Counting on fingers in Taivoan and Makatao

Taivoan (T) and Makatao (M) are two southwest Formosan groups generally regarded as dialects of Siraya (S). All have been extinct since the early 20th century,  but we possess word lists recorded by early investigators, conveniently collected in Tsuchida, Yamada and Moriguchi (1991), Moriguchi (1998) and Li and Toyoshima (2006).  Li (1993) has also recorded a short word list from an elderly speaker who remembered a few words from the previous generation, including most of the numerals. It is generally close to Taivoan T15. The numerals 6-9  are particularly interesting. Interspersed with forms relatable to Siraya proper and/or to other Formosan languages,  one finds a set of four intriguing forms, not seen as numerals anywhere else in Taiwan. I cite below from Tsuchida, Yamada and Moriguchi (1991), adding Li’s data:

‘6’ ‘7’ ‘8’ ‘9’
M7 rangaran kimsen karasen kavaitya
M8 langalan kimseng kalasin kabaitya
T2 rangaran kunsin
T4 kumsin
T6 lanlan
T13 kalasin tabatiya
T15 langalang kalasin tapatiak
Li (1993) zaŋizaŋ kumsin tapatit

The M7 vocabulary was recorded by Ino Yoshinori in August of the 33rd year of the Meiji era (1900 CE if I am not mistaken) in Marun (老碑庄), a central-eastern Makatao variety. The data are also available through Moriguchi (1998).  The word ‘6’ is the key. It is homophonous with ‘bear’ in Marun: both rangaran (for ‘bear’, see Moriguchi 1998:219, #122). Now, compare Li’s version of ‘6’ zaŋizaŋ with the word for ‘large, big’ recorded by Ogawa at 崗仔林   (point 143b, Li and Toyoshima 2006:478): mai-zanga-zang (in Ogawa’s notation; better segmented as ma-izang-a-zang).

I think these are finger names, as used in counting. ‘Six and ‘bear’ both draw their etymology from ‘big’. The bear for obvious reasons, ‘six’ because it refers to the thumb, the big finger.

Imagine a counting system using hand shapes to count to 10 on a single hand:  the extended small finger means ‘1’, the extended small finger and ring fingers, ‘2’, and so forth: all the fingers extended means ‘5’. For ‘6’, keep the big finger extended and hold the other four folded.  ‘Big’ is then an adequate name for ‘six’. For ‘7’, thumb and index extended; and so forth, until ‘9’, which has all the fingers extended, save the small finger. For ’10’, a different kind of hand sign is needed (for instance, our ‘zero’ sign would work).

So I hypothesize that in the above table the series for ‘7’ is a name of the index, ‘8’ a name of the middle finger,  ‘9’ a name of the ring finger. There is no alternative numeral for ’10’ based on finger names because the sign for ’10’  must, as I said, have been of a different kind.

These hypothese are not easily falsifiable, as the names of the different fingers in the Siraya group are not known. Yet considering that these four numerals clearly are not compounds of other Austronesian numerals, and that they do not seem to be part of a non-Austronesian substratum, the hypothesis of a post-PAN transfer from another close lexical system has much to recommend it.

[added the next day]: Sander Adelaar reminds me that Blust’s classification of north Borneo languages (2010) relies on the replacement of PMP *pitu ‘seven’ by *tuzuq ‘to point, indicate’. Blust traced the idea that this is due to finger counting to van der Tuuk and Wilkinson, citing Wilkinson  (1959:1242): “After counting all the fingers of the hand (lima) we come back to the thumb (six) and the index-finger (seven)” (emphasis mine, LS). With ‘6’ = thumb and ‘7’ =index, this is very similar to Taivoan-Makatao. It is likely that Taivoan-Makatao finger-counting is ancestral to the system in north Borneo.


Blust, R. 2010. The Greater North Borneo Hypothesis. Oceanic Linguistics, 49(1), 44-118.

Moriguchi, Tsukenazu (ed.) 1998.  伊能嘉矩番語調查手冊 [Ino Yoshinori’s field notebook], ed. by : T. Moriguchi, pp. 13-201. Taipei: Southern Materials Center.

