Recognised minority language in
(medium green, center) Bunun
The Bunun language (Chinese: 布農語) is spoken by the Bunun people of Taiwan. It is one of the Formosan languages, a geographic group of Austronesian languages, and is subdivided in five dialects: Isbukun, Takbunuaz, Takivatan, Takibaka and Takituduh. Isbukun, the dominant dialect, is mainly spoken in the south of Taiwan. Takbunuaz and Takivatan are mainly spoken in the center of the country. Takibaka and Takituduh both are northern dialects. A sixth dialect, Takipulan, became extinct in the 1970s.
The Saaroa and Kanakanabu, two smaller minority groups who share their territory with an Isbukun Bunun group, have also adopted Bunun as their vernacular.
Li (1988) splits the Bunun dialects into 3 main branches — Northern, Central, and Isbukun. Isbukun, the prestige dialect, is also the most divergent dialect. The most conservative dialects are spoken in the north.
Bunun was originally spoken in and around Sinyi Township (Xinyi, 信義鄉) in Nantou County (De Busser 2009:63). From the 17th century onwards, the Bunun people expanded towards the south and east, absorbing other ethnic groups such as the Saaroa, Kanakanabu, and Thao.
Bunun is a verb-initial language and has an Austronesian alignment system or focus system. This means that Bunun clauses do not have a nominative–accusative or absolutive–ergative alignment, but that arguments of a clause are ordered according to which participant in the event described by the verb is 'in focus'. In Bunun, four distinct roles can be in focus:
- the agent: the person or thing that is doing the action or achieving/maintaining a state;
- the undergoer: the person or thing that is somehow participating in the action without being an agent; there are three kinds of undergoers:
- patients: persons or things to whom an action is done or an event happens
- instruments: things (sometimes persons) which are used to perform an action
- beneficiaries (also called recipients): the persons (sometimes things) for whom an action is done or for whom an event happens
- the locative participant: the location where an action takes place; in languages with a Philippine-style voice system, spatial location is often at the same level in a clause as agents and patients, rather than being an adverbial clause, like in English (see  for a discussion of location in Tagalog).
Which argument is in focus is indicated on the verb by a combination of prefixes and suffixes .
- a verb in agent focus is often unmarked, but can get the prefix ma- or - more rarely - pa- or ka-
- a verb in undergoer focus gets a suffix -un
- a verb locative focus gets a suffix -an
Many other languages with a focus system have different marking for patients, instruments and beneficiaries, but this is not the case in Bunun. The focussed argument in a Bunun clause will normally always occur immediately after the verb (e.g. in an actor-focus clause, the agent will appear before any other participant) and is in the Isbukun dialect marked with a post-nominal marker a.
Bunun has a very large class of auxiliary verbs. Concepts that are expressed by auxiliaries include:
- negation (ni 'be not' and uka 'have not')
- modality and volition (e.g. maqtu 'can, be allowed')
- relative time (e.g. ngausang 'first, beforehand', qanaqtung 'be finished')
- comparison (maszang 'the same, similarly')
- question words (e.g. via 'why?')
- sometimes numerals (e.g. tatini '(be) alone, (be) only one')
In fact, Bunun auxiliaries express all sorts of concepts that in English would be expressed by adverbial phrases, with the exception of time and place, which are normally expressed with adverbial phrases.
Takivatan Bunun has the following word classes (De Busser 2009:189). (Note: Words in open classes can be compounded, whereas those in closed classes cannot.)
- Open classes
- Closed classes
- Anaphoric pronouns
- Personal pronouns
- Place words
- Time words
- Manner words
- Question words
Bunun is morphologically agglutinative language and has a very elaborate set of derivational affixes (more than 200, which are mostly prefixes), most of which derive verbs from other word classes. Some of these prefixes are special in that they do not only occur in the verb they derive, but are also foreshadowed on a preceding auxiliary. These are called lexical prefixes or anticipatory prefixes and only occur in Bunun and a small number of other Formosan languages.
Below are some Takivatan Bunun verbal prefixes from De Busser (2009).
|Type of prefix||Neutral||Causative||Accusative|
|Stative event||ma- / mi-||pi-||ka- / ki-|
- Movement from: Cu-
- Dynamic event: Ca-
- Stative event: Ci-
- Inchoative event: Cin-
- Neutral: mV-
- Causative: pV-
- Accusative: kV-
A more complete list of Bunun affixes from De Busser (2009) is given below.
- agent focus (AF): -Ø
- undergoer focus (UF): -un (also used as a nominalizer)
- locative focus (LF): -an (also used as a nominalizer)
- Tense-aspect-mood (TAM) affixes
- na- irrealis (futurity, consequence, volition, imperatives). This is also the least bound TAM prefix.
