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Mostly within north-central South America, with extensions in the southern Caribbean and in Central America.
Guiana Carib
North Amazonian Carib
Central Carib
South Amazonian Carib
Actual location of cariban languages, c. 2000, and probable extension at the 16th century.

The Cariban languages are an indigenous language family of South America. Carib languages are widespread across northern South America, from the mouth of the Amazon River to the Colombian Andes and from Maracaibo (Venezuela) to Central Brazil. Cariban languages are relatively close to each other; in some cases, it is difficult to decide whether different groups speak different languages or dialects of the same language. Because of this, the exact number of Cariban languages is not known with certainty (current estimates range from 25 to 40, with 20 to 30 still spoken). The Cariban family is well known in the linguistic world due to Hixkaryana, a language with Object-Verb-Subject sentences, previously thought not to exist in human language.

Some years prior to the arrival of the first Spanish explorers, Carib-speaking peoples had invaded and occupied the Lesser Antilles, killing, displacing or forcibly assimilating the Arawakan peoples who inhabited the islands. They never reached the Greater Antilles or the Bahamas. Curiously, the Carib language quickly died out while the Arawakan language was maintained over the generations. This was the result of the invading Carib men usually killing the local men of the islands they conquered and taking Arawak wives who then passed on their own language to the children. For a time, Arawak was spoken primarily or exclusively by women and children, while adult men spoke Carib. Eventually, as the first generation of Carib-Arawak children reached adulthood, the more familiar Arawak became the only language used in the small island societies. This language was called Island Carib, even though it is not part of the Carib linguistic family. It is now extinct, but was spoken on the Lesser Antilles until the 1920's (primarily in Dominica, Saint Vincent, and Trinidad).

The largest Carib languages today are Carib proper, or Galibi, with 10,000 speakers, and Macushi language, with perhaps 24,000 speakers. The Hixkaryana language is famous in linguistic typology for its unusual word order.

Although Garífuna, spoken in Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize, is known as "Black Carib", it is actually an Arawakan language with Carib influence: At one time men used Carib lexical vocabulary, and women Arawak vocabulary, though both on an Arawak grammatical base, but this distinction has dwindled to only a handful of words.


Family division

The Cariban languages are closely related, and in many cases where a language is more distinct, this is due to influence from neighboring languages rather that an indication that it is not closely related. Several classifications are seen; the one shown here divides Cariban into seven branches. A traditional geographic classification into northern and southern branches is cross referenced with (N) or (S) after each language.

  • Galibi [Kaliña] (N)
  • Guiana Carib: Tiriyó [Trio] (N), Carijona (S), Kaxuiâna [Warikyana] (S), Waiwai (N), Hixkaryána (S), Akuriyó (N), Sikiana-Salumá (N), Hianákoto
  • North Amazonian Carib: Atruahí [Atrowari, Waimiri] (N), Macushi (N), Pemon [Arekuna] (N), Akawaio [Kapong] (N), Patamona [Ingariko] (N), Pawishiana
  • Central Carib: Wayana (N), Apalaí (N), Maquiritari [Dekwana] (S), Mapoyo-Yabarana (N)
  • South Amazonian Carib: Bakairí (S), Kuikúro [Kalapálo] (S), Txikão (N), Matipuhy [Nahukwa] (S), Arára [Pará] (N)
  • Yukpa: Japrería (N), Yupka (N), ? Coyaima (N)
  • Panare (N)

Genetic relations

The Cariban languages share irregular morphology with the Ge and Tupi families, and Ribeiro connects them all in a Je-Tupi-Carib family.

See also

External links



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