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Bunun language

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Bunun language

Native to Taiwan
Ethnicity Bunun people
Native speakers
38,000  (2002)[1]
  • Bunun
North–Central (Takitudu–Takbanuao)
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bnn
Glottolog bunu1267[2]
(medium green, center) Bunun

The Bunun language (Chinese: 布農語) is spoken by the Bunun people of Taiwan. It is one of the Formosan languages, a geographic group of Austronesian languages, and is subdivided in five dialects: Isbukun, Takbunuaz, Takivatan, Takibaka and Takituduh. Isbukun, the dominant dialect, is mainly spoken in the south of Taiwan. Takbunuaz and Takivatan are mainly spoken in the center of the country. Takibaka and Takituduh both are northern dialects. A sixth dialect, Takipulan, became extinct in the 1970s.

The Saaroa and Kanakanabu, two smaller minority groups who share their territory with an Isbukun Bunun group, have also adopted Bunun as their vernacular.


Li (1988) splits the Bunun dialects into 3 main branches — Northern, Central, and Isbukun (also classified as Southern Bunun).[3] Isbukun, the prestige dialect, is also the most divergent dialect. The most conservative dialects are spoken in the north.

  • Proto-Bunun
    • Isbukun
    • North-Central
      • Northern
        • Takituduh
        • Takibakha
      • Central
        • Takbanuað
        • Takivatan

Bunun was originally spoken in and around Sinyi Township (Xinyi, 信義鄉) in Nantou County (De Busser 2009:63). From the 17th century onwards, the Bunun people expanded towards the south and east, absorbing other ethnic groups such as the Saaroa, Kanakanabu, and Thao. Bunun is spoken in an area stretching from Ren-ai Township (仁愛鄉) in Nantou in the north to Yan-ping Township (延平鄉) in Taitung in the south. Isbukun is distributed throughout Nantou, Taitung, and Kaohsiung. Takbanuað is spoken in Nantou and southern Hualien County. Takivatan is spoken in Nantou and central Hualien. Both Takituduh and Takibakha are spoken in Nantou.



Consonant inventory
  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive p           t   k   q   ʔ  
Implosive   ɓ           ɗ            
Fricative       v   ð s       χ   h  
Nasal   m           n   ŋ        
Approximant               l            

Orthographic notes:

  • /ɓ ɗ/ are usually represented as [b d].
  • /ð/ is represented as [z], /ŋ/ as [ng], /ʔ/ as ['], and //as [j].


  • The glides /j w/ exist, but are derived from the underlying vowels /i u/ to meet the requirements that syllables must have onset consonants. They are therefore not part of the consonant inventory.
  • The dental fricative /ð/ is actually interdental (/ð̟/).
  • In the Isbukun dialect, /χ/ often occurs in final or post-consonantal position and /h/ in initial and intervocalic position, whereas other dialects have /q/ in both of these positions.
  • While Isbukun drops the intervocalic glottal stops (/ʔ/) found in other dialects, /ʔ/ also occurs where /h/ occurs in other dialects. (For example, the Isbukun word [mapais] bitter is [mapaʔis] in other dialects; the Isbukun word [luʔum] 'cloud' is [luhum] in other dialects.)
  • The alveolar affricate // occurs in the Taitung variety of Isbukun, usually represented in other dialects as /t/.[4]


Vowel inventory
Front Central Back
High i u
Mid e
Low a


  • /e/ does not occur in Isbukun.



Bunun is a verb-initial language and has an Austronesian alignment system or focus system. This means that Bunun clauses do not have a nominative–accusative or absolutive–ergative alignment, but that arguments of a clause are ordered according to which participant in the event described by the verb is 'in focus'. In Bunun, four distinct roles can be in focus:

  • the agent: the person or thing that is doing the action or achieving/maintaining a state;
  • the undergoer: the person or thing that is somehow participating in the action without being an agent; there are three kinds of undergoers:
    • patients: persons or things to whom an action is done or an event happens
    • instruments: things (sometimes persons) which are used to perform an action
    • beneficiaries (also called recipients): the persons (sometimes things) for whom an action is done or for whom an event happens
  • the locative participant: the location where an action takes place; in languages with a Philippine-style voice system, spatial location is often at the same level in a clause as agents and patients, rather than being an adverbial clause, like in English (see [5] for a discussion of location in Tagalog).

