Atayal language

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Regionnorth Taiwan
Ethnicity86,000 Atayal people (2014)[1]
Native speakers
10,000 (2008)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3tay
A map showing the distribution of the two major dialect groups of the Atayal language. The Atayal people reside in central and northern Taiwan, along the Hsuehshan mountains.
Lang Status 80-VU.svg
Atayal is classified as Vulnerable by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Atayal language is spoken by the Atayal people of Taiwan. Squliq and C’uli’ (Ts’ole’) are two major dialects. Mayrinax and Pa’kuali’, two subdialects of C’uli’, are unique among Atayal dialects in having male and female register distinctions in their vocabulary.


Several works on the language, including several reference grammars, have been published. In 1980 an Atayal–English dictionary was published by Søren Egerod.[3] The Bible has been translated into Atayal and was published in 2002.[by whom?] Atayal was one of the source languages of Yilan Creole Japanese.[4]

In April 2020 an Atayal language Wikipedia was launched following efforts by Taiwan's Ministry of Education and National Chengchi University to promote the written use of Taiwan's Aboriginal languages.[5][6]


Atayal dialects can be classified under two dialects groups: Squliq and C’uli’ (Ts’ole’).[7][8]


The Atayal language is most commonly written in the Latin script; a standard orthography for the language was established by the Taiwanese government in 2005.[6] In writing, ⟨ng⟩ represents the velar nasal /ŋ/, and the apostrophe ⟨'⟩ represents the glottal stop. In some literature, ⟨ḳ⟩ is used to represent /q/ and ⟨č š ž⟩ are used to represent /tʃ ʃ ʒ/.

In some dialects but not all, schwa /ə/ is frequently omitted in writing, resulting in long consonant clusters on the surface (e.g. pspngun /pəsəpəŋun/).[9]

The pronunciation of certain letters differs from the IPA conventions. The letter ⟨b⟩ represents /β/, ⟨c⟩ is /ts/, ⟨g⟩ is /ɣ/, ⟨y⟩ is /j/, and ⟨z⟩ is /ʒ/.


Dialects differ slightly in their phonology. Presented below are the vowel and consonant inventories of Mayrinax Atayal (Huang 2000a). Orthographic conventions are added in ⟨angle brackets⟩.


Mayrinax Atayal vowels
Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e ə o
Low a


Mayrinax Atayal consonants
Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Plosive p t k q ʔ
Affricate ts ⟨c⟩
Fricative voiceless s x ħ ⟨h⟩
voiced β ɣ ⟨g⟩
Nasal m n ŋ
Trill r
Semivowel w j ⟨y⟩

Most of these sounds are also encountered in other Formosan languages, but the velar fricative [x] is a trade mark of Atayalic languages. This sound has restricted distribution, though, as it never occurs in word-initial position.

Even though some literature includes a glottal fricative in the consonant inventory, that phoneme is phonetically realized as a pharyngeal (Li 1980), which is true for Atayalic languages in general. The alveolar fricative (s) and affricate (ts) are palatalized before [i] and [j], rendering [ɕ] and [], respectively (Lu 2005), as in the Sinitic contact languages Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien.

Plngawan Atayal (a subdialect of Ci'uli') differs from this inventory in that it lacks a schwa (ə), and that there are two phonemic rhotics (Shih 2008).

Squliq Atayal has a voiced alveo-palatal fricative [z] (Li 1980), but Huang 2015 doubts its phonemicity, arguing that it is an allophone of [y].



Mayrinax Atayal (a Cʔuliʔ dialect spoken in Tai'an Township, Miaoli County) has a four-way focus system (Huang 2000b).[10]

  1. Agent focus (AF)
  2. Patient focus (PF)
  3. Locative focus (LF)
  4. Instrumental/Beneficiary focus (IF/BF)

The following list of focus markers are used in Mayrinax Atayal.

  • Agent focus (AF)
    • Realis: m-, -um- (more dynamic); ma-, ø (less dynamic / more stative)
    • Irrealis: m-, ma-, -um- ... -ay (projective/immediate); pa- (future)
  • Patient focus (PF)
    • Realis: -un (neutral), ø (perfective)
    • Irrealis: -aw (projective/immediate); -un (future)
  • Locative focus (LF)
    • Realis: -an
    • Irrealis: -ay (projective/immediate); -an (future)
  • Instrumental/Beneficiary focus (IF/BF)
    • Realis: si-
    • Irrealis: -anay (projective/immediate); ø (future)

Aspect markers include:[10]

  • -in-: perfective
  • pa-: irrealis (also serves as a causative marker)
  • kiaʔ and haniʔan: progressive

Other verbal markers include:[10]

  • ka-: stative marker
  • i-: locative marker
  • ø- (null marker): agent-focus imperative

Dynamic and stative verbal prefixes run along a continuum. Here, they are listed from most dynamic to most stative.[10]

  1. m-, -um-
  2. ma1-, ø1
  3. ma-2
  4. ø2

Case markers[edit]

Mayrinax Atayal has an elaborate case marking system. The Mayrinax case markers below are sourced from Huang (2002).

