Yet another word for ‘ten’ in Formosan languages

up one level to Eastern Walu-Siwaish

A hitherto undescribed etymon for ‘ten’ occurs in languages of the north and east coasts of Taiwan: Sakizaya, Puyuma, and north Formosan (Kavalan, Basay, Ketagalan).

In Sakizaya, Amis’s close relative, bataʔan serves for ‘ten’ in and multiples of ten (data collected by McNaught, 2017; see the Sakizaya page in Eugene Chan’s ‘numeral systems of the world’s languages’ (here). There no trace of a reflex of *puluq, unlike in Amis and in Puyuma.

Cauquelin’s Puyuma dictionary (Cauquelin 2015) only has puɭuʔ and məəp for ‘ten’ but ‘twenty’ is maka-bəʈaʔan. The prefix maka- serves in ‘ten’ and multiples of 10, eg maka-telun ‘30’, maka-pətəl ‘30’ etc. It is possible that maka-bəʈaʔan was simplified from maka-ɖua-bəʈaʔan: removing ɖua would cause no ambiguity.

Kavalan has Rabtin ‘10’, zusabtin ‘20’ where –btin is the numeral ‘10’ (Li & Tsuchida 2006). One source of Kavalan /i/ is *qa. Vowel syncope is common in Kavalan although the conditions governing this process have not been elucidated. So -btin < *b()t()qan. Kavalan merges *t and *C into *t, so *b()t()qan may originate in *baCaqan. Basay is similar to Kavalan: labatan ‘10’, lusa batan ‘20’, as is Ketagalan ɭabat-an ‘10’, ɭusa batan ‘20’ (Ogawa, cited in Ferrell 1969). All these forms are regular outcomes of *baCaq-an. Puyuma provides the evidence for reconstructing -C- as against -t-.The formative Kavalan Ra-, Basay la-, Ketagalan ɭa– is a distinct morpheme.

A tentative etymology can be offered. Tsuchida (1988) glossed the Bunun word bataqan (< baCaq-an, *bataq-an) in Qato and Idhokan dialects as ‘racks (L-shaped – to carry woods)’. Nihira’s Bunun vocabulary gives ‘a carrying board on the back’. The name of a carrying device for multiple objects is a potential source of ‘ten’. Bunun is a Walu-Siwaish language, like the languages where *baCaq-an occurs in ‘10’ or ‘20’: we may assign *baCaq-an ‘carrying device’ to Proto-Walu-Siwaish and the derivation out of it of a new word for ‘ten’ to Proto-Eastern-Walu-Siwaish.


Cauquelin, J. (2015). Nanwang Puyuma-English dictionary. Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan.

Ferrell, R. (1969) Taiwan Aboriginal groups: problems in cultural and linguistic classification. Monograph No. 17, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica. Nankang: Academia Sinica.

Li, P. J-K, and S. Tsuchida (2006) Kavalan dictionary. Language and Linguistics monograph series A19. Nankang: Institute of Linguistics (preparatory office), Academia Sinica.

Nihira, Y. (1983) A Bunun Vocabulary (2nd edition). Privately published.

Tsuchida, S. 1988. Comparative word lists of Bunun dialects. Report of the research carried out in 1983. Unpublished manuscript.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Yet another word for ‘ten’ in Formosan languages," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 31/03/2020,

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