The Formosan languages are the languages of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, all of which are Austronesian. The Taiwanese indigenous peoples recognized by the government are about 2.3% of the island's population. However, only 35% speak their ancestral language, due to centuries of language shift. Of the approximately 26 languages of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples, at least ten are extinct, another four (perhaps five) are moribund, and all others are to some degree endangered. The aboriginal languages of Taiwan have great significance in historical linguistics since, in all likelihood, Taiwan is the place of origin of the entire Austronesian language family. According to linguist Robert Blust, the Formosan languages form nine of the ten principal branches of the family, while the one remaining principal branch contains nearly 1,200 Malayo-Polynesian languages found outside Taiwan. Although some other linguists disagree with some details of Blust's analysis, a broad consensus has coalesced around the conclusion that the Austronesian languages originated in Taiwan, and the theory has been strengthened by recent studies in human population genetics.

Recent history

All Formosan languages are slowly being replaced by the culturally dominant Taiwanese Mandarin. In recent decades the Taiwanese government started an aboriginal reappreciation program that included the reintroduction of Formosan first language in Taiwanese schools. However, the results of this initiative have been disappointing. In 2005, in order to help with the preservation of the languages of the indigenous people of Taiwan, the council established a Romanized writing system for all of Taiwan's aboriginal languages. The council has also helped with classes and language certification programs for members of the indigenous community and the non-Formosan Taiwanese to help the conservation movement.


Formosan languages form nine distinct branches of the Austronesian language family (with all other Malayo-Polynesian languages forming the tenth branch of the Austronesian).

List of languages

It is often difficult to decide where to draw the boundary between a language and a dialect, causing some minor disagreement among scholars regarding the inventory of Formosan languages. There is even more uncertainty regarding possible extinct or assimilated Formosan peoples. Frequently cited examples of Formosan languages are given below, but the list should not be considered exhaustive.

Living languages

* Although Yami is geographically in Taiwan, it is not classified as Formosan in linguistics.

Extinct languages

Basic word order

Most Formosan languages display verb-initial word order (VSO (verb-subject-object) or VOS (verb-object-subject)) with the exception of some Northern Formosan languages, such as Thao, Saisiyat, and Pazih, possibly from influence from Chinese. Li (1998) lists the word orders of several Formosan languages. *Rukai: VSO, VOS *Tsou: VOS *Bunun: VSO *Atayal: VSO, VOS *Saisiyat: VS, SVO *Pazih: VOS, SVO *Thao: VSO, SVO *Amis: VOS, VSO *Kavalan: VOS *Puyuma: VSO *Paiwan: VSO, VOS

Sound changes

Tanan Rukai is the Formosan language with the largest number of phonemes with 23 consonants and 4 vowels containing length contrast, while Kanakanabu and Saaroa have the fewest phonemes with 13 consonants and 4 vowels.


The tables below list the Proto-Austronesian reflexes of individual languages given by Wolff (2010).


The following table lists reflexes of Proto-Austronesian *j in various Formosan languages (Blust 2009:572). The following table lists reflexes of Proto-Austronesian *ʀ in various Formosan languages (Blust 2009:582). Lenition patterns include (Blust 2009:604-605): * *b, *d in Proto-Austronesian ** *b > f, *d > c, r in Tsou ** *b > v, *d > d in Puyuma ** *b > v, *d > d, r in Paiwan ** *b > b, *d > r in Saisiyat ** *b > f, *d > s in Thao ** *b > v, *d > r in Yami (extra-Formosan)




Li (2001) lists the geographical homelands for the following Formosan languages. *Tsou: southwestern parts of central Taiwan; Yushan (oral traditions) *Saisiyat and Kulon: somewhere between Tatu River and Tachia River not far from the coast *Thao: Choshui River *Qauqaut: mid-stream of Takiri River (Liwuhsi in Chinese) *Siraya: Chianan Plains *Makatau: Pingtung *Bunun: Hsinyi (信義鄉) in Nantou County *Paiwan: Ailiao River, near the foot of the mountains

See also

* Cognate sets for Formosan languages (Wiktionary) * Demographics of Taiwanese Aborigines * Writing systems of Formosan languages * Personal pronoun systems of Formosan languages * Fossilized affixes in Austronesian languages * Proto-Austronesian language * Tsou language for an example of the unusual phonotactics of the Formosan languages * Sinckan Manuscripts * Naming customs of Taiwanese aborigines




* Blust, Robert A. 2009. ''The Austronesian Languages''. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. , .

Further reading

*Blundell, David (2009), ''Austronesian Taiwan: Linguistics, History, Ethnology, Prehistory''. Taipei, Taiwan: SMC Publishing *Happart, G., & Hedhurst, W. H. (1840). ''Dictionary of the Favorlang dialect of the Formosan language''. Batavia: printed at Parapattan. *Li, Paul Jen-kuei (2004). "Basic Vocabulary for Formosan Languages and Dialects." In Li, Paul Jen-kuei. ''Selected Papers on Formosan Languages'', vol. 2. Taipei, Taiwan: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica. * *Tsuchida, S. (2003). ''Kanakanavu texts (Austronesian Formosan)''. saka?: Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim *Zeitoun, E. (2002). ''Nominalization in Formosan languages''. Taipei: Institute of Linguistics (Preparatory Office), Academia Sinica.

External links

Ogawa's Vocabulary of Formosan Dialects 小川尚義 (臺灣蕃語蒐録)

* Map
''Formosan Languages and Yami''
(PDF) {{DEFAULTSORT:Formosan Languages Category:Austronesian languages Category:Languages of Taiwan Category:Endangered Austronesian languages