All posts by Laurent Sagart

Yet another word for ‘ten’ in Formosan languages

A hitherto undescribed etymon for ‘ten’ occurs in languages of the north and east coasts of Taiwan: Sakizaya, Puyuma, north Formosan ( Kavalan, Basay, Ketagalan).

In his unpublished spreadsheet of Amis and Sakizaya dialects, Tsuchida cited Ma’ibor Sakizaya ce-cay a bataQ-an ‘ten’ (one-LNK-ten). Cauquelin’s Puyuma dictionary (Cauquelin 2015) only has puɭuʔ and məəp for ‘ten’ but ‘twenty’ is maka-bəʈaʔan. The prefix maka- serves in ‘ten’ and multiples of 10, eg maka-telun ‘30’, maka-pətəl ‘30’ etc. It is possible that maka-bəʈaʔan was simplified from maka-ɖua-bəʈaʔan: removing ɖua would cause no ambiguity. Kavalan has Rabtin ‘10’, zusabtin ‘20’ where –btin is the numeral ‘10’ (Li & Tsuchida 2006). One source of Kavalan /i/ is *qa. Vowel syncope is common in Kavalan although the conditions governing this process have not been elucidated. Basay is similar to Kavalan: labatan ‘10’, lusa batan ‘20’, as is Ketagalan ɭabat-an ‘10’, ɭusa batan ‘20’ (Ogawa, cited in Ferrell 1969). All these forms are regular outcomes of *baCaq-an. Puyuma provides the evidence for reconstructing -C- as against -t-.The formative Kavalan Ra-, Basay la-, Ketagalan ɭa– is a distinct morpheme.

A tentative etymology can be offered for evaluation. Tsuchida (1988) glosses the Bunun word bataqan (< baCaq-an, *bataq-an) in Qato and Idhokan dialects as ‘racks (L-shaped – to carry woods)’. Nihira’s Bunun vocabulary gives ‘a carrying board on the back’. The name of a carrying device for multiple objects is a potential source of ‘ten’. Bunun is a Walu-Siwaish language, like the languages where *baCaq-an occurs in ‘10’ or ‘20’.


Cauquelin, J. (2015). Nanwang Puyuma-English dictionary. Institute of Linguistics, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan.

Ferrell, R. (1969) Taiwan Aboriginal groups: problems in cultural and linguistic classification. Monograph No. 17, Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica. Nankang: Academia Sinica.

Li, P. J-K, and S. Tsuchida (2006) Kavalan dictionary. Language and Linguistics monograph series A19. Nankang: Institute of Linguistics (preparatory office), Academia Sinica.

Nihira, Y. (1983) A Bunun Vocabulary (2nd edition). Privately published.

Tsuchida, S. 1988. Comparative word lists of Bunun dialects. Report of the research carried out in 1983. Unpublished manuscript.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Yet another word for ‘ten’ in Formosan languages," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 31/03/2020,

The etymology of *puluq, at last

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 is defined by the innovation *puluq for ‘ten’ (note: I will soon describe more Puluqish innovations on this blog). This analysis is in contrast to the standard view (eg, in Blust’s phylogeny) that *puluq existed in PAN. I was not able, at the time, to explain how *puluq arose.

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’.  In the English index at the end of Namoh’s dictionary,  polo’ is isolated and given the gloss  ‘separated from and left alone’.

While the function of si- in si-polo’ could be clearer,  based on the  gloss given by Namoh 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’  adequately describes  the mental operation of separating n sets of ten objects and putting them aside before adding the remainder.  To illustrate with an extremely hypothetical example, a proto-Puluqish numeral expression duSa puluq lima (two-put aside-five) would be interpretable as  25, ‘two [sets of ten] put aside, [plus] five’.

A consequence of the present etymology 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 (2004) reconstructs Proto-Hlai *apu:c, where *p reflects an earlier (Proto-Kra-Dai) pl- cluster (the apparently discrepant final *c is discussed 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.

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 a Puluqish language.  If *puluq was a PAN word, that would be a coincidence.


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

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, at last," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 22/03/2020,

Subgrouping Puluqish 1: lexical innovations of Amis and Puyuma

Amis and Puyuma are two languages of south-eastern and eastern Formosa. In Blust’s Austronesian subgrouping (Blust 1999) they belong to different primary branches of the AN family: Amis to his East Formosan branch, along with Siraya (a west coast language), and the north Formosan languages Kavalan, Basay and Trobiawan; while Puyuma forms a branch unto itself. The ground for East Formosan is the alleged change of PAN *j, construed as a voiced palatalized velar stop, to *n. East Formosan requires at least one prehistoric migration. The phylogenetic study of Gray et al. finds no support at all for Blust’s East Formosan. Sagart (2004, 2015) argues that the PAN phoneme know as *j was a nasal so that the modern nasal reflexes are in fact a retention—which explains their discontinuous geographic distribution at the periphery of Taiwan. It is the nonnasal reflexes which are innovative—which fits well with their continuous geographical distribution in Taiwan.

