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 blog post
Laurent Sagart (2017, June 12). A possible case of dissimilation of -r to -l in Written Tibetan. Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/ukbr

2 Replies to “A possible case of dissimilation of -r to -l in Written Tibetan”

  1. La forme brul que cite Jäschke est sans aucun doute liée au verbe intransitif ‘brul brul “tomber, se détacher” (voir http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/brul) et au verb ‘drul “pourrir”, et à rul.ba “pourri”. Cela rappelle le paradigme des verbes en r-, voir https://www.academia.edu/2528890/The_verb_bri_to_write_in_Old_Tibetan et http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ret/pdf/ret_19_02.pdf
    Toutefois, dans ces verbe le b- provient de la réanalyse du préfixe b- de passé qui n’est normalement pas compatible avec des verbes non-contrôlable intransitifs (tha mi dad pa), donc c’est un peu bizarre.
    Selon moi dbur n’a aucune relation avec ‘brul, c’est un verbe dérivant de ‘bur “protubérance” (même si je reconnais que je ne comprends pas le mécanisme de la dérivation pour le moment), comme la collocation courante ‘bur len “raboter” (dbur = *enlever les protubérances” > “polir” / “mettre en poudre”).

    1. In a Tibetan mill, grain—usually barley— is ground under a horizontal millstone, and the ground grain falls off around the sides (for an illustration see https://goo.gl/images/0fMIO3). This is (I suppose) the reason of the association between the ideas of ‘pulverizing, powder’ (dbur), ‘crumbs, bits’ (brul), and ‘falling off ‘ (‘brul). I suspect the etymological connection between ‘falling’, the verb ‘drul ‘to rot’, and rul-ba ‘rotten’ suggested via the reference to leprosy in the example sentence provided by Guillaume, is not meaningful: even in neolithic times, leprosy was not so common as to motivate a shift from ‘to rot’ to ‘to fall off.’

      Grinding grain is extremely ancient in East Asia—it probably predates cereal domestication, with stone grinding slabs dated to 23,000–19,500 cal. B.P. in Shanxi (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3619325/). WT dbur is a likely cognate of OC 粉 *mə.pənʔ > pjunX > fěn ‘flour’ (this reconstruction needs to have its coda put into square brackets). Potential cognates in the TB languages are Proto-Northern Chin (VanBik) *vuy 4 ‘flour’ and Thulung phul ‘flour.’

      As to ‘bur ‘protuberance, bulge, swelling, protrusion,’ it is etymologically distinct, connecting to 墳 *bVr ‘tumulus; raised bank, bank of river.’

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