Tsouic (master post)

(view clickable tree) (to list of innovations, sorted by node)

(up one level to Rukai-Tsouic)

Tsouic is a group of three Austronesian languages spoken in south-central Taiwan: Tsou, Kanakanabu and Saaroa; plus Rukai. Within Tsouic, Kanakanabu and Saaroa form a southern branch, coordinate with Tsou.

Shared innnovations of Tsouic in sound change and morphosyntax were detailed in Sagart (2014 ) (here, sections 5.2 and 5.2, pp. 19-20).

At least 57 Tsouic-only lexical items reconstructed to Proto-Tsouic by Tsuchida (1976) are probably innovations (see the list here, section 5.3, pp. 20-21).

In addition, Proto-Tsouic *ramuCu ‘hand’, from PRT *ramuCu ‘finger’, displaced PAN *qa-lima ‘hand’. This word belongs to the most basic vocabulary: the likelihood that it was borrowed from another language, or that it is a retention from PAN is practically nonexistent.

The unusually large number of innovative Tsouic words implies a very long period of almost complete isolation in the southern part of the Formosan ridge —perhaps three thousand years—between the separation with Rukai and the breakup of proto-Tsouic.

Tsouic languages also share the metathesis of *pataS ‘tattoo, write’ to Proto-Tsouic *tapaSə (Kanakanavu tapásə, Saaroa taa-tapa-a, Tsou ta-tpos-a ‘pattern, design’).


Sagart, Laurent (2014) In Defense of the Numeral-based Model of Austronesian Phylogeny, and of Tsouic. Language and Linguistics 15(6) 859–882.

Tsuchida, S. (1976) Reconstruction of Proto-Tsouic phonology. Tokyo: Study of languages and cultures of Asia and Africa monograph series N° 5.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Tsouic (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 18/04/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/756.

Central Walu-Siwaish (master post)

(view clickable tree) (to list of innovations, sorted by node)

(Jump up one level to Walu-Siwaish)

(Jump down one level to Rukai-Tsouic)

Central Walu-Siwaish (CWS) includes Rukai-Tsouic and Bunun.  Three innovations have been identified, all in the numeral system.

1. Displacement of *isa/*esa/*sa ‘one’ by *Ca-CiNi in the human counting series. In Proto-CWS, a word *Ca-CiNi was innovated to serve as ‘one’ (human): Bunun tatini ‘one’ (human) Tsou cihi ‘one’ (human), Kanakanabu: ta-cini (where ta- has replaced Ca- to form a run with ta-susa ‘2’ and ta-tulu ‘three’ (all human); and Saaroa: ca-ciɫi ‘1’ (human). *Ca-CiNi is a human-counting series Ca- reduplication of *CiNi, reflected in Takivatan Bunun (de Busser 2009) as tini means ‘alone, on one’s own’.

2. Displacement of *iCid by *ma-sa-N as ‘ten’. PAN *iCid ‘ten’ is attested in most languages of the west coast of Taiwan: Luilang, Pazeh, Favorlang-Babuza, Taokas, Papora, Hoanya. Siraya kyttian is probably *ka-iCi(d)-an, with nominalizing *-an suffix, suggesting *iCit vas originally a verb root.

The central Walu-Siwaish languages replace *iCid with *ma-sa-N as ‘ten’: Bunun (Takituduh, Li 1988) ma-cʔan; Tsou máskə, Kanakanabu ma:nə, Saaroa ma:ɬə, Proto-Tsouic *másaɬə (Tsuchida 1976). Proto-Rukai has *poɭoko ‘ten’ (Li 1977), clearly related to the Puluqish numeral for ‘ten’ (here), but this is evidently a loanword, as already pointed out by Paul J.K. Li and E. Zeitoun, since in inherited words Rukai treats PAN *-q as zero.