Which argument is in focus is indicated on the verb by a combination of prefixes and suffixes .[6]

  • a verb in agent focus is often unmarked, but can get the prefix ma- or - more rarely - pa- or ka-
  • a verb in undergoer focus gets a suffix -un
  • a verb locative focus gets a suffix -an

Many other languages with a focus system have different marking for patients, instruments and beneficiaries, but this is not the case in Bunun. The focussed argument in a Bunun clause will normally always occur immediately after the verb (e.g. in an actor-focus clause, the agent will appear before any other participant) and is in the Isbukun dialect marked with a post-nominal marker a.[6]

Bunun has a very large class of auxiliary verbs. Concepts that are expressed by auxiliaries include:

  • negation (ni 'be not' and uka 'have not')
  • modality and volition (e.g. maqtu 'can, be allowed')
  • relative time (e.g. ngausang 'first, beforehand', qanaqtung 'be finished')
  • comparison (maszang 'the same, similarly')
  • question words (e.g. via 'why?')
  • sometimes numerals (e.g. tatini '(be) alone, (be) only one')

In fact, Bunun auxiliaries express all sorts of concepts that in English would be expressed by adverbial phrases, with the exception of time and place, which are normally expressed with adverbial phrases.

Word classes

Takivatan Bunun has the following word classes (De Busser 2009:189). (Note: Words in open classes can be compounded, whereas those in closed classes cannot.)

Open classes
  1. Nouns
  2. Verbs
  3. Adjectives
Closed classes
  1. Demonstratives
  2. Anaphoric pronouns
  3. Personal pronouns
  4. Numerals
  5. Place words
  6. Time words
  7. Manner words
  8. Question words
  9. Auxiliaries


Bunun is morphologically agglutinative language and has a very elaborate set of derivational affixes (more than 200, which are mostly prefixes), most of which derive verbs from other word classes.[7] Some of these prefixes are special in that they do not only occur in the verb they derive, but are also foreshadowed on a preceding auxiliary. These are called lexical prefixes[8] or anticipatory prefixes[9] and only occur in Bunun and a small number of other Formosan languages.

Below are some Takivatan Bunun verbal prefixes from De Busser (2009).

Takivatan Bunun verbal prefixes
Type of prefix Neutral Causative Accusative
Movement from mu- pu- ku-
Dynamic event ma- pa- ka-
Stative event ma- / mi- pi- ka- / ki-
Inchoative event min- pin- kin-

In short:

  • Movement from: Cu-
  • Dynamic event: Ca-
  • Stative event: Ci-
  • Inchoative event: Cin-
  • Neutral: mV-
  • Causative: pV-
  • Accusative: kV-

A more complete list of Bunun affixes from De Busser (2009) is given below.

  • agent focus (AF):
  • undergoer focus (UF): -un (also used as a nominalizer)
  • locative focus (LF): -an (also used as a nominalizer)
Tense-aspect-mood (TAM) affixes
  • na- irrealis (futurity, consequence, volition, imperatives). This is also the least bound TAM prefix.
  • -aŋ progressive (progressive aspect, simultaneity, expressing wishes/optative usage)
  • -in perfective (completion, resultative meaning, change of state, anteriority)
  • -in- past/resultative (past, past/present contrast)
  • -i- past infix which occurs only occasionally
Participant cross-reference
  • -Ø agent
  • -un patient
  • -an locative
  • is- instrumental
  • ki- beneficiary
Locative prefixes
  • Stationary ‘at, in’: i-
  • Itinerary ‘arrive at’: atan-, pan-, pana-
  • Allative ‘to’: mu-, mun-
  • Terminative ‘until’: sau-
  • Directional ‘toward, in the direction of’: tan-, tana-
  • Viative ‘along, following’: malan-
  • Perlative ‘through, into’: tauna-, tuna-, tun-
  • Ablative ‘from’: maisna-, maina-, maisi-, taka-
Event-type prefixes
  • ma- Marks dynamic events
  • ma- Marks stative events
  • mi- Marks stative negative events
  • a- Unproductive stative prefix
  • paŋka- Marks material properties (stative)
  • min- Marks result states (transformational)
  • pain- Participatory; marks group actions
  • pa- causative of dynamic verb
  • pi- causative of stative verb
  • pu- cause to go towards
Classification of events
  • mis- burning events
  • tin- shock events
  • pala- splitting events
  • pasi- separating events
  • kat- grasping events
Patient-incorporating prefixes
  • bit- 'lightning'
  • kun- 'wear'
  • malas- 'speak'
  • maqu- 'use'
  • muda- 'walk'
  • pas- 'spit'
  • qu- 'drink'
  • sa- 'see'
  • tal- 'wash'
  • tapu- 'have trait'
  • tastu- 'belong'
  • taus-/tus- 'give birth'
  • tin- 'harvest'
  • tum- 'drive'
  • pu- verbalizer: 'to hunt for'
  • maqu- verbalizer: 'to use'
  • malas- verbalizer: 'to speak'


Takivatan Bunun personal pronoun roots are (De Busser 2009:453):

  • 1s: -ak-
  • 2s: -su-
  • 3s: -is-
  • 1p (incl.): -at-
  • 1p (excl.): -ðam-
  • 2p: -(a)mu-
  • 3p: -in-

The tables of Takivatan Bunun personal pronouns below are sourced from De Busser (2009:441).