In my phylogenetic scheme, which is based on the nested distribution of numerals 5-10 in Taiwan (Sagart 2008, modified from Sagart 2004), both Amis and Puyuma are Puluqish languages. Puluqish includes all Austronesian languages where the word for ‘10’ reflects *puluq. This subgroup also includes Paiwan, and, outside of Taiwan, Malayo-Polynesian and Kra-Dai languages. Within Puluqish, there is some evidence that Amis and Puyuma subgroup together, forming a northern puluqish group opposite southern puluqish, i.e. Paiwan+MP+KD. Here are six lexical innovations uniquely shared (afaik) by the two northern puluqish languages. The first two concern the numeral system.

  1. ‘one’ *sasay: Amis cacay ‘one’, Puyuma sasaya (< *sasay-a) ‘one’ (counting things). These forms reflect PAN *sa, short form of PAN *isa/esa ‘one’,  reduplicated, plus intrusive -y- inserted beween final -a in the word-base and the linker -a- following it. Thus Puyuma has ɖaɖua-ya ‘two’,  iwaiwa-ya ‘nine’, but ta-taɭu-a ‘three’, pitu-pitu-a ‘seven’, waɭu-waɭu-a ‘eight’ (all counting things);
  2. ‘ten’ *mukeCep. In both languages, inherited *puluq is attested only as the serial-counting word for ‘ten’. When counting human and non-human referents a reflex of *mukeCep is used: Amis moketep, Puyuma mukʈəp;
  3. ‘bone’ *ukak:  Amis ‘okak ‘bone’, Puyuma ukak ‘bone’;
  4. ‘cloud’ *kuCem ‘cloud’: Amis kotem ‘black cloud’, Puyuma kuʈəm ‘(big black) cloud’ (mi-a-kuʈəm ‘big black clouds promising rain’);
  5. ‘activity, skill *Nemak: Amis dmak ‘an activity, a happening; the things one does; to move’ (Fey); ‘activity, affair, business; to move; situation’ (Namoh); Puyuma lemak ‘know-how; skill’.
  6. hat’ *kabuŋ: Amis kafoŋ ‘hat; anything worn on the head’ (Fey); Puyuma kabuŋ ‘hat’, mi-kabuŋ ‘wear a hat’ (Cauquelin).


Blust, R. (1999) Subgrouping, circularity and extinction: some issues in Austronesian comparative linguistics. In: Elizabeth Zeitoun and Paul Jen-kuei Li (eds.) Selected Papers from the Eighth International Conference on Austronesian linguistics, 31-94. Taipei: Institute of Linguistics (preparatory office).

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.

Sagart, L. (2015) ‘East Formosan’ and the PAN palatals. Paper presented at the 13th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, Taipei, July 18-22, 2015.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Subgrouping Puluqish 1: lexical innovations of Amis and Puyuma," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 20/03/2020,

OC ‘wing’ and ‘next day’

Baxter and Sagart (2014) (hereafter ‘B&S’) reconstruct ‘wing’ as *ɢʷrəp > MC yik. Although the MC form ends in -k, and ‘wing’ constantly rhymes as *-ək in the Shijing odes—is quite a prolific rhyme word in the Shijing—OC *-p was proposed on the basis of the phonetic element 立, OC *k.rəp, which occurs in some tokens of the Shang graph, alongside a naturalistic drawing of a wing. Moreover, with or without , the graph for ‘wing’ serves as a jiajie for ‘next day’, presumably because the two were close or identical in pronunciation—it does not seem likely that the two are etymologically related. In Middle Chinese and Modern Standard Chinese, or yik > yì ‘next day’ is a homophone of ‘wing’ yik > yì ‘wing’. Note that, as with ‘wing’, the (modern) characters for ‘next day’ include phonetic , implying OC *-p here too. The replacement of final *-p by *-k in OC is best treated as the result of a sound change: any other kind of explanation would hardly explain the two words simultaneously. B&S therefore assign ‘next day’ the same OC form as ‘wing’, i.e. *ɢʷrəp. They assume that dissimilation between the labial elements in the onset and final caused the *-p coda to shift to *-k, in both words. Interestingly final nasals seem unaffected by the change, for instance

*prəm > pjuwng > fēng ‘wind (n.)’

consistently rhymes with other *-əm words, such as *səm > sim > xīn ‘heart’ in the odes. The labial initial in ‘wind’ has not triggered a change from *-m to *-ŋ. Such a change will eventually take place, but later, after the Shijing period. Change of *-p to *-k in words with labial initials (even over medial -r-) is very early, predating Shijing rhyming, perhaps in terminal Shang or initial Zhou times.

