The etymology of *puluq ’10’, at last

(Jump to Puluqish master post)

In Sagart (2008), a modification of the phylogeny in Sagart (2004), I set up a Puluqish group of Austronesian languages including all of PMP, all of Kra-Dai, plus three southern Formosan languages: Amis, Puyuma and Paiwan. This group was defined by the innovation *puluq for ‘ten’ (another innovation has since been identified, see the master post for Puluqish).  My subgrouping is in contrast to the standard view (e.g., in Blust’s phylogeny) that *puluq existed in PAN. I was not able, at the time, to explain how *puluq arose. My inability to do so at the time was interpreted as an indication that *puluq was etymologically opaque, as befits a PAN form, just like the numerals 1-4. If,  on the contrary,  *puluq was an innovative form, as I claimed, it must originate in another word or expression shifting to ’10’ just before proto-Puluqish, and traces of that original expression should be found, hopefully in modern Puluqish languages, or not too far from them on my tree.

The etymology of *puluq ‘ten’ can now be given. Amis has a root /poloʔ/, orthographic polo’ < *puluq, which occurs in all Amis dictionaries. Below I discuss three forms in Namoh’s large (Central) Amis-English dictionary (Namoh 2013), where the most detailed information can be found:

  • si-polo’ 因分離而獨居,或分家 ‘living alone or separated due to separation’
  • ma-sipolo’. 分離,分闊,分居,單身,未婚 ‘separate, split, separation, single, unmarried’. Example sentence: Milaliw ko fafahi ni Kuraw, saka masipolo’ ciira i matini. 古饒的妻子昨天離家出走,所以他現在是單身 ‘Kuraw’s wife left home yesterday, so he is now single’
  • ma-si-polo’-ay (deverbal noun out of ma-sipolo’). 寡婦,搞婦,穌夫。單身 ‘widow, widower; single person’.

The Amis affixes ma- (stative) and -ay (nominalizing) are well-known. masipolo’ is a stative verb based on sipolo’; masipolo’ay is a deverbal noun based on masipolo’. It is not entirely clear what the function of si- in sipolo’ is. There is a prefix si- in Amis with existential or possessive meaning ‘have, be’ (Bril, p.c., circa 2020) .  In the English index at the end of Namoh’s dictionary, masipolo’  is given the gloss  ‘separated from and left alone’.  One could gloss si-polo’ as ‘for a state of separation to exist’; ma-si-polo’ as ‘be in a state of separation’, and ma-si-polo’-ay as ‘a N in a state of separation’. A gloss like ‘to separate from, and leave alone’ can be supposed for the stem polo’.

It is easy to see how polo’ could be put to use in counting numbers ten and above: the meaning ‘separate from, and leave alone’ well describes the mental operation of isolating n sets of ten objects and putting them aside before expressing the remainder.  For instance, ’35’ can be expressed as ‘thee sets of ten, put them aside, and five’.

The process by which *N-puluq became the main form for ’10’ in the Puluqish languages can be reconstructed thus. The word for ‘10’ in Proto-Eastern-Walu-Siwaish (the immediate ancestor pf Proto-Puluqish) was *baCaqan (here). ‘35’ in that language might have been expressed simply as telubaCaqan-lima ‘3 times ten, five’, or more explicitly as telubaCaqanpuluq-lima ‘3 times 10, leave those alone, five’. *baCaqan being redundant, *N-baCaqanpuluq-N was simplified to N-puluq-N in Proto-Puluqish, with *N-puluq acquiring the meaning ‘N times 10’. But *baCaqan was predictably retained in northerrn Puluqish languages where there was no remainder to ‘leave alone’, i.e. in ’10’ and ’20’:

  • Sakizaya t͡sət͡saj a bataʔan ‘10’ (one-baCaqan), tusa bataʔan ‘20’ (two-baCaqan),
  • Puyuma maka-bʈaʔan ‘20’

We have a small but independent piece of evidence confirming  that *puluq and its derivatives were part of the vocabulary of counting: Pokpok Amis nom-a-sipolo’ ‘7’ (Li and Toyoshima 2006, #83l.1). This is a subtractive numeral: ‘three left aside’, where nom reflects *Nem ‘3’ (details here).  Here sipolo‘ does not directly refer to ‘ten’ but to the act of ‘leaving (three units, out of ten) aside’.

