaraguanó, guaranate, guaricano, guariquitén, guarocuya, guatapanal, guataúba, guatíbere, guacanagarí, guacarapita, guacayarima, and guayajayuco. Forty-four words not adopted by Spanish are extinct: guabanimo, guabarete guabonito guacacuba guacamarí guacaniquín guacaraica, guacaraca, guacuamarex, guainamoca, guajabona, guamacaje, guamaonocon, guamiquina, guamorete, guanabites, guanaguana, guanahibo, guanajuma, guananagax, guanatuví, guanavate, guanayvico, guaniabano, guaragüey, guaraiba, guaramatex, guarianón, guarizaca, guasabacoa, guasábalo, guaticavá, guatiguaná, guayabacón, guayamico, and guayaronel (four syllables); and guabaniquinax, guanahatabey, guanaoconel, guaninicabón, guaragüeibana, guavaenechin, and guavavoconel (five syllables).
In sum, the existence of 44 Taíno morphemes starting with “gua” that have been adopted by the European Spanish socio-lexicon (26 percent of the total; 18 two-syllabic, 18 three-syllabic, and 8 tetra-syllabic) is documented. Thirty-two (73 percent) of them are presently used in Dominican speech. Twelve (27 percent) are extinct. One-hundred and twenty-seven Taíno words were never adopted by Spanish (76 percent of the total). Forty-four of such Taíno morphemes (26 percent of all, 35% of those non-adopted; 1 monosyllabic, 8 two-syllabic, 18 three-syllabic, and 17 tetra-syllabic), are used today in the D.R. Eighty-three non-adopted Taíno morphemes (49 percent of the total, 65 percent of those non-adopted; 5 two-syllabic, 35 three-syllabic, and 43 tetra-syllabic) are probably extinct. Only one monosyllabic word; 31 two-syllabic words (18 percent of the total); 71 three-syllabic words (42 percent); and 68 tetra-syllabic words (40 percent) were found.
The polysynthetic nature of 171 Taíno morphemes that start with the prefix “gua” documented in this analysis is demonstrated by the fact that only one of them is monosyllabic, 18 percent are two-syllabic, 42 percent are three-syllabic, and 40 percent are tetra-syllabic. One fourth (26 percent) of those Taíno morphemes were adopted by the European Spanish socio-lexicon. Almost three-fourths (73 percent of those adopted; 19 percent of the total) of these “Spanish” morphemes are still in use in present-day Dominican speech. Only a minority has experienced extinction (7 percent of the total). Three-fourths (74 percent) of the Taíno lexicon were not incorporated into the Spanish language. One-fourth of all morphemes not adopted by Spanish (26 percent of the total; one-third of those non-adopted), continue to be used by the Dominican population, not knowing their Taíno origin. Two-thirds of those morphemes not adopted by Spanish (half of the words) have become extinct in the D.R.
On the basis of these findings, the following hypotheses  are advanced:
1. The more complex the syllabic structure of a morpheme is (higher contraction of prefixes or higher polysynthetic agglutination), the lower is the trend to adopt the morpheme to Spanish.
2. The more complex the syllabic structure of a morpheme is, the higher is the trend to know and to continue using this morpheme in Dominican speech today, despite its absence from Spanish dictionaries.
3. The more complex the syllabic structure of a morpheme not adopted by Spanish is, the higher the trend of extinction is of this morpheme in Dominican speech today.
In conclusion, in contrast with the received view, these findings provide evidence that Taíno language lexicon related to the important “gua” prefix survived the notion of extinction. This exercise suggests that about one-fourth of the Taíno vocabulary was adopted by Spanish, and another fourth is used today in Dominican speech. The loss in the Taíno lexicon, five centuries after the encounter among the cultures and languages of America, Europe, and Africa, seems to amount to half of the original vocabulary. Agglutinative polysynthetic characteristics of this language, such as contraction and incorporation, suggest that the Spanish language was able to adopt the simplest and more closely related Taíno lexicon, while Taíno descendants have tended to keep the more complex and elaborate lexical parts. Lost and found opportunities of linguistic development in these 500 years must be studied seriously by the national and international scientific community.
 Tejera, Emilio (ed.). Indigenismos. Santo Domingo, Sociedad Dominicana de Bibliófilos, 1988.
 We realize that the present-day meaning or meanings of the prefix may have experienced changes throughout time. Only empirical research could answer this question.
 In no way should this search be regarded as exhaustive of polysynthetic Amerindian languages.
 In human language, a phoneme is the smallest unit of speech that distinguishes meaning. Phonemes are not the physical segments themselves, but abstractions of them. In morpheme-based morphology, a morpheme is the smallest linguistic unit that has semantic meaning. In spoken language, morphemes are composed of phonemes, the smallest linguistically distinctive units of sound. The concept morpheme differs from the concept word, as many morphemes cannot stand as words on their own. A morpheme is free if it can stand alone, or bound if it is used exclusively alongside a free morpheme. A lexeme is an abstract unit of morphological analysis in linguistics that roughly corresponds to a set of words that are different forms of the same word (Wikipedia 2007).
 Polysynthetic languages are highly synthetic languages, i.e. languages in which words are composed of many morphemes. The degree of synthesis refers to the morpheme-to-word ratio. Languages with more than one morpheme per word are synthetic. Polysynthetic languages lie at the extreme end of the synthesis continuum, with a very high number of morphemes per word (at the other extreme are isolating or analytic languages with only one morpheme per word). These highly synthetic languages often have very long words that correspond to complete sentences in less synthetic languages (Wikipedia 2007).
 More sophisticated and inclusive dictionaries could reveal a slightly larger percentage of Taíno morphemes adopted by the Spanish language.
 The inductive approach does not try to make generalizations, but to advance hypotheses that could guide further research.
About the authors
 Dominican social psychologist (M.A.) and epidemiologist (M.P.H.). Professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) from 1976. Since 1987 he has been studying the polysynthetic parameter of Taino language and mythology.
 Guabancex Wind & Water Taino Society was founded the 9th of August, 2006, by Lynne Guitar, Fátima Portorreal, Irka Mateo, Geo Ripley and the author of this article in Santo Domingo, and by Jorge Baracutei Estévez , Valerie Nanaturey Vargas, Taino Almestica and José Barreiro in the United States of America.