The Info List - Bunun Language

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The Bunun language
Bunun language
(Chinese: 布農語) is spoken by the Bunun people of Taiwan. It is one of the Formosan languages, a geographic group of Austronesian languages, and is subdivided in five dialects: Isbukun, Takbunuaz, Takivatan, Takibaka and Takituduh. Isbukun, the dominant dialect, is mainly spoken in the south of Taiwan. Takbunuaz and Takivatan are mainly spoken in the center of the country. Takibaka and Takituduh both are northern dialects. A sixth dialect, Takipulan, became extinct in the 1970s. The Saaroa and Kanakanabu, two smaller minority groups who share their territory with an Isbukun Bunun group, have also adopted Bunun as their vernacular.


1 Dialects 2 Phonology

2.1 Consonants 2.2 Vowels

3 Grammar

3.1 Overview 3.2 Word classes 3.3 Affixes 3.4 Pronouns 3.5 Demonstratives 3.6 Function words

4 Notes 5 References 6 External links

Dialects[edit] Li (1988) splits the Bunun dialects into 3 main branches — Northern, Central, and Isbukun (also classified as Southern Bunun).[3] Isbukun, the prestige dialect, is also the most divergent dialect. The most conservative dialects are spoken in the north.


Isbukun North-Central


Takituduh Takibakha


Takbanuað Takivatan

Bunun was originally spoken in and around Sinyi Township (Xinyi, 信義鄉) in Nantou County
Nantou County
(De Busser 2009:63). From the 17th century onwards, the Bunun people
Bunun people
expanded towards the south and east, absorbing other ethnic groups such as the Saaroa, Kanakanabu, and Thao. Bunun is spoken in an area stretching from Ren-ai Township (仁愛鄉) in Nantou in the north to Yan-ping Township (延平鄉) in Taitung in the south. Isbukun is distributed throughout Nantou, Taitung, and Kaohsiung. Takbanuað is spoken in Nantou and southern Hualien County. Takivatan is spoken in Nantou and central Hualien. Both Takituduh and Takibakha are spoken in Nantou. Phonology[edit] Consonants[edit]

Consonant inventory

  Bilabial Labio- dental Dental Alveolar Velar Uvular Glottal

Plosive p           t   k   q   ʔ  

Implosive   ɓ           ɗ            

Fricative       v   ð s       χ   h  

Nasal   m           n   ŋ        

Approximant               l            

Orthographic notes:

/ɓ ɗ/ are usually represented as ⟨b⟩, ⟨d⟩. /ð/ is represented as ⟨z⟩, /ŋ/ as ⟨ng⟩, /ʔ/ as ⟨'⟩, and /dʒ/ as ⟨j⟩.


The glides /j w/ exist, but are derived from the underlying vowels /i u/ to meet the requirements that syllables must have onset consonants. They are therefore not part of the consonant inventory. The dental fricative /ð/ is actually interdental (/ð̟/). In the Isbukun dialect, /χ/ often occurs in final or post-consonantal position and /h/ in initial and intervocalic position, whereas other dialects have /q/ in both of these positions. While Isbukun drops the intervocalic glottal stops (/ʔ/) found in other dialects, /ʔ/ also occurs where /h/ occurs in other dialects. (For example, the Isbukun word [mapais] bitter is [mapaʔis] in other dialects; the Isbukun word [luʔum] 'cloud' is [luhum] in other dialects.) The alveolar affricate /dʒ/ occurs in the Taitung variety of Isbukun, usually represented in other dialects as /t/.[4]


Vowel inventory

Front Central Back

High i


Mid e




/e/ does not occur in Isbukun.

Grammar[edit] Overview[edit] Bunun is a verb-initial language and has an Austronesian alignment system or focus system. This means that Bunun clauses do not have a nominative–accusative or absolutive–ergative alignment, but that arguments of a clause are ordered according to which participant in the event described by the verb is 'in focus'. In Bunun, four distinct roles can be in focus:

the agent: the person or thing that is doing the action or achieving/maintaining a state; the undergoer: the person or thing that is somehow participating in the action without being an agent; there are three kinds of undergoers:

patients: persons or things to whom an action is done or an event happens instruments: things (sometimes persons) which are used to perform an action beneficiaries (also called recipients): the persons (sometimes things) for whom an action is done or for whom an event happens

the locative participant: the location where an action takes place; in languages with a Philippine-style voice system, spatial location is often at the same level in a clause as agents and patients, rather than being an adverbial clause, like in English (see [5] for a discussion of location in Tagalog).

Which argument is in focus is indicated on the verb by a combination of prefixes and suffixes .[6]

a verb in agent focus is often unmarked, but can get the prefix ma- or - more rarely - pa- or ka- a verb in undergoer focus gets a suffix -un a verb locative focus gets a suffix -an

Many other languages with a focus system have different marking for patients, instruments and beneficiaries,[citation needed] but this is not the case in Bunun. The focussed argument in a Bunun clause will normally always occur immediately after the verb (e.g. in an actor-focus clause, the agent will appear before any other participant) and is in the Isbukun dialect marked with a post-nominal marker a.[6] Bunun has a very large class of auxiliary verbs. Concepts that are expressed by auxiliaries include:

negation (ni 'be not' and uka 'have not') modality and volition (e.g. maqtu 'can, be allowed') relative time (e.g. ngausang 'first, beforehand', qanaqtung 'be finished') comparison (maszang 'the same, similarly') question words (e.g. via 'why?') sometimes numerals (e.g. tatini '(be) alone, (be) only one')

In fact, Bunun auxiliaries express all sorts of concepts that in English would be expressed by adverbial phrases, with the exception of time and place, which are normally expressed with adverbial phrases. Word classes[edit] Takivatan Bunun has the following word classes (De Busser 2009:189). (Note: Words in open classes can be compounded, whereas those in closed classes cannot.)

Open classes

Nouns Verbs Adjectives

Closed classes

Demonstratives Anaphoric pronouns Personal pronouns Numerals Place words Time words Manner words Question words Auxiliaries

Affixes[edit] Bunun is morphologically agglutinative language and has a very elaborate set of derivational affixes (more than 200, which are mostly prefixes), most of which derive verbs from other word classes.[7] Some of these prefixes are special in that they do not only occur in the verb they derive, but are also foreshadowed on a preceding auxiliary. These are called lexical prefixes[8] or anticipatory prefixes[9] and only occur in Bunun and a small number of other Formosan languages. Below are some Takivatan Bunun verbal prefixes from De Busser (2009).

Takivatan Bunun verbal prefixes

Type of prefix Neutral Causative Accusative

Movement from mu- pu- ku-

Dynamic event ma- pa- ka-

Stative event ma- / mi- pi- ka- / ki-

Inchoative event min- pin- kin-

In short:

Movement from: Cu- Dynamic event: Ca- Stative event: Ci- Inchoative event: Cin- Neutral: mV- Causative: pV- Accusative: kV-

A more complete list of Bunun affixes from De Busser (2009) is given below.


agent focus (AF): -Ø undergoer focus (UF): -un (also used as a nominalizer) locative focus (LF): -an (also used as a nominalizer)

Tense-aspect-mood (TAM) affixes

na- irrealis (futurity, consequence, volition, imperatives). This is also the least bound TAM prefix. -aŋ progressive (progressive aspect, simultaneity, expressing wishes/optative usage) -in perfective (completion, resultative meaning, change of state, anteriority) -in- past/resultative (past, past/present contrast) -i- past infix which occurs only occasionally

Participant cross-reference

-Ø agent -un patient -an locative is- instrumental ki- beneficiary

Locative prefixes

Stationary ‘at, in’: i- Itinerary ‘arrive at’: atan-, pan-, pana- Allative ‘to’: mu-, mun- Terminative ‘until’: sau- Directional ‘toward, in the direction of’: tan-, tana- Viative ‘along, following’: malan- Perlative ‘through, into’: tauna-, tuna-, tun- Ablative ‘from’: maisna-, maina-, maisi-, taka-

Event-type prefixes

ma- Marks dynamic events ma- Marks stative events mi- Marks stative negative events a- Unproductive stative prefix paŋka- Marks material properties (stative) min- Marks result states (transformational) pain- Participatory; marks group actions


pa- causative of dynamic verb pi- causative of stative verb pu- cause to go towards

Classification of events

mis- burning events tin- shock events pala- splitting events pasi- separating events kat- grasping events

Patient-incorporating prefixes

bit- 'lightning' kun- 'wear' malas- 'speak' maqu- 'use' muda- 'walk' pas- 'spit' qu- 'drink' sa- 'see' tal- 'wash' tapu- 'have trait' tastu- 'belong' taus-/tus- 'give birth' tin- 'harvest' tum- 'drive'


pu- verbalizer: 'to hunt for' maqu- verbalizer: 'to use' malas- verbalizer: 'to speak'

Pronouns[edit] Takivatan Bunun personal pronoun roots are (De Busser 2009:453):

1s: -ak- 2s: -su- 3s: -is- 1p (incl.): -at- 1p (excl.): -ðam- 2p: -(a)mu- 3p: -in-

The tables of Takivatan Bunun personal pronouns below are sourced from De Busser (2009:441).

