Paiwan language

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Native to Taiwan
Ethnicity Paiwan
Native speakers
66,000 (2002)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pwn
Glottolog paiw1248[2]
(dark green, south) Paiwan
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Paiwan is a native language of Taiwan, spoken by the Paiwan people, one tribe of the Taiwanese aborigines. Paiwan is a Formosan language of the Austronesian language family. The number of speakers is estimated to be 66,000.[3]


Paiwan variants can be divided into the following dialect zones (Ferrell 1982:4–6).

  • A1 – southern and central
    • Kuɬaɬau (Kulalao) – used in Ferrell's 1982 Paiwan Dictionary due to its widespread intelligibility and preservation of various phonemic distinctions; also spoken in Tjuabar Village, Taitung County, where Tjariḍik and "Tjuabar" (closely related to Tjavuaɬi) are also spoken.
    • Kapaiwanan (Su-Paiwan)
    • Tjuaqatsiɬay (Kachirai) – southernmost dialect
  • A2 – central
    • ɬarəkrək (Riki-riki)
    • Patjavaɬ (Ta-niao-wan)
  • B1 – northernmost
    • Tjukuvuɬ (Tokubun)
    • Kaviangan (Kapiyan)
  • B2 – northwestern
    • Tjaɬakavus (Chalaabus, Lai-yi)
    • Makazayazaya (Ma-chia)
  • B3 – east-central
    • Tjariḍik (Charilik)
  • B4 – eastern
    • Tjavuaɬi (Taimali)
    • Tjakuvukuvuɬ (Naibon, Chaoboobol)


Kuɬaɬau Paiwan has 23–24 consonants (/h/ is found only in loanwords, and /ʔ/ is uncommon) and 4 vowels (Ferrell 1982:7). Unlike many other Formosan languages that have merged many Proto-Austronesian phonemes, Paiwan preserves most Proto-Austronesian phonemes and is thus highly important for reconstruction purposes.

The four Paiwan vowels are /i ə a u/. /ə/ is written e in the literature.

Kuɬaɬau Paiwan consonants
labial alveolar retroflex palatal velar uvular glottal
nasal m n ŋ
plosive p b t d ɖ c ɟ k ɡ q ʔ
affricate ts
fricative v s z (h)
trill r
approximant w l ɬ j
Central Paiwan consonants[4]
labial alveolar retroflex palatal velar uvular glottal
nasal m n ŋ
plosive p b t d ɖ c ɟ k ɡ q ʔ
affricate ts ~ tʃ
fricative v s z (h)
r ~ ɣ
approximant ʋ ɭ ʎ j

In Northern Paiwan the palatal consonants have been lost, though this is recent and a few conservative speakers maintain them as allophonic variants (not as distinct phonemes). /ʔ/ is robust, unlike in other Paiwan dialects where its status is uncertain, as it derives from *q.

Northern Paiwan (Sandimen) consonants[4]
labial alveolar retroflex palatal velar glottal
nasal m n ŋ
plosive p b t d ɖ k ɡ ʔ
affricate ts
fricative v s z (h)
approximant w l~ʎ ɭ j
Southern Paiwan (Mudan) consonants[4]
labial alveolar retroflex palatal velar uvular glottal
nasal m n ŋ
plosive p b t d ɖ c ɟ k ɡ q ʔ
affricate ts
fricative v s z ɣ ~ r (h)
approximant w ɭ ʎ j

Younger speakers tend to pronounce /ʎ/ as [l]. Fricative [ɣ] is characteristic of Mudan village; elsewhere is Southern Paiwan it tends to be a trill [r], though it still varies [r ~ ɣ ~ ʁ ~ h]. Word-initial *k has become /ʔ/.



The Paiwan personal pronouns below are from Ferrell (1982:14).

