An indispensable step in protein biosynthesis is the 2'(3') aminoacylation of tRNA by aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases. Here we show that a similar activity exists in a tiny, 5-nt-long RNA enzyme with a 3-nt active center. The small ribozyme initially trans-phenylalanylates a partially complementary 4-nt RNA selectively at its terminal 2'-ribose hydroxyl using PheAMP, the natural form for activated amino acid. The initial 2' Phe-RNA product can be elaborated into multiple peptidyl-RNAs. Reactions do not require divalent cations, and have limited dependence on monovalent cations. Small size and minimal requirements for regiospecific translational activity strongly support the hypothesis that minuscule RNA enzymes participated in early forms of translation.