The Arawakan languages are an indigenous language family of South America and the Caribbean.
Originally the name Arawak belonged exclusively to a powerful tribe in Guyana and Surinam. They became allies of the Spanish because they traditionally were enemies of the Carib groups with whom the Spanish were at war. There are older descriptions of the Arawak language and it is still spoken in Surinam.
The languages called Arawakan were originally recognized as a separate group in the late nineteenth century and were called the Nu-Arawakan languages. Almost all the languages now called Arawakan share a first person prefix "nu-"; but Arawak proper does not. Hence the compound name to include Arawak with the "nu_" languages. But the compound name was too clumsy and was soon shortened to Arawakan. In recent years the family has been renamed Maipuran as a way to straighten out this confusion.
The Arawakan languages are spoken over a large swath of territory, from the eastern slopes of the central Andes Mountains in Peru and Bolivia, across the Amazon basin of Brazil, southward into Paraguay and northward into to Surinam, Guyana, Venezuela, and Colombia on the northern coast of South America.
Taíno, commonly called Island Arawak, was spoken on the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and on the Bahamas. All the descendents of Taíno speakers now speak English or Spanish. The Taino language is very poorly preserved, but its membership in the Arawakan family is generally accepted. Its closest relative among the better attested Arawakan languages seems to be the Goajiro language spoken in Colombia. It has been suggested that the Goajiro are descended from Taino refugees, but the theory seems impossible to prove or disprove.
The Carib, after whom the Caribbean was named, formerly lived throughout the Lesser Antilles. In the seventeenth century the language of the Island Carib was described by European missionaries as two separate unrelated languages - one spoken by the men of the society and the other by the women. The language spoken by the men was a language of the Carib family very similar to the Galibi language spoken in what later became French Guyana. The language spoken by the woman belonged to the Arawakan language family, but was not closely related to the Taino language or to the Arawak language proper. Rather it resembles, although not too closely, the languages of the Llanos de Orinoco such as Achagua. One might conclude, though there is a minimum of supporting evidence, that the Carib language was first spoken in eastern Venezuela and that, because the dual language arrangement was unstable and cannot have been very old, the Carib speakers had only recently moved into the lesser Antilles.
The Island Carib language is now Dominica. Garífuna or Black Carib, which is thought to have about 190,000 speakers, is spoken on the north coast of Honduras and in Belize, by the descendants of Caribs and escaped slaves of African descent brought from Saint Vincent to the mainland in 1796. The Garifuna language continues the women's language of the Island Carib and only a few traces remain of the men's speech.