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The language of the Callinago people.

Father Breton's Dictionnaire caraïbe-français (1665) compared with Garifuna

Sybille de Pury & Marcella Lewis

The study presented here corresponds to letter A of the Carib-French dictionary written by Father Raymond Breton and published in France in 1665. The translation from French to English was made with the help of Christian Schhweiger. In the task of comparing the old language of the Callinago and Garifuna as it is spoken today, I worked together with Marcella Lewis at Hopkins Village (Belize).


The Caribbean region comprises the West Indies as well as a substantial coastal portion of the surrounding mainland. Long before the Spanish conquest, Amerindian migrants came up from South America and populated the Caribbean islands. During the final phase of this movement, apparently only a century before Columbus, Cariban (or Kaliña) people from the mainland conquered the Lesser Antilles. They settled these islands after defeating their inhabitants, an Arawak-speaking Indian population. Their descendants spoke a language which was a mixture of Arawak and Carib. Apparently, the women spoke only Arawak whereas the men spoke both Arawak and Carib. Breton tells us that they called themselves Callinago (or Calliponan in the women's language).

The Western Hemisphere then fell under European domination. The Europeans were accompanied by African slaves. Some of these escaped from bondage and lived with the Callinago (in the dictionary we find the words chibárali [chibárali], cachíonna [kachíona] and yaboúloupou [yabúlupfu] which are defined as children of mixed Indian and African origen). Their descendants were soon to become dominant on the island of St Vincent. The name Callinago corresponds to present day Garinagu.

Father Raymond Breton

He is the author of the Dictionnaire caraïbe-français, a Carib-French dictionary. He was a French missionary of the Dominican order, one of the first Europeans who settled in Guadeloupe in 1635. He spent approximately five years among the Callinago in Dominica. He passed through St Vincent but did not stop there because he said that Callinago, who were the only people living there, had already killed two missionaries. All the people of these islands spoke the same language at this time, the language of the Callinago, which is described in this dictionary.

Spelling, translation and comparison.

Breton employed the French spelling system to render the sounds of this language. Therefore, anybody not familiar with French spelling (and, in this case, old French spelling) will have difficulty in reading the following words :



For this reason, the Callinago words as Breton wrote them are followed by a phonetic transcription placed in brackets :

Abaíchacoüa [abaíchakua]

Abákêta [abáküta]

Breton's text has been translated from French to English :

Abaíchacoüa fouetter ® Abaíchacoüa [abaíchakua] to whip, to lash

Abákêta apprendre, enseigner ® Abákêta [abaküta] to teach

Marcella Lewis and I made a comparison of Breton's vocabulary with the modern Garifuna spoken in Hopkins :

Caraïbe : Abaíchacoüa [abaíchakua] to whip, to lash

Garifuna : abaichagua to whip, to lash ; to make the water flash (with the canoe...)

Caraïbe : Abákêta [abáküta] to teach

Garifuna : abahüda to count

The model for my spelling was that of the People’s Garifuna Dictionary (R. Cayetano ed., Belize : National Garifuna Council, 1993) :

abaichagua ® abeicha, abeichagua to whip, to lash ; to cut grass or low bush with machete ; to make the water splash (with the canoe...).

Numerous Carib words have no equivalent in Garifuna.

If you want to make any correction or add any information, you may write to sdepury@aol.com

Paris, the 30th of january 2001-01-29

Sybille de Pury