An expanded higher Austronesian phylogeny (head post)

This is the head post for a series of 24 on Austronesian phylogeny, linked together by hyperlinks, created between 2020 and 2022. At the time of writing (June 22, 2022), the phylogeny relies on 42 mutually compatible lexical, morphological and phonological innovations. Six of them are the numeral innovations on which the tree in Sagart (2008) was based:

Austronesian phylogeny in Sagart (2008)

The remaining 36 have accumulated between 2008 and 2022. Together they define this tree. Clicking on a node leads to the posts containing the information relevant to that node. Alternatively the innovations supporting a node can be accessed through this list. That the original phylogeny can be expanded with 36 new ones shows that it was a successful first approximation.


Sagart, Laurent (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, "An expanded higher Austronesian phylogeny (head post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 22/06/2022,

Counting on fingers in Taivoan and Makatao

Taivoan (T) and Makatao (M) are two southwest Formosan groups generally regarded as dialects of Siraya (S). All have been extinct since the early 20th century,  but we possess word lists recorded by early investigators, conveniently collected in Tsuchida, Yamada and Moriguchi (1991), Moriguchi (1998) and Li and Toyoshima (2006).  Li (1993) has also recorded a short word list from an elderly speaker who remembered a few words from the previous generation, including most of the numerals. It is generally close to Taivoan T15. The numerals 6-9  are particularly interesting. Interspersed with forms relatable to Siraya proper and/or to other Formosan languages,  one finds a set of four intriguing forms, not seen as numerals anywhere else in Taiwan. I cite below from Tsuchida, Yamada and Moriguchi (1991), adding Li’s data:

‘6’ ‘7’ ‘8’ ‘9’
M7 rangaran kimsen karasen kavaitya
M8 langalan kimseng kalasin kabaitya
T2 rangaran kunsin
T4 kumsin
T6 lanlan
T13 kalasin tabatiya
T15 langalang kalasin tapatiak
Li (1993) zaŋizaŋ kumsin tapatit

The M7 vocabulary was recorded by Ino Yoshinori in August of the 33rd year of the Meiji era (1900 CE if I am not mistaken) in Marun (老碑庄), a central-eastern Makatao variety. The data are also available through Moriguchi (1998).  The word ‘6’ is the key. It is homophonous with ‘bear’ in Marun: both rangaran (for ‘bear’, see Moriguchi 1998:219, #122). Now, compare Li’s version of ‘6’ zaŋizaŋ with the word for ‘large, big’ recorded by Ogawa at 崗仔林   (point 143b, Li and Toyoshima 2006:478): mai-zanga-zang (in Ogawa’s notation; better segmented as ma-izang-a-zang).

I think these are finger names, as used in counting. ‘Six and ‘bear’ both draw their etymology from ‘big’. The bear for obvious reasons, ‘six’ because it refers to the thumb, the big finger.

Imagine a counting system using hand shapes to count to 10 on a single hand:  the extended small finger means ‘1’, the extended small finger and ring fingers, ‘2’, and so forth: all the fingers extended means ‘5’. For ‘6’, keep the big finger extended and hold the other four folded.  ‘Big’ is then an adequate name for ‘six’. For ‘7’, thumb and index extended; and so forth, until ‘9’, which has all the fingers extended, save the small finger. For ’10’, a different kind of hand sign is needed (for instance, our ‘zero’ sign would work).

So I hypothesize that in the above table the series for ‘7’ is a name of the index, ‘8’ a name of the middle finger,  ‘9’ a name of the ring finger. There is no alternative numeral for ’10’ based on finger names because the sign for ’10’  must, as I said, have been of a different kind.

These hypothese are not easily falsifiable, as the names of the different fingers in the Siraya group are not known. Yet considering that these four numerals clearly are not compounds of other Austronesian numerals, and that they do not seem to be part of a non-Austronesian substratum, the hypothesis of a post-PAN transfer from another close lexical system has much to recommend it.