As justification for the *ɢʷr- onset in ‘wing’, Baxter & Sagart (2014:386 fn 30) note that often writes *[ɢ]ʷrəp-s > hwijH > wèi ‘standing, position’. This word they treat as a contraction of a honorific *ɢʷəʔ (as in 有商 ‘the Shang’) and root *rəp ‘to stand’, with a nominalizing *-s suffix. They suppose that in ‘wing’ and ‘next day’, phonetic stands for *[ɢ]ʷrəp-s, whence the onset proposed for the two words.

The phonetic is not associated with the graph for ‘wing’ before Zhou bronze script: there is no need to assume final -p and dissimilation from a labial onset: B&S reconstruct *ɢ(r)ək-s > yiH > yì ‘different’.

These reconstructions resolve an interesting range of issues, but there is a difficulty: Qiu Xigui (2012) observed that occurs in the Shijing and Shujing in some of the same contexts where was used in the oracular inscriptions. This is difficult to explain with our reconstructions *ɢ(r)ək-s and *l̥ək: in the current framework there is no way that an OC *ɢ- or *ɢ(r)- can evolve to a late OC lateral; but *m-r- does evolve regularly to late OC *l- (Baxter and Sagart 2014:133). Consequently it is preferable to reconstruct as *m-rək. Further, would be a perfect phonetic for ‘wing’ in Zhou times is ‘wing’ itself were *m-rək. Replacing initial *ɢʷr by *m-r- would not prevent labial-to-labial dissimilation, since m is labial too: a terminal Shang-time or initial Zhou-time *m-rəp would dissimilate to early Zhou *m-rək just as well. In addition, the new proposal would avoid the complication of supposing that in ‘wing’ and ‘next day’, phonetic stands for . If *k is a prefix in *k.rəp > lip > lì ‘stand (v.)’ (our reconstruction leaves the possibility open) then the root *rəp is eligible for prefixation by *m-, which in verbs marks actions controlled by the subject.

An OC *m-r- would give *z- in Proto-Min (p. 134, table 4.39). Indeed, ‘wing’ has *z- in Proto-Min (Norman 1974:34).

Externally, the new reconstruction *m-rəp ‘wing’ would make an attractive match for Proto-Tangkhulic *raap ‘rib’ (Mortensen) and the etymon #558 PTB *s/b-ram RIB in the STEDT. The folded wings of a bird are located along its sides, like the ribs.


OC (proposed)

Proto-Min (Norman 1974)


*m-rəp > yik > yì ‘wing’


*s/b-ram RIB

*m-rəŋ > ying > yíng ‘fly’


*s-b-(r/y)aŋ FLY (n.) / BEE

where OC *m-r- appears to correspond to the /b-r-/ onset strings in the two STEDT reconstructions.


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

Norman, Jerry. 1974. The initials of Proto-Min. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 2.27-36.

Qiú Xīguī 裘錫圭. 2012. Bǔcí “[yì]” zì hé Shī, Shū lǐ de “[shì]” zì 卜辭 “異” 字和詩、書裏的 “式” 字. Qiú Xīguī xuéshù wénjí 裘錫圭學術文集, vol. 1, 212–229. ( 6 v.). Shànghǎi 上海: Fùdàn dàxué chūbǎnshè 復旦大學出版社.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "OC ‘wing’ and ‘next day’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 21/02/2020,

A dialectal sound change in the Shi Jing: -it-s > -ut-s after labial consonant

[This post was revised March 12 and 15, 2020]

There are at least six examples in the Odes of OC *-it-s rhyming with *-ut-s (whether original OC *-ut-s, or *-ut-s from OC *-up-s). This happens only when *-it-s is preceded by a labial consonant. Most likely, a dialectal sound change has taken place, changing *-it-s to *-ut-s after a [+labial] consonant, and allowing words pronounced as *-it-s elsewhere to rhyme with *-ut-s:

*-it-s > *-ut-s /[+labial] __

The locations in the Odes where this rhyming can be seen are:

  • 58.5 *mi[t]-s with *sə-lu[t]-s,
  • 60.1 悸 *[g]ʷi[t]-s with *sə-lu[t]-s,
  • 65.2 穟 *s.[ɢ]ʷi[t]-s with 醉 *Cə.tsu[t]-s [added March 15]
  • 241.3 季 *kʷi[t]-s with 對 *[t]ˤ[u]p-s,
  • 241.4 季 *kʷi[t]-s with 類 *[r]u[t]-s,
  • 256.4 寐 *mi[t]-s with 內 *nˤ[u]p-s.