Takivatan Bunun Personal Pronouns
Type of
Root Foc. Agent
Non-Foc. Agent
Neutral Foc. Agent Locative Possessive
1s. -ak- -(ʔ)ak -(ʔ)uk ðaku, nak sak, saikin ðakuʔan inak, ainak, nak
2s. -su- -(ʔ)as - suʔu, su - suʔuʔan isu, su
1p. (incl.) -at- - - mita ʔata, inʔata mitaʔan imita
1p. (excl.) -ðam- -(ʔ)am - ðami, nam ðamu, sam ðamiʔan inam, nam
2p. -(a)mu- -(ʔ)am - muʔu, mu amu muʔuʔan imu, mu
Takivatan Bunun
Third-Person Personal Pronouns
Singular Plural
[Root] -is- -in-
Proximal isti inti
Medial istun intun
Distal ista inta
Iskubun Bunun personal pronouns are somewhat different (De Busser 2009:454).
Iskubun Bunun Personal Pronouns
Type of
Agent Undergoer Possessive
1s. saikin, -ik ðaku, -ku inak, nak
2s. kasu, -as su isu, su
3s. saia saiʤa isaiʤa, saiʤa
1p. (incl.) kata, -ta mita imita
1p. (excl.) kaimin, -im ðami inam
2p. kamu, -am mu imu
3p. naia inaiʤa naiʤa


Takivatan Bunun has the following demonstrative roots and affixes (De Busser 2009:454):

Demonstrative suffixes
  1. Proximal: -i
  2. Medial: -un
  3. Distal: -a
Demonstrative roots
  1. aip-: singular
  2. aiŋk-: vague plural
  3. aint-: paucal
  4. ait-: inclusive generic
Demonstrative prefixes
  1. Ø-: visible
  2. n-: not visible
Place words
  1. ʔiti here
  2. ʔitun there (medial)
  3. ʔita there (distal)

Function words

  • sia anaphoric marker, "aforementioned"; also used as a hesitation marker
  • tu attributive marker
  • duma "others"
  • itu honorific marker

Takivatan Bunun also has definitive markers.

Takivatan Bunun
Definiteness Markers
Singular Plural
Proximal -ti -ki
Medial -tun -kun
Distal -ta -ka


  1. ^ Bunun at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Bunun". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Li, Paul Jen-kuei. 1988. A Comparative Study of Bunun Dialects. In Li, Paul Jen-kuei, 2004, Selected Papers on Formosan Languages. Taipei, Taiwan: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica.
  4. ^ De Busser, Rik. Introduction to the Bunun language (Languages of Taiwan, 2011), pp. 7-8.
  5. ^ Schachter & Otanes 1972
  6. ^ a b Zeitoun 2000
  7. ^ Lin & al. 2001
  8. ^ Nojima 1996
  9. ^ Adelaar 2004


  • Adelaar, K. Alexander. 2004. The coming and going of ‘lexical prefixes’ in Siraya. Language and Linguistics/語言暨語言學 5(2): 333-361.
  • De Busser, Rik. 2009. Towards a Grammar of Takivatan: Selected Topics. PhD dissertation at the Research Centre for Linguistic Typology, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
  • Jeng, Heng-hsiung. 1977. Topic and Focus in Bunun. Taipei: Academia Sinica.
  • Nojima, Motoyasu. 1996. Lexical prefixes of Bunun verbs. Gengo Kenkyu: Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan 110: 1-27.
  • Li, Paul Jen-Kuei. 1988. A comparative study of Bunun dialects. Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica 59(2): 479-508.
  • Schachter, Paul and Fe T. Otanes. 1972. Tagalog Reference Grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • 齊莉莎 (Zeitoun, Elizabeth). 2000. 布農語參考語法. Taipei:遠流/YLib.
  • 林太 (Lin Tai), 曾思奇 (Zeng Si-Qi), 李文甦 (Li Wen-Su) and 卜袞 (Bukun). 2001. Isbukun.布農語構詞法研究. Taipei: 讀冊文化/Du-Ce Wen-Hua.
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