Tag Archives: dissimilation

The strange case of Tibetan thul ‘egg, testicle’

In a recent post on ‘water’ and ‘lip’ (https://stan.hypotheses.org/20) I identified a correspondence indicating PST *-ur:

OC *-ur, Bodo -əy, Lushai -ui, -Proto-Karen *-ej, WT *-u.

‘Egg’ would fit into that correspondence beautifully —the coda in the OC word is ambiguous for *-r—if it was not for a rare WT word for ‘egg’:

Written Tibetan Boro (Bhat) Lushai (Lorrain) Proto-Karen (Luang.) OC (B-S) PST (tentative)
! thul ‘egg, testicle’ dəy ‘egg’ tui ‘egg’ Ɂdej B ‘egg’ tʰu[n] ‘egg’ #tʰur
chu ‘water’ dəy  ‘water, river’ tui ‘water’ thej A ‘water’ s.turʔ ‘river, water’ #s-turʔ
mchu ‘lip’ (gusu)təy ‘lip’ (not cognate) n.a. sə.dur ‘lip’ #m-tur

The expected rhyme correspondence for WT is -u, as shown by ‘water’ and ‘lip’. What is going on ?

Here is an idea. OC had an <r> infix that it shares with Austronesian and it would make sense if TB did, too. Some minimal pairs involving medial -r- and showing semantic alternations very much like Chinese can be found in TB languages:  medial -r- calls attention to the distributed character of objects or actions. I treat medial -r- as the <r> infix in the pairs below:

Written Burmese: pok ‘a drop (of liquid)’ : p<r>ok ‘speckled, spotted’

Chepang: pop ‘lungs’ : p<r>op ‘lungs’

Jingpo: phun31 ‘of lumps or pimples, to appear on the body’ : ph<r>un31 ‘pimples, lumps on the body; to appear on the body, of pimples or lumps’

Such pairs are never found with alveolar initials; Zev Handel has claimed that *tr- clusters do not reconstruct to PTB or even PST (Handel 2002). Another possibility exists: *tr clusters (including infixal *t<r>- clusters) existed in PST but merged with *t- in PTB (this would constitute a TB innovation).

There are no WT words of the shape CrVr, that is, with both medial -r- and final -r. In my first post to this blog (https://stan.hypotheses.org/11) I suggested that when that situation arose, for instance after the metathesis of preinitial -r, final -r dissimilated to -l. Supposing that a constraint on medial and coda r already existed in PST, a PST doublet involving a root *thur and the <r> infix would alternate *thur vs. *th<r>ul. By the changes described in my earlier posts, this doublet would evolve to PTB *thuy vs. *thul. In WT, *thuy would evolve to thu (chu if palatalized); but WT actually thul reflects PST *th<r>ul, the infixed variant.


Handel, Zev. 2002. Rethinking the medials of Old Chinese: Where are the r’s? Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale 31.1:3-32.

Sagart, Laurent. 1993. L’infixe -r- en chinois archaique. Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris, Tome LXXXVIII, fascicule 1, pp. 261-293.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The strange case of Tibetan thul ‘egg, testicle’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 16/06/2017, http://stan.hypotheses.org/27.

A possible case of dissimilation of -r to -l in Written Tibetan

There exist occasional cases of alternations between words with preradical d- and r- in Old/Written Tibetan (OT/WT), for instance dba vs rba ‘wave’, dgu ‘nine’ vs. rgu ‘many’. I am uncertain of the nature (phonological ? dialectal ?) of these alternations. At the same time, rb-type onsets are rare in Written Tibetan and rp- onsets are entirely absent. In a blog dated 19/11/2015 (https://panchr.hypotheses.org/527) Guillaume Jacques proposed that a metathesis has affected pre-Tibetan *rp-, changing it to WT phr-; this is supported by a comparison between WT phrag-pa and Japhug tɯ-rpaʁ, both ‘shoulder’, both forms being derivable from an earlier *rpak. Combining Jacques’ hypothesis with r-/d- preradical doubleting stimulates us to look for db-/br and dp-/phr- doublets. Here is an apparent instance of a db-/br- doublet: dbur ‘to grind, pulverize; flour’ vs. brul ‘very small broken pieces’. These two forms could go back to a dbur vs. rbur doublet, assuming the evolution from rbur to brul involves a dissimilatory change of final -r to -l.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "A possible case of dissimilation of -r to -l in Written Tibetan," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 12/06/2017, http://stan.hypotheses.org/11.