Tsuchida Shigeru, Yukihiro Yamada and Tsukenazu Moriguchi (eds.) 1991. Ogawa’s Siraya/Makatao/Taivoan (comparative vocabulary). Linguistic materials of the Formosan sinicized populations I: Siraya and Basai, ed. by Shigeru Tsuchida, Yukihiro Yamada and Tsukenazu Moriguchi, 1-194. Tokyo: The University of Tokyo, Linguistics Department.

Li, P. Jen-Kuei. 1993. New data on three extinct Formosan languages. BIHP 63: 2: 301-322.

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.

Wilkinson, R.J.  1959.  A Malay-English dictionary (Romanised).  2 vols.  London: Macmillan.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Counting on fingers in Taivoan and Makatao," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 02/03/2022,

Limaish (master post)

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(Jump up one level to Pituish)

(jump down one level to Enemish)

(jump down one level to Thao-Atayalic)

Limaish is a daughter of Pituish. It is defined by two innovations:

1. *lima ‘five’.  This originates in *lima, *qa-lima ‘hand’. *lima displaces PAN *RaCep, the main word for ‘five’ on the northern half of the west coast:  Saisiyat, Pazeh, Favorlang, Babuza, Taokas. (cognate set #2 in the ABVD). *lima is virtually universal in the rest of Taiwan, Malayo-Polynesian and—outside of Chinese loanwords—Kra-Dai.

2. Limaish languages are also characterized by the appearance of a special series of numerals used with human referents. There is no evidence for such a series in the languages upstream of Limaish: Taokas, Favorlang, Babuza, Pazeh, Kaxabu, Kulon, Saisiyat, Luilang. The Limaish human numerals are derived out of the main series by means of Ca- reduplication, where ‘C’ is a copy of the base’s initial consonant, and –a is the plural marker of human and personal nouns (see e.g. Bril 2017 for Amis). Because this series is initially a plural one, at the time it arises, a numeral for ‘one’ cannot be part of it. In the immediate daughters languages of Proto-Limaish, Thao and Atayal, tata and qutux, both ‘one’, respectively, serve to count things and humans. Here is a list of Limaish languages with Ca-reduplicated numerals for human reference:

Thao (Blust 2003): ta-tusha ‘two’, ta-turu ‘three’, ʃa-ʃpat ‘four’, ra-rima ‘five’, pa-pitu ‘seven’ (here)

Atayal (Mayrinax): ra-rusa? ‘two’, ta-tuu ‘three’, sa-spat ‘four’, a-ima ‘five’ (here)

Siraya (Adelaar 2011)  sa-saat ‘one’, da-ruha ‘two’, ta-turo (-u) ‘three’, pa-xpat ‘four’, ra-rĭma ‘five’, pa-pĭto (-u) ‘seven’.

Bunun (Isbukun) ta-cini (?) ‘one’, da-dusa ‘two’, ta-tau ‘three’, sa-sapaat ‘four’, a-ima/ha-hima ‘five’, a-apnum ‘six’, pa-pitu ‘seven’, va-vau ‘eight’, sa-siva ‘nine’, ma-masan ‘ten’ (here)

Rukai: Tanan Rukai does have a separate series for counting humans (and animals), but instead of Ca- reduplication, the series is marked by ta- prefixation (here).

Kanakanabu: tacíni ‘one’, tasúsa ‘two’, tatúlu ‘three’, sasúpatə ‘four’, lalíma ‘five’, nanəmə ‘six’, papítu ‘seven’, laláalu ‘eight’, sasía ‘nine’, mamáanə ‘ten’ (here).

Saaroa: tsa-tsiɬi ‘one’, sa-sua ‘two’, ta-tulu ‘three’, a-upatɨ ‘four’, la-lima ‘five’, a-ɨnɨmɨ ‘six’, pa-pitu ‘seven’, la-la-alu ‘eight’, sa-sia ‘nine’ (here)

Tsou: Tsou has a vestigial Ca-reduplicated series, limited to sasupatə ‘four’ (here)

Kavalan has a series of numerals for counting humans, but replaces Ca-reduplication by prefixation of kin-, after the break-up of Eastern Walu-Siwaish.

