Thau a lalawa
Native toTaiwan
Ethnicity820 Thao (2020)[1]
Native speakers
4 (2021)[1]
  • Western Plains Formosan
    • Thao
  • Brawbaw
  • Shtafari
Language codes
ISO 639-3ssf

Thao (/θ/ thow; Thao: Thau a lalawa), also known as Sao,[2] is the nearly extinct language of the Thao people,[3] an indigenous people of Taiwan from the Sun Moon Lake region in central Taiwan. It is a Formosan language of the Austronesian family; Barawbaw and Shtafari are dialects.[citation needed]


The name Thao literally means "person", from Proto-Austronesian *Cau. It is therefore cognate with the name of the Tsou.


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (September 2021)

In 2014, there were four L1 speakers and a fluent L2 speaker living in Ita Thaw (伊達邵) village (traditionally called Barawbaw), all but one of whom were over the age of sixty.[citation needed] Two elderly native speakers died in December of that year, including chief Tarma (袁明智), age 75.[citation needed] Four elderly L1 speakers and some semi-speakers were reported in 2021.[1]



Consonant inventory
  Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
Velar Uvular Glottal
Plosive p b     t d     k   q   ʔ  
Fricative f (v) θ ð s   ʃ           h  
Lateral Fricative         ɬ                  
Tap or Flap           ɾ                
Nasal   m       n       ŋ        
Approximant   w       l   j            

Orthographic notes:



Vowel inventory
Front Central Back
High i u
High (e) (o)
Low a



Thao has two or arguably three patterns of reduplication: Ca-reduplication, full reduplication, and rightward reduplication (which is sometimes considered to be a form of full reduplication).

Thao verbs have the following types of focus (Blust 2003:239).

  1. Actor: -um- (present), ma- (future)
  2. Patient: -in, -in-
  3. Locative: -an


Thao word order can be both SVO and VSO, although the former is derived from Taiwanese Hokkien (Blust 2003:228).

The Thao personal marker is "ti" (Blust 2003:228). Negatives include "ani" and "antu"; "ata tu" is used in "don't" constructions. The perfect is marked by "iza", the past by an infix just after the primary onset consonant "-in-" and the future by the prefix "a-". Imperatives are marked by "-í" and softer imperatives or requests roughly translated as "please" by "-uan" sometimes spelled "-wan" which can co-occur with "-í".


The Thao personal pronouns below are from Blust (2003:207). Note that there is only 1 form each for "we (exclusive)," "you (plural)" and "they."

Thao Personal Pronouns
Type of
Nominative Accusative Genitive Agent Patient
1s. yaku yakin nak[4]
2s. ihu ihu-n m-ihu[5] uhu uhu-n
3s. thithu thithu-n thithu[6]
1p. (incl.) ita ita-n m-ita
1p. (excl.) yamin yamin yamin
2p. maniun maniun maniun
3p. thaythuy thaythuy thaythuy

Other pronouns include:


The following affixes are sourced from Blust (2003:92-188) and adjusted to the modern spelling.



  1. ^ a b c Thao at Ethnologue (25th ed., 2022) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Zui (2021-11-20). "Languages of Taiwan — Thao (Thau a lalawa, Sao)". The Language Closet. Retrieved 2023-10-28.
  3. ^ "Did you know Thao is critically endangered?". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 2023-10-28.
  4. ^ PAN *ni-ku
  5. ^ PAN *ni-Su
  6. ^ PAN *ni-a