Paiwan Personal Pronouns
Type of
Equational Genitive Non-Eq., Non-Gen.
1s. -aken, ti-aken ku-, ni-aken tjanu-aken
2s. -sun, ti-sun su-, ni-sun tjanu-sun
3s. ti-madju ni-madju tjai-madju
1p. (incl.) -itjen, ti-tjen tja-, ni-tjen tjanu-itjen
1p. (excl.) -amen, ti-amen nia-, ni-amen tjanu-amen
2p. -mun, t-mun nu-, ni-mun tjanu-mun
3p. ti-a-madju ni-a-madju tjai-a-madju

Function words[edit]

Paiwan has 3 construction markers, which are also known as relational particles (Ferrell 1982:13).

  1. a – shows equational relationship; personal sing. = ti, personal plural = tia
  2. nua – shows genitive / partitive relationship; personal sing. = ni, personal plural = nia
  3. tua – shows that the relationship is neither equational nor genitive; personal sing. = tjai, personal plural = tjaia

Other words include:

  • i – be at, in (place)
  • nu – if when
  • na – already (definitely) done/doing or have become
  • uri – definite future negative marker
  • uri – definite future marker
  • ɬa – emphasis, setting apart

Affixed adverbials include (Ferrell 1982:14):

  • -tiaw
    • nu-tiaw: tomorrow
    • ka-tiaw: yesterday
  • -sawni
    • nu-sawni: soon, in a little while (future)
    • ka-sawni: a little while ago
  • -ngida
    • nu-ngida: when? (future)
    • ka-ngida: when? (past)

Interjections include (Ferrell 1982:12):

  • ui – yes
  • ini- no (not do)
  • neka – no, not (not exist)
  • ai – oh! (surprise, wonder)
  • ai ḍivá – alas!
  • uá – oh! (surprise, taken aback)
  • ai ḍaḍá – ouch! (pain)


Paiwan verbs have 4 types of focus (Ferrell 1982:30).

  1. Agent/Actor
  2. Object/Goal/Patient
  3. Referent: spatial/temporal locus, indirect object, beneficiary
  4. Instrument/Cause/Motivation/Origin

The following verbal affixes are used to express varying degrees of volition or intent, and are arranged below from highest to lowest intention (Ferrell 1982:37).

  1. ki- (intentional)
  2. pa- (intentional)
  3. -m- (volitionally ambiguous)
  4. si- (volitionally ambiguous)
  5. ma- (non-intentional)
  6. se- (non-intentional)

Paiwan verbs can also take on the following non-derivational suffixes (Ferrell 1982:13).

  • -anga: "certainly," "truly doing"
  • -angata: "definitely" (emphatic)
  • -anga: "still, yet, continuing to"


The Paiwan affixes below are from the Kulalao dialect unless stated otherwise, and are sourced from Ferrell (1982:15–27).