[added the next day]: Sander Adelaar reminds me that Blust’s classification of north Borneo languages (2010) relies on the replacement of PMP *pitu ‘seven’ by *tuzuq ‘to point, indicate’. Blust traced the idea that this is due to finger counting to van der Tuuk and Wilkinson, citing Wilkinson  (1959:1242): “After counting all the fingers of the hand (lima) we come back to the thumb (six) and the index-finger (seven)” (emphasis mine, LS). With ‘6’ = thumb and ‘7’ =index, this is very similar to Taivoan-Makatao. It is likely that Taivoan-Makatao finger-counting is ancestral to the system in north Borneo.


Blust, R. 2010. The Greater North Borneo Hypothesis. Oceanic Linguistics, 49(1), 44-118.

Moriguchi, Tsukenazu (ed.) 1998.  伊能嘉矩番語調查手冊 [Ino Yoshinori’s field notebook], ed. by : T. Moriguchi, pp. 13-201. Taipei: Southern Materials Center.

Tsuchida Shigeru, Yukihiro Yamada and Tsukenazu Moriguchi (eds.) 1991. Ogawa’s Siraya/Makatao/Taivoan (comparative vocabulary). Linguistic materials of the Formosan sinicized populations I: Siraya and Basai, ed. by Shigeru Tsuchida, Yukihiro Yamada and Tsukenazu Moriguchi, 1-194. Tokyo: The University of Tokyo, Linguistics Department.

Li, P. Jen-Kuei. 1993. New data on three extinct Formosan languages. BIHP 63: 2: 301-322.

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.

Wilkinson, R.J.  1959.  A Malay-English dictionary (Romanised).  2 vols.  London: Macmillan.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Counting on fingers in Taivoan and Makatao," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 02/03/2022,

A new example of PAN *-X

In my 2019 paper proposing a solution to Kra-Dai tonogenesis, I argued that the Kra-Dai tone B originated in two Austronesian endings: *-R, a voiced uvular fricative, already well established as a PAN phoneme; and *-X, a voiceless uvular fricative, not proposed before as a PAN phoneme. I presented 6 examples of PAN *-X with AN and Kra-Dai cognates in section 4.2 of that paper: ‘shoulder’ *qabaRaX, ‘palm of hand’ *dapaX, ‘knee’ *puquX, ‘bran’ *qepaX, ‘grandfather’ *apuX, ‘branch’ *saŋaX. In addition, I gave two examples of *-X without Kra-Dai cognates: ‘thorn’ *duRiX, ‘chaff’ *qeCaX. Later on (in this post), I found additional  Formosan evidence for *-X in *qeCaX. Here I want to present the evidence for a new PAN reconstruction ending in *-X.

Next to the well-known PAN word *susu ‘female breast, udder’ there existed a second form, reflected in Amis cohcoh ‘to suck, suckle’, which had a ‘laryngeal’ coda. Kra-Dai cognates are found in Laji (a.k.a. Lachi, Lati), and they are in tone B:

  • Jinchang Laji (=Flowery Lachi) tɕo44 (< B1) ‘breast, milk’ (Li Yunbing 2000 in ABVD)
  • Tân Lợi Laji co22 (< B12) ‘breast’ (Kosaka Ruichi 2000 in ABVD).

Tân Lợi does not distinguish B1 and B2:

  • co22 ‘breast’ (< B1)
  • (quN0) phu22 ‘shoulder’ (< B2)

While Jinchang does: Jinchang B1 is given as high rising 45 by Ostapirat (2000), mid-high 44 in Li Yunbing (2000), while B2 is mid rising/breathy 24ɦ in Ostapirat (2000): pɦu B2 ‘shoulder’ and low rising 13 in Li Yunbing: quŋ55 pu13 ‘shoulder’ (reconstructed with final *-X in Sagart 2019, cf. above).

Proto-Hlai (Norquest 2007) tɕiɦ B has tone B, like Laji (above), but the front vowel is unexplained. Outside of Norquest’s proto-Hlai, there is no reconstruction of ‘breast’, ‘milk’, or ‘udder’ given for proto-Kra, proto-Tai or proto-Hlai by either of Ostapirat or Pittayaporn.

For the initial correspondence of PAN *s in Lachi, compare *isa ‘one’, Jinchang Laji tɕaŋ44 , Tân Lợi Laji cam22. The nasal ending is an accretion. Bonifacy (1906:277) gives Lati ‘one’ as čam, but simply ča in ‘eleven and ‘twenty-one’ .