The Formosan Puluqish languages: Amis, Puyuma and Paiwan, have either lost the series (Amis), or mark it with a prefix (Puyuma mia-, Paiwan ma-). [But see Theo Yeh’s comment below. The characterization of Puyuma just given is only true of the Nanwang dialect. Tamalakaw Puyuma preserves Ca-reduplication in the human counting series: 1 sa-sa, 2 za-zuwa, 3 ta-teru, 4 a-apat, 5 la-luwaT, 6 a-ʔnem, 7 pa-pitu, 8 wa-waru, 9 a-iwa, 10 pa-puruH (Tsuchida 1980). Added July 1, 2021]

A few MP languages like Itbayaten and Chamorro inherited a human counting series marked by Ca-reduplication:

Itbayaten: da-doha ‘two’, la-lima ‘five’, pa-pito ‘seven’, wa-waxo ‘eight’, sa-siyam ‘nine’ (here)

Chamorro: ta-to ‘three’, fa-fiti ‘seven’, gua-gualo ‘eight’, sa-sigwa ‘nine’ (here; fa-fiti is incorrectly assigned to ‘six’).

Most Malayo-Polynesian languages lack an independent series of  numerals for human reference but occasionally forms with Ca-reduplication crop up among a language’s numerals, e.g. Tagalog dalawa < *dadawa ‘two’, tatlo ‘three’.

The Kra-Dai languages do not preserve the left edge of words well enough for us to detect a Ca- reduplication with confidence.

Within Limaish, Thao and Atayalic may form a subgroup (here).


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

Blust, Robert A. 2003. Thao Dictionary. Nankang: Institute of Linguistics (preparatory office), Academia Sinica.

Bril, I. 2017. Root and stems in Amis and Nêlêmwa (Austronesian). Studies in Language 41:2 (2017), 358-407.

Tsuchida, Shigeru. 1980. Puyuma (Tamalakaw dialect) vocabulary with grammatical notes and texts. in Kuroshio no Minzoku, Bunka, Gengo pp.183-307. Tokyo: Institute for the study of languages and cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of foreign studies.

Web site:

Eugene Chan, Numeral Systems of the World’s Languages. Online at Accessed May 25, 2020.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Limaish (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 24/05/2020,

Southern Austronesian *sa-puluq-at in numbers 10 to 19

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Jump to Southern Austronesian master post

This post returns to a subject discussed in a 2010 conference paper (here). New facts are presented and the interpretation is slightly modified.

Several Philippine languages belonging to the South-Central Cordilleran subgroup in northern Luzon: Kankanay, Kalinga, Bontok, Ifugao, Balangaw, Inibaloi, have a conjunction reflecting Proto-South-Central Cordilleran *et [ət] ‘and, and then’. In the Central Luzon group of Philippine languages, Kapampangan, not in direct contact with the Cordilleran languages, has at ‘and’, reflecting either *et [ət] or *at. Tagalog, a Central Philippines language, has at ‘and’, which can only reflect *at, unless it is a loan from neighboring Kapampangan at ‘and’ (personal communications from L. Reid and R.D. Zorc, April 2007). Kapampangan is known to be a source of loanwords to Tagalog. Among the Central Cordilleran languages reflecting *et ‘and’, Isinai, Kalinga and a few others use a phonologically reduced form of that morpheme between pulu ‘ten’ and a following unit numeral. Thus in Kalinga, ‘ten’ is simpulu < *sa-n(g)a-puluq, but ‘eleven’ is simpu:lut osa (Tryon et al. 1995, Vol. 4, 43-45). That last form is analyzable as /sin-pulu=t osa/, where /=t/ ‘and’, /osa/ < *əsa ‘one’. Similarly, ‘twelve’ is simpu:lut duwa /sin-pulu=t duwa/, where /duwa/ < *duSa ‘two’ and /=t/ ‘and’. Kapampangan, the only Central Luzon language with a reflex of *et, does not use it in compound numerals. Although Tagalog may have borrowed the conjunction from Kapampangan, it does use a reduced form of at in compound numerals above ‘20’, in a very similar way to Kalinga and Isinay:


twenty’ < *daduha ‘two’ + nasal linker + *puluq ‘ten’

dalawampút isá

twenty-one’ < *daduhatwo’ + nasal linker + *puluq ‘ten’ + =(a)t ‘and’ + *esa ‘one’

dalawampút dalawá

twenty-two’ < *daduhatwo’ + nasal linker + *puluq ‘ten’ + =(a)t ‘and’ + *daduha ‘two’

The puluq-t-numeral form cannot easily have been borrowed from Cordilleran into Tagalog, as the languages are not in contact: if Tagalog borrowed the conjunction from Kapampangan, Tagalog shows a development parallel to Cordilleran in its use of the conjunction.

