Researchers say one-fifth of the world’s languages – including numerous Asian dialects – developed from the lingua franca of Taiwanese aborigines.
Few will associate primarily Mandarin-speaking, Japanese-influenced Taiwan with the roots of vernaculars spoken by over 300 million people today. But based on archaeological excavations and modern linguistic analysis, researchers are increasingly attributing the small island nation as the proud birthplace of the over 1,200 languages forming the Austronesian language family, including Malay, Indonesian and Tagalog.
Austronesian is one of the biggest language families on the planet, with speakers across Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. It is split into two main branches: the Formosan languages and the Malayo-Polynesian languages.
On the other hand, Malayo-Polynesian languages are spoken by peoples in Southeast Asia and Oceania – suggesting that their ancestors could have been early Taiwanese immigrants. This ties in with hypotheses by historians that as the Formosan population expanded, Austronesians migrated southward, sailing as far as Madagascar, Hawaii and New Zealand.
Today, all the Formosan languages are vulnerable to extinction. The remaining speakers live mostly in East Taiwan, and more than half have migrated from their traditional villages to the cities.
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