*ma-sa-N ‘ten’ consists of *sa, short form of *isa ‘one’, with the circumfix *ma-…-N ‘times’. The glottal stop in Takivatan Bunun (de Busser 2009) masʔan is already present in the word for ‘one’:  tasʔa. Bunun geminates the vowels of monosyllables and inserts a glottal stop between the vowel’s two copies (Wolff 2010:169). In compounds ma-sʔan and ta-sʔa, the vowel’s first copy has been lost.

Although superficially similar, Atayal (Mayrinax) maɣalpuɣ ‘ten’ (which includes lpuɣ ‘to count’) and Seediq (Paran) maxal id. have medial fricatives which cannot reflect *s.

3. Generalization of *ma-numeral-(ə)N forms  in ’10’ and its multiples up to ’90’.

For multiples of ‘10’, PAN had two strategies: *n-ten, i.e. a unit numeral followed by the word for ’10’, PAN *iCid:  ; and *ma-n-N, a unit numeral in the circumfix ma-…-N.  The second strategy, at first limited to ’20’ and ’30’ (Saisiyat), gradually expanded its scope to include ’40’ and ’50’ in Limaish and Enemish (Thao, Atayalic, Siraya).  In the Central Walu-Siwaish languages the n-ten strategy is abandoned and all the multiples of ten are formed with the circumfix:

 Bunun (Takivatan)Rukai (Tanan)


20ma-pusa-n ma-ʔosá-ləm-pus-kuma-pusa-n ma-pua-ɬɨ
30ma-ti-ʔun ma-toɭo-l m-tuj-huma-tu:-nma-tulu-ɬu
40ma-pat-un ma-soʔatə-l m-sɨptɨ-hɨ ma-sɨpatɨː-nma-upatɨɨ
50 ma-hima-ʔunma-ɭima-lm-emo-hɨ ma-ima-ɨː-nma-lima-ɬɨ
70ma-pitu-ʔun ma-ʔito-l m-pɨtvɨ-hɨma-pituː-nma-pitu-ɬɨ
80ma-vau-ʔun ma-vaɭo-lm-vojvɨ-hɨma-luː-nma-alɨɨ
90ma-siva-ʔun ma-baŋat !!! m-sio-hɨ ma-ɕɨː-nma-sia-ɬɨ
*ma-…N in ’10’ and multiples of ’10’ in CWS languages. Source: Numeral system of the world’s languages

In Rukai, baŋat ‘9’ is a local innovation displacing an earlier form related to *Siwa present in the other CWS languages.  Presumably Tanan ma-baŋat ’90’ displaced an earlier form of the type ma-Siwa-N. ma-baŋat has acquired ma– on the analogy of 10-80 but lacks -l perhaps because alternation between -lə and -l in Tanan makes the suffixal nature of this formative less transparent. In Tsou PAN *N goes to /k/ after /s/, to /h/ otherwise.

The generalization of the *ma-…N strategy in multiples of ’10’ provides the motivation for the replacement of *iCid by *ma-sa-N as ’10’, also a CWS innovation (section 2 above).


de Busser, Rik. 2009. Towards a grammar of Takivatan Bunun, Selected Topics. PhD thesis, LaTrobe University, Bundoora, Australia.

Li, Paul Jen-kuei. 1977. “The Internal Relationships of Rukai.” In Li, Paul Jen-kuei. 2004. Selected Papers on Formosan Languages. Taipei, Taiwan: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica.

Li, P. J.-K. 1988. A c omparative study of Bunun dialects. BIHP 59,2: 479-508.

Wolff, John U. 2010. Proto-Austronesian phonology with glossary. Vol. 1. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia program publications.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Central Walu-Siwaish (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 18/04/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/748.

Eastern Walu-Siwaish (master post)

(view clickable tree) (to list of innovations, sorted by node)

(Jump up one level to Walu-Siwaish).

(Jump down one level to Puluqish).

This large Austronesian clade includes all the languages spoken on the south-east, east and north coasts of Taiwan, plus Malayo-Polynesian and Kra-Dai. By far the largest component in EWS is Puluqish (jump to Puluqish master post here). EWS also contains the north Formosan languages Kavalan, Basay and Trobiawan. Credible phonological and lexical shared innovations of that subgroup can be found in Blust (1999).