There are two possible accounts of the development of the conjunction itself in the Philippine languages. In the first, the conjunction’s oldest form in the Philippines was *et [ət], regularly evolving to at in Kapampangan, and loaned to Tagalog as at. Under that account, the conjunction, inherited only in the South-Central Cordilleran and Central Luzon groups, reconstructs to the northern clade of Philippine languages in the phylogeny of Gray, Drummond and Greenhill (2009), which this post follows for Malayo-Polynesian. Use of the conjunction between *puluq and a following numeral in Cordilleran and in Tagalog must be the result of parallel innovations.

In a second account, the conjunction’s oldest form in the Philippines was *at. Kapampangan and Tagalog inherited it in that shape, while in the Cordilleran languages the presumably unstressed vowel underwent centralization, to [ət]. Under that account, Tagalog being part of the southern clade, both *at ‘and then’ and the *puluq=at+numeral construction reconstruct higher, to the ancestor of the southern and northern Philippine clades, that is node 28, Proto-Philippines, in Gray, Drummond and Greenhill (2009).

Whether as *et or *at, the Philippine conjunction is reminiscent of the form ato ‘and, with’ in Amis (central Amis: Fey 1986, Namoh 2013) and of the conjunction katu in Paiwan. In Nataoran Amis (Nataoran Amis: Bril fieldwork), atu may occur in numeral expressions (Isabelle Bril, p.c., 11 February 2014):

a cacay-en atu la-tusa ku ni-pabeli itakuan-an tu pawli

HORT one-UV and half NOM PERF.NMZ-give me-OBL ACC banana

Give me one and a half banana (lit. ‘let it be one and a half the giving a banana to me’)

Both Namoh (2013:136) and Bril treat ato~atu as originally composed of a ‘and’ plus =to ‘oblique common noun marker’, drawing a parallel to aci ‘and + personal noun’ (<a ‘and’ + =ci ‘personal noun marker’). The oblique common noun marker to itself is analyzable into t- oblique and u or o common noun marker.

In a northern Amis numeral system recorded by Tsuchida (here), tu, a shortened form of atu, serves in numerals between 11 and 19 as a linker between the locally innovated word for ‘ten’: sabaw , and the following unit number, e.g. sabaw tu tulu ‘13’, sabaw tu lima ‘15’.

Similarly, in a Paiwan dialect recorded by Chang Hsiou-chuan (here), a conjunction katu occurs between *sa-puluq and a following unit number, e.g. tapuluʔ katu ʔunəm ‘16’. katu is analyzeable as katu ‘and-oblique noun marker’, or possibly kaatu ‘andoblique noun marker’.

While *sa-puluq, the Puluqish word for ‘10’ ends in *-q, which corresponds to -k in Kra-Dai, the Kra-Dai word for ‘10’ ends in *-t, as if it came from *pulut: Proto-Kra (Ostapirat 2000) *pwlot ’10’; Proto-Hlai (Norquest 2015) *fu:t ’10’. The languages of the Kam-Tai branch have replaced the inherited form with a Chinese loanword.

The Philippine developments suggest an explanation. The following scenario is based on the hypothesis that the oldest Philippine form of the conjuction was *at. It is also possible to explain the facts under the view that it was *et, but the explanation is slightly more complex.