Presumably each of the ten words above ended in [uts] in the pronunciation these odes were composed in, whence the particular rhyming pattern. Note that rhymes twice with *-ut-s in different stanzas of ode 241, each time with different words: this shows the phenomenon is not a fluke, but a dialectal characteristic.

This rhyming tends to make the OC vowel in *[t]ˤ[u]p-s and *nˤ[u]p-s more secure, as the alternative to *u in both cases is *ə, not *i. The brackets around [u] are no more needed.

Odes 241 and 256 are part of the Da Ya, a section believed to be associated with western Zhou and (north-)western China at the time. Odes 58, 60 and 65 are from the Guo Feng section (58 and 60 from 衛風, Hebei-Henan boundary;  65  from  王風 , We may be dealing with a northern/northwestern isogloss.

For the numbering of the Odes readers should refer to Appendix B in Baxter (1992), and to Mattis List’s Shijing Rhyme Browser (March 12, 2020: thanks, Mattis, for modifying  your browser to allow queries by OC rhyme! reader, to get the browser to list all Shi Jing occurrences of a certain OC rhyme, type the rhyme in B&S system, within double angle brackets, like this: «ək», in the query window).

A counterexample ?

There is in the entire Da Ya and Wei () Feng sections of the Shi Jing a single example of *-it-s after a labial NOT rhyming as *-ut-s: in 245.4 (Daya), ‘ear of grain’, OC *s.[ɢ]ʷi[t]-s (same word as , the older graph) rhymes with , MC bajH. This MC form could go back to either of *-at-s or (following a labial consonant) *-ots , but the fact that the phonetic series’s head-word is 巿 *put ‘knee covers’ suggests that the MC reading with -ajH is anomalous, even if from *-ot-s, and that Ode 245 read as *-ut-s.

Consequently there is no strong counterexample to the change *-it-s > *-ut-s /[+labial] __ in the Da Ya, Wei () Feng and Wang (王) Feng sections of the Odes, and we may regard this as a constant dialect feature of these sections of the Shi Jing.

Outside of the Daya, Wei () and Wang (王) Feng, the change does not occur at all. In the Guo Feng we have:

  • 30.3 *mi[t]-s with 嚏 *[t]ˤi[t]-s,
  • 53.1 *pi[t]-s with 四 *[j]-s,
  • 110.2 *mi[t]-s and *kʷi[t]-s with *[kʰ]i[t]-s.

Odes 30, 53 and 110 belong, respectively, to Bei Feng 邶風 (Henan, between Zhengzhou and Anyang), Yong Feng 鄘風 (Henan, near Bei) and Wei Feng 魏風 (south Shanxi): a region on the middle course of the Yellow River valley.

In the Xiaoya there are no examples of the change, at all. Where *-it-s occurs after a labial consonant, it rhymes with *i words:

197.4 嘒 *qʷʰˤi[t] -s and 淠 *pʰˤi[t]-s and *mi[t]-s with 屆 *kˤr[i][t]-s,

222.2 qʷʰˤi[t] -s and 淠 *pʰˤi[t]-s with *[j]-s and 屆 *kˤr[i][t]-s.

In these two instances, the presence of 屆 kˤr[i][t]-s and 駟 *[j]-s in the rhyme sequences guarantees that 嘒* qʷʰˤi[t] -s, 淠 *pʰˤi[t]-s and 寐*mi[t]-s were pronounced with *i vowel.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "A dialectal sound change in the Shi Jing: -it-s > -ut-s after labial consonant," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 06/02/2020,

Chinese-Tibetan vowel correspondences I

Hill (2019: §33, §224) reconstructs a vowel *e in the Sino-Tibetan parent language (Proto-Trans-Himalayan in his terminology; I will be using the term PCT ‘Proto-Chino-Tibetan’, meaning the language one would reconstruct if only Old Chinese an Tibetan were available). He argues that this vowel is preserved unchanged in OC, and that its reflexes in WT are conditioned by the ending: one has WT e before labials, i before velars, and a before dentals (including –r and –l). Below are examples of the correspondence OC *e to Written Tibetan a in words without a coda (1), with labial codas (2-3), velar codas (5-6), PCT *-q (7) and PCT *-ʔ (8-9)

