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  • Notes on Pazeh Phonology and Morphology
  • Robert Blust

Pazeh, once the heritage of a substantial language community in the Puli basin of central Taiwan, appears to be down to its last fluent speaker. Several linguists have worked on the language in recent years, all drawing on the same resource, but arriving at somewhat different transcriptions and analyses. This paper presents an analysis of the synchronic and historical phonology of Pazeh, and provides the most complete inventory of affixes described to date. Loanwords suggest a period of fairly intensive contact with Taokas, thereby implying that the Pazeh were on the western plain within the relatively recent past. The linguistic position of Pazeh remains obscure, because some apparent exclusively shared innovations point to a closer relationship with Saisiyat, while others point to a closer relationship with Thao and the core group of Western Plains languages (Taokas, Papora, Hoanya, Favorlang/Babuza). Both in its phonology and its morphology, this little-studied language sheds light on aspects of Proto-Austronesian that are only feebly attested in the language family as a whole.

1. Introduction.

Nearly half of the 26 known Formosan aboriginal languages are extinct, their speakers culturally and linguistically absorbed into the dominant Taiwanese-speaking population that began to reach the island in significant numbers around the beginning of the seventeenth century. As in other parts of the world, the prospects for cultural and linguistic survival of the native peoples in Taiwan have tended to vary inversely with the quality of their lands. In the western plains, where the best agricultural lands are found, competition with incoming Taiwanese rice farmers forced the aboriginal peoples to an early decision: remain and be assimilated, or flee into the rugged Central Mountains. Groups such as the Taokas, Papora, Hoanya, Favorlang/Babuza, and Siraya chose the first alternative, and their former presence in the area is now detectable only through traces in the physical features of some elements of the population. Groups such as the Thao, on the other hand, fled into the high country, and were thereby able to postpone the day of reckoning that is now upon them (Blust 1996, 1999). The Pazeh (also known as Kahabu) live in the Puli Basin, an enclosed natural sink near the western flank of the Central Mountains at an elevation of about 1,000 meters. Given its advantages for agriculture, the Puli Basin attracted Taiwanese settlers from a relatively early time, and the Pazeh thus came under assimilatory pressure later than the peoples of the western plains, but sooner than most mountain aborigines.

Little useful information of any kind was available for Pazeh until Ferrell (1970) published a vocabulary of about 800 lexical items, with some accompanying remarks on phonology and grammar. At about the same time, Tsuchida (1969) compiled a draft dictionary that remains unpublished, but is the most complete source of lexical information available to date. More recently, Li (1978, to appear) and Lin (1988, 1999) have described various aspects of the morphology and syntax of the language. All later work, the present publication included, has benefited greatly from the foundations laid by the pioneering descriptions of Ferrell and Tsuchida.

Ferrell, who collected his data between 1967 and 1969, reports that some 2,000 persons in the vicinity of the town of Puli at that time identified themselves as Pazeh-Kahabu, "although about their only cultural distinctiveness from their Chinese neighbors is the fact that since the 1870s nearly all the Pazeh-Kahabu have been Presbyterians. Minnan-Chinese is now the primary language of all. Only people in their sixties and seventies have any knowledge of Pazeh-Kahabu, and few if any individuals under 50 know anything whatsoever of the language." Given this statement, written over 30 years ago, the prospects of recovering further information on Pazeh did not appear promising when I arrived in Taiwan in 1994 in the hope of doing salvage linguistics with some of the most endangered Austronesian languages.

Fortunately, Ferrell's prognosis, while generally true, has turned out to be overly pessimistic, as at least one full speaker of Pazeh is still alive. The data in this paper are based entirely on the speech of Mrs. Pan Jin-yu, born...


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