Category Archives: lexicon

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In his unpublished spreadsheet of Amis and Sakizaya dialects, Tsuchida cited Ma’ibor Sakizaya ce-cay a bataQ-an ‘ten’ (one-LNK-ten).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 Unpublished manuscript.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,

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,





Conflated cognate sets in the STEDT II — ‘to spit’

This post continues a previous one on the ST word for ‘excrement’ (here) as represented in the STEDT database.

The STEDT set #601 PTB *m/s-tu:k SPIT (here) is another example of a STEDT etymon conflating two phonetically and semantically similar cognate sets. One has vowel *u (column I in the below table), the other has *a (column II). The form with *u is reflected in e.g. Lushai thuk ‘to spit’, Lepcha tyuk id. Dulong duʔ⁵⁵ ‘vomit’; the etymon with *a by Lushai chhâk ‘to spit’, Atong dak id., Tangkhul (khā) tok ‘mucus’; perhaps also by Nocte a tʰoak ‘to spit’, Chang Naga tok id.

Some Lushai etyma with initial chh- [tsh-] reflect an earlier root initial *t- in a specific condition, perhaps when prefixed with *s- (compare the STEDT reconstructions PTB *s-twak ‘go out’, *s-tu ‘vagina’, Lushai chhuak, chhu). Lushai chh- also corresponds to Old Chinese *t- in chhûng ‘the inside of anything’, OC 中 trjuwng < *truŋ ‘center’.

Thus Lushai chhâk ‘to spit’ is likely from *[s-]ta:k, rather than from the first etymon. That word had earlier been made part of set #601: but it is now (June 2019) placed under #540 PTB *k(r)aːk phlegm / sputum / mucus. On the one hand that decision solves a problem with the vowel correspondence, since Lushai -âk could not plausibly reflect an earlier *-u(:)k; at the same time making chhâk a reflex of *k(r)a:k is phonologically unlikely because (1) that etymon is already present in Lushai, as khâk ‘phlegm’, and (2) there are no good parallels for Lushai chh– having evolved out of an earlier *kr-.

There is no clear semantic difference between the two sets. In Lushai, where both occur, the semantic difference appears to relate to the amount of saliva being spat out. The following glosses are extracted from Lorrain’s 1940 dictionary:

1) chhâk (p. 73) chhâk, v. to spit, to expectorate, to spit out, to spit on or upon, to spit at; to put out (as tongue).

2) thuk (p. 488) thuk, v. to spit, to expectorate; to spit out, to spit at, to spit on or upon. (Unless an intensive adverb is used with this word it generally signifies spitting a very small quantity of saliva.)

The second set is in all likelihood cognate with the Chinese word for ‘spit’: 吐 thuX/H < *tʰˤaʔ, *tʰˤaʔ-s. Sagart (2017) shows that one source of OC *-ʔ is PST *-q, which merges with *-k outside of Sinitic.

We are thus able to posit a PST monosyllabic etymon #tʰaq ‘to spit’. That etymon in turn can be compared with PAN *untaq ‘to spit’ (Sagart 2005). The comparative picture is shown below:

  I II
Lushai thuk chhâk
Lepcha tyuk  
Dulong duʔ⁵⁵  
Atong   dak
Tangkhul   (khā) tok  ‘mucus’
Old Chinese   吐 *tʰˤaʔ ‘to spit’
Proto-Austronesian   *untaq ‘to spit’

Table 1: two etyma within the STEDT set #601 PTB *m/s-tu:k SPIT, with Chinese and Austronesian cognates.


Lorrain, J. Herbert (1940) Dictionary of the Lushai language. Calcutta : Asiatic Society.

Sagart, L. (2005) Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian: an updated and improved argument. In L. Sagart, R. Blench and A. Sanchez-Mazas (eds) The peopling of East Asia: Putting together Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics, pp. 161-176. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

Sagart, Laurent (2017). A candidate for a Tibeto-Burman innovation. Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale 46, 101-119.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Conflated cognate sets in the STEDT II — ‘to spit’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 26/06/2019,

The names of the rice plant. II ‘Tibeto-Burman’

A term for the domesticated rice plant, pre-reconstructable as #am, occurs in three modern languages belonging to phylogenetically distant subgroups of Tibeto-Burman (TB) (note: by ‘Tibeto-Burman’ I mean a branch of the Sino-Tibetan family which includes all its languages except Chinese. There is evidence that Tibetan and Burmese are part of the same eastern subbranch of that subgroup: thus the name ‘Tibeto-Burman’ is over-restrictive, and a new name will eventually have to be found).

Bengni (Tani group) am ‘rice plant’ Sun (1993)
Dulong (a.k.a Trung, Nungish group) am55 ‘rice’ (paddy) Huang et al. (1992)
Sak (Sal group) ‘rice plant’ Huziwara (2008)

Final *-m regularly shifts to -ŋ in Sak.

Apparently related forms occur in other TB languages.  Chepang (Caughley 2000) ʔamʰ ‘cooked rice’ and yam ‘rice plant’ (these two forms are related to one another, compare Chepang ʔat and yat, both ‘one’). Jingpo, another Sal language, has #am apparently prefixed with m- of uncertain function: mam³³ ‘rice’ (paddy). Likewise, the Kiranti language Thulung (Allen 1975) has mam ‘grain of rice remaining unhusked after milling’.


Allen, N.J. 1975. Sketch of Thulung grammar. (East Asian Papers, No. 6). Ithaca: Cornell University China-Japan Program. Accessed via STEDT database <> on 2018-02-09.

Caughley, R. (2000) Dictionary of Chepang. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics 502.

Huang Bufan et al. 1992. Zang-Mian Yuzu Yuyan Cihui [A Tibeto-Burman Lexicon]. Beijing: Zhongyang Minzu Xueyuan Chubanshe.

Huziwara Keisuke. 2008. Chakku-go no kijutsu gengogakuteki kenkyuu [A descriptive linguistic study of the Sak language]. (unpublished ms. contributed to STEDT). Accessed via STEDT database <> on 2018-02-09.

Sun, Jackson Tianshin. 1993. Tani synonym sets. (unpublished ms. contributed to STEDT). Accessed via STEDT database <> on 2018-02-09.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The names of the rice plant. II ‘Tibeto-Burman’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 09/02/2018,