  • ka-: used as an inchoative marker with some stems; past marker
  • ka- -an: principal, main
  • kaɬa- -an: time/place characterized by something
  • ma-ka-: go past, via; having finished
  • pa-ka-: go/cause to go by way of (something/place)
  • ka-si-: come from
  • ken(e)-: eat, drink, consume
  • ki-: get, obtain
  • ku-: my; I (as agent of non-agent focus verb)
  • ɬa-: belonging to a given [plant/animal] category
  • ɬe-: to go in the direction of
  • ɬia-: (have) come to be in/at
  • li-: have quality of
  • ma-: be affected by, be in condition of (involuntary)
  • mare-: having reciprocal relationship
  • mare-ka-: in some general category
  • maɬe-: number of persons
  • me-: agent marker usually involving change of status (used with certain verbs)
  • mere-: be gigantic, super-
  • mi-: agent marker that is usually intransitive (used with certain verbs)
  • mi- -an: pretend, claim
  • mu-: agent marker (certain verbs)
  • ka-na- -anga: every
  • pa-: to cause to be/occur
  • pe-: emerge, come into view
  • pi-: put in/on; do something to
  • pu-: have or produce; acquire
  • pu- -an: place where something is put or kept
  • ma-pu-: do nothing except ...
  • ra-: having to do with
  • r-m-a-: do at/during
  • r-m-a- -an: do at/in
  • sa-: wish to; go to, in direction of; have odor, quality, flavor of
  • pa-sa-: transfer something to; nearly, be on point of doing
  • ki-sa-: use, utilize, employ
  • na-sa-: perhaps, most likely is
  • san(e)-: construct, work on/in
  • ki-sane(e)-: become/act as; one who acts as
  • ru-: do frequently/habitually; have many of
  • se-: people of (village/nation); have quality of; occur suddenly/unexpectedly/unintentionally
  • s-ar-e-: be in state/condition of (involuntary)
  • si-: be instrument/cause/beneficiary of; instrument focus marker; belonging to certain time in past
  • ma-si-: carry, transport
  • su-: your; you (agent of non-agent focus verb); leave, remove, desist from
  • ki-su-: remove or have removed from oneself
  • ta-: past marker
  • tu-: similar to, like
  • ma-ru-: be dissimilar but of same size
  • tja-: our, we (inclusive); more, to a greater extent, further
  • ki-tja-: take along for use
  • tjaɬa- -an: most, -est
  • tjara-: be definitely
  • tjaɬu-: reach/extend as far as
  • tjari-: furthest, utmost
  • tja-u-: to have just done
  • tje-: choose to do at/from
  • ka-tje- -an: containing
  • tji-: used mainly in plant/animal species names (non-Kulalao frozen affix)
  • tji-a-: be/remain at
  • tju-: do/use separately; be/do at certain place
  • m-uri-: search for
  • -aɬ-, -al-, -ar-: having sound or quality of; involving use of; non-Kulalao
  • -ar-: do indiscriminately, on all sides; non-Kulalao
  • -m-: agent or actor; -n- following /p/, /b/, /v/, /m/; m- before vowel-initial words
  • -in-: perfective marker, action already begun or accomplished, object or product of past action; in- before vowel-initial words
  • -an: specific location in time/space; specific one/type; referent focus
  • -en: object/goal of action; object focus
  • -aw, -ay: projected or intended action, referent focus
  • -u: agent focus (most subordinate clauses); most peremptory imperative
  • -i: object focus (most subordinate clauses); polite imperative
  • -ɬ: things in sequence; groupings; durations of time

The following affixes are from the Tjuabar dialect of Paiwan, spoken in the northwest areas of Paiwan-occupied territory (Comparative Austronesian Dictionary 1995).

  • -aḷ-, -aly- 'tiny things'
  • -in- 'things made from plant roots'
  • -an 'place' (always used with another affix)
  • mar(ə)- 'a pair of' (used for humans only)
  • pu- 'rich'
  • ḳay- 'vegetation'
  • sə- 'inhabitants'
  • cua- 'name of a tribe'
  • -aŋa 'already done'
  • ka- 'to complete'
  • kə- 'to do something oneself'
  • ki- 'to do something to oneself'
  • kisu- 'to get rid of'
  • kicu- 'to do something separately'
  • maCa- 'to do something reciprocally' (where C indicates the initial consonant of the stem)
  • mə- 'to experience, to be something'
  • pa- 'to cause someone to do something'
  • pu- 'to produce, to get something'
  • sa- 'to be willing to do something'
  • calyu- 'to arrive at'
  • ma- 'being'
  • na- 'with the quality of'
  • səcalyi- 'very'
  • ca- 'more than'


  1. ^ Paiwan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Paiwan". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Taiwan seeks to save indigenous languages 7/14/10
  4. ^ a b c Chen, Chun-mei, 2006. A comparative study on Formosan phonology: Paiwan and Budai Rukai.


  • Ferrell, Raleigh. 1982. Paiwan Dictionary. Pacific Linguistics, Series C, no. 73. Canberra: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, the Australian National University.