Specks of dust, brooms and comets

Previously in this thread: I argued that the *-it-s vs. *-ut-s alternation affecting 寐, 穟, 季 and 悸 in Shi Jing rhyming is due to a dissimilatory sound change in early eastern China turning *Cʷut-s to *Cʷit-s. To that end I began to assemble a word-family based on a root *Pˤut (where ‘P’ stands for either of *b, *m-p- or *m-pʰ), with dust-related meanings including ‘powdery’, ‘duster=broom’ and ‘comet’, out of ‘broom’. So far, the family includes 孛 MC bwot, bwojH ‘comet’, 勃 MC bwot ‘powdery’ (of soil), and 彗篲 MC zwijH ‘broom, comet’. I have described how MC zwijH was derived out of root *Pˤut through lenition of the original labial initial, voicing of the prefix, and dissimilatory shift of *Cʷut-s to *Cʷit-s.

I now examine the initial in root *Pˤut. Was it *b-, *p- or *pʰ- ? Consider 嘒 ‘to chirp, of insects’, OC (BS) *qʷʰˤi[t]-s > MC xwejH. This is an old word: it rhymes as *-it-s in Odes 197 and 222, and also occurs with the meaning ‘small-looking’ (as glossed in the 毛傳:“微貌”) in Ode 21  小星, at the beginning of the first line of stanzas 1 and 2:

嘒彼小星 ‘small are those starlets’ (tr. Legge)

The maning of 嘒 in Ode 21 cannot simply be ‘small’, as 小 occurs two words later. In that ode, a prince’s concubines compare their fate  to that of a prince’s principal wife, describing themselves as faint stars in the sky. The idea is that of  being faint, almost invisible, insignificant. Supposing the root in 嘒 ‘small’ is the same as in 勃 MC bwot ‘powdery’ (of soil), we may infer the more specific meaning ‘tiny as a particle of dust’. In order to evolve to MC xw-, an OC labial stop would have to be aspirated, and to be lenited intervocalically: *Cə-pʰ-. The evolution would be parallel to that of 彗, via *Cə-ɸ- (lenition) >  *ɸ- (prefix loss) and finally xw-.

To my knowledge, this evolution path has not been proposed before. Are there any parallels ? the word 華 ‘flower’, MC xwae, is given the OC reconstruction *qʷʰˤra in Baxter and Sagart (2014) but this ignores 郭璞 Guo Pu’s comment to Fangyan 1. 7. 23 , that “江東呼華為荂, 音敷” (BS *pʰra); and the Shuo Wen entry for 葩 (reconstructable as *pʰˤra) : “葩, 華也”. It makes more sense to propose OC 【*Cə-pʰˤra 】 ‘flower’, with the same evolution as for 嘒:  through *Cə-ɸ-  >  *ɸ- > xw-  (I am using thick brackets【】for reconstructions that modify those in Baxter and Sagart 2014).

This parallel supports treating the root in 孛勃彗篲 as *pʰˤut, with the basic meaning ‘dust’ (v. and n.). 孛 ‘comet’, MC bwot and bwojH, then goes back to 【*m-pʰˤut 】 and 【*m-pʰˤut-s 】, where the prefix is the  instrumental nominalizer called *m1c– by Baxter and Sagart (2014:55). A broom (out of which we may suppose the meaning ‘comet’ arose) is an instrument of dusting. 彗 and 篲, both ‘comet’ and ‘broom’, involve the long, iambic form of *s-, more specifically *s2-, a prefix deriving circumstantial nouns including names of instruments (Baxter and Sagart 2014:56), plus *m1b-, which turns a noun into a verb of volitional/controlled action: thus 彗 and 篲【*sə-m-pʰˤut-s】’instrument for dusting=broom=comet’. 勃 MC bwot ‘powdery’ (of soil) would have had *N-, the stative-intransitive voicing prefix (Baxter and Sagart 2014:54): 【*N-pʰˤut】. Finally 嘒  ‘small as a speck of dust’ had an iambic prefix of whose function little can be said: 【*Cə-pʰˤut】 . To recapitulate:

Root pʰˤut ‘dust (n.), to dust’:

孛 ‘comet’【*m-pʰˤut 】 and 【*m-pʰˤut-s 】> bwot and bwojH

勃 ‘powdery’ (as soil) 【*N-pʰˤut 】> bwot

彗篲 ‘broom, comet’ 【*sə-m-pʰˤut-s】> zwijH

嘒  ‘small as a speck of dust’ 【*Cə-pʰˤut】> xwejH

And, from another root:

華 ‘flower’ 【*Cə-pʰˤra 】 > xwae

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Specks of dust, brooms and comets," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 14/02/2021, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1272.

Alternating *-it-s and *-ut-s rhymes in the Shi Jing: a dissimilatory change after all

In a recent post I listed six cases of unexpected rhyming between *-it-s and *-ut-s in the Shi Jing, noting that this always occurred after a labial initial. I treated these examples as resulting from an assimilatory process spreading the labial feature onto the vowel. From the sections of the Shi Jing where these rhyme contacts occur, I deducted that the change had taken place in (north)western China.

Guillaume Jacques immediately commented that the reverse interpretation might be worth considering:  a dissimilatory process changing *-ut-s to *-it-s after a labial. In that case, the four labial-initialed *-it-s words (as  reconstructed in Baxter and Sagart 2014) 寐 *mi[t]-s, 穟 *s.[ɢ]ʷi[t]-s, 季 *kʷi[t]-s, 悸 *[g]ʷi[t]-s must have their OC rhyme  emended to *-ut-s : they evolved to *-it-s through labial dissimilation only in eastern China, while continuing to rhyme as *-ut-s in western and northern regions (Daya, 王風 Wang Feng and 衛風 Wei Feng sections).

In a first response,  dated 28-02-2020, I resisted this alternative treatment, missing the point that the change could be dissimilatory and the vowel in the OC reconstructions 寐 *mi[t]-s, 穟 *s.[ɢ]ʷi[t]-s, 季 *kʷi[t]-s, 悸 *[g]ʷi[t]-s, inferred as it was from MC,  could be innovative. In a second comment to the same post four months later I finally saw the light, citing Lushai mut ‘to sleep’ as a potential cognate of 寐 ‘sleep’ in support of reconstructing 寐 as *mu[t]-s in OC. In this post I present more evidence for the dissimilatory view. I am indebted to Bill Baxter for bringing some of the relevant facts to my attention. In what follows I will take as established an east-west dialect distinction in Shi Jing times, described in a forthcoming paper by Ma Kun and myself.

If one of the four words: 寐穟季悸 rhyming as *-it-s or *-ut-s depending on the region had a second reading in MC *-t, we would directly know the direction of change: as suffixed *-s is a necessary condition for the change to occur, the s-less form would show the original vowel. That is, unfortunately, not the case. We can still look for a word-family relating *-it-s and *-ut-s words, and also including s-less members.

Let us consider the words for ‘broom’ and ‘comet’. A comet—really— looks like a certain type of broom, so it is not surprising that a Chinese word combines the two meanings: 彗 *s-[ɢ]ʷi[t]-s > zwijH > huì ‘broom; comet’. A synonym is 孛 *[b]ˤ[u]t-s > bwojH > bèi ‘comet’. These two words have the rhymes involved in the *-ut-s / *-it-s alternation, and both have labial or labialized initials. 孛 has a second, s-less reading: *[b]ˤ[u]t > bwot > bó ‘comet’. If 彗 and 孛 can be shown to be etymologically related, then the direction of change cannot be from *-it-s to *-ut-s because the s-less reading of 孛 is compatible with *u and *ə, but not with *i.

But are they related ? as reconstructed in Baxter and Sagart (2014), the two words involve very different roots: [ɢ]ʷi[t and [b]ˤ[u]t. Initial [ɢ]ʷ- in the former was reconstructed because the phonetic series of 彗 includes words with MC x- and hj-, both compatible with an uvular, and a voiced obstruent was needed to voice the prefix. But that reconstruction is not inscribed in marble. I am going to argue that one can derive both 彗 and 孛 out of the labial-initial root in 孛.

The two readings of 孛 ‘comet’ are based on a root Pˤ[u]t (where ‘P’ stands for a labial stop, and [u] stands for either *ə or *u). There is an external cognate: Tangkhul phut ‘broom’ (Bhat 1969). VanBik (2009) reconstructs Proto-Kuki-Chin *phut ‘dust, powder’ which is probably related—a broom is an instrument for dusting. Matisoff’s STEDT web site reconstructs PTB *pʷut ⪤ *hwut ASHES / DUST, which includes Written Burmese phut ‘dust’.  Schuessler (2007:171) offers 勃 ‘powdery’ (sc soil) as a Chinese cognate (reconstructible as *[b]ˤ[u]t > MC bwot in the Baxter-Sagart system). This word is most likely related to 孛 ‘comet’ via ‘broom’. Baxter and Sagart (2014) reconstruct OC independently from TB, but since OC *ə usually corresponds to a in other ST languages, the vowel outside of Chinese argues, though not conclusively, for *Pˤut over *Pˤət.

Let us now suppose that 彗 MC zwijH ‘broom; comet’ contains root *Pˤut. We can explain the  z- initial as a voiced outcome of the OC *s(ə)- prefix,  and the -w- medial as the lenited version of the labial stop in the root. The prefix would have undergone voicing assimilation on the stop—we would need to reconstruct either of OC *bˤ-, *m-pˤ-, or *m-pʰˤ-, which all converge into [b]- before MC, according to the BS system (I am excluding *N-pˤ- and *N-pʰˤ which would only make sense in an intransitive verb). The *[b]- in the OC reconstruction of 孛 in Baxter and Sagart (2014) represents either one of those three  onsets. Lenition of the stop would be more natural in an intervocalic environment, suggesting *sə-[b]-. Evolution to zw- would be via *sə-b- > *sə-β- (lenition) >  *s-β-  (loss of prefix vowel) > *zβ- ( s- > z- voicing assimilation) and finally zw-(defricativization). The appearance of -w- before *u would be what triggered the change  from *-ut-s to *-it-s in the east: *zwut-s > *zwit-s: in other words, a dissimilatory change.

There is a problem with pharyngealization. I have assumed that the root common to 孛 and 彗 had a pharyngealized initial *Pˤ. Now OC pharyngealized words normally do not evolve to MC division 3, yet 彗, MC zwijH, is a third-division word. Why is that ? while in general loosely attached preinitials/prefixes (i.e. having the form *Cə) can occur in all MC divisions, *sə- as reconstructed in the Baxter-Sagart system only ever occurs in MC third-division words. There is something in that prefix which is incompatible with root initial pharyngealization, causing it to be lost. I suspect the prefix was [si] rather than [sə] as Baxter and Sagart reconstructed it, and the front vowel prevented coarticulatory anticipation of the pharyngealization gesture in the following consonant.

Let us go back to the proposed role of medial -w- in triggering the change from *-ut-s to *-it-s: this fails to explain the participation of 寐 in the change, as the initial is a plain *m. The price to pay for our analysis is that we need to stipulate a minor change turning OC [mu] into [mʷu] in the eastern pronunciation, before the *-ut-s > *-it-s change took place. But the idea that medial -w- triggered the change does fit in rather well with the absence of MC labial stop initials among the four words involved. Under a dissimilatory account, the -it-s/-ut-s alternation is conditioned by a labialized initial *Cʷ- preceding *-ut-s, not by a labial consonant preceding *-it-s.

I have shown that deriving 彗 and 孛 from a single root *Pˤut is feasible, even if it requires us to add a hitherto unknown lenition process to our OC reconstruction toolkit. This supports the dissimilatory analysis. In a forthcoming post, I will add new members to the proposed word-family and investigate the phonological and morphological variation it contains.


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

Bhat, D. N. Shankara. 1969. Tankhur Naga vocabulary. (Deccan College Building Centenary and Silver Jubilee Series 67). Poona: Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute.

Schuessler, A. 2007. ABC etymological dictionary of Chinese. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

VanBik, Kenneth. 2009. A reconstructed ancestor of the Kuki-Chin languages. STEDT monograph 8. Berkeley, University of California.

STEDT: https://stedt.berkeley.edu/~stedt-cgi/rootcanal.pl

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Alternating *-it-s and *-ut-s rhymes in the Shi Jing: a dissimilatory change after all," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 14/02/2021, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1233.

What is an insect doing in the Chinese character for “wind” ?

The traditional (non-simplified) Chinese character 風 *prəm > pjuwng > fēng ‘wind (n.)’ consists of 凡 *[b]rom > bjom > fán as phonetic, plus an insect 虫 inside it, in a position that could suit a signific. Such is the analysis implied by the Shuowen Jiezi 說文解字 c. 100 CE, which says [ 從蟲凡聲 ] “with phonetic 凡, and signific 蟲”. The rationale for linking the wind with insects involves numerology: the number ‘eight’ governs both the eight winds and the insects (since these are said to need eight days to transform from the larval stage).

The true reason for the presence of 虫 is more interesting. The evolution of the graph for ‘wind’ was told by Jì Xùshēng 季旭昇 (2002 [2010], vol. 2 p. 225). According to him, the 虫 element in the modern character  appears graphically (at first in its full form 蟲), as part of the character for ‘wind’, in Zhan Guo 戰國 times in palaeographic material from Shuihudi 睡虎地. Graphically it continues a triple pattern on the feathers of 鳳 *[b]r[ə]m-s > bjuwngH > fèng ‘phoenix’, a character used for 風 “wind” as a loangraph  (or jiajiezi 假借字) in the oracle bone inscriptions. This 鳳 character itself was a drawing of a bird with ornate feathers, sometimes accompanied by 凡  in a phonetic capacity. [Added Feb. 5, 2021: Ma Kun 马坤 informs me that the explanation of the graphic history of the character goes back to Zeng Xiantong 曾宪通 (1996). Chu Wenzi shi cong (wu ze). Zhongshan Daxue xuebao 3:58-65. ]

Phonologically the character’s pronunciation is recounted in Baxter and Sagart (2014:310-311). They reconstructed the OC form of ‘wind’ as *prəm. In the evolution to Middle Chinese, Old Chinese words ending in *-əm underwent a special development when their initial was a labial: *-əm was rounded to *-um under the effect of the initial; upon which the -m ending dissimilated to *-ŋ. In that way 風 “wind” evolved from OC *prəm to *prum, *pruŋ and finally MC  pjuwng. The word “bear” 熊 followed the same evolution, from OC *C.[ɢ]ʷ(r)əm to [ɢ]ʷ(r)um to [ɢ]ʷ(r)uŋ and finally to MC hjuwng.

Now back to our original question, what is an insect 虫/蟲 doing there ? In the Baxter-Sagart system, 蟲 is Old Chinese *C.lruŋ > Middle Chinese drjuwng. After the evolution *prəm > *prum > pruŋ, 凡 (*[b]rom in OC) could no longer be recognized as a phonetic, and there would be a need for phonetic remotivation of the character. Getting a 蟲 to appear in ‘wind’, out of an earlier graphic detail, would provide a phonetic clue to the string -ruŋ in 風 at the *pruŋ stage. Imperfect, because of the lack of any labial before -r-, but still informative. In other words, 蟲 occurs in ‘wind’ as an (imperfect) phonetic element.

In the history of the Chinese script, it is not rare for graphic elements originally playing no phonetic role to be reconditioned as phonetics, a process known as “phonetic remotivation”, sometimes called 音化 “phoneticization” in Chinese.  As here, such phonetics tend to display imperfect adequation to the character’s pronunciation, evidently due to the strong graphic constraints on the process: 音化 phonetics are selected, not out of the entire collection of available phonetics, but out a narrower collection of  phonetics bearing  some graphic resemblance to a part of an earlier character.

In the case of 風, we may turn things around and take the first appearance of  蟲 in feng 風 as a terminus post quem non for the late OC *pruŋ stage:  Warring States, then.


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

Jì Xùshēng 季旭昇. 2010 [2002]. Shuōwén xīn zhèng 說文新證 [New evidence on the Shuōwén]. Fúzhōu 福州: Taipei: Yee Wen. (In Chinese)

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "What is an insect doing in the Chinese character for “wind” ?," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 28/01/2021, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1221.

Walu-Siwaish (master post)

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(Jump up one level to Enemish)

(jump down one level to Western Walu-Siwaish; to Central Walu-Siwaish; to Eastern Walu-Siwaish)

Proto-Walu-Siwaish (pWS) speakers occupied the south-western plain of Taiwan shortly before 4500 BP. The breakup of pWS produced three groups. One: western Walu-Siwaish, remained in the southwestern plains, ultimately splitting into Hoanya and Papora; a second group—central Walu-Siwaish—moved north into mountain territory in the Formosan interior; while a third group—eastern Walu-Siwaish— crossed the southern extremity of the central mountain range, introducing the neolithic way of life to the East coast c. 4500 BP (Hung 2008:71-73). All modern east-coast languages, plus Malayo-Polynesian and Kra-Dai languages belong to this last clade.

Walu-Siwaish language are characterized by the appearance of the ‘modern’ numerals for ‘8’ and ‘9’: *walu and *Siwa respectively, as well as of their several variants. For ‘8’: *ba(h)lu and *halu; for ‘9’, *siba (Sagart 2004; 2014). Similar forms cannot be found further north on the west coast, except in long shapes like Pazeh xasepatelu ‘8’, xasepisupat ‘9’, which reveal their etymologies as ‘5+3’ and ‘5+4’ (Sagart 2004).


Hung, Hsiao-chun. 2008. Migration and Cultural Interaction in Southern Coastal China, Taiwan and the Northern Philippines, 3000 BC to AD 100: The Early History of the Austronesian-speaking Populations. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Canberra: the Australian National University.

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

Sagart, Laurent. 2014. In Defense of the Numeral-based Model of Austronesian Phylogeny, and of Tsouic. Language and Linguistics 15(6) 859–882.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Walu-Siwaish (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 02/12/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1088.



West-coast Walu-Siwaish (master post)

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The West-coast Walu-Siwaish languages are Papora and Hoanya, two extinct languages, each of them significantly diverse. Their last speakers were interviewed mainly by Japanese linguists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We possess short vocabularies for a number of locations in rough, not fully systematic phonetic transcriptions. Tsuchida (1982) includes a collection of these forms,  now accessible online through the Hoanya and Papora pages of the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database (ABVD; here and here) of Greenhill et al. (2003-).

Despite the difficulties inherent in establishing cognacy given the nature of the data, the Hoanya and Papora words for ‘fire’ and ‘black’, present us with two uniquely shared western Walu-Siwaish innovations. 

A correspondence between Hoanya and Papora voiced coronals  recurs over these comparisons, which include ‘fire’ and ‘black’:

  Hoanya #1-1a Hoanya #1-8 Papora #1-3 Papora #2 
  dz z d d
dzapu zapū dapu dapū
rain mudzas _
modad _
road, path dzalan _ dalan  
black mavidzu mavizū abidu avedoo

‘Fire’. Blust’s Austronesian Comparative Dictionary (ACD; here) assigns the Hoanya and Papora words for ‘fire’ to PANBlust *Sapuy ‘fire’. In their Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database (ABVD), Greenhill et al. (2003-),  do the same, listing the forms  under cognate set #1 (here).   However this will not do, since Blust’s PAN *S goes to s- in Hoanya (*Sikan ‘fish’ > sikan, *Suaji ‘younger sibling’ > suazi, *Sepat ‘4’ > supat) and in Papora as well (*Siwa ‘nine’ > siya, *daqiS ‘forehead’ > ddes). Conversely none of the other Hoanya-Papora words with the same correspondence as ‘fire’ (see the above table) goes back to PAN *S. Either there has been an irregular sound change turning PAN *S into some voiced coronal in the Papora-Hoanya word for ‘fire’, or, more plausibly,  the Hoanya and Papora forms for ‘fire’ are cognates of another word: PMPBlust *dapuR ‘hearth’, even though this last form has not hitherto been observed in Formosan languages. Tsuchida (1969) reconstructs *Z in ‘rain’ (*qu2ZaN), one of the words which exemplify the Papora-Hoanya correspondence (above table). Allowing for the uncertainty due to the lack of  cognates in other Formosan languages, I will write PWS *[Z]apuR. Taking a hint from Wolff (2010) I gloss the form as  ‘cooking fire’. The best solution is to assume that *[Z]apuR displaced Blust’s *Sapuy as ‘fire’ exclusively in western Walu-Siwaish.  For the final consonant, Papora-Hoanya examples of PAN final *-R are few, but *-R falls in Hoanya #1-1b matulu ‘to sleep’ < *ma-tuduR  (this etymon is not found elsewhere in Papora or Hoanya).

‘Black’. The PAN word reconstructed by Blust as *qudem ‘black’ has a broad distribution in Taiwan; but it was displaced, exclusively in Hoanya and Papora, by a word reconstructible as *abid[z]u. There is an apparent cognate in Mongondow: mo-bidu ‘blue’, so that *abid[z]u can be assigned to PWS. However there was competition between *abid[z]u and *qudem in PWS: it is only in western Walu-Siwaish that the former diplaced the latter. In Mongondow mo-bidu has a doublet mo-biru ‘blue’. This mo-biru belongs to a widespread set which Blust (here) treats as borrowed from Malay. Although he admits that in Mongondow “it would normally be assumed that where variants in d, r appear the d variant is historically primary”, he assumes “for the present”  that “Mongondow mo-bidu is a result of analogical back-formation from a loanword with r“. However,  the Hoanya-Papora cognate convincingly shows that d, not r, is primary: indeed, Mongondow d is a match for Papora d, Hoanya dz, as in ‘road, path’ : Papora dalan, Hoanya dzalan, Mongondow daḷan. Only the biru-type forms are part of the loan distribution identified by Blust.


Blust, Robert A. and Stephen Trussel. Ongoing. Austronesian Comparative Dictionary (ACD). Online at http://www.trussel2.com/acd/

Greenhill, Simon, Robert Blust, and Russell Gray. 2003-. Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database (ABVD). Online at  https://abvd.shh.mpg.de/austronesian/.

Tsuchida, S. (1982) A Comparative Vocabulary of Austronesian Languages of Sinicized Ethnic Groups in Taiwan, Part I: Western Taiwan. Memoirs of the Faculty of Letters, No. 7, University of Tokyo. Tokyo, Japan.

Wolff, John U. 2010. Proto-Austronesian phonology with glossary. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "West-coast Walu-Siwaish (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 18/11/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1065.



The PAN coda *-X in Favorlang

In Sagart (2019 here) I reconstructed a new PAN consonantal ending : *X [χ]. This is one source of the Kra-Dai tone B. In the same paper I showed that at the end of Austronesian words, two previously reconstructed h-type sounds: *H1 and *H2, evolved to different tones in Kra-Dai: *H1 to tone C and *H2 to tone A. In Table 7 of that paper I further assigned my *X to two words having no Kra-Dai cognates: *qeCaX ‘chaff’ and *duRiX ‘thorn’.  The reason for claiming these words ended in *X was that, while there was evidence in each case for a final voiceless fricative (Amis ʔtah ‘chaff’, Aklanon dugih ‘thorn’), that fricative could neither be *H1 nor *H2, as shown by the combination of  cited Saisiyat, Amis and Bunun forms: only *X was consistent with all the evidence.

Favorlang, an extinct Austronesian language of the Formosan west coast, recorded by Dutch missionaries in the mid-17th century brings additional evidence. I rely on Happart’s Favorlang vocabulary of 1650, as published in Campbell (1896).

As represented in those sources, Favorlang regularly loses the PAN endings *H1 and *H2:

*-H1: bao ‘new’ < baqeRuH1; bagg’ (o chau) ‘a live coal’ < baRaH1; ema < *qumaH1 ‘a field’, atshia ‘a salting’ < qasiRaH1.

*-H2: torro ‘three’ (in manna-torro-us ‘three times’) < tuluH2; manna-pida ‘to be often repeated’ < *pijaH2; charina ‘ear’ < CangilaH2; abo < qabuH2 ‘ash’; kairi ‘left’ < ka-wiRiH2; bato ‘stone’ < batuH2.

Yet *qeCaX ‘chaff’ is reflected in Favorlang with a final back-of-the mouth fricative, as chach or chagh ‘the powder of ground seed; the refuse of bruised corn’ (understand ‘the by-product of pounding grain: chaff’). PAN *q is regularly lost in Favorlang, and PAN *C evolves regularly to ch. Dutch orthographic ch writes [x] and gh writes [x] or [ɣ] : this may have been close to the value of the fricatives in chach/chagh: [xax], [xaɣ] or similar. The first ch- reflects PAN *C; the last consonant: –ch or –gh, my *X. It cannot reflect *H1 or *H2, since as shown above both go to zero in Favorlang.

The behaviour of final *-X in Favorlang is parallel to that of final -h in the Amis cognate ‘tah ‘chaff’: this -h cannot reflect *H2, as final *H2 goes to zero in Amis. It could reflect *H1, since Amis reflects final *H1 as –h, but *H1 is contra-indicated by Saisiyat kæ-ʔsæʔ ‘chaff’—expect ʔsæh if PAN was *qeCaH1. Thus geographically distant Amis and Favorlang agree in having in ‘chaff’ a final back-of-the-mouth fricative that can neither reflect *H1 nor *H2.


Happart, Gilbertus (1650 [1896]) Woordboek der Favorlangsche Taal. Published in English translation as Happart’s Favorlang vocabulary in W. Campbell (ed.) The articles of Christian Instruction in Favorlang-Formosan Dutch and English. London, Kegan Paul, Trench and Trübner, 1896, pp. 122-199.

Sagart, Laurent. 2019. A model of the origin of Kra-Dai tones. Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale, 2019, 48 (1), pp.1-29. ⟨10.1163/19606028-04801004⟩

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The PAN coda *-X in Favorlang," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 24/06/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/963.


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(jump up one level to Pituish)

A monophyletic Favorlang-Taokas subgroup is supported by these innovations:

1. an innovative numeral for ‘6’: Favorlang and Babuza nataap, Taokas tahap, tákap , takkap (sets #26 and 28 in the ABVD).   These are additive forms based on a 1+5 prototype (*sa-RaCep), different from Saisiyat and Pazeh where ‘6’ is 5+1.

The Favorlang-Babuza form nataap  is composed of natta ‘1’ and achab [ahab] < *RaCep  ‘five’ reduced to [ab]. natta in turn reflects PAN *sa ‘one’ with na- prefixed marker of a derived series of numerals of uncertain functions: na-rroa ‘two’, na-torro-a ‘three’, na-spat ‘four’, na-chab ‘five’, na-taap ‘six’.

Taokas tahap, tákap , takkap ‘six’ is composed of ta- < *sa ‘one’ plus hap, kap, kkap in different dialect points. Initial h, k, kk reflects PAN *R. PAN *C should give Taokas s: here it is lost, presumably after *RaCep was reduced to Rasp through syncope.

2. An innovative word for ‘dog’. Favorlang mado, Babuza mato/malu/mado/malok (dialects), Taokas mato/maro/mazok/marox/malok etc. (dialects), all ‘dog’ (set #9 in ABVD). These forms go back to *ma[d]uq and displace PAN *asu, u-asu ‘dog’.

A Favorlang-Taokas subgroup is common to my phylogeny and to Blust’s.


ABVD (Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database). Online at https://abvd.shh.mpg.de/austronesian/. Accessed June 19, 2020.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Favorlang-Taokas," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 20/06/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/937.

Pituish (master post)

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(jump down one level to Limaish)

Pituish has two branches: Favorlang-Taokas (here) and Limaish (here). It is defined by the innovation of *pitu ‘seven’, as  discussed in Sagart (2004) (here), to which readers are referred. *pitu replaces PAN *RaCep-i-tuSa ‘five-plus-two: seven’, of which it is a left- and right-pruned form: *pitu < *(RaCe)p-i-tu(Sa).

In addition, a non-displacing innovation in Pituish created a new numeral for ‘nine’, based on *sa-ŋ-aCu ‘one taken away’ (from ‘ten’):  Favorlang tannacho, Babuza #131 tanahu,Taokas tanasu, Thao: tanacu. It is listed as cognate set #6 in the ABVD (here). All through Limaish and Enemish, the new numeral competed with the inherited *RaCep-i-Sepat ‘five plus four’ found in Pazeh xaseb-i-supat. It did not displace it either in Limaish or in Enemish, since later *Siwa, simplified from *RaCep-i-Sepat, finally displaces all its competitors in Walu-Siwaish. *sa-ŋ-aCu ‘9’ does not appear in  the other Pituish languages upstream of Proto-Walu-Siwaish, because of a series of local innovations displacing *sa-ŋ-aCu:  Atayal qeru, Sediq maŋali, and in Siraya matauda.


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

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Pituish (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 20/06/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/919.

‘Bicycle’ to ‘bike’, and the limits of regular sound change.

The development of bike [bajk] out of  bicycle [‘bajsɪkl] has occasioned some etymological speculation in print and online.  The two principal proposals seem to be (a) that bicycle was reduced from a trisyllable to a monosyllable through cumulative loss of its medial syllable [sɪ] and of final syllabic [l], thus bicycle > bicycle  > bic [bajk] (here); and (b) that bicycle was pruned to bicycle , the result being [bajk] rather than [bajs] because the phoneme underlying [s] was a velar /k/ (Hausman 1976).  This last, generatively-inspired proposal is not hugely plausible. If the underlying phoneme was /k/, why was the velar brought to phonetic light after pruning, when the etymological connections of –cycle were least apparent ? why does /k/ never surface in cycle and its derivatives ?

Here is  a third account, which I believe makes better historical sense. It agrees with the first as regards pruning  of final syllabic [l], but differs from it in supposing syncope of the second, unstressed vowel [ɪ], rather than loss of the entire second syllable [sɪ] in bicycle. The two changes, l-pruning and ɪ-syncope,  applying in whatever temporal order, resulted in [bajsk], with [k] resyllabified as part of the monosyllable’s coda. The modern form bike in turn results from the simplification to [jk] of the  cluster [jsk], unattested in word-final position, bringing it in line with like, hike, pike, Mike etc.

There are interesting lessons in this. When polysyllabic words see a marked and sudden increase in their frequency, as for instance following fast societal acceptance of a technological innovation, as here, or for whatever other reason, there will be pressure on them to  become shortened. Shortened forms can take hold very fast. Thus in French, the five-syllable masculine noun coronavirus [kɔʁɔnaviʁus], in use at very low frequencies since c. 1965, suddenly underwent a sharp frequency increase at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in December 2019; I first heard it shortened to trisyllabic [kɔʁɔna] on March 15, 2020 (the new trisyllable was itself subjected to competition from disyllabic [kɔvid] shortly afterwards, in April or May, 2020, and at the time of writing, [kɔvid]  appears to have gained the upper hand). Meanwhile in the UK, a parallel reduction of coronavirus to disyllabic rona appears to have been underway, as shown by this  journal article dated July 28, 2020.

The main tools language has at its disposal to shorten words are pruning and unstressed vowel syncope. One works from a word’s edge—or both edges, as in rona—, the other from the inside. Both affect words that are too long for their frequency,  without any stateable phonological conditioning.  Syncope will result in unattested or unacceptable consonant clusters, and prunings may affect syllabification, in ways that require repairs in order for the shortened word to fit the language’s canon and phonotactics. Strings will be resyllabified, clusters simplified. As the clusters will be rare or unattested, they will tend to simplify in unique ways. Although they cannot be regarded as ‘regular’, these are common historical changes affecting the sound of words.

  • Hausmann, R. B. (1976). An Etymological Brainteaser: The Shortening of Bicycle to Bike. American Speech, 51(3/4), 272. doi:10.2307/454976 
Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "‘Bicycle’ to ‘bike’, and the limits of regular sound change.," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 19/06/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/940.

