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Yo Soy (I am): The Historical Trajectory of Language in Puerto Rico

Taíno Language Influence

Mural of a Taíno extending their arms to the side.
DiSabato, Lorianne, photographer. Taino mural. External June 21, 2013. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) External

Prior to any contact with the Spanish, the Taíno civilization’s culture thrived throughout the island of Borikén. The Taínos had their own culture, language, and government structure. Their contact with the Spanish led to a clash of cultures that affected the identity and language development throughout Borikén, most notably in the name of the island, which became Puerto Rico, representing the origins of the Puerto Rican identity at the historical moment the Spanish arrived.

During the Spanish colonization of Puerto Rico, the Taíno and Spanish languages influenced each other, leading to the creation of a Spanish-Taíno creole, which became a standardized form of communication amongst Puerto Ricans. Even though the use of the Taíno language declined under Spanish colonization, Taíno traditions contributed to the everyday life and language development in Puerto Rico. Their food, music, dances, storytelling, and language became a part of Puerto Rican heritage. Musical instruments such as maracas (rumba shakers) and güiros (percussion instruments), and words like iguana (arboreal lizard) and canoa (canoe) part of that legacy, which the Spanish carried elsewhere. Taíno words are still used for municipalities throughout Puerto Rico; such as Utuado, Mayagüez, Caguas, and Humacao, among others.

The following items highlight the influence the Taíno language has on the Puerto Rican identity and language development. To this day, the Taíno language remains part of the island’s linguistic inheritance.


These print materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digitized versions are provided when available.

The Library of Congress subscribes to a large number of diverse databases which are cataloged and accessible via the E-Resources Online Catalog (EROC). The following selected databases range from freely available to on-site available resources. The databases marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

These selected resources offer significant materials related to Taíno language in Puerto Rican Spanish as a consequence of colonialism.

Freely Avilable Databases

Subscription Databases

Would you like to supplement your research? The following external websites can be useful for expanding your search on topics regarding Taíno linguistic heritage in Puerto Rican Spanish.

This tab contains a compilation of subject areas related to Taíno influence in Puerto Rico that link directly to the Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS) database. HLAS includes annotated citations for books, journal articles, book chapters, conference papers, maps and atlases, and e-resources.

Jay I. Kislak Collection

The following images display items from the Jay I. Kislak collection. The Kislak collection includes more than three thousand rare books, maps, manuscripts, historic documents, artifacts, and works of art related to early American history and the cultures of Florida, the Caribbean, and Mesoamerica. The images displayed contain historical artifacts and sculptures from the Taíno civilization, the first recorded inhabitants of Puerto Rico.