These considerations support the new AN reconstruction  *suXsuX ‘to suck, suckle, breast, milk’.


Bonifacy, Auguste. 1906. Etude sur les coutumes et la langue des La-ti. Bulletin de l’Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient 1906, pp. 271-278 (here)

Kosaka, Ryuichi [小坂, 隆一]. 2000. A descriptive study of the Lachi language: syntactic description, historical reconstruction and genetic relation. Ph.D. dissertation. Tokyo: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

李云兵 / Li Yunbing. 2000. 拉基语硏究 / Laji yu yan jiu (A Study of Lachi). Beijing: 中央民族大学出版社 / Zhong yang min zu da xue chu ban she.

Norquest, Peter K. 2007. A phonological reconstruction of proto-Hlai. PhD dissertation, U. of Arizona.

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, "A new example of PAN *-X," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 23/02/2022,

Eastern Walu-Siwaish *layaR ‘sail’

Up one level to Eastern Walu-Siwaish (here)

The cognate set for ‘PAN’ *layaR ‘sail’ in Blust’s ACD (here) (includes the MP forms under Dempwolff’s *layaɣ ‘sail’ plus two Formosan items:

Kavalan RayaR sail of a raft or boat; cloth around a threshing machine
Paiwan la-laya a flag, banner
pu-la-laya to raise a flag, fly a banner
excerpt from Blust’s ACD

Elsewhere, in a note under PAn *qabang ‘boat, canoe’ (here), Blust wrote:Given the independent evidence for PAn *layaR ‘sail’ we can be sure that PAn speakers had boats with sails. However, we cannot be certain that they possessed the outrigger, since *saRman ‘outrigger float’ and other terms connected with the outrigger canoe complex are reconstructible only to PMP. As noted in Blust (1999) the Austronesian settlement of Taiwan may have been accomplished with bamboo sailing rafts, leaving open the possibility that the *qabaŋ was a simple dugout canoe used on interior rivers.”

It is difficult to imagine how sailing rafts with neither outriggers nor a keel—traditional boats with keels are absent in East Asia—would fail to capsize in even moderately strong winds. Evidently Austronesian sailing boats with outriggers did not come into existence through the addition of outriggers to pre-existing saining boats: rather, the outrigger is a prerequisite to the invention of the Austronesian orientable sail. There is in fact evidence that until relatively recently the Formosans used sail-less boats with outriggers. The Atayals had small boats that they used to cross streams (Taintor 1874:34):

“The small boats which the savages use in crossing streams they call mangka. A boat is made by hollowing out a log of wood and fastening a board upon each side of it to prevent its capsizing. They have no oil and chunam for filling the cracks or seams, and hence have to bail constantly. A boat will carry two or three people”

The Basais and Kavalans had ‘huge’ sea-going rowing boats with outriggers fixed with vines which could carry up to 25 people and a large amount of cargo (Chien 2021).

For evidence that Austronesian sails are as old as PAN, Blust essentially relied on his assumption of the correctness of his 10-branch phylogeny: the term being reflected in languages of three of his primary branches, he assumed that *layaR was a PAN word. In my phylogeny, however, *layaR only occurs in Eastern Walu-Siwaish languages, and counts as a Proto-Eeastern Walu-Siwaish innovation. The invention of the sail has the character of a post-PAN technical improvement to the rowing boat with outriggers used by the Basais, Kavalans and Atayals. This makes it likely that the first Austronesians crossed from the mainland to Taiwan on sail-less rowing boats with outriggers, while the out-of-Taiwan event, which brought the MP languages to the Philippines and beyond, was effected with the help of newly-invented sails.


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).

Chien Hung-yi (2020) From Bangka Canoe to Shechuan Junk: Commercial Activities along Northeastern Coastal Route (1650s-1750s). Taiwan Historical Research 27, 4:1-34.

Taintor, Edward C. (1874) The Aborigines of Northern Formosa: A Paper Read Before the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Shanghai 1874. privately published.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Eastern Walu-Siwaish *layaR ‘sail’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 14/02/2022,


(view clickable tree)

To Limaish

There is some evidence that Thao and Atayalic form a subgroup within Limaish. This subgroup includes Thao and the two Atayalic languages, Atayal and Seediq. First, Thao and Atayalic share the innovation of parallel multiplicative forms for ‘six’ and ‘eight’:

Thao (Blust 2003) makal̥-turu-turu ‘six’ (turu ‘three’);  makal̥-ʃpaʃpat ‘eight’ (ʃpat ‘four’). Shorter forms ka-turu and ka-ʃpat are also attested (here).

