Tibetan sgro ‘large feather’—an epilogue

In an earlier post I discussed the Chinese connections of Written Tibetan (WT) སྒྲོ sgro ‘large feather, tail feather, quill’. I argued against the commonly held view that this word is cognate with OC 羽 *[ɢ]ʷ(r)aʔ > hjuX > yǔ ‘feather, wing’, proposing instead a connection to 喬 *[N-k](r)aw ‘lift, elevated, high’, 鷮 *[k](r)aw ‘kind of pheasant’ and to Jingpo ʃă31kʒau33 ‘to praise, extol’. My idea was to connect the TB word with the elevated tail feathers of pheasants.

A semantically more straightforward Chinese cognate has appeared: 翹 *[g]ew > gjiew > qiáo ‘long tail-feather’ (failure of the initial to palatalize is unexplained). The root in this word consists of a velar or uvular initial, possibly voiced, with rhyme *-ew. OC velars and uvulars go to velars in WT. As to the rhyme, Hill (2012:35) states that “Tibetan cognates have the main vowel -o- whenever Old Chinese has final -w, regardless of the main vowel in Old Chinese”.  We should therefore expect the WT vowel to be o. While the MC rhyme excludes medial -r-, Tibetan sgro has -r-: perhaps it is the Sino-Tibetan ‘multiple object’ <r> infix.  Alternatively we could suppose that the Chinese form also included medial -r- —that would explain the failure of the initial to palatalize before*e; but an OC *grew should give MC gjew, not gjiew.

The same character writes another word, homophonous with ‘long tail-feather’: 翹 *[g]ew > gjiew > qiáo ‘to raise’, which probably expresses the verbal root out of which ‘long [raised] tail feathers’ derives. Although 翹 in its two meanings has a different vowel from the cognates I had earlier proposed, ablaut between *a and *e is relatively common. I regard the *a and *e forms as ablaut variants in the meaning ‘lift, raise’, applied to the long tail feathers of birds like the pheasant.

This comparison is important because it illustrates a lexical innovation of western ST (‘TB’): once WT sgro is excluded, the numerous western ST cognates of 羽 *[ɢ]ʷ(r)aʔ ‘feather, wing’ all mean ‘bird’, or similar: the meaning ‘feather’ is entirely absent. See STEDT #1603 PTB *w(a/u) BIRD / EGG / WING / FOWL. We are in the presence of a PST word meaning ‘feather, wing’, changed to ‘bird’ via ‘feathered game’ or ‘winged game’ in western ST.

Reference

Hill, Nathan W. (2012) The Six Vowel Hypothesis of Old Chinese in Comparative Context. Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics 6.2: 1-69

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Tibetan sgro ‘large feather’—an epilogue," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 10/07/2021, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1405.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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