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Replacing the manaka
African influence in Garífuna language
In an attempt to address the issue of African influence, the late professor Douglas
Taylor (1951), a linguist specializing in Native Caribbean languages, compared an
earlier researcher’s word list from a different dialect of Kalípona with his own
word list of the Garínagu of Belize (this list was later reproduced in Suazo (1991:5)).
Taylor determined that the Garífuna language, the language that was spoken by the
Black people on St. Vincent before 1797, was the same language spoken by the region’s
indigenous inhabitants, but with African phonetic influence.
The period of 1576-1676 of Early Garífuna can be characterized as rapid acquisition
of Kalípona language, death of the African languages and retention of native African
phonological rules. It is this regularized, underlying rule-based pronunciation (such
as the devoicing of some word-initial plosives or the raising of some mid-vowels,
i.e, Kalípona to Garífuna or caballo to gaballu), that marks the birth of “Garífuna”
Taylor’s lexical studies on Garífuna core vocabulary and on the vocabularies of several
different semantic fields reveal that aside from words borrowed from English, Spanish
and French, loanwords are quite rare. To date, only two words were found to be not
of Arawak, Carib or European origin, mutu (person) and pinda (peanut), which have
Bantu language origins (50). At this point it is reasonable to question whether
the African evidence is complete. Clearly an exhaustive lexical analysis has not
been done on the entire Garífuna language and given that there was contact with Africans
from other regions besides those that speak Bantu once the Garínagu were in Central
America, the possibility exists that many more words of African origin could be found.
It is important to note that mutu is an extremely important root in the Bantu language
upon words such as ‘humanity’ and ‘human’ are built. There have been claims that
pinda (derived from Congo mpinda) for ‘peanut’ has also been found in archaic Suriname
and Jamaican Creoles (Paiewonsky 1989:158; Monteith and Richards 2002:96). Nevertheless,
the possibility that Garífuna might be a wholly African language with borrowings
from indigenous American and/or Romance languages is put to rest in the face of Taylor’s
overwhelming evidence: phonological and lexical data comparisons reveal an unquestionable
relationship between Garífuna and Lokono, another living language from the Arawak
branch. To date, no such correspondence has been demonstrated between Garífuna and
any African language.
Monteith, Kathleen E. A, and Glen Richards. Jamaica in Slavery and Freedom: History,
Heritage and Culture. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2002.
Paiewonsky, Isidor. Eyewitness Accounts of Slavery in the Danish West Indies: Also
Graphic Tales of Other Slave Happenings on Ships and Plantations. New York: Fordham
University Press, 1989. Print.
Suazo, B E. S. Conversemos En Garífuna: Gramática Y Manual De Conversación. Tegucigalpa,
Hond: COPRODEIM, Comite pro Desarrollo Integral de la Moskitia, 1991. Print.
Taylor, Douglas M. R. The Black Carib of British Honduras / Douglas Macrae Taylor.
Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Out-of-Print Books on Demand, 1990