Atayal (Mayrinax) (here)  matuuʔ ‘six’ (tuuʔ ‘three’); maspat ‘eight’ ( səpat ‘four’)  (here)

Seediq (here) mataɾu  ‘six’ (təɾu ‘three’); maspat ‘eight’ (səpat ‘four’)

A second piece of evidence for Thao-Atayalic is the uniquely shared future prefix ma– in Blust’s ACD:

PAN     *ma-₂ future prefix

Seediq (Truku)ma-frequent prefix carrying the idea of an indeterminate future
Thaoma-prefix marking the future in actor voice verbs
Excerpt from Blust’s ACD
Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Thao-Atayalic.," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 13/02/2022,

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


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):



The dead one’ (many attestations)



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,


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.

“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice: a rejoinder.

I am aware of two reactions to my last post by authors of the Alam et al. paper:  Rafal Gutaker’s private reply to me, and Dorian Fuller’s reaction both rejected my claim that the very different histories of temperate and tropical japonica rices in the Austronesian world imply that different words for the two types of rice should exist in AN languages, instead of just one, as is the case; unless the early Taiwanese Austronesians carried temperate japonica south with them at the time of the Out-of-Taiwan event. Their reasoning—if I understand it well—seems to be that since the Austronesian word for the rice plant does not specifically refer to either tropical or temperate japonica, the issue I am raising is only apparent. They seem to be assuming that Austronesian speakers have in their mental lexicons a word for ‘rice plant’, whether they cultivate rice or not, and that they will give that name to whatever kind of rice they encounter in the course of their expansion.

Languages in the modern world can have a word for a domesticated plant without that plant being cultivated by its speakers—because we import it, buy it in shops, eat it, etc. Neolithic groups only have words for plants they cultivate. The Austronesians in Oceania have abandoned cereal agriculture: accordingly they do not have a traditional word for rice.

The Alam et al. paper presents the history of Austronesian rice as a pincer movement introducing temperate japonica from northeastern  Asia to Taiwan while tropical japonica was introduced from the south.  The role of Taiwan in this medel is to be a mere contact region between north and south. However the question arises as to whether, during the period of time tropical japonica had not yet reached Taiwan, Taiwanese temperate japonica had already been introduced to the south in the Out-of-Taiwan event; and whether there was interaction between the two south of Taiwan. Linguistics has useful hints there.

At the moment tropical japonica rice was introduced to the southern Austronesian world, the Austronesian people to whom it was introduced gave it the name *panjay. This means that they already cultivated rice. Otherwise, they would have had no name for it, and would either borrow the name used in the language of the group they were receiving it from, or coin a new name for it. Only by miracle would they come up with the same name that was used in Taiwan.

Further, and importantly, the local words for the rice plant that derive from *panjay exhibit the same pattern of phonetic variation, or sound laws,1 as a significant  part of the Austronesian vocabulary, simultaneously present in and outside of Taiwan.  Linguists assign that vocabulary to the ancestor of all known Austronesian languages. That this vocabulary—currently at least several hundred words—obeys the same set of sound laws must mean that it traveled as a package in the course of the Austronesian expansion. Moreover, that phonetic shared innovations [this is the linguistic equivalent of ‘synapomorphies’ in cladistics] of the non-Formosan Austronesian languages have been observed on this vocabulary leaves no doubt that the expansion went south from Taiwan.

Thus, whatever rice was present in Taiwan at that time was transferred south, together with its name. Most likely that was temperate japonica—what else ? That would certainly explain why it was so easily eliminated by tropical japonica.

In conclusion the finding that rice south of Taiwan is of the tropical japonica type does not argue agains the “Out of Taiwan” hypothesis. This hypothesis does not predict that modern Austronesian rices south of Taiwan should be temperate japonicas. It merely predicts that at the moment of the Out-of-Taiwan event, the Austronesians carried rice with them in their canoes and that they and their descendents grew it in the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, Indonesia… On linguistic evidence, such was indeed the case.

