The origins of Kra-Dai tones, current status (II): tone B

In my last post (here) I argued that the main origin of the Kra-Dai tone C category is Tsuchida’s * H1. Here I examine the origins of the Kra-Dai tone B. I will again argue that this tone category can be explain on the basis of observable Austronesian facts, although one of the sources I will propose has not so far been reconstructed.

It is becoming increasingly clear that PAN word-final *-R, a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ], is one of the sources of the Proto-Kra-Dai tone B. This was first pointed out by Norquest (2013), where the first two comparisons in the below table were noted.

PAN PMP(Sa) PHlai(No) Buyang (Li) PTai(Pi)
*tebuR ‘natural spring’ *tebuR —— —— *ɓoː B
*SulaR ‘snale’ —— *ljaːɦ —— ­——
*-kaR ‘dry’ *-kaR *kʰɯːɦ qha11< B *χaɰ B
—— *qi(d)zuR ‘saliva’ —— qa0 tu11 < B ‘sputum’ ——

Unaware of Norquest’s earlier observations, I noted the match between tone B and final *-R in ‘dry’ and ‘saliva/sputum’ while working on the Kra language Buyang in September-early October 2017. I became aware of Norquest’s proposal through his message of October 22, 2017 on an email discussion group strated by Cecil Brown, to which he had attached his 2013 paper in Mon-Khmer Studies.

Supporting material for root *-kaR ‘dry’: Siraya maskag ‘dry’, Puyuma (Nanwang) taŋkar ‘dry’ (fields), baʈəkar ‘dry, shallow’; Ilianen Manobo, Western Bukidnon Manobo kagkag ‘to dry’, Casiguran Dumagat kag’kag ‘to dry’, Sindangan Subanun mɨgɨngkag ‘to dry’, Siocon Subanon kumongkag ‘to dry’.

The Kra-Dai tone-B category also includes words with PAN or PMP cognates not ending in *-R:

Gloss AN Pre-PMP(Sa) Buyang (Li Jinfang 1999) P-Hlai (No) PTai (Pi) Aklanon
bran, chaff PMP(B) *qepah *qepaX ta0 pha11 < B —— —— opa(h)
knee PAN(W) *puqu *puquX qhu11 < B —— *χow B ——
shoulder PAN(B) *qabaRa *qabaRaX qa0 ʔba11 < B *C-ʋaːɦ *C̥.ba: B abága(h)
palm of hand PAN(B) *dapa *dapaX pa11 < B —— —— ——

It is noteworthy that Aklanon (Panay island, Philippines), already identified in Tsuchida 1976 as the only language outside of Taiwan with segmental reflexes (-h in both cases) of his *-H1 and *-H2, has –h for KD tone B. As argued in my preceding post, PAN *-H1 is the main source of the KD tone C; and as I will argue in my next post, *-H2 is one of the sources of the KD tone A. We must be dealing here with a final consonant distinct from both *-H1 and *-H2. This must be a consonant that (a) merges with *-R in PKD, and (b) evolves to -h in Aklanon. I propose the uvular fricative *-X [χ], with these reconstructions: ‘bran, chaff’ *qepaX; ‘knee’ *puquX; ‘shoulder *qabaRaX; ‘palm of hand’ *dapaX. By my proposal, the Kra-Dai B tone category originates in he merger of two AN uvular fricative endings, voiced and voiceless.

Here are some additional notes on the words in Table X:

Bran, chaff: the MP word has a probable Formosan cognate in Amis ʔəpah ‘wine’—bran can be an ingredient in millet or rice wine. Blust reconstructed PMP *-h based on Aklanon. In the current state of his ACD, final PAN/PMP *-h is similar to Tsuchida’s *-H1 (he has recently begun writing PAN * x for Tsuchida’s *-H2). Tsuchida’s *-H1 is reflected as -h in Amis. Amis ʔəpah ‘wine’ at first sight comforts his reconstruction of PMP final *-h: however my proposal is that PAN *-X is reflected as -h in both Amis and Aklanon, just like *-H1 (Pazeh, Kaxabu, Saisiyat, Atayal and Sediq distinguish them, though).

Shoulder is reconstructed by Blust as PAN *qabaRa. Unaware of final –h in Aklanon abága(h), Ostapirat (2005) and Norquest (2013) ascribe tone B in ‘shoulder’ to medial *-R-. For this they need a mechanism which allows the riming part of an AN word (last vowel plus any following consonant) to be lost in Kra-Dai, here: *qabaRa > qabaR. They do not explain what the conditioning is. This mechanism is overpowerful: it doubles the number of potential KD cognates for each AN word. Benedict (1975) put it to maximal use. Yet the quality of comparisons of this type tends to be low. Final –h in the Aklanon cognates of KD tone-B words like ‘shoulder’ supports a simpler and more constrained explanation: KD tone B reflects final *-X, not medial *-R-; in the evolution to KD, *-R- was lost when the -bR- cluster resulting from penultimate vowel syncope was reduced to -b-. By the correspondence rules described above one would expect final –h in the Amis word for ‘shoulder’, but the attested Amis form is afala. Lack of -h is unexplained, unless there has been dissimilation between the two uvular fricatives in the last syllable of *qabaRaX.

Palm of hand: *dapa ‘palm of hand’ was assigned to PMP by Blust until c. 2015, when he raised it to PAN following Sagart’s identification of an Atayal cognate.

Knee: reconstructed by Wolff (2010) as PAN *puqu on the basis of northern and western Formosan forms (Saisiyat, Favorlang, Thao), an impeccable PAN pedigree.

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

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