A consequence of the above is that in proto-Puluqish, ‘ten’ must have been not *puluq, but *sa-puluq with *sa-, the short form of the PAN numeral *isa/*esa ‘one’, preceding *puluq: ‘one (set of ten), put aside’.  Paiwan (Sagaran dialect, recorded by Hsiou-Chuan Chang) tapuluʔ  ‘ten’ directly reflects proto-Puluqish *sa-puluq. *sa-puluq is also the form that can be reconstructed for PMP (Blust’s Austronesian comparative dictionary).

In Kra-Dai, Ostapirat (2000) reconstructs Proto-Kra *pwlot, and Norquest (2015) gives Proto-Hlai *fu:t. Ostapirat (2004) had Proto-Hlai *apu:c, with final *c  (an error in my opinion; see here).  The vowel *a before the string *pu:c appears to reflect the *a in proto-Puluqish *sa-. As reconstructed by Ostapirat, proto-Hlai occasionally retains the first vowel of Austronesian words, but never the consonant before that vowel: proto-Hlai *ata A < *maCa ‘eye’, aka:i C < *Caqi[] ‘excrement’, *ura:ŋ A < *qudaŋ ‘shrimp’,  utu A ‘head louse’ < *quCuH2, *ipan < *nipen or *lipen ‘tooth’ etc.

Thus proto-Puluqish *sa-puluq is an adequate source of the Paiwan, proto-Malayo-Polynesian and proto-Hlai words for ‘ten’. Lack of *sa- in Amis and Puyuma puɭuʔ and polo’ is due to a simplifying innovation: there was no need for *sa- after the meaning ‘ten’ became entrenched with *puluq and the original semantics were lost. This innovation should be added to the six shared innovations of Amis and Puyuma (a.k.a ‘northern Puluqish’) described here.

Although Puyuma shows no trace of the *sa- in *sa-puluq, indirect evidence that it once possessed the long form exists: the serial counting word for ‘nine’ in Nanwang Puyuma, siwa, can only be explained as the result of analogical alignment on the *s- at the beginning of *sa-puluq (more on this here).

I am not aware of cognates of polo’ with semantics related to ‘separated, put aside’ outside of Amis. It is perhaps significant that the lexical source of the Puluqish word for ‘ten’ comes from Amis, a Puluqish language.  If *puluq were a PAN word, that would be a coincidence.


Blust, R. 2001. Malayo-Polynesian: new stones in the wall. Oceanic Linguistics 40, 1: 151-155.

Li, Jen-kuei and Masayuki Toyoshima (eds). 2006. comparative vocabulary of Formosan languages and dialects, by Naoyoshi Ogawa. Asian and African lexicon series 49. Institute for Languages and cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

Namoh, Rata. 2013. O Pidafo’an to Sowal Misanopangcah [dictionary of the Amis language]. Taipei: Nan t’ien.

Norquest, Peter. 2015. A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai. Brill.

Ostapirat, Weera. 2000. Proto-Kra. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 23.1:1-251.

Ostapirat, Weera. 2004.  Proto-Hlai sound system and lexicons. in: Ying-ching Lin, Fang-min Hsu, Chun-chih Lee, Jackson T.S. Sun, Hsiu-fang Yang and Dah-an Ho (eds), Studies in Sino-Tibetan languages, papers in honor of Professor Hwang-cherng Gong on his seventieth birthday, 121-175. Nankang: Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica.

Sagart, L. (2004) The higher phylogeny of Austronesian and the position of Tai-Kadai. Oceanic Linguistics 43,2: 411-444.

Sagart, L. (2008) The expansion of setaria farmers in East Asia: a linguistic and archaeological model. In Sanchez-Mazas A, Blench R, Ross M, Peiros I, Lin M, eds. Past human migrations in East Asia: matching archaeology, linguistics and genetics, 133-157. Routledge Studies in the Early History of Asia, London: Routledge.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The etymology of *puluq ’10’, at last," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 22/03/2020,

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