Blair A. Rudes

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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Pre-Columbian Links to the Caribbean: Evidence Connecting Cusabo to Taino

It has also long been recognized that the inhabitants of some of the villages on the coastal plain between the Santee and Savannah rivers spoke a distinct language or languages. Swanton (1922:18-19, 21) collectively referred to the language(s) as Cusabo. Based on an analysis of statements made by Europeans at Charleston and Santa Helena, Swanton concluded that Cusabo was a Muskogean language. However, more recent analysis of the same statements has shown that Swanton’s interpretation was incorrect (Waddell [forthcoming]). Furthermore, an analysis of the linguistic data available for Cusabo, consisting principally of around fifty place names, reveals no forms that can be connected with any Muskogean language. On the other hand, a comparison of the Cusabo data with data from Taino and other indigenous languages of the Caribbean reveals a number of striking similarities. Specifically, Cusabo appears to share with Caribbean languages a locative suffix (Cusabo <-bo(u)>, as seen in such pairs as : , : [Waddell 1980]; Central American Island Carib /-bu/ ‘at’ [Taylor 1977:58]), and a pluralizing suffix (Cusabo <-no>, seen in the Etiwan self-designation ‘sea-people’ [see Taino ‘sea’ (Taylor 1977:20)]; Taino <-no>, seen in the name Taino itself [Taylor 1977:19]). In addition, Cusabo appears to share patterns for forming names of communities with Caribbean langauges as illustrated by the use of the pluralizing suffix in and and by the use of a cognate word for ‘island’ as in Cusabo (modern Kiawah) ‘palmetto island’ and the Cayman Islands. The evidence from place names also suggests that Cusabo shared a number of cognate lexical items with Caribbean languages, as well as distinctive phonological traits such as the presence of a high, central unrounded vowel. A relationship between Cusabo and Caribbean languages is also suggested by the presence in the neighboring Catawban languages of lexical items and morphological features that appear to have been borrowed from Taino or some other Caribbean language. While the Cusabo data are too limited for definitive conclusions, they do to show more similarity with Taino and other Caribbean languages than with any known language on the North American mainland.

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    Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
Taylor, Douglas. 1977. Languages of the West Indies. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Waddell, Gene. 1980. Indians of the South Carolina Lowcountry 1562-1751. Columbia: University of South Carolina,
    Southern Studies Program.
Waddell, Gene. Forthcoming. Cofitachequi: A Distinctive Culture, Its Identity, and Its Location. Ethnohistory. (Manuscript in
    Waddell’s and author’s possession.)