Carib language

This article is about the language of South America. For the language of the Caribs in the Caribbean, see Island Carib language.
Native to Venezuela, the Guianas, Suriname, and Brazil
Ethnicity Kali'na
Native speakers
7,430 (2009)[1]
  • Guianan Carib

    • Carib
  • Tyrewuju (Suriname)
  • Aretyry (Suriname)
Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-2 car
ISO 639-3 car
Glottolog gali1262[2]

Carib or Kari'nja is a Cariban language spoken by the Kalina people (Caribs) of South America. It is spoken by around 7,400 people mostly in Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Brazil. The language is currently classified as highly endangered.[3]


The language is known by several names to both its speakers and outsiders. Traditionally it has been known as "Carib" or "Carib proper" in English, after its speakers, called the "Caribs" in English. It is known Caribe in Spanish, Galina in French, and Karaïeb in Dutch. However, the speakers call themselves Kalina or Karìna (variously spelled), and call their language Karìna auran [kaɽiɁnʲauɽaŋ].[4] Other variants include Kali'na, Kari'nja, Cariña, Kariña, Kalihna, Kalinya; other native names include Maraworno and Marworno.


Kari'nja is classified as part of the Cariban languages but also as a Guianan language. [5]

Geographic distribution

Due to contact with Kari'nja invaders, some languages have Kari'nja words incorporated into them, despite being Arawakan languages linguistically.[6]

In Suriname, there is an area called Konomerume which is located near the Wajambo River. With about 349 people living there, a majority identify as ethnically Kari'nja and as for who knows the language, the adults are reported to at least have a decent knowledge of it. Those above the age of 65 use the language as a primary language among the members of the community. Speakers between the ages of 45 and 65 tend to use the language only when speaking with older residents or elder members of their family, while for the most part using the official languages: Dutch and Sranangtongo. Younger adults between the ages of 20 to 40 for the most part understand the language but do not speak it, and children learn bits about Kari'nja in school. [7]


Carib dialects (with number of speakers indicated in parentheses):[8]


The Carib alphabet consists of 15 letters: a, e, i, j, k, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, w, and y.[9]


In the Kari'nja language, there are four syllable patterns: V, CV, VC, CVC; C standing for consonants while V means a vowel. Regarding phonemes, consonants are divided into two groups: obstruents (voiceless stops—p, t, k) and resonants (voiced stops—b, d, g, s).[10]

Kari'nja has a typical 6 vowel system after *ô merged with *o, being a e i o u ï. Compared to past Kari'nja, the modern day Kari'nja has replaced the e in many words to o.[6]


There are 17 particles within Kari'nja which include the ky- prefix and the -ng suffix.[11]


All four dialects of Kari'nja have loan words from the primary language of the area (Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana). For example, the Kari'nja spoken in Suriname borrows words from Dutch and Sranangtongo.[3]


Modern Kari'nja
"two" /oko/
"stone" /topu/
"flea" /siko/
"mountain" /wipi/
"axe" /wïwï/
"person" /itoto/
‘one that has been dug’ Ø-atoka-apo
‘one that has burnt’ i-tjoroty-ypo

Some of the words show instances in which the e has been replaced with o in present-day Kari'nja.[6] The two statements beneath the singular words show examples of two suffixes. [12]


  1. Carib at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Galibi Carib". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. 1 2 3 Carlin, Eithne B.; Léglise, Isabelle; Migge, Bettina; Fat, Paul B. Tjon Sie (2014-11-28). In and Out of Suriname: Language, Mobility and Identity. BRILL. ISBN 9789004280120.
  4. Courtz, Henk (2008). A Carib Grammar and Dictionary (PDF). Magoria Books. p. 1. ISBN 0978170768. Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  5. "Did you know Kari'nja is threatened?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2016-05-02.
  6. 1 2 3 Gildea, Spike (May 2010). "The Story of *ô in the Cariban Family" (PDF).
  7. Yamada, Racquel-María (2014). "Training in the Community-Collaborative Context: A Case Study" (PDF). University of Oklahoma.
  8. Courtz, Henk (2008). A Carib Grammar and Dictionary (PDF). Magoria Books. p. 5. ISBN 0978170768. Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  9. Courtz, Henk (2008). A Carib Grammar and Dictionary (PDF). Magoria Books. p. 16. ISBN 0978170768. Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  10. Grimes, Joseph (1972). "Languages of the Guianas" (PDF). Benjamin F. Elson.
  11. Yamada, Racquel-María (2011-01-01). "A New Approach to ky- and -ng in Kari'nja: Evidentiality or Something Else?". International Journal of American Linguistics. 77 (1): 59–89. doi:10.1086/657328. ISSN 0020-7071.
  12. "Patient Nominalization > Passive in Panare and Ye'kwana (Cariban)" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-05-04.

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