OC *e : WT a

1. 溪 *kʰˤe > khej > xī ‘valley with stream in it’ : WT rka ‘small furrow conveying water from a conduit to trees and plants’
2. 占 *tem > tsyem > zhān ‘prognosticate’ : WT gtam ‘talk, discourse, speech’
3. 攝 *kə.n̥ep > syep > shè ‘catch, gather up’ : WT rnyab ‘seize or snatch together’
4. 貞 *treŋ > trjeng > zhēn ‘straight; correct’ : WT draŋ-po ‘straight’
5. 脛 *m-kʰˤeŋ-s > hengH > jìng ‘leg, shank’, 牼 *m-kʰˤeŋ > heang > kēng ‘shank bone’ : WT rkang ‘marrow, leg bones, stalk’
6. 清 *tsʰeŋ > tshjeng > qīng ‘clear (adj.)’, 淨 *m-tseŋ-s > dzjengH > jìng ‘cleanse (v.t.)’ : WT g-tsang-ba ‘to be clean, pure’
7. 舐 *Cə.leʔ > zyeX > shì ‘lick’ : WT ldag pa ‘to lick’
8. 庳 *N-peʔ > bjieX > bì ‘low, short’, 鼙 *[b]ˤe > bej > pí ‘small hand-drum’ : WT p’ra-ba ‘thin, fine, minute; little, small’
9. 諀 *pʰeʔ > phjieX > pǐ ‘slander’ : WT p’ra-ma ‘slander’

Similarly, the correspondence OC *e : Tibetan e is not limited to words with labial endings. Below are examples in words without a coda (1), ending in some kind of back-of-the-mouth fricative (2-3) and, in apparent violation of Dempsey’s law, in a velar (4-5):

OC *e : WT e

1. 佳 *[k]ˤre > kea > jia ‘good’ : WT dge ‘happiness, welfare, happy, propitious’
2. 秝 *[r]ˤek > lek > lì ‘successively, sequence’ : WT re ‘one at a time’, etc.
3. 譬 *pʰek-s > phjieH > pì ‘example’ : WT dpe ‘pattern, model; example, illustrative parable’
4. 積 *[ts]ek-s > tsjeH > jī ‘to hoard’ : WT rtseg-pa, pf. (b)rtsegs ‘to lay one thing on or over another, to pile up, stack up, build up’
5. 易 *lek-s > yeH > yì ‘easy’ : WT legs-pa ‘good, happy; neat, elegant, beautiful …’

These two correspondences of OC *e are not in complementary distribution.

Hill, Nathan W. 2019. The Historical Phonology of Tibetan, Burmese and Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Chinese-Tibetan vowel correspondences I," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 08/01/2020,

Faulty etymologies in the STEDT II: ‘to love’

One of the weaker Sino-Tibetan comparisons in the STEDT can be found here:


The reconstructed form has detachable *ŋ- pre-initial (not a prefix), and a *w- onset marked as optional by means of parentheses.1 The possibility that forms with and without reflexes of these elements are unrelated is not given any consideration. In Matisoff’s Schrödinger-like version of comparative reconstruction, phonemes can be there, and not there.

At Sino-Tibetan level, ‘PTB *ŋ-(w)a:y’ is compared with Chinese 愛 ‘to love’, Middle Chinese  ‘ojH > modern ài.  The Chinese comparandum is vaunted as ‘excellent’ at the top of the STEDT page for this set.

愛 ài expresses a kind of feeling associated with the Confucian virtue of 仁 *niŋ > nyin > rén ‘kind(-ness), benevolence’.  Although its modern meaning is ‘to love’, and it is often translated by the verb ‘to love’, its more specific meaning in classical texts is  ‘to care for’,  as in this famous passage from the Confucian Analects 3.17/6/6, where in response to his disciple Zigong’s objection to the ritual sacrifice of a sheep, Confucius is quoted as saying “爾愛其羊,我愛其禮” “You love (=care for) the sheep, I love (=care  for) the rite”. Such is probably the original meaning.  The OC word for ‘to love’ was 字 *mə-dzə(ʔ)-s, correctly compared by Benedict to his PTB *m-dza ‘to love’.  In all Chinese dialects except (to my knowledge) the very archaic Waxiang and Caijia dialects, this word has been displaced by 愛 ài. ‘Love’ semantics, in the sense of a warm feeling one experiences for an individual person, are not old with 愛 ài.

A  minimal version of the comparison in STEDT had appeared in Benedict’s Conspectus (1972:192, fn.491): it related Proto-Karen *ʔai ‘love’ with 愛 ài. This would  be phonologically viable if the OC root ended in *-əj. In general, MC words with grave initials and rhyme -ojH (with ‘H’ for tone C, a.k.a qusheng) can go back to OC *-əj(ʔ)-s, *-ə(ʔ)-s, *-ək-s, *-ət-s or *-əp-s. Of these, only *-əj(ʔ)-s could potentially match forms in -a(:)j  outside of Sinitic. However, Baxter (1992) reconstructed *ʔɨt-s, with root-final *-t. Still, Zev J. Handel maintains at the bottom of the STEDT page for the item under review that *-j-s remains possible because OC rhyming does not provide direct evidence of contacts with *-t. While this is true, one should keep in mind that 愛 ài only rhymes once in the Shi Jing, and 僾 ài  ‘to pant, lose the breath’, whose phonetic is 愛 ài, also once: the opportunities for an unsuffixed final stop to surface in rhyming are thus quite limited. Absence of *-t (or *-p, for that matter) among the rhyme contacts of 愛 ài or 僾 ài  is not in itself evidence for a root ending *-j.

