Mad dog, the first palatalization, and the k- prefix

There are in Middle Chinese lexica three obviously related words (and four characters) for ‘mad dog’ (狂犬). In the Baxter and Sagart (2014) reconstruction (referred to as ‘OCNR’ below):

0279g and 0287-, OCNR *ke[t]-s > MC tsyejH,

0279g OCNR *ke[t]-s > MC kjiejH.

0335d OCNR *k<r>e[t]-s > MC kjejH.

The reconstruction of a front vowel rhyme *-et-s in all three words, as opposed to *-at-s, was forced by the chongniu IV word kjiejH, which can only reflect a front vowel. In this vocalic context, the alternation between velars and palatals was treated as a case of the first palatalization, an early Han shift according to Schuessler, applying to an OC velar initial: MC tsye- was seen as reflecting OC ke-, while in kjejH, failure to palatalize was thought to be due to medial -r-, in this case an infix (since the root is r-less): *k<r>e-. The chongniu IV reading kjieiH was anomalous: its velar initial failed to palatalize despite the front vowel and absence of an intervening -r-. Bill Baxter and I thought that kjiejH reflected OC *ket-s in a non-palatalizing late OC dialect, a few forms of which are preserved in MC.

A passage in the Jing Dian Shi Wen points in a different direction. In the database Bill Baxter and I are maintaining, under , Bill noted this passage from JDSW 1353: “之瘈。吉世反 [kjiejH]。狂也{國狗之 無不}”. This supports a word-family connection between 噬 ‘to bite’ (OCNR *[d]e[t]-s > dzyejH) and 瘈 ‘mad (dog)’. The root would be *tet-s ‘to bite’: we would have this word-family, presented below with emended reconstructions between lenticular brackets and the original in blue for comparison:

root tet ‘bite’

噬 【*m-tet-s> dzyejH > shì ‘bite (v.)’ 0336c (OCNR *[d]e[t]-s > dzyejH)

狾 【*kə-tet-s> tsyejH > zhì ‘mad (dog)’ 0287- (OCNR *ke[t]-s > tsyejH)

瘈 【*kə-tet-s> tsyejH > zhì ‘mad (dog)’ 0279g (OCNR *ke[t]-s > tsyejH)

瘈 【*k-tet-s> kjiejH > jì ‘mad (dog)’ 0279g (OCNR *ke[t]-s > kjiejH)

猘 【*k-t<r>et-s> kjejH > jì ‘mad (dog)’ 0335d (OCNR *k<r>e[t]-s > kjejH)

In ‘to bite’, *m- is the ‘volitional’ prefix *m1a– (OCNR, p. 59). This is a highly common prefix in verbs whose subject is a volitional agent. It is responsible for the voiced initial in MC. The other words all have prefixed *k- or *kə-: these are short/tightly attached and long/loosely attached variants of the same prefix. OCNR (p. 54) states that

short (*C) and long (*Cə) variants that apparently had the same morphological functions,

but notes that

The conditions of occurrence of short and long variants are not understood; for the moment we treat them as free variants.

For a few years now since the publication of OCNR, I have regarded the loosely attached forms as basic, and the tightly attached ones as the result of unstressed vowel syncope in a second prefix, with late loss of the first prefix, thus:

stage 1: *Cə-Root > stage 2: *Cə-Root > stage 3: *Cə-Root

while

stage 1: *Cə-Cə-Root > stage 2: *Cə-C-Root > Stage 3: *C-Root

As far as preinitials go, the OCNR reconstructions represent the stage-3 situation. There are parallel developments in the evolution from Austronesian to Kra-Dai: Austronesian trisyllables lose their second vowel through unstressed vowel syncope (in preparation). The morphological function of the k- prefix in our examples will be discussed below.

On the phonological level, the emendations in our words for ‘mad dog’ explain the failure of kjiejH to palatalize despite the front vowel without supposing a non-palatalizing OC dialect: we only need to assume that the OC initial cluster *k-t- we reconstructed for OC was still present in western Han times in one shape or other (k-t- ? k-l- ?) , so that initial k- was shielded from the front vowel when the first palatalization of velars took place. Infixal <r> still accounts for the vowel in the kjejH doublet. The palatal initial in MC tsyejH, previously thought to go back to a velar stop, can now be recognized as the regular outcome of an OC alveolar stop. In principle an OC *tet-s without a velar prefix would be enough to give MC tsyejH, but the ‘mad dog’ semantics require the velar prefix, as we will see. Alternation between the two readings, tsyejH and kjiejH, of 瘈 ‘mad (dog)’ is now treated as loosely kə- vs. tightly attached k-: loosely attached kə- falls (as often), exposing t- > MC tsy-; while tightly attached k- forms a cluster with t-, simplifying to k- at some point between early Han and MC. This gives us a useful chronological indication on the simplification of clusters.

OCNR says the k- prefix added to verbal roots “derives nonfinite forms of the verb that can be used as nouns (…)” (p. 57). This seems to apply well to ‘mad dog’, except that //are not nouns: they are non-finite modifiers of the noun ‘dog’ in the compounds 【猘狗】(《吕氏春秋·首时》, 《汉书·五行志中之上》), and 【瘈狗】(《左传·襄公十七年》, JDSW 1156). This confirms the function of k- as non-finite verbs prefixes. This prefix is probably related to velar nominalization prefixes found

in Gyalrong languages (Jacques 2021:714, 811). Japhug examples from Jacques (2021:714-5):

kɯ-si

sbj:pcp-die

The dead one’ (many attestations)

ɯ-kɯ-ndza

3sg-sbj:pcp-eat

The one who eats it’ (many attestations)

By our analysis, then, the Chinese words for ‘mad dog’ are interpretable as ‘biting dog’.

Outside of rGyalrong, Konnerth (2009:101-107) finds that the derivational functions most often associated with the ‘gV-‘ prefix are participant nominalization, derivation of adjectival modifiers, action/event nominalization, and derivation of adverbs. These functions are consistent with non-finite derivations out of verbs.

Similarly, Matisoff (2003:138) writes that prefixed k(h)ə-, the reflex of his *g- in Tangkhul Naga, is highly productive, serving “for nominalizations (…) and relativizations, but does not appear with ordinary finite main verbs”. This combination of evidence supports a non-finite k- verb prefix at proto-Sino-Tibetan level.

Further, this ST prefix may be compared to the stative, non-finite ka- prefix of PAN (Zeitoun).

In closing, the exceptions to the Chinese first palatalization have MC kji-: they do not palatalize despite the front vowel. There are several sources, which either were not velars, or had an intervening segment other than -r- between the velar and a front vowel in western Han:

  1. C.qi- (type B, no -r-)

  2. k.m-ri (already kli- by western Han time)

  3. k.ti- cf. root to ‘bite’ below.

Removal of the ‘mad dog’ example does not disprove the ‘non-palatalizing dialect’ hypothesis, but it weakens it.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Mad dog, the first palatalization, and the k- prefix," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 09/11/2021, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1479.

References

Baxter, William H. and Laurent Sagart. 2014. Old Chinese: a new reconstruction. New York: Oxford University Press

Jacques, Guillaume. 2021. A grammar of Japhug. Berlin: Language Science Press.

Konnerth, Linda Anna. 2009. The nominalizing prefix gV- in Tibeto-Burman. PhD dissertation, University of Oregon.

Matisoff, J. (2003). Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.


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