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  • A reference grammar of Puyuma, an Austronesian language of Taiwan
  • Hsiu-Chuan Liao
Stacy Fang-Ching Teng. 2008. A reference grammar of Puyuma, an Austronesian language of Taiwan. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics 595. xviii + 309 pp. ISBN 978-085-88-3587-0. $Aust. 77.00 (Australia), $Aust. 70.00 (elsewhere), paper.

Puyuma is an Austronesian language spoken by the Puyuma people living in Taitung City and Peinan Township in Taitung County of southeast Taiwan (1). Traditionally, the Puyuma are said to comprise eight villages, known as pa-fan-sher (‘eight aboriginal villages’) in Mandarin Chinese. They are Puyuma (Nanwang), Katipul, Rikavung (Rikabung), Tamalakaw, Kasavakan (Kasabakan), Pinaski, Alipa, and Ulivelivek (Ulibulibuk) (3). The variety of Puyuma investigated in this study is the Nanwang dialect spoken in Nanwang and the Paoshang suburbs of Taitung City in southern Taiwan (1). Although the total number of ethnic Puyuma is 12,323 as of March 2011 (, the number of Puyuma speakers is probably less than 1,000 (3). As of today, Puyuma is still a language with relatively few descriptions. Teng’s (henceforth T) work is a welcome contribution to this under-described language. T provides a relatively clear description of various aspects of Puyuma grammar. The volume doubtless provides the starting point for more comprehensive documentation of the Puyuma language in the future.

The volume under review includes sixteen chapters. Chapter 1 briefly introduces the goal of this study, the general background of the Puyuma people and the language (including its geographical setting and speakers, traditional culture and social organization, dialects, language use, orthography, and the linguistic position of Puyuma within Austronesian), previous studies, and methodology.

Chapter 2, “Phonetics and phonology,” discusses the phonemic inventory, syllable structure, phonotactics, word stress, and morphophonemics in Nanwang Puyuma. Four points concerning Nanwang Puyuma phonology deserve special attention. First, Puyuma has a unique consonant, the voiceless retroflex stop /ʈ/, which is not found in other Formosan languages (except for Tanan Rukai, which has borrowed it from Puyuma) (12). Second, Nanwang Puyuma has voiced stops. According to Li (1991:26) and Ting (1978:325–26), Nanwang Puyuma is the only dialect of Puyuma that preserves Proto-Puyuma voiced stops as voiced stops (rather than weakening them to fricatives as in all other Puyuma dialects) (5, 12). This unique phonological feature has led to a commonly held hypothesis that Nanwang Puyuma is the most conservative dialect of Puyuma (5). Third, T claims that consonant clusters are only permitted across a syllable boundary; moreover, only nonidentical consonants or heterorganic oral stops can occur as consonant clusters across a syllable boundary (21). However, in table 2.6, we find that the following medial clusters are not possible consonant clusters in Puyuma: -ttr-, -trt-, -drt-, -dtr-, -trd-, -tdr- (21). If we follow her description of Puyuma phonotactics, we would expect these medial clusters to be possible clusters, because the two adjacent consonants are neither identical nor homorganic (one is alveolar and the other is retroflex). Similarly, we would expect sequences like -’k-, -k’-, -g’-, -’g- (that is, glottal stop next to velar stops /k/ and /g/) to be possible clusters in the language, but in fact they are not. It seems that T’s description is not comprehensive enough to account for all the impermissible clusters in [End Page 590] table 2.6. Fourth, two types of assimilation are found in Puyuma: vowel harmony and rounding assimilation. Vowel harmony, which is defined as “a phonological phenomenon where neighboring vowels assimilate to each other” (24), is probably better defined as “a phonological process in which the quality of a vowel is altered in such a way as to make it more similar to another vowel in the same phonological word,” because it applies to nonadjacent vowels. “Rounding assimilation” is probably better termed “labial assimilation,” because it is a labial (not necessarily a rounded) consonant that triggers the optional change of a schwa to a rounded vowel (25).

Chapter 3, “Morphology,” deals with morphological units and word-formation processes (especially reduplication) in Puyuma. Morphological units identified in Puyuma are affixes, roots, stems, clitics, and words. Affixes are divided into four types: prefixes (for example, mi-, pa-, ma-, and so on...


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