Shared innovations of EWS are:

-the merger of *S1 and *S2 (here)

-a new word for ’10’: *baCaq-an (here)

-a new word for ‘water’: *nanum (here)

-a word for ‘sail’: *layaR (here)


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).

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Eastern Walu-Siwaish (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 13/04/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/734.

Southern Austronesian (master post)

(to clickable tree) (to list of innovations, sorted by node)

(Jump up one level to Puluqish master post)

Within Puluqish, the Malayo-Polynesian (MP) and Kra-Dai (KD) languages form a southern clade,  consisting of all Austronesian languages spoken south of Taiwan. I use the term ‘Southern Austronesian’ (SA). Although its modern descendants are all spoken outside of Taiwan, there are reasons to think that Proto-Southern Austronesian was spoken in southern Taiwan.  Shared innovations cannot be grammatical since KD preserves morphology indirectly at best and grammar has aligned on Chinese, but they can be phonological or lexical.

phonological innovation

Puluqish linker *atu ‘and’ reduced to *at after *sa-puluq in numbers 10 to 19 (here)

politeness shift in the PAN 2pl pronoun

PAN *-mu 2pl > 2sg (here)

Lexical innovations (here)

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Southern Austronesian (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 13/04/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/679.

iwa vs. siwa ‘nine’ in Puyuma

(jump up to Puluqish)

The Walu-Siwaish word for ‘nine’ is reconstructed as *Siwa with capital *S. This is expected to give iwa in Puyuma, where *S evolves to zero. As recorded by Li and Tsuchida (here), Nanwang Puyuma indeed has iwa, but Thomson 1875 gives siva for the ‘tribe at Pilam’, which is 卑南, modern Beinan, Nanwang Puyuma.  Cauquelin’s dictionary of the same dialect gives both iwa and siwa, the latter  used in serial counting. Puyuma initial s- reflects PAN (and PWS) *s.

In an insightful paper, Blust (2001) stated that Formosan languages reflect *Siwa while Malayo-Polynesian languages reflect *siwa. He argued that the irregular shift of *S to *s in ‘nine’ in PMP was motivated by the proximity of *sa-puluq ‘ten’, which begins with *s-.  The existence of siwa in Puyuma shows that the shift from *S to *s in ‘nine’ is older than PMP. If Blust’s analogical explanation is correct, then Puyuma, or an ancestor of Puyuma, must once have had *sa-puluq  for ‘ten’. This is precisely what the etymology I have recently presented for *puluq ‘ten’ implies.


Blust, R. 2001. Malayo-Polynesian: new stones in the wall. Oceanic Linguistics 40, 1: 151-155.

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

Thomson, J. 1875. The straits of Malacca, Indo-China, China or ten years’ travel, adventures and residence abroad. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "iwa vs. siwa ‘nine’ in Puyuma," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 11/04/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/664.

Puluqish (master post)

(view clickable tree) (to list of innovations, sorted by node)

(Jump up one level to Eastern Walu-Siwaish)

(Jump down one level to northern Puluqish; to southern Austronesian)

Puluqish (Sagart 2008) is an Austronesian subgroup defined mainly by the innovative numeral *puluq ‘ten’ (here) and the use of prefixes *paka- and *maka- to indicate abilitative meaning (here).

The Puluqish group includes three languages of southern and southeastern Taiwan: Amis, Puyuma, and Paiwan, plus Malayo-Polynesian and Kra-Dai. Malayo-Polynesian and Kra-Dai form southern Austronesian; Amis and Puyuma form northern Puluqish. Gray et al. (2009, supplementary evidence) regard Paiwan as the Formosan language most closely related to Malayo-Polynesian. At the time of writing (February 2022), however, I am not aware of any uniquely shared innovation of Paiwan and MP, apart form the total elimination of *baCaqan  ‘ten’ from the numeral system and the generalization of *puluq in that meaning. Until more innovations are identified, I am treating northern Puluqish, southern Austronesian and Paiwan as coordinate branches under Puluqish (see clickable tree).