Word-families provides strong evidence for excluding *-j-s in 僾 ài ‘to pant, lose breath’, just cited: this word is the s-suffixed derivative of 唈 *qˤ[ə]p > ‘op > yì ‘short of breath’.  This is confirmed by the fact that  僾 ài  ‘to pant, lose the breath’ rhymes with 逮 modern dài < OC *m-rˤəp-s  ‘reach to’  in Ode 257. 逮 dài itself is the s-suffixed derivative of 眔 *m-rˤəp > dop > tà ‘reach to’.  There can be no question that 僾 ài and 逮 dài ended in *-p-s.

Baxter and Sagart (2014) accordingly reconstructed 僾 ài  as *qˤəp-s. This in turn cannot be reconciled with the view that 愛 ài ended in *-j-s: how could a word ending in *-j-s  be chosen as a phonetic for another ending in *-p-s ? evidently the root in 愛 ài  also ended in a stop. But which ?

While 愛 ài  ‘to care for’ was reconstructed with *-t-s in Baxter (1992), the OC contrast between *-p-s and *-t-s was lost at a late stage of OC: if the rhyming of 愛 ài   and 謂 *[ɢ]ʷə[t]-s > hjw+jH > wèi ‘say, tell, call’ in Ode 228 is based on a pronunciation in which the merger had taken place, 愛 ài may have had *-p-s earlier on, like 僾 ài. Accordingly Baxter and Sagart (2014) reconstructed 愛 ài as *[q]ˤə[p]-s, with square brackets around -[p] to convey the uncertainty between *-p and *-t.

Shortly after the publication of their book, and independently from it, Norquest (2015) arrived at the Proto-Hlai reconstruction *ʔə:p ‘to love’. He did not notice any connection to Chinese 愛 ài . Norquest’s *ʔə:p is not found in the other Kra-Dai branches,  in Austronesian or Austroasiatic. It is probably a Chinese loanword: this leaves no doubt that the Chinese word’s root ending was *-p.

Chinese root-final *-p is not reflected anywhere in the rest of Matisoff’s set: the likelihood that the Chinese form is related to the rest is nonexistent. The superficial resemblance between the Chinese and Karen forms is the fruit of convergence.


Baxter, W. H.  1992. A Handbook of Old Chinese phonology. Trends in Linguistics Studies and Monographs 64. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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

Benedict, P.K. 1972. Sino-Tibetan: a Conspectus. Cambridge: University Printing House.

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

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Faulty etymologies in the STEDT II: ‘to love’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 21/07/2019,
  1. There is nothing wrong in itself with parentheses. Baxter and Sagart (2014) use parentheses in their OC reconstruction to signal phonemes whose presence or absence in a protoform are both compatible with all the comparative evidence at hand: for instance they reconstruct medial-r- between parentheses in 夫 *p(r)a > pju > fū ‘man’  because given Middle Chinese pju it is impossible to decide whether Old Chinese had -r- or not. Matisoff’s parenthesized phonemes are different: they are used to make manifest Matisoff’s decision to overlook a phoneme in making cognate decisions. []

Undetected contact in the STEDT I: ‘excrement’

The STEDT reconstructs eight ‘PTB’1 words for ‘excrement’ (see my  recent post on one of them). A high number of reconstructed words for any particular meaning is usual with the STEDT. It simply reflects the fact that since ‘Tibeto-Burman’ phylogeny is viewed by the STEDT as star-shaped, any item shared by two or more branches reconstructs to the top.

This post deals with the etymon given as #576 PTB *ya(k) SHIT / FECES / DUNG / EXCREMENT. This collection has a broad, generally southern, distribution. Reconstructed mesoroots according to the STEDT are:

It is difficult not to see the resemblance to Shorto’s Proto-Mon-Khmer etymon:

#794 *ʔic; *ʔiə[c]; *ʔ[ə]c excrement, faeces

In several of the cited MK languages , the final consonant is -k: Jeh ek, Halang ik, Biat ɛːk, Kammu-Yuan ʔyíak. Shorto (2006:238) sees this etymon as the source of the Kuki-Chin and Karen forms, and even of some loans to He says nothing of similar forms in Tani, Lepcha, Kiranti etc., but a loan or substratum explanation is available for these too. Forrest (1962) had earlier recognized that the Lepcha word for ‘excrement’: ít, is part of a Mon-Khmer lexical substratum.

