Thao language

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Native to Taiwan
Ethnicity 300 Thao (2007)[1]
Native speakers
5–6 (2000)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ssf
Glottolog thao1240[2]

Thao (Thao: Thaw a lalawa), pronunciation [θau], also known as Sao, is the language of the Thao people, a tribe of Taiwanese aborigines in the region of Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan. In 2000, there were 5 or 6 speakers living in Ita Thaw (伊達邵) village (traditionally called Barawbaw), all but one of whom were over the age of sixty.[citation needed] Two elderly native speakers died December 2014 including chief Tarma (袁明智), age 75.

Thao is a Formosan language of the Austronesian family; Barawbaw and Shtafari are dialects.



Consonant inventory
  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive p b         t d     k   q   ʔ  
Fricative     f (v) θ ð s   ʃ           h  
Lateral Fricative             ɬ                  
Tap or Flap               ɾ                
Nasal   m           n       ŋ        
Approximant   w           l   j            

Orthographic notes:

  • /θ ð ʃ/ are written /ɬ/ is written <lh>/ŋ/ is written <ng>/ʔ/ is written <'>


    • The glides /j w/ are derived from the underlying vowels /i u/ to meet the requirements that syllables must have onset consonants and to indicate stress placement accurately.
    • [v] is an allophone of /w/ occurring intervocalically.


    Vowel inventory
    . However, in Blust's dictionary /θ/ is written <c>.
    Front Central Back
    High i u
    High (e) (o)
    Low a


    • Stress is penultimate, otherwise can be written /á í ú/ as in "dadú", but doubling /aa ii uu/ is also frequently used, as in "daduu".
    • [e] and [o] occur as allophones of /i/ and /u/, respectively, when preceded or followed either by /q/ or /r/.


    Thao has two or arguably three patterns of reduplication: Ca-reduplication, full reduplication, and rightward reduplication (which is sometimes considered to be a form of full reduplication).

    Thao verbs have the following types of focus (Blust 2003:239).

    1. Actor: -um- (present), ma- (future)
    2. Patient: -in, -in-
    3. Locative: -an


    Thao word order can be both SVO and VSO, although the former is derived from Taiwanese (Blust 2003:228).

    The Thao personal marker is "ti" (Blust 2003:228). Negatives include "ani" and "antu"; "ata tu" is used in "don't" constructions. The perfect is marked by "iza", the past by an infix just after the primary onset consonant "-in-" and the future by the prefix "a-". Imperatives are marked by "-í" and softer imperatives or requests roughly translated as "please" by "-uan" sometimes spelled "-wan" which can co-occur with "-í".


    The Thao personal pronouns below are from Blust (2003:207). Note that there is only 1 form each for "we (exclusive)," "you (plural)" and "they."

    Thao Personal Pronouns
    Type of
    Nominative Accusative Genitive Agent Patient
    1s. yaku yakin nak[3]
    2s. ihu ihu-n m-ihu[4] uhu uhu-n
    3s. thithu thithu-n thithu[5]
    1p. (incl.) ita ita-n m-ita
    1p. (excl.) yamin yamin yamin
    2p. maniun maniun maniun
    3p. thaythuy thaythuy thaythuy

    Other pronouns include:

    • minmihu - for you
    • panmihu - as for you
    • panihun - because of you
    • shanaihun - up to you
    • shaunatazihun - go to your place
    • shmunaihun - bring to you
    • nakin - for me
    • panyakin - as for me
    • pashiyakin - leave me
    • shanayayakin - up to me
    • shmunayakin - bring me


    The following affixes are sourced from Blust (2003:92-188) and adjusted to the modern spelling.

