Austronesian Indigenous peoples in Taiwan

Many indigenous peoples live in Taiwan, with diverse cultural, language and social structures. The central government has officially recognized 16 indigenous peoples in Taiwan, including Amis (or Pangcah), Atayal (or Tayal, Tayan), Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma (or Pinuyumayan), Rukai, Tsou (or Cou), Saisiyat, Yami (or Tao), Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, Sediq, Saaroa (or Hla’alua) and Kanakanavu, with a total population of 530,000 by November, 2014.

There are also many indigenous peoples not officially recognized yet, such as Ketagalan, Taokas (or Taokat), Pazeh, Kaxabu, Papora, Babuza, Hoanya, Siraya, Taivuan or Makatau. They are mostly categorized as “Plains Aborigines", without exact population numbers.

Linguistic studies show all indigenous languages in Taiwan belong to Austronesian, with the same origins as over 1,200 languages used in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar, New Guinea, Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, New Zealand and Hawaii. Austronesian languages cover diverse communities with more than 300 million people.


Is Taiwan the starting point of Austronesian dispersal?

Linguists, archeologists, and geneticists have divergent opinions to whether Austronesian dispersal started in Taiwan.

Linguists commonly believe Taiwan is one of the origins for Austronesian languages, as indigenous languages in Taiwan (except Yami) preserve many ancient language features missing in other Austronesian languages. These features are directional when evolving into other Austronesian languages (reversal unlikely), so indigenous languages in Taiwan are often considered to be closer to the ancestral language of all other Austronesian languages. Papers by professor Paul Jen-kuei Li (李壬癸) from the Institute of Linguistics at Academia Sinica, Hawaii University professor Robert Blust, and Australia National University professor Malcolm Ross are for reference.

Archeology and genetics/molecular biology studies point to complicated factors in the origin of Austronesian languages. Possible origins include Taiwan, southern China/Indochina and Southeast Asia. Scholars also have different opinions on “single origin expansion" or “multiple origin expansion". Papers by professor Cheng-hwa Tsang (臧振華) from Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica, Australia National University professor Peter Bellwood and National Museum of Natural Science Assistant Research Fellow Shu-Juo Chen (陳叔倬) are for reference.