This word also occurs in Kra-Dai: one of the two Proto-Kra words for ‘excrement’ is *ʔik (Ostapirat 2000). The other word: *kai C, occurs in Kra-Dai languages outside of Kra: it reflects the Austronesian word *Caqi(). *kai C is the inherited KD word for ‘excrement’. The Kra languages have a significant Austroasiatic layer in their vocabulary (Sagart, in preparation).

It also occurs among Austronesian languages of the Aceh-Chamic group, as Shorto (ibid.) recognizes:  “Cham ɛh, Jarai ɛːh, Röglai, North Röglai eh, Acehnese ɛʔ”.

If Austroasiatic, non-Sinitic Sino-Tibetan, Kra-Dai and Aceh-Chamic languages share an etymon for ‘excrement’, this  is presumably because some Sino-Tibetan, Kra-Dai and Austronesian languages have an Austroasiatic substratum. It is therefore misleading to treat this etymon as an innovation of a common ancestor of Kuki-Chin, Karen, Kiranti, Lepcha etc., as it may have entered the Sino-Tibetan family on several distinct occasions. A phylogenetic study of Sino-Tibetan should ignore this word.

1. Sagart et al. (2019) show that Tibetan and Burmese belong to the same subbranch of the ST family. For that reason I now use the term ‘non-Sinitic’ for the clade containing all ST languages save Chinese, formerly called ‘Tibeto-Burman’.


Forrest, R.A.D (1962) Lepcha and Mon-Khmer. JAOS 82.

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

Laurent Sagart, Guillaume Jacques, Yunfan Lai, Robin J. Ryder, Valentin Thouzeau, Simon J. Greenhill, Johann-Mattis List. 2019. Dated language phylogenies shed light on the ancestry of Sino-Tibetan. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2019, 116 (21) 10317-10322; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1817972116.

Shorto, Harry L. (2006). A Mon-Khmer comparative dictionary, edited by Sidwell, Paul, Cooper, Doug and Bauer, Christian. Canberra: Australian National University. Pacific Linguistics 579.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Undetected contact in the STEDT I: ‘excrement’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 19/07/2019,

Conflated cognate sets in the STEDT III — ‘to spit’ (again)

In a recent post (here), I showed that the STEDT etymon #601 ‘PTB *m/s-tuːk SPIT’ contains two distinct etyma, one of which has no Chinese counterpart, and the other is cognate with the Chinese word 吐 thuX/H < *tʰˤaʔ, *tʰˤaʔ-s ‘to spit’.  That Chinese word is not listed in the STEDT as a cognate of etymon #601. It does occur in the STEDT, but under another etymon, #603, given as ‘PTB *m/s-twa SPIT‘. This is how the Chinese word is presented at the bottom of the page for  #603 (accessed today, July 10, 2019):

Chinese comparandum

吐 OC *t’wɑ̂, GSR #31m ‘spit’; Coblin 86: OC *thuarh; B & S 2011: *tʰˁaʔ; Mand. .
吐 OC *t’wɑ̂, GSR #31m ‘vomit’; B & S 2011: *tʰˁaʔ‑s; Mand. .

There is much confusion here. The Chinese character 吐 does indeed have two Middle Chinese readings, thuX and thuH (Rising tone and Departing tone, respectively), and the corresponding OC reconstructions in the Baxter-Sagart 2011 system are unquestionably *tʰˁaʔ and *tʰˁaʔ‑s; but the mentions OC *t’wɑ̂, GSR #31m ‘spit’/‘vomit’; Coblin 86: OC *thuarh relate to a different word: 唾 *tʰˤoj-s > thwaH > tuò ‘to spit’. While 吐 refers to the action of spitting out anything that is in one’s mouth, 唾 is used mostly of liquids, such as saliva, wine or blood.

Of the non-Sinitic forms listed by the STEDT under etymon #603, Written Tibetan tho (in the noun tho-le ‘spit’) is evidently a cognate of 唾 *tʰˤoj-s, as first pointed out by Coblin in 1986, and not of 吐 *tʰˤaʔ, *tʰˤaʔ-s. Tibetan loses final -j; moreover,  a Tibetan cognate of 吐 would end in -g. Whether the Idu Luoba form a³¹tiu⁵⁵kʰɹi⁵⁵‘phlegm’, listed by the STEDT under #603, has any connection to 唾 or Tibetan tho  is anybody’s guess. In the TGTM group, Thakali has two words glossed as ‘saliva’: tho  and thuj. Only one of these—the former— is a possible cognate of 唾 , Tibetan tho; not both as the STEDT implies.

