刖 ‘cutting the legs below the knee’: a third example of vowel ablaut

After my last two posts discussing words for ‘200’ and for nose-cutting in the context of vowel ablaut, Ma Kun 马坤 sent me a private message inquiring about 刖 *[ŋ]ʷˤ<r>at > ngwaet > yuè ‘amputate the feet’ 0306h, which I had overlooked in my discussion of words of the shape *ŋˤVt having ‘cut off’ semantics. This word turns out to be another example of the spreading process described in my two last post, though only as far as vowel spreading goes. The pharyngealization specification does not spread.

Like 劓 , 刖 refers to the punishment of criminals: it consists of cutting off a criminal’s 跪, OC *[g](r)ojʔ. The verb phrase 刖跪 occurs several times in 《韓非子·內儲說下》and in《說苑. 正諫》, meaning ‘to cut off the 跪’. 跪 is not so much ‘foot’ (Karlgren) as ‘lower leg, leg below the knee’, so 跪 as the verb ‘to kneel’ is derived from the noun ‘leg below the knee’. Proto-Hmong-Mien (Ratliff) borrowed the noun 跪 as *ɟu̯əiH ‘knee’.

Independently from this, we have to modify the vowel of 刖. Bill Baxter observed in 2018 that 刖 seems to rhyme as *-ot in 周易 hexagram 47 ䷮ 困: “九五:劓,困于赤,乃徐有,利用祭祀。Accordingly we should now reconstruct 刖 *ŋˤ<r>ot > ngwaet > yuè ‘amputate the leg(s) below the knee’ 0306h.

Thus, like 二  and 皕 (*i), and like 鼻 and 劓 (*i),  刖 and 跪 have the same vowel, *o. Under my hypothesis, there must have existed a nominal compound ‘cutting off the lower leg’, perhaps the name of the punishment, consisting of the bodypart name plus the verb *ŋˤVt ‘to cut off’ whose vowel could be *a or *u, but neither of *i or *o. Thus:

cutting off the nose *m-bi[t]-s + ŋˤVt > ŋit
cutting off the lower legs *[g](r)ojʔ + ŋˤVt > ŋˤ<r>ot

In both cases the first member’s vowel replaced the second’s. However in the last example the pharyngealization feature did not spread. The <r> infix in its ‘distributed action’ meaning  makes perfect sense in a verb for ‘to cut both legs below the knee’.


OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Laurent Sagart (November 5, 2023). 刖 ‘cutting the legs below the knee’: a third example of vowel ablaut. Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian. Retrieved July 18, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/ukdz


4 Replies to “刖 ‘cutting the legs below the knee’: a third example of vowel ablaut”

  1. I believe there is a typo in ‘cutting off the lowel leg’: “lowel” should be “lower”.

  2. According to Qiu Xigui, 刖 and 兀 (~ 𧿁) represent the same word, so the main vowel of them must have been *u.

    1. Thanks for this. Then 刖, early OC *ŋˤut or *ŋˤut, changed to ŋˤot later in OC times, rhyming as *-ot in the Yi Jing; and ultimately evolving to MC ngwaet (an OC *ŋˤut or *ŋˤut would have given MC ngwot or ngweat).

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