    • a- : only found in /kan/ 'eat'
    • -ak : '1st person singular (I)'
    • ak- ... -in : 'morning, noon, evening meals'
    • an- : uncertain function
    • -an : Verbal uses can be indicative, imperative, or adversative.
    • i- : prefix or clitic particle marking location
    • -i : imperative
    • -ik : patient focus (1st person singular)
    • -in- : perfective or completive aspect
    • -in : patient focus
    • ish- : found most with intransitive verbs (uncommon prefix)
    • ka- : 'to make an X', 'two times' (with reduplication)
    • ka- ... -an : meaning unclear
    • kal- : 'X told'
    • kalh- : 'to pile, spread'
    • kash- : 'intensity, repetition'
    • kashi- : meaning uncertain
    • kashi- ... -an : 'pull by the X'
    • kashun- : derives verbs referring to positions of the human body, or sometimes objects such as boats
    • kat- : 'gradually become X'
    • ki- : 'stand, stay'; other possible meanings as well
    • ki- ... -an : 'be affected with pain in the X'
    • kilh- : 'search for, seek'
    • kin- : 'to pick or gather X'
    • kit- ... -in : 'infested with X'
    • ku- : 'to perform an action with X' (when used with tools or weapons); less specific in other contexts
    • kun- : 'sudden or abrupt action', 'to eat the X meal', 'to do X times'; meaning unclear sometimes
    • la- : usually found in expressions of quantity of degree
    • lhin- : causative sense
    • lhun- : swelling-related meanings, etc.
    • m- : marks the genitive in 'you (2s)' and 'we (incl.)'
    • ma- : marks stative verbs, occasionally nouns derived from stative verbs
    • ma- : active verb prefix
    • ma- : prefix marking the future in actor focus verbs
    • ma- : 'tens' (used with numbers)
    • mak- : intransitive verbs
    • maka- : 'to resemble X' (people), 'produce X' (plant or animal parts), 'from/in/to X' (deictic/directional expressions)
    • makin- : intransitive verbs; 'Xth from the bottom' (with numerals)
    • makit- : 'happen gradually', 'perform X gradually'
    • maku- : directional sense, and is followed by /na/- (though it does not follow not in non-locative expressions)
    • malhi- : 'give birth to an X'
    • man- : generally used with dynamic, intransitive verbs
    • mana- : generally found with directional verbs
    • mapa- : 'reciprocal', 'collective action'
    • mash- : 'to speak X' (language), 'walk with an X' (positions or conditions of the leg)
    • masha- : relates to body positions, or may have a directional meaning
    • mashi- : comparatives (with stative bases of measurement); often synonymous with /ma/- (stative verb marker)
    • mat- : derives intransitive or stative verbs
    • mati- : locative expressions
    • matin- + full reduplication : 'X-ish' or 'spotted with X' (colors)
    • mi- : derives intransitive verbs, often with some form of base reduplication
    • mi- + Ca reduplication : 'do with a group of X'
    • mya- : used to derive various verbs
    • min- : derives inchoative verbs (Bunun loan?); 'become an X' or 'become like an X' (with kinship terms)
    • mu- : most frequently derives verbs of motion; 'go into X; enter X' (with concrete nouns that refer to structures or places capable of being entered); 'search for X' (with names of useful plants); 'do X times' (numeral bases and expressions of quantity)
    • mun- : intransitive verbs
    • -n : derives accusative pronouns from nominative bases
    • na- : most commonly with verbs indicating change of location; 'it's up to X'
    • pa- : causative of dynamic verbs (verbs with -/um/-); 'make X do Y' or 'let X do Y'; active transitive (or intransitive) verb with no causative argument/sense
    • pak- : 'exude X' (body fluids, other natural fluids/substances); intransitive verb prefix
    • pan- : 'perform X in a downward direction'
    • pan- ... -an : used with terms for lineal consanguines to derive the corresponding collateral terms of the same generation (e.g., 'father' > 'uncle', 'grandparent' > 'grandparental sibling')
    • pash- ... -an : 'place in which X is kept'
    • pashi- : generally causative sense (often with Ca-reduplication); 'let X do it' or 'let X have it' (with the accusative forms of personal pronouns)
    • pashi- ... -an : 'put X on' or 'wear X'
    • pat- : generally causative sense
    • pi- : causative verbs of location (can be paired with /i/- 'at, in, on'); may also form non-locative verbs
    • pya- : forms causative verbs (usually have stative counterparts with /ma/-; note that /pa/- and -/um/- are also counterparts.); simulative verb
    • pik- : generally causative sense
    • pin- : generally forms causative verbs or deverbal nouns
    • pish- : 'play X' (musical instruments); inchoative sense (sometimes with an implied element of suddenness); causative sense
    • pu- : causative or transitive counterpart of the movement prefix /mu/-, which is intransitive; 'use an X' or 'put in an X' (with names of some tools); 'send out an X' (with names of plant parts)
    • pu- ... -an : to wear X' (body ornaments)
    • pun- : 'to catch X' (animals used for food)
    • qata- : bodily movement, observation, and the like
    • sha- : directional sense ('facing', etc.)
    • shan-na-Ca- ... : 'it's up to X' (often with pronouns)
    • shau- : 'go to X' or 'arrive at X' (with bases that have an inherently locative sense or temporal sense)
    • shi- : appears to mark past tense (as opposed to the perfective aspect marker -/in/-)
    • shi- : sometimes appears with commands
    • shi-X-X : 'X-ish, somewhat X'
    • shi-X-iz: 'X times'
    • shu- : 'bring X' or 'take X' (with pronominal and deictic bases)
    • tana- : generally directional sense (from Bunun /tana/- 'prefix of direction')
    • tau- : 'to carry X' (with concrete nouns); 'to turn to X' (with bases having a directional meaning)
    • tish- : forms both transitive and intransitive verbs; often refers to results of non-deliberate actions
    • tu-Ca- ... : 'the odor of X'
    • -um- : actor focus infix
    • un- ... -an : 'undesirable bodily conditions or afflictions'; 'figurative extension of a physical affliction'
    • -un : equivalent of -/in/ 'patient focus' (borrowed from Bunun)
    • -wak : 1st person singular actor (apparently distinct from -/ak/)
    • -wan : 'X's turn (to do something)'
    • ya- : only comes after /mapa/- 'reciprocal or collective action'
    • -zan : 'X paces' (used with numerals)
    • kan 'step, walk'
    • lhqa 'live, living'
    • pasaháy 'to use'
    • qalha 'much, many'
    • sa (usually almost impossible to translate in most environments)


    1. ^ a b Thao at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Thao". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
    3. ^ PAN *ni-ku
    4. ^ PAN *ni-Su
    5. ^ PAN *ni-a


    External links[edit]