Kavalan language

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kbaran, kebalan[1] [kɨβarán]
Native toTaiwan
Native speakers
24 (2000)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3ckv
Formosan languages 2008.png
(dark green, north) The Kavalanic languages: Basai, Ketagalan, and Kavalan
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Kavalan (Kebalan/kbalan) was formerly spoken in the Northeast coast area of Taiwan by the Kavalan people (噶瑪蘭). It is an East Formosan language of the Austronesian family.

Kavalan is no longer spoken in its original area. As of 1930, it was used only as a home language. As of 1987, it was still spoken in Atayal territories. In 2000, this language was still reported to be spoken by 24 speakers but considered moribund.

In 2017, a study using the EDGE metric from species conservation found that Kavalan, although critically endangered, was among the most lexically distinct of Austronesian languages.[4]


Kavalan consists of the following speech communities ordered from north to south (Li 2006:1):[5]

  • Kariawan (Jialiwan 加禮宛) - near Hualien, a formerly Sakizaya-speaking area
  • Patʀungan (Xinshe 新社) - located in Fungpin (豐濱鄉), Hualien
  • Kulis (Lide 立德)
  • Kralut (Zhangyuan 樟原)

These speech communities in eastern Taiwan were named after older settlements from the north, such as Kariawan, Sahut, and Tamayan, where the Kavalan people originally migrated from. Modern-day Kavalan speakers are surrounded by the Amis.

Many Kavalan can also speak Amis, Taiwanese, Mandarin, and Japanese (Li 2006:1).


There are 15 consonants and 4 vowels in Kavalan.[6]

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular
Stop voiceless p t k q
voiced b
Fricative voiceless s ɬ
voiced z ʁ
Nasal m n ŋ
Approximant l j w
Trill r
Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid ə
Open a

In Kavalan, Proto-Austronesian phonemes have merged as follows:[5]

  • *n, *N, *j, *ɲ as n
  • *t, *T, *c as t
  • *d, *D, *Z as z
  • *s, *S as s
  • *q, *ʔ, *H are deleted

The following Proto-Austronesian phonemes are split:

  • *k into q and k
  • *l into r and ʀ
  • *a into i (if adjacent to q) and a

The Kavalan language is also notable for having a large inventory of consonant clusters. It is also one of the only two Formosan languages that has geminate consonants, with the other one being Basay (Blust 2009:642). Consonant gemination is also common in the northern Philippine languages, but is non-existent in the Central Philippine languages except for Rinconada Bikol (Blust 2009:220).



Kavalan nouns and verbs are distinguished by the lack of /a/ in the first syllable (nouns) or presence of /a/ (verbs).[5] Kavalan syllables take on the structure (C)(C)V(C)(C) (Li 2006:5). Kavalan is also one of two Formosan languages to have geminating consonants.

Kavalan affixes include:

  • m- (agent focus)
  • -um-/-m- (agent focus)
  • -in/-n- as variants of ni- (patient)
  • -a (irrealis patient-focus marker)
  • -an (locative-focus marker, nominalizer)
  • -i (imperative, patient focus)
  • pa- (causative)
  • qa- (future)

Unlike many other Formosan languages, there is no *-en suffix.


Kavalan, like most other Formosan and Philippine languages, has many case markers.

  • Nominative: a/ya
  • Oblique: ta, tu
  • Genitive: na, ni
  • Locative: sa, ta- -an

Types of focus in Kavalan include (Li 2006:26-27):

  1. Agent
  2. Patient
  3. Locative
  4. Instrumental
  5. Beneficiary

The Kavalan case markers below are from Li (2006:27).

Kavalan Case Markers
Case Nominative Oblique Genitive Locative
Common a, ya tu na sa, ta- -an
Personal a, ya ta ni -


The Kavalan Personal pronouns below are from Li (2006:30).

