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A documentation of Saaroa, a Moribund Austronesian Language of Taiwan


Language Saaroa
Depositor Chiajung Pan
Affiliation Nankai University, China
Location Taiwan
Collection ID 0379
Grant ID SG0326
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This is a 12-month project, for the purpose of documenting the Saaroa language, a moribund Austronesian language of Taiwan. Spoken by approximately 10 people in Taoyuan District, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, Saaroa, an underdescribed language, is not actively spoken in the community anymore and may be the next extinct Formosan language (the other two possible candidates are Thao and Kanakanavu). This project will pay attention to documentation of a variety of texts, including colloquial speech, traditional stories, ritual speech, and practices.


Group represented

The Saaroa people reside in the Taoyuan Village and Kaochung Village, Taoyuan District, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan. There are four ethnic communities of Saaroa: Lhilhala, Paiciana, Talicia, and Vilangane. In light of the statistics compiled by the Council of Indigenous People (CIP), Executive Yuan, Taiwan in September 2011, the overall population of Tsou, including (Northern) Tsou, Kanakanavu, and Saaroa, is 6871. There is no individual report officially for the population of Saaroa. However, according to the elders of Saaroa and the Taoyuan District Office, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, it is estimated that the population of Saaroa is approximately 400 in total. At present, only 10-15 people are capable of speaking the Saaroa language.

Due to the multiracial state in the area the Saaroa people live, many can understand and speak other languages of neighboring ethnic groups. Many Saaroa people are bilingual speakers, and unsurprisingly even trilingual, quadrilingual and quinlingual speakers. Almost everyone, except those who are over the age of 70, can understand and speak Mandarin Chinese, the official language of Taiwan. Besides, some people can understand and speak Taiwanese Southern Min, another dominating language in Taiwan in addition to the official language, Mandarin Chinese. Moreover, a large number of people, except young people, can understand and speak Bunun fluently, the dominant language of indigenous people in the area. Old people who were born during the Japanese occupation period can understand and speak Japanese.


Special characteristics

No literature unearths dialectal diversity in the Saaroa language, in terms of lexicon, phonology, morphology, and syntax.It is, however, found that there are some grammatical variations among the Saaroa speakers of different ages, and this may result from language obsolescence. For example, some people (around the age of sixty) use lha-kana’a=na‘they/them’ to denote third person plural pronoun; however, the oldest speaker cannot understand this word at all.

In the past, the Roman script was employed in writing in the previous materials of Saaroa. On December 15, 2005, a standard orthography system for Formosan languages was officially adopted by the Council of Indigenous People and the Ministry of Education of Executive Yuan, Taiwan. At the moment, only a limited number of Saaroa people can use this standard orthography system to write their own language.


Collection history

From the depositor:

‘Documentation of the Saaroa texts is a matter of critical importance at the moment as the language is ‘moribund’. After I first visited the Saaroa community in 2008, I soon decided to write a grammar of Saaroa for my Ph.D. thesis because of its urgency of documentation. In 2008 and 2009, I did some fieldwork on the Saaroa language for my Ph.D. thesis. Due to the paucity of time, I only
collected 5-hour texts. The thesis, entitled ‘A Grammar of Lha’alua, an Austronesian language of Taiwan’, is the first comprehensive grammar of the Saaroa language. In 2013, the thesis obtained two awards: ‘2013 Taiwan Languages and Literature Society Ph.D. Thesis of the Year Award’, and ‘2013 Linguistic Society of Taiwan Ph.D. Thesis of the Year Award’. In 2008 and 2009, I worked with three oldest Saaroa speakers. However, the second and the third oldest speakers passed away in 2010 and 2012. Hence, it is urgent to document Saaroa texts as much as possible before the language disappears’.


Other Information

Published works relating to the collection:

Pan, Chia-Jung. 2018. Saaroa Grammar. New Taipei City: Council of Indigenous Peoples. (in Chinese)

Pan, Chia-Jung. (in press). Saaroa. In: Li, Jen-Kuei, Zeitoun, Elizabeth and Rik De Busser. (eds.) Handbook on Formosan Languages. Amsterdam: Brill.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Pan, Chia-Jung. 2016. A Documentation of Saaroa, a Moribund Austronesian Language of Taiwan. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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