Wisegeek.com states “A dead language is a language which is no longer learned as a native language.” Wikipedia says that a dead language has no competent speakers and that an extinct language is one that has no speakers at all, be that by language replacement or language evolution. Examples of these are Modern English having evolved from the Old English spoken in Medieval times and the death of the Taino language of the Caribbean when replaced by Spanish and French.
In the discussion on the UCTP.org forum that engendered this whole “tau” saga, I understood from the other party’s requirements of “verifiable references” and “discussion or understanding of how or why” a word comes about, that they saw a need for a “Voice of Authority”. Instead of wanting the common, average Taino to have an interest in the language and use it superficially, thus participating in it’s development and evolution, they preferred that there be an authority that decides what words should be used to express new concepts so that they are well thought out and created based on the language as established already, just like the Maori do. This would then require someone, or more than likely, a group of someones, that are responsible for the creation of new words and are to be considered as the final “Authority” on the proper use of the language.
As far as I am aware, although there are a few groups working on piecing the Taino language together at this moment, there is no final “authority” on the language as of yet. There are no linguists working on it as a committed group nor is there, apparently, consensus on who’s “authority” is to be relied upon. I know of one native person, a linguist, who commented that when they get together the control issues, the disagreements and the need to be right take precedence over the focus on language. I cannot attest to the veracity of this comment but I do know the group dynamics of my people. There are also some incredibly dedicated folks out there who have taken it upon themselves to spend years studying our language and yet personal antagonisms, chest thumping and the fight to have the last word becomes the determining factor in the acceptance of their work; again, placing the focus on the person and their relationship status as opposed to the focus on the language, where it belongs.
Besides the dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, there is also the concern that the grammar nor the syntax of the original language have survived, so present efforts of revival lean heavily on cousin languages, like Garifuna and Lokono. These languages are similar to ours, but still distinctly different. This tells me that revival will be near impossible without some external influence. However, even keeping it “in the family” is still a step away from purism, especially in view of these cousin cultures having retained not only their original indigenous influences, but African influences as well. Add to this the dialectal varieties according to island and you have quite a complicated project to take on.
I assume that this is the reason there is more than just one Taino dictionary out there, especially online! A quick “Google” will pull up several, and a cursory glance will show that they don’t always agree with each other and some may even incorporate words that are of modern use! Considering all this, a common authority figure setting it all straight would make sense…
However, considering human history, no “authority” has ever contained the human spirit; not in matters of language nor life!
As it pertains to the Spanish language, La Real Academia Espa~ola is the ultimate authority. Yet you may travel all of the Spanish speaking world and find that not one other country speaks Spanish as this authority would have it. Island hop the Caribbean and you will find that each Spanish speaking island has their own brand of Spanish, and we were conquered by the same people. Go a step further and you will find that they don’t even speak the same Spanish in all of the Iberian peninsula, and they are supposed to be home to “the Authority” on the language! In English there is still some debate as to who the final authority should be, Oxford University or Mirriam-Webster; however, regardless of whom you choose, the same comparison can be made. No authority decides how people choose to communicate; individuals who use the language on a daily basis do.
Fact is that there are too many Taino topics where the “Voice of Authority” is slammed upon our people; both those who are just starting to incorporate their Taino identity into their present reality and those who are still insecure with how they fit into this identity. Walk among a gathering or read your local forum and you will find the conversations: “This “must” be one way or another or it is wrong”, the similarity of Taino concepts and actions to those of other cultures is put down as “intellectual” or “spiritual property theft” and folks are devalued when they create their own thing because it’s not “authentic Taino”, and on and on, ad nauseum.
Rebuilding our community, rebuilding our Nation, will take some time, but more than that, it will take flexibility, tolerance, and open minds… We cannot limit ourselves to “verifiable evidence” provided by scientists and -ologists, because they are like a pendulum that has not found it’s center. Science began based on Christian belief systems to the point that it determined the age of Earth to be less than 6000 years old based on biblical scripture, and today science has swung so far the other way that it completely ignores subjective reality, spirituality and anything else that may suggest a spiritual reality, a Higher Power or Awareness. And we certainly cannot limit ourselves to what we find in the books written by the conquerors, for they have shaped reality to their own sense of propriety. If we really depended on the books written by -ologists and conquerors- our only available “authorities”- the Taino would still be extinct!
I also offer, that if we are reclaiming our inheritance and the right to define ourselves by the designation of “Taino”, we recognize not only the responsibilities that this label entails, but also the empowerment that comes along with the re-establishment of this identity. If I am Taino, anything that I create, be that by copying what is known of the ancients, journeying to the spirit world for guidance or just creativity and good ole’ invention, is as authentically Taino as I am. And by virtue of relation, the denial of authenticity of the product is a denial of the authenticity of the creator- a cognitive dissonance that is easy to be convinced by.
So, instead of trying to push the river, maybe we should focus on making sure our oars are sound and our canoe is seaworthy; maybe instead of paddling against the current (and each other) we may want to endeavor to paddle towards the same direction: the revival and evolution of our Taino identity and all the elements that this entails- including language.
(c) Anita “Nanu” Pagan, April 2009