Kavalan Personal Pronouns
Type of
Nominative Genitive Oblique Locative
1s. aiku, =iku zaku, -ku timaiku tamaikuan
2s. aisu, =isu zasu, -su timaisuanzen tamaisuan
3s. aizipna tiyau zana, -na timaizipna tiyau tamaizipan tiyauan
1p. (incl.) aita, =ita zata, -ta, -kita timaita tamaitan
1p. (excl.) aimi, =imi zanyaq, -nyaq timaimi tamaimian
2p. aimu, =imu zanumi, -numi timaimu tamaimuan
3p. qaniyau zana, -na qaniyau taqaniyauan


The Kavalan affixes below are from Li (2006:14-24).

  • i-: stative, having to do with location
  • kar-: rapid motion; defective, not perfect
  • ki-, qi-: pluck, pidl
  • kin-: number of humans
  • lu-: flat
  • luq(e)-: bumpy, rough (used with stative verbs)
  • m-, -m-, mu-, -u-, -um-: agent-focus
  • ma-, m-: stative
  • maq-: where from
  • mar-: sine kind of shape
  • mi-: discharge something from the body
  • mri-: settle down; to shrink, huddle up
  • mrim-: a division of (a numeral)
  • nan-: two people (kinship); distributive numeral
  • ni-, n-, -in-, -n-: past, perfective
  • pa-: causative (used with active verbs)
  • pa- -an: agentive
  • pa-ti: personal marker for the dead
  • paq-, paqa-: causative (used with stative verbs)
  • paq-: get on (a boat)
  • pa-qi-: cause to become
  • pat-: make a change
  • pi-: put into, put away; do something to protect a body part; every (time)
  • qa-: immediate future; ride, take (means of transportation)
  • qa- -an: place of/for
  • qaRu-: become, transform into; transformable into
  • qi-: pick, gather, get
  • qna-: nominaizer (used with stative verbs; -an is used with active verbs)
  • Ra-: to transform into
  • Ra-CV-: light color of
  • Ri-: catch, get
  • Ru-: just now; for the first time
  • sa-: have the event (natural phenomena); do, make, produce, have; secrete (body fluid); tool
  • sam-CV-: pretend
  • saqa-: ordinal (numeral)
  • si-: wear, own, possess
  • sia-: go towards (place/direction); go to the side (often euphemistic for urinating/defecating)
  • sim-: reciprocal
  • siqa-: (number of) times
  • smu-: finger
  • sna-: model of, copy of
  • su-: remove; move downwards, upside down, slanting
  • su-CV-: stink or smell of
  • tan-: speak the language
  • taRi-: position, people in such a position
  • ti-: instrumental-focus; to take eacher other (?)
  • ti- (-an): beneficiary-focus
  • tRi-CV(C)- (-an): discharge (body discharge) with control
  • u-: agent-focus; non-human numeral
  • -a: irrealis patient-focus marker
  • -an: locative-focus marker, nominalizer
  • -i: irrealis non-agent-focus imperative
  • -m-, -um-: agent-focus
  • -n-, -in-, ni-: perfective



  1. ^ 原住民族委員會,族語數位中心. "閱讀書寫篇 - 噶瑪蘭語 第6課 - 族語E樂園". 閱讀書寫篇 - 族語E樂園.
  2. ^ Paul Jen-kuei Li
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kavalan". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Perrault, Nicolas; Farrell, Maxwell J.; Davies, T. Jonathan (2017). "Tongues on the EDGE: language preservation priorities based on threat and lexical distinctiveness". Royal Society Open Science. doi:10.1098/rsos.171218.
  5. ^ a b c *Paul Jen-kuei Li (李壬癸) and Shigeru Tsuchida (土田滋) (2006) Kavalan Dictionary Archived 2007-11-21 at the Wayback Machine. Language and Linguistics Monograph Series A-19. ISBN 978-986-00-6993-8.
  6. ^ Moriguchi, Tsunekazu (1983). "An Inquiry into Kbalan Phonology" (PDF). Journal of Asian and African Studies. 26: 202–219.

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