Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Juliette Blevins

Committee Members

Jason Kandybowicz

Daniel Kaufman

Arthur Holmer

Subject Categories

Comparative and Historical Linguistics | Language Description and Documentation | Phonetics and Phonology | Typological Linguistics and Linguistic Diversity


Formosan, Austronesian, prosody, intonation, endangered languages, Taiwan


The Formosan languages are the languages of the Aboriginal peoples of Taiwan. These languages are part of the Austronesian language family, and represent all but one primary branch of this family of 1,200+ languages. The Formosan languages are endangered, some critically so. While these languages have seen attention in the literature for their syntactic and phonological systems, little work has been done on their prosodic structure or intonation.

This dissertation analyzes the prosodic structure and intonational phonology of Mantauran Rukai, Budai Rukai, Tsou, Kanakanavu, Hla’alua, Sandimen Paiwan, Piuma Paiwan, Kavalan, Amis, Bunun, Tgdaya Seediq, Truku Seediq, and Pazeh, based on original fieldwork. In addition, archival materials are incorporated into analyses of Tsou, Truku Seediq, Tgdaya Seediq, and Puyuma.

This study finds that the Formosan languages show rich tonal phonologies in their intonational systems, and have complex interactions between stress assignment and morphology. Some examples include the following: Mantauran Rukai, previously described as an initial-stress language, actually has a complex stress assignment system with an alternation between first- and third-syllable stress, which as a system is unique in descriptions of stress assignment in the world’s languages. Hla’alua (Saaroa), previously described as having free variation between antepenultimate and penultimate stress, actually has an accent system in which some lexical items are consistently produced without an accented syllable, while others are. Hla’alua also has a rich tonal phonology assigned at two higher levels of the prosodic hierarchy. Kavalan has a unique rule that causes spreading tones to shift to the opposite domain edge when a certain number of tonal elements are aligned to the same boundary. Elements of the intonational phonology in Amis and Kavalan include glottal stops in addition to tonal elements. Bunun has distinct pitch accent melodies for words vs. clitics.

In addition to the unique features found in individual Formosan languages, this dissertation’s comparative study finds at least two geographic areas within Taiwan in which features of prosody and intonation cluster. One is southwestern Taiwan, including Tsou, Kanakanavu, Hla’alua, and Rukai, which share features including a lack of glide-vowel contrasts and variability of initial H vs. L elements in certain prosodic domains. The other is eastern Taiwan, including Amis, Kavalan, and Puyuma, which share features including suppression of non-IP-final pitch accents, alternations between ultimate and pre-ultimate F0 peaks across intonational contours, and interactions between glottal stop epenthesis and intonational phonology.