Mon, Oct 23, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Women compile dictionary and grammar text for Yami language

SCRIPTLESS LANGUAGE Maa-Neu Dong from Orchid Island worked with Professor Victoria Rau to create a compendium of the fast-disappearing Aboriginal tongue

By Wang Yi-che  /  STAFF REPORTER

What can be accomplished in a 10-year period?

Two women, one with Han and one with Yami heritage, completed a book entitled Yami Texts with Reference Grammar and Dictionary (達悟語:語料、參考語法、詞彙) and, with a grant from the Endangered Language Documentation Program at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, built a digital archive to document the Yami language, which lacks a script.

At a seminar on Austronesian native languages in 1994, Maa-Neu Dong (董瑪女) from Orchid Island met with Victoria Rau (何德華), a professor in the English department at Providence University in Taichung, who holds a doctorate in linguistics from Cornell University in the US.

Rau, who had directed her energies toward Austronesian languages after receiving a scholarship to study Indonesian during her studies at Cornell, immediately agreed when Dong asked if she would compile teaching materials for Yami.

Rau said most Yami students can't speak Yami, a Philippine-Batanic tongue that is part of the Austronesian language family.

The speed at which the language is disappearing is worrying, Rau said, especially since the language lacks a script, which makes it a huge challenge to record and compile it into a dictionary.

Dong said that she and Rau also gained access to the Institute of Ethnology at the Academia Sinica, where they helped professor Liu Pin-hsiung (劉斌雄) with the collection and translation of the oral tradition of the Yami tribe.

The two completed the first Yami teaching materials in 2000. By 2003, Rau had completed her studies of Yami grammar and finished the first draft of their book, which was published by Academia Sinica earlier this year.

In order to bring the study of Taiwan's Aboriginal languages to the attention of the international community, the two also applied for a grant from the School of Oriental and African Studies' Endangered Language Documentation Program to prepare digital archive materials for the Yami language.

Anyone interested in the digital archives can visit their site at

The bilingual Chinese and English site can be searched in both languages, as well as in romanized Yami.

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