In closing I note the lack so far of reactions to my criticism regarding the far too recent date proposed in the Alam et al. paper for the  introduction of temperate japonica to Taiwan.

1 This table illustrates the regularity of sound correspondence in the words for the rice plant and other words in selected Austronesian languages in and outside Taiwan.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice: a rejoinder.," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 30/08/2021,

“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice

Alam, O., Gutaker, R., Wu, C., Hicks, K., Bocinsky, K., Castillo, C., Acabado, S., Fuller, D., Guedes, J., Hsing, Y., Purugganan, M. (2021). Genome analysis traces regional dispersal of rice in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Molecular Biology and Evolution Download

This recent paper by Alam et al. makes the case from genome analysis that the traditional rices cultivated by Austronesian-speaking peoples outside of Taiwan are different from those cultivated in Taiwan: they are tropical japonica rices, similar to those from mainland southeast Asia, while the majority of Taiwanese rices are temperate japonicas, close to the rices grown in north China, Korea and Japan.  In their view, this goes against the “out of Taiwan” paradigm of Austronesian prehistory. Their idea is further detailed here.

The paper claims that the Taiwanese temperate japonicas were introduced from northeast China, and that the tropical japonicas in the Philippines were introduced from the south; and further, that temperate japonicas never left Taiwan. Given these very different histories, one would normally expect to see different words for temperate and tropical japonicas in the Austronesian languages. Instead, the Austronesian languages mostly use the same word for the japonica plant, whether temperate or tropical, in Taiwan or outside of Taiwan. Local phonetic variations are mostly predictable: this indicates that the words are inherited from the Austronesian ancestor language, as opposed to being borrowed locally from other Austronesian languages through contact. This term is reconstructed as *pajay in a widely-used resource [1]. My own reconstruction is *panjay. This word is regarded by linguists as the name of the rice plant in the ancestral Austronesian language, widely believed to have been spoken before 5000 BP in Taiwan.

The formation of the Austronesian language family through a primary differentiation in Taiwan, followed by a single migration out of Taiwan circa 4000 BP, is supported by multiple lines of evidence: shared linguistic innovations of non-Formosan languages [2]; , Bayesian phylogenies of Austronesian languages [3], archaeology [4], studies of the Austronesian human Y-chromosome [5], genetics of the human pathogen Helicobacter pylori [6], and of the paper mulberry, a domesticated plant [7]. Language, then, argues that the out-of-Taiwan migration did introduce temperate japonica rices, together with the term *panjay to the Philippines and islands further south. Absence of temperate japonicas in these modern regions can be explained in terms of competition between temperate and tropical japonicas: as the latter did not grow well in the new southern environment, they were  out-competed by tropical japonicas introduced “from the south”— probably from mainland southeast Asia.

The higher yields of tropical japonicas would feed a larger population. This can be related to a recent proposal that Bayesian phylogenetics of Philippine languages support a diversification from the south, implying a northward back-migration of Philippine speakers   [8]. This population movement was quite plausibly fueled by the possession of tropical japonicas: it was also the instrument of their northward spread. Philippine farmers, one supposes, did not think of tropical and temperate japonicas as different plants, referring to both kinds as *panjay—they would later also recognize the more strongly divergent indica rices, introduced from the Indian subcontinent, as *panjay. When temperate japonicas were abandoned, their original name continued to be used for tropical japonicas. This both accounts for the existence of a single term for the rice plant in the Austronesian languages, and reconciles the out-of-Taiwan hypothesis with the finding of a southern origin of tropical japonicas.

The date of separation between temperate japonicas from northeast Asia and from Taiwan, given as 2600 BP by the authors, is another problematic area. They attribute the introduction of temperate japonica to Taiwan to a migration from northeast Asia, which must, then, have started after 2600 BP, and reached Taiwan at an even later date. They seek support for the migration, and for their own chronology, in the observation that “Taiwanese peoples from ~1300 BCE to 800 CE carried ~25% of a northern East Asian lineage in their genomes” [9]. This, however, means that the northerners had already reached Taiwan by 3300 BP, 700 years before the proposed date of separation. The northerners and their temperate japonica rices may actually have reached Taiwan much earlier, as the last-mentioned study did not use any earlier ancient DNA data for Taiwan. The date the authors of that study suggest for the arrival of northerners in Taiwan is 5000-4500 BP: this is based on archaeological finds of domesticated foxtail millet in Taiwan during that period. Foxtail millet is generally thought to have been domesticated in north China around 8000 years ago. Under the Alam et al. paper, two distinct southward migrations are necessary for the introduction of millet and rice to Taiwan from northeastern China.

