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AntC sent in this snippet of Taiwan history overlaying today's native culture rights movement:  Taiwan News (in English); Liberty Times Net (in Mandarin).  The articles tell a tale of vast amounts of gold stashed away by Japanese colonialists and treasure seekers trying to find it now three quarters of a century later.  The photograph of the excavation site in the latter article looks pretty hit or miss.

Allegedly, the fleeing Japanese occupiers buried gold somewhere near Taitung (city; county) in the  Jhihben Hot Springs (Zhīběn wēnquán 知本溫泉) area. This is a steep gorge running into the mountains southwest of Taitung. There are plentiful thermal springs in the gorge, with huge resort-hotels that (before Covid) were a magnet for Japanese tourists.

What stopped AntC dead in his tracks was in the last paragraph of the Taiwan News article: the  Katratripulr Village. How do you even say that word? Let alone how to transcribe it in Mandarin. He thinks they're a subtribe of the Austronesian Puyuma (people; language).

Whilst holidaying in Taitung, I visited a Puyuma cultural day at what I think was this Community centre: Dōngxìng shèqū wénhuà guǎngchǎng 東興社區文化廣場, in a village inland from Taitung. Google Maps doesn't give any English names — is it Dōngxìng? But that's a common name in Taiwan: there's a Dōngxìng Road in Taichung, Taipei, Tainan, and Shanghai at least.)

Because of the partial similarity in sound and orthography, one is apt to associate Zhīběn 知本 with Rìběn 日本 ("Japan"), but there's no other evidence to support such a conjecture.

Here's a Taiwanese Wikipedia article on Katratripulr, which gives the Sinitic equivalent as Ti-pún, but doesn't explain the origins of the indigenous name Katratripulr.

From Mark Swofford:

I've been to Zhiben several times. Nice place. I don't think they're going to find two tons(!) of gold buried there, though.

The Japanese were the ones who developed Zhiben into a hot spring destination. But I doubt the name is related to Riben in any way. The Japanese referred to it at the time as "Chippon," according to a list of old Japanese toponyms for Taiwan I found and edited.

The Mandarin version of Wikipedia says that the contemporary Mandarin name came from a Hoklo version of the name in the local tribe's language:

「知本」之名並非來自日人命名,而是源自卑南語 Katratripulr卡大地布部落;有團結、在一起之意),後來漢人依閩南語音譯為「知本」(Ti-pún)至今。 [VHM: "It has the meaning of 'unity' and 'togetherness', and later the Han people transcribed it into 'Ti-pún' according to Hokkien phonology…."]

It's hard to get from Katratripulr to Ti-pún 知本, but at least we now have the associated meanings of "unity" and "togetherness".  With all of this phonetic and semantic information at hand, perhaps those who are familiar with Austronesian might be able to tell us more about the mystifying name Katratripulr.


Selected readings


  1. VVOV said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 8:39 am

    I just spent an enjoyable half hour or so watching YouTube videos in Puyuma language (found by searching for terms "Katatripulr" and "Puyuma") in the hopes of finding a clip of a native speaker saying the name "Katatripulr". I couldn't, alas, but there is a fair amount of material on there.

    It seems that the name of the village is also variously transcribed in English/Latin text as "Katatipul", "Katatipol", "Katipul", and "Katipol".

    In the absence of a recording, the next best thing I can find is Teng (2008)'s reference grammar of Puyuma (https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/28526/2/01_Teng_A_reference_grammar_of_Puyuma%2c_2008.pdf).

    This tells us that in the standard Puyuma orthography adopted by the Council of Indigenous People of the Government of Taiwan, represents the voiceless retroflex stop /ʈ/. Counterintuitively, in the official orthography represents /l/, while represents its retroflex counterpart . The remaining graphemes in have the same values as their IPA counterparts. Word stress is generally on the last syllable.

    So, tentatively, it's /kataʈi'pul/.

  2. VVOV said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 8:40 am

    In my comment above, it seems that the site didn't like the angle brackets I used to represent graphemes and deleted their contents.

    The affected sentences should read: … "tr" represents the voiceless retroflex stop /ʈ/. Counterintuitively, in the official orthography, "lr" represents /l/, while "l" represents its retroflex counterpart . The remaining graphemes in "Katatripulr" have the same values as their IPA counterparts.

  3. VVOV said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 8:42 am

    Ah, final correction, sorry. Should be "Katratripulr" and /kaʈaʈi'pul/.

  4. Vampyricon said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 8:50 am


    I think the site is interpreting the angle brackets as a command, e.g. for italics (\\). Inserting backslashes before each bracket should prevent it.

