Kavalan language

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kbaran, kebalan (Kavalan)[1]
Native toTaiwan
Native speakers
70 (2015)[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 (also known as Kvalan, Kebalan or 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.[3]


Kavalan consists of the following speech communities ordered from north to south:[4]

  • 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.

Tsuchida (1985) notes that word lists collected from Lamkham 南崁 (Nankan) and Poting 埔頂 (Buding) are closest to Kavalan,[5] while Li (2001) counts them as 'Basaic' languages.[6]

Many Kavalan can also speak Amis, Taiwanese, Mandarin, and Japanese.[4]


There are 15 consonants and 4 vowels in Kavalan.[7]

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t k q
voiced b
Fricative voiceless s
voiced z ɮ [ɮ ~ d] ʁ
Approximant l [l ~ ɫ ~ ɾ] j w
Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid ə
Open a

In Kavalan, Proto-Austronesian phonemes have merged as follows:[8]

  • *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 ʁ (written as R)
  • *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.[9] Consonant gemination is also common in the northern Philippine languages, but is non-existent in the Central Philippine languages except for Rinconada Bikol.[10]



Kavalan nouns and verbs are distinguished by the lack of /a/ in the first syllable (nouns) or presence of /a/ (verbs).[8] Kavalan syllables take on the structure (C)(C)V(C)(C).[11] 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:[12]

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

The Kavalan case markers below are from Li & Tsuchida (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 & Tsuchida (2006:30).

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


The Kavalan affixes below are from Li & Tsuchida (2006:14–24).

  • i-: stative, having to do with location
  • kar-: rapid motion; defective, not perfect
  • ki-, qi-: pluck, pick
  • 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 each 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. ^ Yuanzhuminzu weiyuanhui, zuyu shuwei zhongxin 原住民族委員會, 族語數位中心. "Yuèdú shūxiě piān – Gámǎlányǔ dì 6 kè – zúyǔ E lèyuán" 閱讀書寫篇 – 噶瑪蘭語 第6課 – 族語E樂園. Yuedu shuxie pian – zuyu E leyuan (in Chinese).
  2. ^ Kavalan at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021) closed access
  3. ^ 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. 4 (12): 171218. Bibcode:2017RSOS....471218P. doi:10.1098/rsos.171218. PMC 5750020. PMID 29308253. S2CID 23970007.
  4. ^ a b Li & Tsuchida (2006), p. 1
  5. ^ Tsuchida, Shigeru. 1985. Kulon: Yet another Austronesian language in Taiwan?. Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica 60. 1-59.
  6. ^ Li, Paul Jen-kuei (2001). "The Dispersal of the Formosan Aborigines in Taiwan" (PDF). Language and Linguistics / Yǔyán jì yǔyánxué. 2 (1): 271–278. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-08-08.
  7. ^ Moriguchi, Tsunekazu (1983). "An Inquiry into Kbalan Phonology" (PDF). Journal of Asian and African Studies. 26: 202–219.
  8. ^ a b Li & Tsuchida (2006)
  9. ^ Blust (2009), p. 642
  10. ^ Blust (2009), p. 220
  11. ^ Li & Tsuchida (2006), p. 5
  12. ^ Li & Tsuchida (2006), pp. 26–27

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