Comparison of Amis and Paiwan leads one to posit a conjunction *atu ‘and’ between *sa-puluq ‘10’ and a following numeral. In PSA the presumably enclitic conjunction was reduced to *at through syncope. Proto-Malayo-Polynesian and Proto-Kra-Dai, the direct daughters of PSA, inherited both *at and the compound numeral construction with it. Proto-Malayo-Polynesian in turn transmitted these to its immediate daughter Proto-Philippines, but the conjunction and construction were lost in Malayo-Polynesian outside of the Philippines. For this to occur, a single loss is required as such a node is supported with 98% posterior probability in Gray, Drummond and Greenhill (2009). Soon after Kra-Dai branched off, and independently from developments in the Philippines, *at ‘and’ was further reduced to /t/, and the resulting *sa-puluqt was reduced to *sa-pulut in PKD. This then evolved to Proto-Hlai *apu:c, Proto-Kra *pwlot. The outcome in Proto-Kam-Tai is unknown because these KD languages have abandoned Austronesian numerals for Chinese ones.


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

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.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Southern Austronesian *sa-puluq-at in numbers 10 to 19," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 07/05/2020,

The etymology of PRT *cáni ‘one’

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(up one level to Rukai-Tsouic master post)

Wolff (2010, sub *táni) noticed the connection between PRT *cáni ‘one’, Itbayaten tanih ‘alone’, Ratahan tani ‘to separate’ and Bare’e tani ‘independent’; add Kavalan tani, utani ‘some, several, a few’. Bril (p.c. April 20, 2020) finds tani ‘only’ in Natauran Amis. The Rukai-Tsouic innovation consists of the semantic shift  of *cáni  to ‘one’ out of an original meaning something like ‘alone, only’.


Wolff, John U. (2010) Proto-Austronesian phonology with glossary. 2 vols. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia program publications.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The etymology of PRT *cáni ‘one’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 26/04/2020,

PAN *u- common noun marker

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This marker is reflected in three kinds of contexts:

  • In northern Amis, before common nouns, inflected for case as k-u (nominative) t-u (oblique), n-u (genitive) without any number distinction (Bril, in press);
  • prefixed to numerals of the non-human series in the southern Tsouic languages: Kanakanabu, Saaroa; and in Kavalan. Modern Rukai dialects do not show it but Ino’s recording of Karei Rukai  (Ino 1898:25-33) gives an almost complete series: isa, urisiri, utool, usipat, urima, ulumu, upitoo, uvaŋat, (puruk ’10’ is a loan from Paiwan). The missing u-prefixed word for ‘1’ in Rukai is u-tsani in Karei, discussed here. Vestiges of u-prefixation also exist in Tsou numerals: usupat ‘four’ in one variety of Tsou, here.
  • sporadically reinterpreted as an onset consonant w- or v-  with PAN nouns beginning in vowels, as noticed by Bril (p.c, April 20, 2020) for Natauran:

*asu, ‘dog’, *u-asu id. > Natauran Amis wacu, Pazeh wazu, Kavalan wasu, Paiwan vatu;

*aNak, ‘child’, *u-aNak id. > Proto-Rukai vanakə (Li 1977);

*amaH2 ‘father’, *u-amaH2 > Natauran Amis  wama.

In Fey’s dictionary of Amis one finds pairs like idaŋ/widaŋ ‘friend’, ina/wina ‘mother’.

In order to explain sporadic cases of initial w- or similar in  words for ‘dog’, ‘fire’, ‘child’, Dyen (1962) reconstructed a new Austronesian phoneme *W; the random appearance of a common noun prefix is a better interpretation.

Under my model of AN phylogeny, *u- ‘common noun marker’ reconstructs to PAN, being present in the Pazeh word for ‘dog’; Pazeh is regarded as a primary branch of PAN. Usage of *u- as a marker of numerals for non-human reference begins later, in Walu-Siwaish. It is  absent from western Walu-Siwaish (Hoanya, Papora), and potentially constitutes a shared innovation supporting a Central-Eastern Walu-Siwaish node.


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

Dyen, I. (1962) Some New Proto-Malayopolynesian Initial Phonemes. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 82, No. 2 (Apr. – Jun., 1962), pp. 214-215

Fey, V. (1986) Amis dictionary. The Bible Society in the Republic of China.

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.

Li, Paul Jen-Kuei. 1977. The internal relationships of Rukai. Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology 48:1-92.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "PAN *u- common noun marker," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 20/04/2020,

Rukai-Tsouic (master post)

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(Jump up to Central Walu-Siwaish)

(Jump down one level to Tsouic)

Rukai-Tsouic consists of Tsouic and Rukai. Rukai-Tsouic innovations are detailed below.