Critics of Puluqish had underlined the lack of an etymology for *puluq (e.g. Winter 2010: 284): this apparent opacity seemed to indicate that *puluq is as ancient as the lower Austronesian numerals *isa ‘one’, *duSa ‘two’ etc.  The etymology of *puluq has now been determined (here).

The new etymology implies that the original Puluqish word for ’10’ was actually *sa-puluq (one-puluq) rather than just *puluq. The *sa- component was lost in Amis and Puyuma but preserved in Paiwan, Malayo-Polynesian and Kra-Dai. The irregular phonetic shape of one word for ‘nine’ in Puyuma confirms the loss (here).

Puluqish clashes with Blust’s East Formosan (Blust 1999) and with Ross’s Nuclear Austronesian (Ross 2009; now abandoned by him). See my criticisms of these constructs here and here.


Blust, Robert A. 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).

Gray, R.D., A.J. Drummond and S. Greenhill (2009) Language Phylogenies Reveal Expansion Pulses and Pauses in Pacific Settlement. Nature, 323, 479-483.

Ross, Malcolm D. 2009. Proto Austronesian verbal morphology: a reappraisal. Austronesian historical linguistics and culture history. A festschrift for Robert Blust, ed. by Alexander Adelaar and Andrew K. Pawley (eds), 285-316. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

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. 2014. In Defense of the Numeral-based Model of Austronesian Phylogeny, and of Tsouic. Language and Linguistics 15(6) 859–882.

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

Sagart, Laurent.2014. In Defense of the Numeral-based Model of Austronesian Phylogeny, and of Tsouic. Language and Linguistics 15(6) 859–882.

Winter, Bodo. 2010. A note on the higher phylogeny of Austronesian. Oceanic Linguistics 49:282‒87.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Puluqish (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 09/04/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/651.

Puluqish *paka-/*maka- abilitative

(Jump to Puluqish master post)

Prefixed *paka-, originally a causative with *pa- of stative verbs prefixed with *ka- (Zeitoun 2000), retains its causative function in a  broad range of Formosan languages: Saisiyat (pak-), Pazeh, Mayrinax Atayal and Mantauran Rukai (examples in Zeitoun’s paper); Siraya (Adelaar 2012:117), Kavalan (paq -̴ paqa-, Li & Tsuchida 2006:17), Central and Northern Amis (Bril, in press), and Puyuma (as in pa-ka-ulaŋ ‘make crazy’, Cauquelin 2015). paka-causatives are also found in the Philippines (Liao 2011).

In the Puluqish languages of Taiwan (Amis, Puyuma, Paiwan), in addition to paka-causatives, one also finds abilitative verbs with paka-: in the words of Liao Hsiu-chuan (2011:858), paka- expresses an actor’s ability to perform an action: ‘can V, able to V’. The present discussion is largely based on Liao’s  findings on the distribution and functions of paka- and maka- abilitatives, and on her examples for Taiwan and the Philippines.

Here is an example of paka- abilitative in Paiwan, cited by Liao from  Wolff (1995:567):

su=paka-qati-n ‘you (SG) can do it.’ (qati ‘succeed, achieve’).

In addition to paka-, Paiwan and Amis have an Actor-Focus prefix maka- which is also abilitative. A Paiwan example:

maka-qati ‘can do something’ (Wolff, ibid.)

Bril finds maka- abilitatives in Northern Amis too (p.c.):

maka-tengil tiya suwal
(he) could hear these words

Wolff (ibid.) derives Paiwan maka- from an earlier *<um>paka-. This seems likely. I assume the same explanation works for Amis.

