Taiwan’s Extinct Siraya Language Returns to Life

Taiwan’s Extinct Siraya Language Returns to Life
Photo Credit: takunawan CC BY SA 3.0

What you need to know

One of Taiwan's earliest Aboriginal writing systems, once thought to be extinct, will soon be taught in schools across Tainan.

Tainan's Bureau of Education is assessing new teaching materials for the Siraya language, the official language of the Aboriginal Siraya people of Taiwan. If the materials are approved, local elementary schools could start using the new materials when the new school year starts in September.

The set of teaching materials include illustrated books, audiobooks, and textbooks written in the Siraya language. If approved, it would be Taiwan’s first set of Siraya teaching materials recognized by education authorities at the municipal level.

This is a major breakthrough for the Siraya language, which only gained official recognition as a writing system by the Taiwanese Council of Indigenous Peoples in 2015.

The Siraya language is one of the earliest Aboriginal writing systems in Taiwan, but it was not used for more than 150 years. Revitalization efforts by the Tainan Ping-pu Siraya Culture Association began in the 1990s and the language is now taught in 13 elementary schools in Tainan.

The matriarchal Siraya tribe is one of the Pingpu or Plains Aborigines. According to data from Academia Sinica's Institute of Ethnology, the Siraya tribe is distributed across Southwestern Taiwan, including areas in Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Pingtung. There are at least five subtribes, the Mattauw, Soelangh, Baccloangh, Sinckan, and Taivoan.

The Siraya people have Aboriginal status in Tainan, but have yet to gain official recognition from the Taiwanese government. Siraya rights campaigners and activists have, since 2010, filed lawsuits for official recognition. The Taipei High Administrative Court again denied the group Aboriginal status in May.

National Cheng Kung University professor Tan Le-kun (陳麗君) and National University of Tainan Professor Chang Hui-chen (張惠貞), who are assessing the material, are also pushing for the publication of a teaching handbook for the Siraya language.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole