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’: *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, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1088.



West-coast Walu-Siwaish (master post)

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(jump up one level to Walu-Siwaish)

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 phonetic transcriptions. Tsuchida (1982) includes a collection of these forms,  now in part accessible online through the Hoanya and Papora pages of the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database (ABVD; here and here) of Greenhill et al. (2003-).

Tsuchida (1982) gave two shared lexical innovations of Papora and Hoanya (i.e., Proto-Western Walu-Siwaish): [*S]i[]u ‘salt’ and *mari ‘sour’.  Another lexical innovation relates to the word for ‘fire’.

The Papora and Hoanya forms for ‘fire’ given by Tsuchida are: Papora tapū (1-1), dapū (2), dapu (1-3), lapu (3), la’pu (1-5), rapun (1-6); Hoanya dzapu (1-1 a), zapu (1-1b, 1-2, 1-3), zapū (1-8), rapū (2c), rappu (5), lapu (1-1c, 2, 3-1b, 3-le, 3-2), latpo (Chulo-hsien). Alphanumeric codes between parentheses refer to different data sources. Blust’s Austronesian Comparative Dictionary assigns these words to PANBlust *Sapuy ‘fire’. However Blust’s PAN *S goes to s- in both Hoanya (*Sikan ‘fish’ > sikan, *Suaji ‘younger sibling’ > suazi, *Sepat ‘4’ > supat) and Papora (*Siwa ‘nine’ > siya, *daqiS ‘forehead’ > ddes). Conversely none of the other Hoanya-Papora words with the same correspondence as ‘fire’ in Tsuchida (1982) goes back to PAN *S:

  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 mabidzu mavizū abidu avedoo

‘Rain’ and ‘road, path’ go back to PAN *z, and judging from Mongondow mo-bidu ‘blue’, ‘black’ is ambiguous for *d and *z. The Hoanya and Papora forms for ‘fire’ in Table 4 are evidently cognates of another word: PMPBlust *dapuR ‘hearth’, even though this form had not hitherto been identified outside of Malayo-Polynesian. *dapuR ‘hearth, cooking fire’ existed in AN before PMP, replacing PANBlust *Sapuy ‘fire’ in Papora and Hoanya and nowhere else. 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).


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

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.

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)

(jump down one level to Thao-Atayalic)

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 (see e.g. Bril 2017 for Amis). 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)  sa-saat ‘one’, 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 and Paiwan, have either lost the series (Amis), or mark it with a prefix (Puyuma mia-, Paiwan ma-). [But see Theo Yeh’s comment below. The characterization of Puyuma just given is only true of the Nanwang dialect. Tamalakaw Puyuma preserves Ca-reduplication in the human counting series: 1 sa-sa, 2 za-zuwa, 3 ta-teru, 4 a-apat, 5 la-luwaT, 6 a-ʔnem, 7 pa-pitu, 8 wa-waru, 9 a-iwa, 10 pa-puruH (Tsuchida 1980). Added July 1, 2021]

A few MP languages like Itbayaten and Chamorro inherited 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 < *dadawa ‘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.

Within Limaish, Thao and Atayalic may form a subgroup (here).


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.

Bril, I. 2017. Root and stems in Amis and Nêlêmwa (Austronesian). Studies in Language 41:2 (2017), 358-407.

Tsuchida, Shigeru. 1980. Puyuma (Tamalakaw dialect) vocabulary with grammatical notes and texts. in Kuroshio no Minzoku, Bunka, Gengo pp.183-307. Tokyo: Institute for the study of languages and cultures of Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of foreign studies.

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.

Enemish (master post), with an etymology for *enem ‘six’.

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(jump up one level to Limaish)

(jump down one level to Walu-Siwaish)

Enemish is defined by two innnovations:

1. *enem ‘six’, displacing earlier additive and multiplicative forms. The reflexes are very variable: the reconstruction ‘PAN’ *enem, projected back from MP,  only works for a subset of available Formosan forms, those listed in Wolff (2010) and Blust’s ACD. Here is the supporting evidence for Blust’s ‘PAN’ *enem ‘6’:

Papora ne-nom six
Tsou nomə six
Kanakanabu u-nə’mə six
Saaroa ənəmə six
Proto-Rukai *eneme six
Puyuma (Tamalakaw) enem six
Paiwan enem six

Unexplained I:  forms with with a non-nasal initial or medial consonant:

Tsou #38a lomu ‘6’
Saaroa #47a rumu, urumu, #48 urumu ‘6’
Rukai #63 ulum ‘6’
Paiwan #59a, 62a urum ‘6’
Kavalan #108, 108 arum ‘6’
Basay #106-107-108 arum, rarum ‘6’
Papora #129b rum ‘6’
Hoanya #138 alim, ilim, #142b.2 rom ‘6’
(Source: Li & Toyoshima 2006)

These forms cannot reflect PAN *enem.

Unexplained II: forms with a geminated initial or medial consonant:

Siraya #143 annim, annum, nnum, ninnum, ninnim ‘6’
Paiwan #71, 72 unnum ‘6’
Amis #82c1, 82d, 83cd, 83k.2 nnum ‘6’
Kavalan #88b, 92a, 92b nnum; #92c unnum, innim; #101 innoom ‘6’
Basay #102b nnum ‘6’

Remarkably, only -n- is ever geminated: there are no forms with -ll- or -rr-.

