Yet another word for ‘ten’ in Formosan languages

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. 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’.


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 Unpublished manuscript.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,

The etymology of *puluq ’10’, at last

(Jump to Puluqish master post)

In Sagart (2008), a modification of the phylogeny in Sagart (2004), I set up a Puluqish group of Austronesian languages including all of PMP, all of Kra-Dai, plus three southern Formosan languages: Amis, Puyuma and Paiwan. This group was defined by the innovation *puluq for ‘ten’ (note: another shared innovation of Puluqish is described here). My subgrouping is in contrast to the standard view (eg, in Blust’s phylogeny) that *puluq existed in PAN. I was not able, at the time, to explain how *puluq arose. My inability to do so was interpreted as an indication that *puluq was etymologically opaque, as befits a PAN form, just like the numerals 1-4. If,  on the contrary,  *puluq was an innovative form, as I claimed, it must originate in another word or expression shifting to ’10’ just before proto-Puluqish, and traces of that original expression should be found, hopefully in modern Puluqish languages, or not too far from them on my tree.

The etymology of *puluq ‘ten’ can now be given. Amis has a root /poloʔ/, orthographic polo’ < *puluq, which occurs in all Amis dictionaries. Below I discuss three forms in Namoh’s large (Central) Amis-English dictionary (Namoh 2013), where the most detailed information can be found:

  • si-polo’ 因分離而獨居,或分家 ‘living alone or separated due to separation’
  • ma-sipolo’. 分離,分闊,分居,單身,未婚 ‘separate, split, separation, single, unmarried’. Example sentence: Milaliw ko fafahi ni Kuraw, saka masipolo’ ciira i matini. 古饒的妻子昨天離家出走,所以他現在是單身 ‘Kuraw’s wife left home yesterday, so he is now single’
  • ma-si-polo’-ay (deverbal noun out of ma-sipolo’). 寡婦,搞婦,穌夫。單身 ‘widow, widower; single person’.

The Amis affixes ma- (stative) and -ay (nominalizing) are well-known. masipolo’ is a stative verb based on sipolo’; masipolo’ay is a deverbal noun based on masipolo’. It is not entirely clear what the function of si- in sipolo’ is. There is a prefix si- in Amis with existential or possessive meaning ‘have, be’.  In the English index at the end of Namoh’s dictionary,  the bare stem polo’ is isolated and given the gloss  ‘separated from and left alone’. Perhaps one could gloss si-polo’ as ‘for a state of separation to exist’; ma-si-polo’ as ‘in a state of separation’, and ma-si-polo’-ay as ‘a N in a state of separation’.

It is easy to see how polo’ could be put to use in counting numbers ten and above: the meaning ‘separate from and leave alone’  given by Namoh adequately describes  the mental operation of separating n sets of ten objects and putting them aside before adding the remainder.  To illustrate with an extremely hypothetical example, a proto-Puluqish numeral expression duSa puluq lima (two-put aside-five) would be interpretable as  25, ‘two [sets of ten] put aside, [plus] five’.

A consequence of the present etymology is that in proto-Puluqish, ‘ten’ must have been not *puluq, but *sa-puluq with *sa-, the short form of the PAN numeral *isa/*esa ‘one’, preceding *puluq: ‘one (set of ten) put aside’.  Paiwan (Sagaran dialect, recorded by Hsiou-Chuan Chang) tapuluʔ  ‘ten’  directly reflects proto-Puluqish *sa-puluq. *sa-puluq is also the form that can be reconstructed for PMP (Blust’s Austronesian comparative dictionary). In Kra-Dai, Ostapirat (2004) reconstructs Proto-Hlai *apu:c, where *p reflects an earlier (Proto-Kra-Dai) pl- cluster (the apparently discrepant final *c is discussed here).  The vowel *a before the string *pu:c appears to reflect the *a in proto-Puluqish *sa-. As reconstructed by Ostapirat, proto-Hlai occasionally retains the first vowel of Austronesian words, but never the consonant before that vowel: proto-Hlai *ata A < *maCa ‘eye’, aka:i C < *Caqi[] ‘excrement’, *ura:ŋ A < *qudaŋ ‘shrimp’,  utu A ‘head louse’ < *quCuH2, *ipan < *nipen or *lipen ‘tooth’ etc.

Thus proto-Puluqish *sa-puluq is an adequate source of the Paiwan, proto-Malayo-Polynesian and proto-Hlai words for ‘ten’. Lack of *sa- in Amis and Puyuma puɭuʔ and polo’ is due to a simplifying innovation: there was no need for *sa- after the meaning ‘ten’ became entrenched with *puluq and the original semantics were lost. This innovation should be added to the six shared innovations of Amis and Puyuma (a.k.a ‘northern Puluqish’) described here.

Although Puyuma shows no trace of the *sa- in *sa-puluq, indirect evidence that it once possessed the long form exists: the serial counting word for ‘nine’ in Nanwang Puyuma, siwa, can only be explain as the result of analogical alignment on the *s- at the beginning of *sa-puluq (here).

I am not aware of cognates of polo’ with semantics related to ‘separated, put aside’ outside of Amis. It is perhaps significant that the lexical source of the Puluqish word for ‘ten’ comes from a Puluqish language.  If *puluq was a PAN word, that would be a coincidence.


Namoh, Rata. 2013. O Pidafo’an to Sowal Misanopangcah [dictionary of the Amis language]. Taipei: Nan t’ien.

Ostapirat, Weera. 2004.  Proto-Hlai sound system and lexicons. in: Ying-ching Lin, Fang-min Hsu, Chun-chih Lee, Jackson T.S. Sun, Hsiu-fang Yang and Dah-an Ho (eds), Studies in Sino-Tibetan languages, papers in honor of Professor Hwang-cherng Gong on his seventieth birthday, 121-175. Nankang: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica.