[Added Aug. 30, 2021: this post occasioned some reactions from authors of the Alam et al. paper. See my response here].


[1] Austronesian Comparative Dictionary, web edition. Robert Blust and Stephen Trussel. Online at

[2] Blust, R. A. 2009. The Austronesian languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

[3] Gray, R.D., A.J. Drummond and S. Greenhill. 2009. Language Phylogenies Reveal Expansion Pulses and Pauses in Pacific Settlement. Nature, 323, 479-483.

[4] Bellwood, Peter. 1985. Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago. Sydney: Academic.

[5] Trejaut J.A., Kivisild T, Loo J.H., Lee C.L., He C.L., et al. 2005. Traces of archaic mitochondrial lineages persist in Austronesian-speaking Formosan populations. PLoS Biol 3(8).

[6] Moodley, Y, B. Linz, Y. Yamaoka, H. M. Windsor, S. Breurec, J.-Y. Wu, A. Maady, S. Bernhoft, J.-M. Thiberge, S. Phuanukoonnon, G. Jobb, P. Siba, D. Y. Graham, B. J. Marshall, M. Achtman. 2009. The Peopling of the Pacific from a Bacterial Perspective Science, 323 (5913), 527-530 DOI: 10.1126/science.1166083

[7] Olivares G, Peña-Ahumada B, Peñailillo J, Payacán C, Moncada X, Saldarriaga-Córdoba M, Matisoo-Smith E, Chung KF, Seelenfreund D, Seelenfreund A. Human mediated translocation of Pacific paper mulberry [Broussonetia papyrifera (L.) L’Hér. ex Vent. (Moraceae)]: Genetic evidence of dispersal routes in Remote Oceania. PLoS One. 2019 Jun 19;14(6):e0217107. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.

[8] Benedict King, Lawrence A. Reid, Mary Walworth, Simon J. Greenhill, Russell D. Gray. 2021. Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of Philippine languages supports rapid initial Austronesian expansion followed by northward back-migration. Communication to 15ICAL, June 28-July 2, 2021 (online).

[9] Wang CC, Yeh HY, Popov AN, Zhang HQ, Matsumura H, Sirak K, Cheronet O, Kovalev A, Rohland N, Kim AM, Mallick S, Bernardos R, Tumen D, Zhao J, Liu YC, Liu JY, Mah M, Wang K, Zhang Z, Adamski N, Broomandkhoshbacht N, Callan K, Candilio F, Carlson KSD, Culleton BJ, Eccles L, Freilich S, Keating D, Lawson AM, Mandl K, Michel M, Oppenheimer J, Özdoğan KT, Stewardson K, Wen S, Yan S, Zalzala F, Chuang R, Huang CJ, Looh H, Shiung CC, Nikitin YG, Tabarev AV, Tishkin AA, Lin S, Sun ZY, Wu XM, Yang TL, Hu X, Chen L, Du H, Bayarsaikhan J, Mijiddorj E, Erdenebaatar D, Iderkhangai TO, Myagmar E, Kanzawa-Kiriyama H, Nishino M, Shinoda KI, Shubina OA, Guo J, Cai W, Deng Q, Kang L, Li D, Li D, Lin R, Nini, Shrestha R, Wang LX, Wei L, Xie G, Yao H, Zhang M, He G, Yang X, Hu R, Robbeets M, Schiffels S, Kennett DJ, Jin L, Li H, Krause J, Pinhasi R, Reich D. Genomic insights into the formation of human populations in East Asia. Nature. 2021 Mar;591(7850):413-419. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03336-2.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 26/08/2021,

Walu-Siwaish (master post)

(view clickable tree) (to list of innovations, sorted by node)

(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’: *bahlu, *balu, 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,



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,