  5. Vampyricon said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 8:51 am

    I see it does not. Well, damn.

  6. Chris Button said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 9:12 am

    Ti-pún 知本 most likely is transcribing the “tripulr” part of Katratripulr.

  7. Mark S. said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 9:32 am

    Backslashes are helpful for running regular expressions, which won't work here. Input boxes like those for LL are set up to expect HTML and CSS tags. So to avoid angle brackets getting interpreted as the opening or closing of such tags, you need to encode them one way or the other

    I prefer the following method.
    For < type &lt; — for less than.
    For > type &gt; — for greater than.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 9:36 am

    From Chau Wu:

    There are a lot of place-names in Taiwan that are Native Taiwanese in origin, either in tribal ethnic names, or tribal settlement names, or other native names.

    Take for example, 宜蘭 Yi-lan. It is based on the original inhabitants' name, Kavalan. The older names of Yi-lan include 葛蘭, 葛瑪蘭.

    Yilan County, Taiwan – Wikipedia


    For reference, I use the following dictionary of Taiwan place-names from the Northwestern University library:


  9. David Marjanović said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 10:23 am

    I'd say it is easy to get from [ʈipul] to [tipun] in a language that has neither retroflexes nor syllable-final [l].

    In Tlingit, [l] is a rare allophone of /n/ and does not occur syllable-finally, so "school" was borrowed with [n], for example.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 11:44 am

    o.p.: "It's hard to get from Katratripulr to Ti-pún 知本…".

  11. Tom Dawkes said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 11:49 am

    For /l/ varying with /n/ there is the case of Cantonese.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 2:26 pm

    I have an impressionistic sense (although of course now I can't immediately recall a good example). of seeing some Austronesian-Formosan toponyms whose English spelling plausibly suggested an original transliteration from the source language into katakana during the period of Japanese rule (in many cases less phonetically distorting than a transliteration into kanji, whether pronounced Mandarinly, Hokkienly or otherwise would have been) and then a subsequent romanization of the katakana. But neither Katratripulr nor the alternative spellings offered upthread seem to fit that mold.

  13. AntC said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 3:25 pm

    some Austronesian-Formosan toponyms whose English spelling plausibly suggested an original transliteration from the source language into katakana

    Yes. An example is Taroko gorge — inland from Hualien/further up the East Coast.

    The Truku people [sic] attempted a rebellion against the Japanese occupation [1914], and were harshly treated.

    I notice Taiwanese pronounce this name as if it were Tairoko — along with all the other Tai- placenames.

    Thank you to Victor and all the correspondents for the research.

  14. AntC said,

    May 6, 2022 @ 4:54 pm

    An extensive write-up here (in English), from the Taiwan Council of Indigenous Peoples. "Katratripulr" (seems to be the people) appears plenty, always yoked to "Zhiben" (seems to be the township). But no help with pronunciations.

    Pinuyumayan witches are famous among ethnic groups for their powerful magic.

    So we'd better be careful!

    The English seems to have suffered in translation/transliteration. I'm not sure what this is trying to tell me:

    Historically, there are various transliteration terms for Pinuyumayan in traditional Mandarin Chinese. The term Pinuyumayan originates from the name “Pinuyumayan” of the Nanwang village (Sakuban village) of Beinan Township in Taitung. To distinguish the term as the demonym of the ethnic group from the term for the specific tribe of the group, some Pinuyumayan people have suggested the term “Pinuyumayan” as a new name.

    Does the Mandarin make more sense?

    (Apologies for mucking up the html in the post above.)

  15. David Holm said,

    May 7, 2022 @ 10:55 pm

    VVOV is correct about the tr representing retroflex 't' and lr representing retroflex 'l'. Retroflex stops and laterals are found not just in Puyuma but in quite a few other AA languages on Taiwan as well, and the Council of Indigenous peoples has adopted official transliteration systems for them that represent retroflex sounds in similar ways. Once this is recognised, then decoding Zhiben as the final two syllables of the name Katratripulr is straightforward. Telescoping AA multisyllabic names (and other words) when producing equivalents in other languages is reasonably common.

  16. AntC said,

    May 9, 2022 @ 4:00 pm

    Thank you @David. That explains why the two words appear yoked together on the CIP website.

    So is Katratripulr a name with a meaning/backstory? (Most indigenous names in New Zealand have a meaning: good crayfish here, fast-flowing river, where Maui (demigod) shook his spear, etc.)

  17. AntC said,

    May 13, 2022 @ 6:05 am

    The attempted dig for the alleged buried gold is not going well.

    (See last para) there's maybe multiple locations with buried treasure.

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