Takivatan Bunun Personal Pronouns

Type of Pronoun Root Foc. Agent (bound) Non-Foc. Agent (bound) Neutral Foc. Agent Locative Possessive

1s. -ak- -(ʔ)ak -(ʔ)uk ðaku, nak sak, saikin ðakuʔan inak, ainak, nak

2s. -su- -(ʔ)as - suʔu, su - suʔuʔan isu, su

1p. (incl.) -at- - - mita ʔata, inʔata mitaʔan imita

1p. (excl.) -ðam- -(ʔ)am - ðami, nam ðamu, sam ðamiʔan inam, nam

2p. -(a)mu- -(ʔ)am - muʔu, mu amu muʔuʔan imu, mu

Takivatan Bunun Third-Person Personal Pronouns

Singular Plural

[Root] -is- -in-

Proximal isti inti

Medial istun intun

Distal ista inta

Iskubun Bunun personal pronouns are somewhat different (De Busser 2009:454).

Iskubun Bunun Personal Pronouns

Type of Pronoun Agent Undergoer Possessive

1s. saikin, -ik ðaku, -ku inak, nak

2s. kasu, -as su isu, su

3s. saia saiʤa isaiʤa, saiʤa

1p. (incl.) kata, -ta mita imita

1p. (excl.) kaimin, -im ðami inam

2p. kamu, -am mu imu

3p. naia inaiʤa naiʤa

Demonstratives[edit] Takivatan Bunun has the following demonstrative roots and affixes (De Busser 2009:454):

Demonstrative suffixes

Proximal: -i Medial: -un Distal: -a

Demonstrative roots

aip-: singular aiŋk-: vague plural aint-: paucal ait-: inclusive generic

Demonstrative prefixes

Ø-: visible n-: not visible

Place words

ʔiti here ʔitun there (medial) ʔita there (distal)

Function words[edit]

sia anaphoric marker, "aforementioned"; also used as a hesitation marker tu attributive marker duma "others" itu honorific marker

Takivatan Bunun also has definitive markers.

Takivatan Bunun Definiteness Markers

Singular Plural

Proximal -ti -ki

Medial -tun -kun

Distal -ta -ka


^ Bunun at Ethnologue
(18th ed., 2015) ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Bunun". Glottolog
3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.  ^ Li, Paul Jen-kuei. 1988. A Comparative Study of Bunun Dialects. In Li, Paul Jen-kuei, 2004, Selected Papers on Formosan Languages. Taipei, Taiwan: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica. ^ De Busser, Rik. Introduction to the Bunun language
Bunun language
(Languages of Taiwan, 2011), pp. 7-8. ^ Schachter & Otanes 1972 ^ a b Zeitoun 2000 ^ Lin & al. 2001 ^ Nojima 1996 ^ Adelaar 2004


Adelaar, K. Alexander. 2004. The coming and going of ‘lexical prefixes’ in Siraya. Language and Linguistics/語言暨語言學 5(2): 333-361. De Busser, Rik. 2009. Towards a Grammar of Takivatan: Selected Topics. PhD dissertation at the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. Jeng, Heng-hsiung. 1977. Topic and Focus in Bunun. Taipei: Academia Sinica. Nojima, Motoyasu. 1996. Lexical prefixes of Bunun verbs. Gengo Kenkyu: Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan 110: 1-27. Li, Paul Jen-Kuei. 1988. A comparative study of Bunun dialects. Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica 59(2): 479-508. Schachter, Paul and Fe T. Otanes. 1972. Tagalog Reference Grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press. 齊莉莎 (Zeitoun, Elizabeth). 2000. 布農語參考語法. Taipei:遠流/YLib. 林太 (Lin Tai), 曾思奇 (Zeng Si-Qi), 李文甦 (Li Wen-Su) and 卜袞 (Bukun). 2001. Isbukun.布農語構詞法研究. Taipei: 讀冊文化/Du-Ce Wen-Hua. Anu Ispalidav. 2014. 布農族語讀本:認識郡群布農族語. Taipei: Shitu Publishing House 使徒出版社.

External links[edit]

Kaipuleohone's Robert Blust
Robert Blust
collection includes elicited materials on Bunun.

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