Ishbukun Bunun (Li 1988:753) has the remarkable form ʔabnum ‘six’, which suggests that the geminate -nn- forms go back to an earlier -mn-, with nasal dissimilation in Ishbukun: that is, *emnem. This will explain the lack or forms with -ll- or -rr-. Based on ʔabnum and forms with lateral medial, I hypothesize that this *emnem is the left-truncated outcome of an earlier reduplicative *Nem-Nem (or *Num-Num), structurally similar to Thao makalh-turu-turu ‘six’ or makalh-shpa-shpat ‘eight’. There may have been a prefixed morpheme, as in Thao.

My *Nem-Nem ‘3+3, 6’ is based on a bound root *-Nem ‘3’, occurring in that meaning in:

  • Basai #112, 113 (Li and Toyoshima 2006) pinum, peinum (Ino) ‘3’
  • Siraya (Li 1993) kulom ‘3’, kulom-taʔ ‘4’ (taʔ ‘1’)
  • Makatao M3 (Tsuchida and Yamada 1991) ra-rum-a ‘3’
  • Makatao M7 (Tsuchida and Yamada 1991) nunta ‘4’ (num ‘3’, ta ‘1’)
  • Taivoan T13 (Tsuchida and Yamada 1991) nometa 4

Perusal of Tsuchida and Yamada (1991) shows that the evolutions of *N to Makatao M3 r, M7 n, and Taivoan T13 n, are regular. M3 ra-rum-a ‘3’ has Ca-reduplication (here).

PS (April 10, 2022): the interpretation of ‘six’ owes much to Benedict (1995:400) where that word is reconstructed as *ʔəmləm (Benedict’s *l is equivalent to *N in my usage).  I had cited Benedict’s idea in my 2004 paper and forgotten about it  in the intervening 18 years. Benedict was not aware of root *Nem ‘three’, however.

2. *CawiN ‘year’ (Siraya, Bunun, Rukai-Tsouic and Paiwan). This word neatly displaces PAN *kawaS, the main word for ‘year’ north of Siraya on the west coast of Taiwan (Pazeh, Atayal, Sediq, Thao). In PAN *kawaS cumulated the meanings of ‘year’ and ‘sky’. The underlying notion was perhaps that of ‘open space’, in both the temporal and spatial domains. Thus Pazeh babaw kawas ‘the space above; the sky’. After Proto-Enemish, *kawaS survives in secondary meanings, as in Amis kawas ‘god, deity, spirit’. Both PMP and Kra-Dai replace *CawiN, the former with *taqun, of uncertain etymology, the latter with an AA word: PMK (Shorto #588) *p[ɗ]aŋ ‘dry season’, Chrau praŋ, Sre praŋ ‘dry weather’, Proto-Kra *m-(p)ɣiŋA ‘year’.


Benedict, Paul K. 1995. Extra-Austronesian evidence for Formosan etyma, in Paul J.-K. Li, C.H Tsang, Y.-K. Huang, D.-A. Ho and C.Y. Tseng (eds) Austronesian studies relating to Taiwan, 399-454. Symposium series of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica 3. Taipei: Academia Sinica.

Ino, Yoshinori 伊能嘉矩. 1998. 巡臺日程 Xún Tái Rì Chéng [A Formosan itinerary]. In 伊能嘉矩番語調查手冊 Ino Yoshinori fānyǔ diàochá shǒucè [Ino Yoshinori’s field records], ed. by : T. Moriguchi, pp. 13-201. Taipei: Southern Materials Center.

Li, P. J.-K. 1988. A c omparative study of Bunun dialects. BIHP 59,2: 479-508.

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.

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

Tsuchida, Shigeru and Yukihiro Yamada (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.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Enemish (master post), with an etymology for *enem ‘six’.," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 24/05/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/905.

Labial fortitions in Kra-Dai

In his study of Proto-Kam-Sui (PKS) initials, Ferlus (1996) tentatively reconstructed initial *ˀl- based on a set of four comparisons with high-register tones, including ‘wasp’ and ‘boar’:

Dong Shui Maonan Mulao
wasp la:u A1 lu A1 du A1 -lu A1
boar lai B1 -la:i B1 -da:i B1 -la:i B1

The probable Austronesian prototypes are *waNu ‘honeybee’ and *waNiS ‘boar’s tusk, boar’ in Blust’s PAN reconstructions. Recall that *N was a lateral, probably simply [l], in PAN, until it shifted to *n after Proto-Southern-Austronesian, in PMP. As a daughter of PSA (here), PKD retained *N as [l]. Evolution of *waNiS to tone B in PKS is unexplained, but has a parallel in the reflex of *gumiS ‘moustache, beard’ in Kra: Buyang mui 11 (B) ‘body hair, feather’.

In PSA, initial *w- became *ʔw- with phonetic glottal stop: ʔwalu, ʔwaliS. This ʔw- underwent fortition to *p- in Proto-Hlai (Ostapirat *pəlu A, Norquest *p-lu: A). In PKS, *ʔwal- simplified to ʔwl- and ultimately to Ferlus’s *ʔl-.

The Kam-Sui word for ‘blood’, Ferlus *pʰr-, Thurgood *phla:t 7, can now more confidently be related to PAN *huRaC ‘artery, blood vessel, blood vein’ (Blust) with fortition of initial *XuR- to *pʰr- via [ɸr-] vel sim., parallel and similar to the fortition of *ʔul- to *pl- in Hlai.


Ferlus, Michel. 1996. Remarques sur le consonantisme du proto kam-sui. Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale 25: 235-278.

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

Ostapirat, W. 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.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Labial fortitions in Kra-Dai," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 15/05/2020, https://stan.hypotheses.org/894.

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