Ask A Linguist For October 1997 - December 1997
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> From: Michael Churchman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> I am living in Taiwan with people who speak a language called "tayal"
> I noticed that it is sometimes very similar grammatically to the
> New Zealand Maori language. Is it a malayo-polynesian language?
> I noticed in one book that there were two different ways of
> counting, one, similar to Maori and the other (which is spoken where
> I live) very different. Are there two different languages both
> called Tayal? Where could I get information about the grammatical
> structure of the language here in Taiwan?
This language is called 'Atayal', Tai4ya3yu3 .u\&;y in Chinese.
It is an Austronesian language, like all the other aborigine languages of
Taiwan. Atayal is spoken over a large area of northern and eastern Taiwan.
Some scholars speculate that Taiwan is the homeland of all Austronesian
languages, since you find the greatest diversity from branch to branch
among Taiwan's aboriginal languages, more than you find between other
Maori, the aboriginal language of New Zealand, is also an
Austronesian language, though it belongs to the 'Eastern
Malayo-Polynesian' branch, while Atayal is classified as a 'Formosan'
You mention different varieties of Atayal. In fact there are quite
a few different dialects. The two main dialects are Atayal and Sediq.
Scholar Paul Jen-kuei Li ('u%t,Q Li3 Ren2 gui3) of the Academia Sinica
lists three subdialects for Sediq and 11 subdialects in two subgroups for
There are many works on Atayal. You might start with Der-Hwa
Victoria Raw's _A Grammar of Atayal_, available from Crane Books in
Taipei. Check the bibliography of this work for many other sources on
Atayal. Or just go to any good university library and do a search under
There are also teaching materials for Atayal and other Formosan
languages; Atayal is taught, for example, at Wulai Middle School just
outside Taipei with materials compiled by local governments and other
agencies. Various missionary groups have also compiled materials in
Karen Steffen Chung
National Taiwan University