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Siraya language

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Title: Siraya language  
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Subject: East Formosan languages, Austronesian languages, Kanakanabu language, Saaroa language, Rukai language
Collection: Extinct Languages of Asia, Formosan Languages
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Siraya language

Native to Taiwan
Region Southwestern, around present-day Tainan, from Peimen to Hengchun to Tapu.
Extinct end of 19th century; revitalization movement
Siraya proper
Language codes
ISO 639-3 fos
Glottolog sira1267[1]
(pink) Siraya

Siraya is a Formosan language spoken until the end of the 19th century by the indigenous Siraya people of Taiwan. Dialects of Siraya included Taivoa and Makatao.

Several Siraya communities have been involved in a Sirayan cultural and language revitalization movement for more than a decade. Through linguistic research and language teaching, the natives are 'awaking' their mother tongue that has been 'dormant' for a century. Today a group of Siraya children in the Shinhua township particularly in Kou-pei and Chiou Chen Lin area are able to speak and sing in the Siraya language.[2]


  • Dialects 1
  • Sources 2
  • Phonology 3
  • Grammar 4
    • Pronouns 4.1
    • Function words 4.2
    • Verbs 4.3
  • Numerals 5
  • Examples 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8


The Siraya dialects (or sometimes Sirayaic languages) are:

  • Siraya proper — spoken in the coastal area of Tainan Plain.
  • Taivuan — spoken mostly in the inland of Tainan Plain to the north (just west of Southern Tsouic territories).
  • Makatau — spoken in Kaohsiung and Pingtung Prefectures to the south (just west of Paiwan territories).

Paul Jen-kuei Li (2009) attempted a classification.[3] However, Li (2009) found two conflicting trees:

1. Tree based on the number of phonological innovations

  • Sirayaic
    • Taivuan
    • Siraya–Makatau
      • Siraya
      • Makatau

2. Tree based on the relative chronology of sound changes

  • Sirayaic
    • Siraya
    • Taivuan–Makatau
      • Taivuan
      • Makatau

Li (2009) considers the second tree (the one containing the Taivuan–Makatau group) to be the somewhat more likely one.


The Siraya language entered the historical record in the early 17th century when traders from the Dutch East India Company, expelled from mainland China and Chinese waters, set up a stronghold on Taiwan at Fort Zeelandia, which was in the Siraya-speaking area. During the period of Dutch rule in Taiwan, Calvinist missionaries used Siraya and Babuza (also known as Favorlang) as contact languages. A translation of the Gospel of St. Matthew into Siraya (174 pages of Siraya and Dutch text, Gravius 1661)[4] and a catechism in Siraya (288 pages of Siraya and Dutch text, Gravius 1662)[5] were published, and have been subsequently republished.[6] The Dutch colony was driven out in 1661 by Ming loyalist refugees from China, and Taiwan was subsequently incorporated into the Qing Empire. During the period of Qing Dynasty rule, use of Siraya receded, but some Siraya language materials survive in the form of Siraya land contracts with Chinese translations, known as the Sinckan Manuscripts. The last records were lists of words made in the early 19th century.

The Tainan Ping-pu Siraya Association is compiling the first modern-day Siraya glossary. Publication is scheduled for November 2008.


The phonological system of Siraya is speculated by Adelaar (1997) to have the following phonemes.

Consonants (18-20 total)

b d nḡ[7]
p t k
m n ng
l, r
v z
[f] s x h
w y

Vowels (7 total)

  • a, ä, i (ĭ), e, ə, u (ŭ), o

Diphthongs (6 total)

  • ay, ey, uy, äw, aw, ow

Palatalization also occurs in many words.


Siraya auxiliaries constitute an open class and are placed at the head of the verb phrase (Adelaar 1997).


The Siraya personal pronouns below are from Adelaar (1997).

Siraya Personal Pronouns
Type of
Free Actor or
Topic Oblique
1s. ĭau -(m)au -koh ĭau-an
2s. ĭmhu -(m)uhu, -(m)oho -kow ĭmhu-an
3s. teni tĭn teni tĭni-än (tĭni-an)
1p. (incl.) ĭmĭtta -(m)ĭtta, -(m)eta -kĭtta ĭmittä-n
1p. (excl.) ĭmi-an -(m)ian, -(m)iän -kame mian-än (mian-an)
2p. ĭmumi -(m)umi (-)kamu ĭmumi-än (ĭmumi-an)
3p. ta neini nein neini neini-än (neini-an)

Function words

The list of function words below is sourced from Adelaar (1997).