- -aŋ progressive (progressive aspect, simultaneity, expressing wishes/optative usage
- -in perfective (completion, resultative meaning, change of state, anteriority)
- -in- past/resultative (past, past/present contrast
- -i- past infix which occurs only occasionally
- Participant cross-reference
- -Ø agent
- -un patient
- -an locative
- is- instrumental
- ki- beneficiary
- Locative prefixes
- Stationary ‘at, in’: i-
- Itinerary ‘arrive at’: atan-, pan-, pana-
- Allative ‘to’: mu-, mun-
- Terminative ‘until’: sau-
- Directional ‘toward, in the direction of’: tan-, tana-
- Viative ‘along, following’: malan-
- Perlative ‘through, into’: tauna-, tuna-, tun-
- Ablative ‘from’: maisna-, maina-, maisi-, taka-
- Event-type prefixes
- ma- Marks dynamic events
- ma- Marks stative events
- mi- Marks stative negative events
- a- Unproductive stative prefix
- paŋka- Marks material properties (stative)
- min- Marks result states (transformational)
- pain- Participatory; marks group actions
- pa- causative of dynamic verb
- pi- causative of stative verb
- pu- cause to go towards
- Classification of events
- mis- burning events
- tin- shock events
- pala- splitting events
- pasi- separating events
- kat- grasping events
- Patient-incorporating prefixes
- bit- 'lightning'
- kun- 'wear'
- malas- 'speak'
- maqu- 'use'
- muda- 'walk'
- pas- 'spit'
- qu- 'drink'
- sa- 'see'
- tal- 'wash'
- tapu- 'have trait'
- tastu- 'belong'
- taus-/tus- 'give birth'
- tin- 'harvest'
- tum- 'drive'
- pu- verbalizer: 'to hunt for'
- maqu- verbalizer: 'to use'
- malas- verbalizer: 'to speak'
Takivatan Bunun personal pronoun roots are (De Busser 2009:453):
- 1s: -ak-
- 2s: -su-
- 3s: -is-
- 1p (incl.): -at-
- 1p (excl.): -ðam-
- 2p: -(a)mu-
- 3p: -in-
The tables of Takivatan Bunun personal pronouns below are sourced from De Busser (2009:441).
|1s.||-ak-||-(ʔ)ak||-(ʔ)uk||ðaku, nak||sak, saikin||ðakuʔan||inak, ainak, nak|
|2s.||-su-||-(ʔ)as||-||suʔu, su||-||suʔuʔan||isu, su|
|1p. (incl.)||-at-||-||-||mita||ʔata, inʔata||mitaʔan||imita|
|1p. (excl.)||-ðam-||-(ʔ)am||-||ðami, nam||ðamu, sam||ðamiʔan||inam, nam|
|2p.||-(a)mu-||-(ʔ)am||-||muʔu, mu||amu||muʔuʔan||imu, mu|
Iskubun Bunun personal pronouns are somewhat different (De Busser 2009:454).
|1s.||saikin, -ik||ðaku, -ku||inak, nak|
|2s.||kasu, -as||su||isu, su|
|1p. (incl.)||kata, -ta||mita||imita|
|1p. (excl.)||kaimin, -im||ðami||inam|
Takivatan Bunun has the following demonstrative roots and affixes (De Busser 2009:454):
- Demonstrative suffixes
- Proximal: -i
- Medial: -un
- Distal: -a
- Demonstrative roots
- aip-: singular
- aiŋk-: vague plural
- aint-: paucal
- ait-: inclusive generic
- Demonstrative prefixes
- Ø-: visible
- n-: not visible
- Place words
- ʔiti here
- ʔitun there (medial)
- ʔita there (distal)
- sia anaphoric marker, "aforementioned"; also used as a hesitation marker
- tu attributive marker
- duma "others"
- itu honorific marker
Takivatan Bunun also has definitive markers.
- Bunun reference at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
- Li, Paul Jen-kuei. 1988. A Comparative Study of Bunun Dialects. In Li, Paul Jen-kuei, 2004, Selected Papers on Formosan Languages. Taipei, Taiwan: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica.
- Schachter & Otanes 1972
- Zeitoun 2000
- Lin & al. 2001
- Nojima 1996
- Adelaar 2004
- Adelaar, K. Alexander. 2004. The coming and going of ‘lexical prefixes’ in Siraya. Language and Linguistics/語言暨語言學 5(2): 333-361.
- De Busser, Rik. 2009. Towards a Grammar of Takivatan: Selected Topics. PhD dissertation at the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
- Jeng, Heng-hsiung. 1977. Topic and Focus in Bunun. Taipei: Academia Sinica.
- Nojima, Motoyasu. 1996. Lexical prefixes of Bunun verbs. Gengo Kenkyu: Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan 110: 1-27.
- Li, Paul Jen-Kuei. 1988. A comparative study of Bunun dialects. Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica 59(2): 479-508.
- Schachter, Paul and Fe T. Otanes. 1972. Tagalog Reference Grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- 齊莉莎 (Zeitoun, Elizabeth). 2000. 布農語參考語法. Taipei:遠流/YLib.
- 林太 (Lin Tai), 曾思奇 (Zeng Si-Qi), 李文甦 (Li Wen-Su) and 卜袞 (Bukun). 2001. Isbukun.布農語構詞法研究. Taipei: 讀冊文化/Du-Ce Wen-Hua.