Philippine languages use maka- not paka- in abilitatives (Liao 2011:859). maka-abilitatives are also found elsewhere in MP, as in Malagasy, under the form maha- (maha-fotsy ‘qui peut blanchir’).

paka- abilitatives maka-abilitatives
Northern Amis + +
Puyuma +
Paiwan + +
MP-Philippines +
MP-Malagasy +
Kra-Dai ? ?

In view of the fact that Siraya has been claimed to be phylogenetically close to PMP, it is interesting that Siraya uses paka-Vstat to form causatives of ma-statives:

ma-kuptix ‘clean’, paka-kuptix ‘to purify’

In addition paka-Vstat preceded by the auxiliary verb ’lpux ‘can’ (Adelaar 2011:133) results in a abilitative construction ‘lpux pa-ka-V ‘can V, able to V’:

paka-‘lpux=kaw pa-ka-kuptix ĭau-an=da

AS-can=2s.NOM. CAUS-v1-clean 1s-OBLl=ADV

‘you are able to purify me’

In this example, paka– preceding the auxiliary is not a prefix but a copy of the main verb’s initial syllables, which here coincide with the main verb’s prefix. See Adelaar (2011:135) on ‘anticipating sentences’ (AS).

This construction provides a missing link between PAN *pa-ka- ‘causative of nonfinite stative verbs’ and abilitative. It is likely that *paka- abilitatives originate in a similar construction with paka-Vstat preceded by an auxiliary verb meaning ‘can -, able to’: elision of the auxiliary verb resulted in paka- acquiring its abilitative meaning.

These facts are susceptible of phylogenetic interpretation.  *paka- and/or *maka- abilitatives are only found in the southern languages Paiwan, Amis, Puyuma, and in PMP:  the innovations creating these two forms should therefore be assigned to proto-Puluqish.

Since proto-Kra-Dai is a Puluqish language, one would like to know whether these two innovations were present there too. Unfortunately the Kra-Dai languages do not preserve the left edge of words well enough for us to know the answer.


Adelaar, Alexander. 2011. Siraya, Retrieving the Phonology, Grammar and Lexicon of a Dormant Formosan Language. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Bril, I. in press. Northern Amis. Handbook on Formosan languages, ed. by P. Jen-kuei Li, E. Zeitoun, R. De Busser.  Leiden: Brill

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

Liao Hsiu-chuan. 2011.  Some morphosyntactic differences between Formosan and Philippine languages. Languages & Linguistics 12, 4:845-876.

Wolff, John U. 1995. The position of the Austronesian languages of Taiwan within the Austronesian group. Austronesian Studies Relating to Taiwan, ed. by Paul Jen-kuei Li, Cheng-hwa Tsang, Ying-kuei Huang, Dah-an Ho & Chiu-yu Tseng, 521-583.
Taipei: Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica.

Zeitoun, E. 2000. Concerning ka-, an overlooked marker of verbal derivation in Formosan languages. Oceanic Linguistics, 39.2: 391-414.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Puluqish *paka-/*maka- abilitative," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 07/04/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/624.

My one and only

In the Formosan data recorded by Ino (1998:25), Taokas and Papora, two west-coast Formosan languages, have for ‘one’ the following forms: Sinkon (Taokas) tanu, Hajyovan and Vudol (both Papora) tanu. The form occurs reduplicated in Tanatanahu and Hameyan (both Taokas): tata:anu, and as ta’a:nu in Varaval (Taokas). The base form may reconstruct as *tanu or *sanu (not *Canu, since Sinkon Taokas reflects *C as s: masa ‘eye’, sareina ‘ear’, samani ‘to cry’; and the same is true of Papora: masa, sarina, samani: ). This is etymon #30 in the ABVD. The PAN word for ‘one’ is generally acknowledged to be *isa, which  seems to favor *sanu over *tanu.

However  Natauran Amis tanu ‘only, just’ (Bril, p.c., 31 March 2020) can only go back to *tanu.  I hypothesize that the original meaning of *tanu was ‘only’, as in Amis, and that  in Papora and Taokas the word shifted to ‘only one’ and ultimately to ‘one’, displacing earlier forms containing *isa (contra Tsuchida 1982:10).