Mayrinax Atayal Case Markers
Case Nominative Accusative Genitive/
Proper noun ʔiʔ ʔiʔ niʔ kiʔ
referential kuʔ ckuʔ nkuʔ
non-referential cuʔ naʔ

Wulai Atayal (a Squliq Atayal dialect spoken in Wulai District, New Taipei City) has a much simpler case-marking system (Huang 1995).

Wulai Atayal Case Markers
Case Nominative Instrumental Genitive Comitative Locative
Markers quʔ naʔ naʔ, nquʔ kiʔ te, squʔ, sa


The Mayrinax and Wulai Atayal personal pronouns below are sourced from Huang (1995). In both varieties, the nominative and genitive forms are bound while the neutral and locative ones are free (unbound).

Wulai Atayal Personal Pronouns
Type of
Nominative Genitive Locative Neutral
1s. sakuʔ, kuʔ makuʔ, mu, kuʔ knan kuzing, kun
2s. suʔ suʔ sunan isuʔ
3s. nyaʔ hiyan hiyaʔ
1p. (incl.) taʔ taʔ itan itaʔ
1p. (excl.) sami myan sminan sami
2p. simu mamu smunan simu
3p. nhaʔ hgan hgaʔ
Mayrinax Atayal Personal Pronouns
Type of
Nominative Genitive Neutral
1s. cu, ciʔ mu, miʔ kuing
2s. suʔ, siʔ suʔ isuʔ
3s. niaʔ hiyaʔ
1p. (incl.) taʔ, tiʔ taʔ, tiʔ itaʔ
1p. (excl.) cami niam cami
2p. cimu mamu cimu
3p. nhaʔ nhaʔ


The following list of Mayrinax Atayal affixes is sourced from the Comparative Austronesian Dictionary (1995).

  • Note: Some affixes are unglossed.
Verbal prefixes
  • ma- 'stative'
  • ma- 'active'
  • man-
  • mana-
  • maɣ-
  • ma-ša- 'reciprocal, mutual'
  • ma-ši 'natural release or movement'
  • pana-
  • ma-ti-
  • ʔi-
  • pa- 'causative'
  • ši- 'benefactive'
  • ga- 'verbalizer'
  • kan- + RED + N (body parts) 'body movement'
  • ma-ka- 'mutual, reciprocal'
  • maki- 'active verb'
  • mat- 'to turn'
  • mi-
  • paš-
  • ta- ... -an 'location'
  • tiɣi- 'to release gas'
  • tu- 'for some to ... '
Verbal infixes
  • -um- 'agent focus'
  • -in- 'completive'
Verbal suffixes
  • -an 'locative focus'
  • -un 'object focus'
  • -i 'imperative'
  • -aw 'future or mild request'
  • -ani 'polite request'
Nominal affixes
  • -in- 'nominalizer'
  • -in- ... -an 'nominalizer to indicate a completed action'
  • Male affixes (i.e., male forms of speech in Mayrinax Atayal) include (Comparative Austronesian Dictionary): -niḳ, -iḳ, -ʔiŋ, -hiŋ, -iŋ, -tiŋ, -riʔ, -ḳiʔ, -niʔ, -nux, -ux, -hu, -u, -al, -liʔ, -kaʔ, -ha, -il, -in-, -il-, -i-, -a-, -na-.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Amis Remains Taiwan's Biggest Aboriginal Tribe at 37.1% of Total". Focus Taiwan. CNA. February 15, 2015. Archived from the original on 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  2. ^ Atayal at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) closed access
  3. ^ see Egerod (1980)
  4. ^ Yuehchen, Chien; Shinji, Sanada (2010-08-16). "Yilan Creole in Taiwan". Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages. 25 (2): 350–357. doi:10.1075/jpcl.25.2.11yue. ISSN 0920-9034.
  5. ^ "Atayal and Sediq Added to Wikipedia's Languages". Taipei Times. 17 April 2020. Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  6. ^ a b "Indigenous Taiwanese Languages Now Available on Wikipedia". Language Magazine. 2021-04-29. Retrieved 2021-07-04.
  7. ^ Huang (1995), p. 261
  8. ^ Li (1980), p. 349
  9. ^ Rau (1992), pp. 22–23
  10. ^ a b c d Huang (2000b)


Mayrinax Atayal

External links[edit]