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Updated: 6/21/2020


Austronesian Comparative Dictionary


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Ni    Nu    


*Namat iron (metal)


PAN     *Namat iron (metal)

Taokas tamatiron
Kavalan namatiron; weapon

Note:   This is a critically important comparison that should be considered in conjunction with *diNaŋ ‘rust’. According to Tsuchida (1982) in May, 1917 the form tamat was recorded by an unnamed Japanese colonial policeman from one of the last speakers of Taokas, which soon after became extinct. This material was then transferred to the pioneering Formosan linguist Naoyoshi Ogawa, where it remained in his notebooks until it was rediscovered in recent decades. No other reflex of *Namat is known, and there are essentially two reasonable explanations for this distribution. One is that the word is a loan from Taokas to Kavalan or vice-versa (or perhaps from an intermediate language that has since lost it, such as the inadequately known Liulang). Within modern times Taokas and Kavalan have not been in contact, and they are separated by a considerable mountain massif now peopled by speakers of Atayal However, there is some evidence that the Atayalic peoples have moved northward into their present territory within the past few centuries (Blust 1996:283-288), and it is thus possible that prior to the Atayal reaching their historically attested distribution the Taokas had a wider east-west territorial spread than they had when linguistic and ethnographic recording in this part of Taiwan began during the Japanese colonial period starting in 1895.

The second explanation, of course, is that these terms are simply the last relics of a word that was used by the original Austronesian settlers of Taiwan in the period 5,500-6,000 BP. Since known reflexes of *diNaŋ ‘rust’ are restricted to Saisiyat and Paiwan, where borrowing is effectively not an issue, this second explanation for reflexes of *Namat seems clearly to be favored. The issue of early Austronesian knowledge and possible use of iron has come up before in conjunction with a different set of comparisons (Blust 1976, 1999), with the strongest evidence pointing to a language ancestral to those in at least the Philippines and western Indonesia, but not Taiwan. The evidence for *diNaŋ ‘rust’ and *Namat ‘iron’ pushes the inferences for knowledge of iron back to the earliest stages of reconstructed history in the Austronesian language family. Given the predominant view among archaeologists and other scholars that use of the iron is a relatively late development in island Southeast Asia these linguistic comparisons are sure to come under fire. However, both comparisons are firmly established, and they provide two independent lines of evidence leading to the same conclusion. In discussing the material culture of the Formosan aborigines Chen (1988:146) rather matter-of-factly notes that “Spears are used by all tribes,” and he describes a wide variety of spears and harpoons, all of which have iron heads. He also notes that arrowheads were commonly made of iron, but he provides no information of any kind on metallurgy in general, or the process of making iron points for spears or arrows in particular, and we are not told whether the earliest Chinese reports on the aborigines noted that they were using iron-tipped arrows and spears. However, given the two independent pieces of linguistic evidence cited here it seems clear that anyone wishing to understand the culture history of the Austronesian-speaking peoples must give serious consideration to the possibility that iron was used on Taiwan for the manufacture of at least arrow and spear/harpoon heads from a far earlier time than is commonly accepted. Whether this continued after the Austronesian migration to the Philippines and beyond is a distinct question.

Finally, Saisiyat malat ‘knife’ may reflect this form with metathesis (*Namat > *maNat), a possibility suggested to me in correspondence by David Zorc.


*Naqeji boundary between adjacent rice fields


PAN     *Naqeji boundary between adjacent rice fields

Pazeh laaziboundary
Paiwan (Southern) lʸa-lʸaqedi-anboundary between fields

Note:   Li and Tsuchida (2006) give Pazeh laazi < lazi ‘boundary’ without explanation, but the longer form seems clearly to be the more conservative of the two.

TOP      Ni    Nu    



*Nibu lair, den of an animal


PAN     *Nibu lair, den of an animal   [doublet: *Rubu]

Proto-Atayalic libuden, nest
Saisiyat libonest
Favorlang/Babuza sjibonest
Thao zifunest (of bird, termite), beehive
Paiwan lʸivuden or nest of rat or wild pig


*Nihib rock shelter, cave under a rock


PAN     *Nihib rock shelter, cave under a rock

Saisiyat ka-lhibcave under a rock
Puyuma ilib <Mcave (Ting 1978); a cliff notch where human beings can rest (Cauquelin 2011)
Paiwan lʸivcavern, cave, den
  cu-a-lʸivplace where there are many caves (or rock overhangs)
Paiwan (Western) lʸivshelter under overhanging rock
Amis dihifcave, den
Amis (Kiwit) ɬihivcave

Note:   Also Kavalan lihib ‘cave, ledge’, said to be a “loan from Amis lihib” (Li and Tsuchida 2006:143). This reconstruction is somewhat tentative, since the inclusion of Saisiyat ka-lhib depends on a morpheme division of somewhat dubious status, and without the Saisiyat form the word is attested only in languages that are geographically contiguous, hence raising the prospect of borrowing, a possibility that is strengthened by the apparent borrowing of a dialectal Amis form into Kavalan. In favor of maintaining the comparison, on the other hand, are the observation that medial consonant clusters in Saisiyat always reflect earlier sequences in which an intervening vowel has dropped, and the appearance of an unexplained ka- on a number of other nouns, as Saisiyat (Taai) ka-kliw (< *keRiw) ‘hemp’, kæ-ʔLor ‘pillar’ (< *qelud ‘main house post’, ka-sbol (< *CebuN) ‘smoke’, and ka-tboʃ (< *tebuS) ‘sugarcane’.

Given the specific agreements between Saisiyat and Paiwan (Western) the meaning seems clearly to have been ‘rock shelter, cave under an overhanging rock’ rather than simply ‘cave’. We can only wonder why such a feature of the natural landscape was deemed sufficiently important to be lexically encoded in a unique way, but it is possible that such natural shelters were frequently used by the indigenous population of hunter-gatherers (bearers of the palaeolithic Ch’angpinian archaeological culture) who were encountered by Austronesian-speakers when they arrived in Taiwan, and who disappeared from the island within centuries of that event.

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*NuqeS bone marrow


PAN     *NuqeS bone marrow

Seediq (Truku) loqebrains; bone marrow
Saisiyat lœʔəʃmarrow
Bunun nuqusanimal oil
Amis doʔesbone marrow
Paiwan lʸuqesbone marrow
Amis (Kiwit) ɬuqus nu ukakmarrow (lit. ‘marrow of the bones’)


*Nutud join two things to give added length (rope, bamboo, etc.)


PAN     *Nutud join two things to give added length (rope, bamboo, etc.)

Saisiyat l<om>otorjoin, link
Kavalan nutuztie two strings together; to connect, join two things to prolong them (bamboo, thread, etc.)

Note:   Also Amis dotoc ‘to add a piece making something long enough; to connect a piece; to continue work the parent did; inheriting’.

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Austronesian Comparative Dictionary, web edition
Robert Blust and Stephen Trussel
2010: revision 6/21/2020
email: Blust (content) – Trussel (production)