  • atta, k(a)-atta 'this, these'
  • anna, k(a)-anna 'that, those'


  • mang 'what?'
  • ti mang 'who?'
  • tu mang 'where'
  • mama mang, mama ki mang, mameymang 'how?'
  • kaumang 'why?'

Negation markers

  • assi (also "aoussi") 'no(t)'
  • ĭnna' don't'
  • nĭnno 'nothing'
  • mi-kakua.. . assi ("myhkaqua ... assi") 'never'
  • ĭnnang ("ynnang") 'refuse to, not want to; don't'

Other words

  • ti - personal article
  • ta - topic marker
  • tu - locative marker
  • ki - default relation marker
  • tu ämäx ki - "before"
  • tu lam ki - "together with"
  • ka - coordinating conjunction (links verbal clauses)


The following list of Siraya verb affixes is from Adelaar (1997).

  • ni-: past tense
  • ma-, m-, -m-: actor focus / orientation
  • pa-: undergoer focus / orientation
  • mey- ~ pey-: actor- and undergoer-oriented verbs (used with verbs describing a high degree of physical involvement)
  • mu- ~ (p)u-: actor- and undergoer-oriented verbs (used with verbs describing a movement toward something)
  • ma-: stative intransitive verbs; words with no apparent word-class affiliations (precategorials)
  • paka-: causative
  • pa-: transitive (often with causative result)
  • ka-: expresses feeling, emotion, sensation (undergoer-oriented verbs and deverbal nouns only)
  • -ən, -an: undergoer focus / orientation
  • -a, -ey, -aw: irrealis
  • -(l)ato: possibly a perfective marker

See also Proto-Austronesian language for a list of Proto-Austronesian verbal affixes.


Like Bunun and many other Formosan languages, Siraya has a rich set of verbal classifier prefixes.

  • mattäy- / pattäy-: "talking, saying"
  • smaki-: "throwing,casting"
  • sau-: "swearing, making an oath"
  • mu-, pu-: movement into a certain direction
  • mey- / pey-: high degree of physical involvement
  • sa-: movement through a narrow place
  • taw-: downward movement, a movement within a confined space


Siraya has a base ten numeral system with the following forms:[6]

Siraya Numerals
Cardinal Ordinal
1 saat, sa-saat nawnamu
2 ruha, ru-ruha ka-ra-ruha
3 turu, tu-turu ka-ta-turu
4 xpat, pa-xpat ka-axpat
5 rima, ri-rima ka-ri-rima
6 nom, nə-nəm ka-annəm
7 pĭttu, pĭ-pĭttu ka-pa-pĭttu
8 kuixpa ka-kuixpa
9 matuda ka-matuda, ka-ma-matuda
10 saat kĭttiän ka-sasaat kĭttiän
Examples of higher numerals
12 saat kĭttiän äb ki ruha
14 saat kĭttiän äb ki pat
30 turu kĭttiän
60 nənnəm kĭttiän
99 matuda kĭttiän äb ki matuda
100 saat ka-ätux-an
4,000 xpat ka-tunnun-an
5,000 lima ka-tunnun-an


See also


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Siraya". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Musu hapa Siraya (Chinese)
  3. ^ Li, Paul Jen-kuei. 2009. "Linguistic differences among Siraya, Taivuan, and Makatau." In Alexander Adelaar and Andrew Pawley (eds.). Austronesian historical linguistics and culture history: a festschrift for Robert Blust. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.
  4. ^ Gravius, Daniel (1661). Het heylige Euangelium Matthei en Johannis. Ofte Hagnau ka d'llig matiktik ka na sasoulat ti Mattheus ti Johannes appa. Amsterdam: Michiel Hartogh. 
  5. ^ Gravius, Daniel (1661). Patar ki tna-'msing-an ki Christang ofte. 't Formulier des Christendoms. Amsterdam: Michiel Hartogh. 
  6. ^ a b Adelaar, K.A. (1997). "Grammar notes on Siraya, an extinct Formosan language". Oceanic Linguistics (University of Hawai'i Press) 36 (2): 362–397.  
  7. ^ The exact phonemic value of "nḡ," as it appears in Siraya language documents, is unknown.
  • Adelaar, K. Alexander. 1997. Grammar Notes on Siraya, an Extinct Formosan Language. Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Dec., 1997), pp. 362–397.
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