Limaish (master post)

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(Jump up one level to Pituish)

(jump down one level to Enemish)

Limaish is a daughter of Pituish. It is defined by two innovations:

1. *lima ‘five’.  This originates in *lima, *qa-lima ‘hand’. *lima displaces PAN *RaCep, the main word for ‘five’ on the northern half of the west coast:  Saisiyat, Pazeh, Favorlang, Babuza, Taokas. (cognate set #2 in the ABVD). *lima is virtually universal in the rest of Taiwan, Malayo-Polynesian and—outside of Chinese loanwords—Kra-Dai.

2. Limaish languages are also characterized by the appearance of a special series of numerals used with human referents. There is no evidence for such a series in the languages upstream of Limaish: Taokas, Favorlang, Babuza, Pazeh, Kaxabu, Kulon, Saisiyat, Luilang. The Limaish human numerals are derived out of the main series by means of Ca- reduplication, where ‘C’ is a copy of the base’s initial consonant, and –a is the plural marker of human and personal nouns. Because this series is initially a plural one, at the time it arises, a numeral for ‘one’ cannot be part of it. In the immediate daughters languages of Proto-Limaish, Thao and Atayal, tata and qutux, both ‘one’, respectively, serve to count things and humans. Here is a list of Limaish languages with Ca-reduplicated numerals for human reference:

Thao (Blust 2003): ta-tusha ‘two’, ta-turu ‘three’, ʃa-ʃpat ‘four’, ra-rima ‘five’, pa-pitu ‘seven’ (here)

Atayal (Mayrinax): ra-rusa? ‘two’, ta-tuu ‘three’, sa-spat ‘four’, a-ima ‘five’ (here)

Siraya (Adelaar 2011)  da-ruha ‘two’, ta-turo (-u) ‘three’, pa-xpat ‘four’, ra-rĭma ‘five’, pa-pĭto (-u) ‘seven’.

Bunun (Isbukun) ta-cini (?) ‘one’, da-dusa ‘two’, ta-tau ‘three’, sa-sapaat ‘four’, a-ima/ha-hima ‘five’, a-apnum ‘six’, pa-pitu ‘seven’, va-vau ‘eight’, sa-siva ‘nine’, ma-masan ‘ten’ (here)

Rukai: Tanan Rukai does have a separate series for counting humans (and animals), but instead of Ca- reduplication, the series is marked by ta- prefixation (here).

Kanakanabu: tacíni ‘one’, tasúsa ‘two’, tatúlu ‘three’, sasúpatə ‘four’, lalíma ‘five’, nanəmə ‘six’, papítu ‘seven’, laláalu ‘eight’, sasía ‘nine’, mamáanə ‘ten’ (here).

Saaroa: tsa-tsiɬi ‘one’, sa-sua ‘two’, ta-tulu ‘three’, a-upatɨ ‘four’, la-lima ‘five’, a-ɨnɨmɨ ‘six’, pa-pitu ‘seven’, la-la-alu ‘eight’, sa-sia ‘nine’ (here)

Tsou: Tsou has a vestigial Ca-reduplicated series, limited to sasupatə ‘four’ (here)

Kavalan has a series of numerals for counting humans, but replaces Ca-reduplication by prefixation of kin-, after the break-up of Eastern Walu-Siwaish.

The Formosan Puluqish languages: Amis, Puyuma, Paiwan, have either lost the series (Amis), or mark it with a prefix (Puyuma mia-, Paiwan ma-). Nevertheless Puluqish languages outside of Taiwan, like Itbayaten and Chamorro, tell us that Proto-Puluqish did have a human counting series marked by Ca-reduplication:

Itbayaten: da-doha ‘two’, la-lima ‘five’, pa-pito ‘seven’, wa-waxo ‘eight’, sa-siyam ‘nine’ (here)

Chamorro: ta-to ‘three’, fa-fiti ‘seven’, gua-gualo ‘eight’, sa-sigwa ‘nine’ (here; fa-fiti is incorrectly assigned to ‘six’).

Most Malayo-Polynesian languages lack an independent series of  numerals for human reference but occasionally forms with Ca-reduplication crop up among a language’s numerals, e.g. Tagalog dalawa ‘two’, tatlo ‘three’.

The Kra-Dai languages do not preserve the left edge of words well enough for us to detect a Ca- reduplication with confidence.


Adelaar, Alexander K. 2011. Siraya, Retrieving the Phonology, Grammar and Lexicon of a Dormant Formosan Language. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

Blust, Robert A. 2003. Thao Dictionary. Nankang: Institute of Linguistics (preparatory office), Academia Sinica.

Web site:

Eugene Chan, Numeral Systems of the World’s Languages. Online at https://mpi-lingweb.shh.mpg.de/numeral/. Accessed May 25, 2020.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Limaish (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 24/05/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/914.