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Kavalan language

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Kavalan language

kbaran [kɨβaˈɾan]
Native to Taiwan
Ethnicity Kavalan
Native speakers
24  (2000)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ckv
Glottolog kava1241[2]
(dark green, north) The Kavalanic languages: Basai, Ketagalan, and Kavalan

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.


Kavalan consists of the following speech communities ordered from north to south (Li 2006:1):[3]

  • 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).


In Kavalan, Proto-Austronesian phonemes have merged as follows:[3]

  • *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).



The Kavalan phonemic inventory is as follows (Li 2006:3):

  • True consonants: /p, t, k, q, s, z, b, ʀ, m, n, ng, l, r/[4]
  • Semivowels: /w, y/
  • Glottal stop: /'/
  • Vowels: /i, u, e, a/

In total, there are 16 consonants and 4 vowels.

Kavalan nouns and verbs are distinguished by the lack of /a/ in the first syllable (nouns) or presence of /a/ (verbs).[3] 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. ^ Paul Jen-kuei Li
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kavalan". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b c *Paul Jen-kuei Li (李壬癸) and Shigeru Tsuchida (土田滋) (2006) Kavalan Dictionary. Language and Linguistics Monograph Series A-19. ISBN 978-986-00-6993-8.
  4. ^ /z, b, r/ are actually voiced fricatives, but are rendered in Li (2006) as such for convenience.

General references

  • Paul Jen-kuei Li (李壬癸) and Shigeru Tsuchida (土田滋) (2006) Kavalan Dictionary. Language and Linguistics Monograph Series A-19. ISBN 978-986-00-6993-8
  • Blust, Robert. 2009. The Austronesian Languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. ISBN 0-85883-602-5, ISBN 978-0-85883-602-0

External links

  • Taiwan government publications: Kavalan dictionary
  • The Academy in Taipei press release: Kavalan dictionary published
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