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The Formosan languages are the languages of the indigenous peoples of Taiwanmarker. Taiwanese aborigines (those recognized by the government) currently comprise about 2% of the island's population. However, far fewer can still speak their ancestral language, after centuries of language shift. Of the approximately 26 languages of the Taiwanese aborigines, at least ten are extinct, another four (perhaps five) are moribund, and several others are to some degree endangered.

The aboriginal languages of Taiwanmarker have significance in historical linguistics, since in all likelihood Taiwan was 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 Austronesian language family, while the one remaining principal branch contains nearly 1,200 Malayo-Polynesian languages found outside of Taiwan. Although linguists disagree with some details of Blust's analysis, a broad consensus has coalesced around the conclusion that the Austronesian languages originated in Taiwan. This theory has been strengthened by recent studies in human population genetics.

Recent history

All Formosan languages are slowly being replaced by the culturally dominant Mandarin Chinese. In recent decades the Republic of Chinamarker 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.

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 many extinct or assimilated Formosan tribes, since our knowledge of these is often sketchy at best. Frequently cited examples of Formosan languages are given below, but the list should not be considered exhaustive.

Living languages

Extinct languages


  1. Council of Indigenous Peoples, Executive Yuan "Statistics of Indigenous Population in Taiwan and Fukien Areas".
  2. Zeitoun, Elizabeth & Ching-Hua Yu "The Formosan Language Archive: Linguistic Analysis and Language Processing". Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing. Volume 10, No. 2, June 2005, pp. 167-200
  3. Li, Paul Jen-kuei and Shigeru Tsuchida. 2006 [In press] Kavalan Dictionary《噶瑪蘭語詞典》. Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica Monograph Series No.A19. Taipei: Academia Sinica
  4. Blust, R. (1999). "Subgrouping, circularity and extinction: some issues in Austronesian comparative linguistics." Selected papers from the Eighth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics. Taipei: Academia Sinica
  5. Diamond, Jared M. "Taiwan's gift to the world". Nature, Volume 403, February 2000, pp. 709-710
  6. Fox, James J. "Current Developments in Comparative Austronesian Studies". Paper prepared for Symposium Austronesia Pascasarjana Linguististik dan Kajian Budaya. Universitas Udayana, Bali 19-20 August 2004.
  7. Trejaut JA, Kivisild T, Loo JH, Lee CL, He CL, et al.(2005) Traces of archaic mitochondrial lineages persist in Austronesian-speaking Formosan populations. PLoS Biol 3(8): e247.
  8. Lee, Hui-chi Lee (2004). A Survey of Language Ability, Language Use and Language Attitudes of Young Aborigines in Taiwan. In Hoffmann, Charlotte & Jehannes Ytsma (Eds.) Trilingualism in Family, School, and Community pp.101-117. Clevedon, Buffalo: Multilingual Matters. ISBN 1-85359-693-0
  9. Huteson, Greg. (2003). Sociolinguistic survey report for the Tona and Maga dialects of the Rukai Language. SIL Electronic Survey Reports 2003-012, Dallas, TX: SIL International.
  10. Li, Paul Jen-kuei and Shigeru Tsuchida. 2006 [In press] Kavalan Dictionary《噶瑪蘭語詞典》. Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica Monograph Series No.A19. Taipei: Academia Sinica)

Further reading

  • Tsuchida, S. (2003). Kanakanavu texts (Austronesian Formosan). [Osaka?: Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim].
  • Zeitoun, E. (2002). Nominalization in Formosan languages. Taipei: Institute of Linguistics (Preparatory Office), Academia Sinica.
  • Mackay, G. L. (1893). Chinese-Romanized dictionary of the Formosan vernacular. Shanghai: Printed at the Presbyterian Mission Press.
  • Happart, G., & Hedhurst, W. H. (1840). Dictionary of the Favorlang dialect of the Formosan language. Batavia: printed at Parapattan.

See also

External links

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