The origins of Kra-Dai tones, current status III: tone A

October 8, 2019:  a paper on the origins of Kra-Dai tones is now  published (here). It represents my current understanding of the formation of Kra-Dai tones and supersedes the present three posts. There are more data in the paper, especially on the Austronesian final consonant I note as *X; there are also some significant differences between the present posts and the paper.  Thus, although it is clear that the word ‘excrement’, ususally reconstructed as *Caqi, ended in some kind of guttural fricative, it contains too many irregularities, possibly euphemistically motivated (as noted by Wolff), both in Austronesian and Kra-Dai, to identify that fricative. Therefore in the published paper I retreat from my suggestion that *Caqi ‘excrement’ was really *Caqix. I suggest instead that final *-x was the value of Tsuchida’s *-H2, thus converging with Blust’s proposal, but on completely different grounds (pages 7-9).

In two recent posts I discussed the origins of the Kra-Dai tones C (here) and B (here). Here I discuss tone A.

Kra-Dai A-category words correspond primarily to Austronesian words ending in sonorants (vowels, semi-vowels, nasals, liquids). This was already pointed out by Ostapirat (2005). Examples:


Buyang (Li 1999)






ma0 ta54 < A1

*ata A

*p.taː A




ma0 ðu312 < A2

*aRu A





tu312 < A2

*ʔtu A




bear (n.)

ta0312 < A2

*mui A

*ʰmwɯj A



to kill

ma054 < A1






pui54 < A1

*api A

*wɤj A




ʔdaːn31 < A1°

*ɲa:n A

*ɓlɯən A




nam54 < A1

*(ə)num A




to eat

ka:n54 < A1


*kɯɲ A



Note that the numerals in the Tai branch are Chinese loanwords.

A second source of Kra-Dai category-A words is in PAN *-H2 (see: LINK for Tsuchida’s *-H2)


Buyang (Li 1999)






qa0 tu54 < A1

*utu A

*traw A



ear ta0 ða312 < A2 *ilai A *krwɯː A *CaliŋaH2 or *CaŋilaH2 *taliŋah
three tu54 < A1

*utu C !


*tu-tuluH2 *tu-tuluh

Tone C in the Hlai word for ‘three’ may be the result of list analogy: it is part of a series of four consecutive numerals in tone C: *cɨ C ‘one’, *alau C ‘two’, *utu C ‘three’, *atəu C ‘four’.

To recapitulate, these sources are found for the Kra-Dai tone categories:

Tone A (this post): AN words ending in sonorants (vowels, semi-vowels, liquids, nasals); PAN words ending in *H2.

Tone B (here): PAN words ending in *-R [ʁ]; other PAN-related B-category words are believed to have had *-X [χ].

Tone C (here): PAN words ending in *H1 [h]; at least one other source, possibly *-x (‘excrement’).

The probable phonetic values of these categories in Proto-Kra-Dai wer:

Category A: ending in vowels, semi-vowels, liquids, nasals;

Category B: ending *-X;

Category C: ending in *-h.

By the time of contatct with Chinese, beginning c. 200 BCE, final *-h had changed to a glottal stop.


Benedict, Paul K. 1975. Austro-Thai: language and culture. New Haven: HRAF Press.

Gedney, William J. 1978. Speculations on early Tai tones. Paper presented at the 11th ICSTLL, U. of Arizona, Oct. 1978.

Haudricourt, André-Georges. 1954a. De l’origine des tons du vietnamien. Journal Asiatique 1954, 242: 69-82.

Haudricourt, André-Georges. 1954b. Comment reconstruire le chinois archaique. Word 10, 2-3: 351-64.

Li Jinfang. 1999. Buyang Yu Yanjiu. Beijing: Zhongyang Minzu Daxue.

Mei Tsu-lin. 1970. Tones and prosody in Middle Chinese and the origin of the Rising tone. Harvard Journal of Asian Studies 30, 86-110.

Norquest, Peter K. 2013. A revised inventory of Proto Austronesian consonants: Kra-Dai and Austroasiatic Evidence. Mon-Khmer Studies 42: 102-126.

Ostapirat, Weera. 2000. Proto-Kra. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 23.1.

Ostapirat, W. 2004. Proto-Hlai sound system and lexicons. in: Ying-ching Lin, Fang-min Hsu, Chun-chih Lee, Jackson T.S. Sun, Hsiu-fang Yang and Dah-an Ho (eds), Studies in Sino-Tibetan languages, papers in honor of Professor Hwang-cherng Gong on his seventieth birthday, 121-175. Nankang: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica.

Ostapirat, Weera. 2005. Kra-Dai and Austronesian: notes on phonological correspondences and vocabulary distribution. In: L. Sagart, R. Blench and A. Sanchez-Mazas (eds) The peopling of East Asia: Putting together Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics, 109-133. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

Pittayaporn, Pittayawat. 2009. The phonology of proto-Tai. Unpublished Cornell U. dissertation.

Sagart, Laurent. 2004. The higher phylogeny of Austronesian and the position of Tai-Kadai. Oceanic Linguistics 43,2: 411-444.

Sagart, L. 2005. Tai-Kadai as a subgroup of Austronesian. In L. Sagart, R. Blench and A. Sanchez-Mazas (eds) The peopling of East Asia: Putting together Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics 177-181. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

Sagart, Laurent. 2008. the expansion of setaria farmers in east asia: a linguistic and archaeological model. In Sanchez-Mazas A, Blench R, Ross M, Peiros I, Lin M, eds. Past human migrations in East Asia: matching archaeology, linguistics and genetics, 133-157. Routledge Studies in the Early History of Asia, London: Routledge.

Tsuchida, Shigeru. 1976. Reconstruction of Proto-Tsouic phonology. Tokyo: Study of languages and cultures of Asia and Africa monograph series N° 5.

Wolff, John U. 2010. Proto-Austronesian phonology with glossary. 2 vols. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia program publications.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The origins of Kra-Dai tones, current status III: tone A," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 20/11/2017,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search