  • Morphologically, the Rukai-Tsouic languages replaced CV-reduplication as a marker of the non-human series of numerals with prefixation of *u-, a common noun marker in PAN (details here).

This is not a uniquely shared Rukai-Tsouic innovation, however, because like Rukai-Tsouic, Kavalan (North Formosan) also replaced CV-reduplication with u-prefixation in the nonhuman series. However u-prefixed numerals have not been recorded for the extinct North Formosan languages: Basai and Trobiawan—what is known of them. I am provisionally assuming that CV-reduplication and u-prefixation were competing marking strategies for the nonhuman numeral series in the common ancestor of Rukai-Tsouic and Kavalan—Proto-Central-Walu-Siwaish in the present model, this situation giving rise to two independent displacements of CV-marking by u-marking, in Rukai-Tsouic and in Kavalan. *u-prefixed numerals were abandoned in Puluqish.

Whether or not Bunun, Rukai-Tsouic’s partner in Central Walu-Siwaish, participated in this innovation cannot be ascertained, as the Bunun languages have lost the distinction between serial and non-human numerals.

Lexically, Rukai-Tsouic is supported by at least eleven uniquely shared innovations.

  • Ten can be drawn from Tsuchida (1976:11-12): *ɬa ‘and’,  *S16i ‘because’, *tukuɬu ‘heart’ (anatomical), *Dakəraɬə ‘river’, *CaŋəRaɬə ‘star’, *-bali ‘to smell’, *kəku ‘leg’, *S16iqipi ‘shoulder’,  *nətənə or *tətənə ‘lungs’, *qaputu ‘hammer’. In the same list, Tsuchida proposed Rukai-Tsouic *ramuCu ‘hand’: but this word means ‘finger’ in Rukai. We are dealing with a Tsouic innovation changing *ramuCu from ‘finger’ to ‘hand’. I have not retained *ŋuRuq2u ‘nose’ which seems problematic because the only cited Tsouic form means ‘nasal mucus’.
  • *cáni ‘one’, given by Tsuchida as Tsouic-only, but observed by myself (2013, here, § 3) as a component in ‘ten’ in an extinct Rukai variety recorded by Ogawa, (Li and Toyoshima 2006 language #63) : ucani pulu. This is the supporting evidence for Proto-Rukai-Tsouic *cáni ‘one’: Tsou coni (‘1’, serial and non-human), Kanakanabu cani (serial), u-cani (non-human), Saaroa caani (serial), u-cani (non-human), Rukai #63 u-tsani pulu ‘10’ (one-ten; pulu ultimately goes back to a loan from Paiwan). It is possible that the PRT form was *u-cáni, belonging to the non-human counting series; if so Tsou coni, Kanakanabu cani, Saaroa caani, all ‘one’ (serial counting) are analogical creations of proto-Tsouic. Tsou does not have an u- prefixed form because it does not distinguish between a serial and a non-human series in counting. See this post for the etymology of PRT *cáni ‘one’.

In Rukai *u-cani coexists with inherited reflexes of *isa/*esa ‘one’: thus Rukai #63 has isa ‘one’ (presumabily the serial counting form) vs. u-tsani ‘one’ (presumably non-human).

in Tsouic  *isa/*esa were eliminated as a result of the generalization of *cáni.


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.

Sagart, L. (2013). Is Puyuma a primary branch of Austronesian ? A rejoinder. Oceanic Linguistics 52, 2: 481-492.

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

Wolff, John U. (2010) Proto-Austronesian phonology with glossary. 2 vols. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia program publications.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Rukai-Tsouic (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 18/04/2020,

Eastern Walu-Siwaish (master post)

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(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,

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,

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 reconstructs as *tanu (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.

To this let us compare Natauran Amis tanu ‘only, just’ (Bril, p.c., 31 March 2020). I hypothesize that the original meaning of *tanu was ‘only’, as in Amis, which in Papora and Taokas shifted to ‘only one’ and ultimately to ‘one’.


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.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "My one and only," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 04/04/2020,

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,