“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice: a rejoinder.

I am aware of two reactions to my last post by authors of the Alam et al. paper:  Rafal Gutaker’s private reply to me, and Dorian Fuller’s reaction both rejected my claim that the very different histories of temperate and tropical japonica rices in the Austronesian world imply that different words for the two types of rice should exist in AN languages, instead of just one, as is the case; unless the early Taiwanese Austronesians carried temperate japonica south with them at the time of the Out-of-Taiwan event. Their reasoning—if I understand it well—seems to be that since the Austronesian word for the rice plant does not specifically refer to either tropical or temperate japonica, the issue I am raising is only apparent. They seem to be assuming that Austronesian speakers have in their mental lexicons a word for ‘rice plant’, whether they cultivate rice or not, and that they will give that name to whatever kind of rice they encounter in the course of their expansion.

Languages in the modern world can have a word for a domesticated plant without that plant being cultivated by its speakers—because we import it, buy it in shops, eat it, etc. Neolithic groups only have words for plants they cultivate. The Austronesians in Oceania have abandoned cereal agriculture: accordingly they do not have a traditional word for rice.

The Alam et al. paper presents the history of Austronesian rice as a pincer movement introducing temperate japonica from northeastern  Asia to Taiwan while tropical japonica was introduced from the south.  The role of Taiwan in this medel is to be a mere contact region between north and south. However the question arises as to whether, during the period of time tropical japonica had not yet reached Taiwan, Taiwanese temperate japonica had already been introduced to the south in the Out-of-Taiwan event; and whether there was interaction between the two south of Taiwan. Linguistics has useful hints there.

At the moment tropical japonica rice was introduced to the southern Austronesian world, the Austronesian people to whom it was introduced gave it the name *panjay. This means that they already cultivated rice. Otherwise, they would have had no name for it, and would either borrow the name used in the language of the group they were receiving it from, or coin a new name for it. Only by miracle would they come up with the same name that was used in Taiwan.

Further, and importantly, the local words for the rice plant that derive from *panjay exhibit the same pattern of phonetic variation, or sound laws,1 as a significant  part of the Austronesian vocabulary, simultaneously present in and outside of Taiwan.  Linguists assign that vocabulary to the ancestor of all known Austronesian languages. That this vocabulary—currently at least several hundred words—obeys the same set of sound laws must mean that it traveled as a package in the course of the Austronesian expansion. Moreover, that phonetic shared innovations [this is the linguistic equivalent of ‘synapomorphies’ in cladistics] of the non-Formosan Austronesian languages have been observed on this vocabulary leaves no doubt that the expansion went south from Taiwan.

Thus, whatever rice was present in Taiwan at that time was transferred south, together with its name. Most likely that was temperate japonica—what else ? That would certainly explain why it was so easily eliminated by tropical japonica.

In conclusion the finding that rice south of Taiwan is of the tropical japonica type does not argue agains the “Out of Taiwan” hypothesis. This hypothesis does not predict that modern Austronesian rices south of Taiwan should be temperate japonicas. It merely predicts that at the moment of the Out-of-Taiwan event, the Austronesians carried rice with them in their canoes and that they and their descendents grew it in the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, Indonesia… On linguistic evidence, such was indeed the case.

In closing I note the lack so far of reactions to my criticism regarding the far too recent date proposed in the Alam et al. paper for the  introduction of temperate japonica to Taiwan.

1 This table illustrates the regularity of sound correspondence in the words for the rice plant and other words in selected Austronesian languages in and outside Taiwan.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice: a rejoinder.," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 30/08/2021, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1433.

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