The correct alignment of STEDT etyma and Chinese words for ‘spit’ is as follows:

STEDT# STEDT etymon Chinese cognate according to STEDT Chinese cognate
601 (I) PTB *m/s-tu:k SPIT none none
601 (II) PTB *m/s-tu:k SPIT none 吐 *tʰˤaʔ, *tʰˤaʔ-s
603 PTB *m/s-twa SPIT 吐, 唾 唾 *tʰˤoj-s

Recall that the vowel in #601 (II) was shown to be *a (here).


Coblin, S. (1986) A Sinologist’s handlist of Sino-Tibetan Lexical Comparisons. Monumenta Serica Monograph Series XVIII (Roman Malek, ed.). Nettetal: Steyler Verlag.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Conflated cognate sets in the STEDT III — ‘to spit’ (again)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 10/07/2019,





Faulty etymologies in the STEDT: I ‘hand’

The STEDT lists the Chinese word for ‘hand’: 手, Middle Chinese syuwX (something like [ɕjow] in tone Shang),  under its etymon #731 PTB *g(t)syəw-k/ŋ WING / HAND: if true, this would make the Chinese word a cognate of Written Tibetan gshog ‘wing’; of Bantawa chuk ‘hand’, Nung tshuŋ⁵⁵  ‘arm’, Sangtam khyo ‘wing’, etc. The STEDT mentions Chou Fa-kao’s PST reconstruction *tśəw as a precursor (Chou 1972). Matisoff (2003:199) gave *tsyəw. The STEDT  adds a root preinitial *g- before the affricate, this now restated as optionally fricative. Two alternating ‘suffixes’ -ŋ/-k,  without any stated function, are also added as optional fixtures. Thus the STEDT etymon #731 contains any word in a ST language with a high rounded vocoid preceded by a sibilant onset, or a velar stop onset, or both simultaneously, and followed (or not) by  -ŋ or -k, meaning ‘arm’, ‘hand’ or ‘wing’. The net is cast wide.

On the Chinese side, Unger (1995) and Zhengzhang (1995) independently argued that the Old Chinese initial of 手 included an alveolar nasal: *sny- (Unger), *hnj- (Zhengzhang). The evidence is summarized in Sagart (1999:155), where 手 is given as OC *bhnuʔ. Wang Li (1982:231) had already noted that 杻/杽 MC trhjuwX ‘shackles, handcuffs’ must be a cognate of the word for ‘hand’: the phonetic in the first of these characters is 丑, whose OC onset definitely included an alveolar nasal. Moreover the archaic graph for 丑 is similar to 又 ‘right hand’, with additional strokes representing nails or claws.

Sagart (ibid.) studied the word-family of 手 in Chinese on that basis. He accounted for the phonological alternation between 手 and 杻 by treating the former as *bhnuʔ and the latter as *bhnruʔ, with plural-object -r- infix. Evolution from *bhnruʔ to MC trhjuwX is regular. Another member of the word-family is 狃 MC nrjuwX ‘claws’: this is given by Sagart (ibid.) as OC *bnruʔ (also with plural-object <r> infix). In the Baxter-Sagart system (2014), these forms are reconstructed as 手 *n̥uʔ ‘hand’, 杻 *n̥<r>uʔ ‘shackles, handcuffs’ and 狃 *Cə.n<r>uʔ ‘claws’ —there is in Hakka and in Hmong-Mien indirect evidence for a voiceless preinitial consonant in ‘claws’.

The Min dialect forms with tsh- initials—e.g. Xiamen tshiu 3— are shown in Baxter and Sagart (2014:93) to reflect OC *n̥- regularly. They do not argue for etymological connections to affricates in other ST languages. Consequently the etymological connections proposed in the STEDT between 手 and the rest of etymon #731 are all spurious.

手 does have a clear cognate in Written Burmese hnyûi ‘finger’, however. That form is not listed in STEDT #731. The meaning ‘finger’ appears to be the older one: a change from ‘finger’ to ‘hand’ is common, while the reverse is apparently not attested (Heine 1997): we probably have a PST word for ‘finger’, something like #C̥.nuʔ ‘finger’, evolving in OC to *n̥uʔ ‘hand’, Written Burmese hnyûi ‘finger’.



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

Chou Fa-kao. 1972. Archaic Chinese and Sino-Tibetan. Journal of the Institute of Chinese Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong 5.1:159-237.

Heine, Bernd. 1997. Cognitive foundations of grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Sagart, L. 1999. The Roots of Old Chinese. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, 184. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Unger, U. 1995. Finger. Hao-Ku 46, 131-137.

Wang Li. 1982. Tongyuan Zidian. Beijing: Shangwu.

Zhengzhang, Shangfang. 1995. Shanggu Hanyu Shengmu Xitong [the Old Chinese system of initials]. ms.


Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Faulty etymologies in the STEDT: I ‘hand’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 05/07/2019,