(updated Dec 27, 2022)


Ino, Yoshinori 伊能嘉矩. 1998. 巡臺日程 Xún Tái Rì Chéng [A Formosan itinerary]. In 伊能嘉矩番語調查手冊 Ino Yoshinori fānyǔ diàochá shǒucè [Ino Yoshinori’s field records], ed. by : T. Moriguchi, pp. 13-201. Taipei: Southern Materials Center.

Tsuchida, Shigeru. 1982. A comparative vocabulary of Austronesian languages of Sinicized ethnic groups in Taiwan. Part I: West Taiwan. Memoirs of the Faculty of Letters, University of Tokyo No 7.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "My one and only," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 04/04/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/613.

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, https://stan.hypotheses.org/614.

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’ (another innovation has since been identified, see the master post for Puluqish).  My subgrouping is in contrast to the standard view (e.g., 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 at the time 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-Chinese 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’ (Bril, p.c., circa 2020) .  In the English index at the end of Namoh’s dictionary, masipolo’  is given the gloss  ‘separated from and left alone’.  One could gloss si-polo’ as ‘for a state of separation to exist’; ma-si-polo’ as ‘be in a state of separation’, and ma-si-polo’-ay as ‘a N in a state of separation’. A gloss like ‘to separate from, and leave alone’ can be supposed for the stem polo’.

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’ well describes the mental operation of isolating n sets of ten objects and putting them aside before expressing the remainder.  For instance, ’35’ can be expressed as ‘three sets of ten, put them aside, and five’.

The process by which *N-puluq became the main form for ’10’ in the Puluqish languages can be reconstructed thus. The word for ‘10’ in Proto-Eastern-Walu-Siwaish (the immediate ancestor pf Proto-Puluqish) was *baCaqan (here). ‘35’ in that language might have been expressed simply as telubaCaqan-lima ‘3 times ten, five’, or more explicitly as telubaCaqanpuluq-lima ‘3 times 10, leave those alone, five’. *baCaqan being redundant, *N-baCaqanpuluq-N was simplified to N-puluq-N in Proto-Puluqish, with *N-puluq acquiring the meaning ‘N times 10’. But *baCaqan was predictably retained in northerrn Puluqish languages where there was no remainder to ‘leave alone’, i.e. in ’10’ and ’20’:

  • Sakizaya t͡sət͡saj a bataʔan ‘10’ (one-baCaqan), tusa bataʔan ‘20’ (two-baCaqan),
  • Puyuma maka-bʈaʔan ‘20’

We have a small but independent piece of evidence confirming  that *puluq and its derivatives were part of the vocabulary of counting: Pokpok Amis nom-a-sipolo’ ‘7’ (Li and Toyoshima 2006, #83l.1). This is a subtractive numeral: ‘three left aside’, where nom reflects *Nem ‘3’ (details here).  Here sipolo‘ does not directly refer to ‘ten’ but to the act of ‘leaving (three units, out of ten) aside’.

A consequence of the above 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 (2000) reconstructs Proto-Kra *pwlot, and Norquest (2015) gives Proto-Hlai *fu:t. Ostapirat (2004) had Proto-Hlai *apu:c, with final *c  (an error in my opinion; see 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 explained as the result of analogical alignment on the *s- at the beginning of *sa-puluq (more on this 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 Amis, a Puluqish language.  If *puluq were a PAN word, that would be a coincidence.


Blust, R. 2001. Malayo-Polynesian: new stones in the wall. Oceanic Linguistics 40, 1: 151-155.

Li, Jen-kuei and Masayuki Toyoshima (eds). 2006. comparative vocabulary of Formosan languages and dialects, by Naoyoshi Ogawa. Asian and African lexicon series 49. Institute for Languages and cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

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

Norquest, Peter. 2015. A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai. Brill.

Ostapirat, Weera. 2000. Proto-Kra. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 23.1:1-251.

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, https://stan.hypotheses.org/592.

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