Sagart, L. (2004) The higher phylogeny of Austronesian and the position of Tai-Kadai. Oceanic Linguistics 43,2: 411-444.

Sagart, L. (2008) The expansion of setaria farmers in East Asia: a linguistic and archaeological model. In Sanchez-Mazas A, Blench R, Ross M, Peiros I, Lin M, eds. Past human migrations in East Asia: matching archaeology, linguistics and genetics, 133-157. Routledge Studies in the Early History of Asia, London: Routledge.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The etymology of *puluq ’10’, at last," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 22/03/2020,

Northern Puluqish (master post)

(to clickable tree)

(Jump up one level to Puluqish master post)

Amis and Puyuma are two languages of eastern Formosa. In Blust’s Austronesian subgrouping (Blust 1999) they belong to different primary branches of the AN family: Amis to his East Formosan branch, along with Siraya (a west coast language), and the north Formosan languages Kavalan, Basay and Trobiawan; while Puyuma forms a branch unto itself. The ground for Blust’s East Formosan is the alleged change of PAN *j, construed as a voiced palatalized velar stop, to *n. East Formosan requires at least one prehistoric migration. The phylogenetic study of Gray et al. finds no support at all for Blust’s East Formosan. Sagart (2004, 2015) argues that the PAN phoneme known as *j was a nasal so that the modern nasal reflexes are in fact a retention—which explains their discontinuous geographic distribution at the periphery of Taiwan. It is the nonnasal reflexes which are innovative—which fits well with their continuous geographical distribution in Taiwan.

My phylogenetic scheme is based on the nested distribution of numerals 5-10 in Taiwan (Sagart 2008, modified from Sagart 2004). In it, both Amis and Puyuma are Puluqish languages. Puluqish includes all Austronesian languages where the word for ‘10’ reflects *puluq. This subgroup also includes Paiwan, and, outside of Taiwan, Malayo-Polynesian and Kra-Dai. Within Puluqish, there is evidence that Amis and Puyuma subgroup together, forming a northern group opposite Paiwan, MP and KD. Here are seven lexical innovations uniquely shared (afaik) by the two northern puluqish languages. The first three concern the numeral system.

  1. ‘one’ *sasay: Amis cacay ‘one’, Puyuma sasaya (< *sasay-a) ‘one’ (counting things). These forms reflect PAN *sa, short form of PAN *isa/esa ‘one’,  reduplicated, plus intrusive -y- inserted beween final -a in the word-base and the linker -a- following it. Thus Puyuma has ɖaɖua-ya ‘two’,  iwaiwa-ya ‘nine’, but ta-taɭu-a ‘three’, pitu-pitu-a ‘seven’, waɭu-waɭu-a ‘eight’ (all counting things);
  2. ‘ten’  *puluq. By the etymology proposed here, a word *puluq  meaning ‘to put aside’ was recruited in counting numbers above 10 in Proto-Puluqish; *puluq ‘(n) [sets of 10] put aside’ could only arise preceded and followed by a numeral.  In numbers 11 to 19,  the numeral for ‘one’ probably had the shape *sa-, as still in the other Puluqish languages: Paiwan tapuluʔ < *sa-puluq and PMP *sa-puluq. Once *puluq ‘put aside’ was lost as an independent morpheme, *puluq could be reanalyzed as a morpheme meaning ‘ten’ and *sa- could be dispensed with. That reduction had taken place in the ancestor of Amis and Puyuma, but not elsewhere in Puluqish.
  3. ‘ten’ *mukeCep. In both languages, inherited *puluq is attested only as the serial-counting word for ‘ten’ and multiples of ten. When counting human and non-human referents, it has given way to an innovated form *mukeCep: Amis moketep, Puyuma mukʈəp. The expression of numerals 11 to 19 is complex and will not be discussed here.
  4. ‘bone’ *ukak:  Amis ‘okak ‘bone’, Puyuma ukak ‘bone’;
  5. cloud’ *kuCem ‘cloud’: Amis kotem ‘black cloud’, Puyuma kuʈəm ‘(big black) cloud’ (mi-a-kuʈəm ‘big black clouds promising rain’);
  6. ‘activity, skill *Nemak: Amis dmak ‘an activity, a happening; the things one does; to move’ (Fey); ‘activity, affair, business; to move; situation’ (Namoh); Puyuma lemak ‘know-how; skill’.
  7. hat’ *kabuŋ: Amis kafoŋ ‘hat; anything worn on the head’ (Fey); Puyuma kabuŋ ‘hat’, mi-kabuŋ ‘wear a hat’ (Cauquelin).


Blust, R. (1999) Subgrouping, circularity and extinction: some issues in Austronesian comparative linguistics. In: Elizabeth Zeitoun and Paul Jen-kuei Li (eds.) Selected Papers from the Eighth International Conference on Austronesian linguistics, 31-94. Taipei: Institute of Linguistics (preparatory office).

Sagart, L. (2004) The higher phylogeny of Austronesian and the position of Tai-Kadai. Oceanic Linguistics 43,2: 411-444.

Sagart, L. (2008) The expansion of setaria farmers in East Asia: a linguistic and archaeological model. In Sanchez-Mazas A, Blench R, Ross M, Peiros I, Lin M, eds. Past human migrations in East Asia: matching archaeology, linguistics and genetics, 133-157. Routledge Studies in the Early History of Asia, London: Routledge.

Sagart, L. (2015) ‘East Formosan’ and the PAN palatals. Paper presented at the 13th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, Taipei, July 18-22, 2015.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Northern Puluqish (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 20/03/2020,