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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Southern Austronesian *sa-puluq-at in numbers 10 to 19

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Jump to Southern Austronesian master post

This post returns to a subject discussed in a 2010 conference paper (here). New facts are presented and the interpretation is slightly modified.

Several Philippine languages belonging to the South-Central Cordilleran subgroup in northern Luzon: Kankanay, Kalinga, Bontok, Ifugao, Balangaw, Inibaloi, have a conjunction reflecting Proto-South-Central Cordilleran *et [ət] ‘and, and then’. In the Central Luzon group of Philippine languages, Kapampangan, not in direct contact with the Cordilleran languages, has at ‘and’, reflecting either *et [ət] or *at. Tagalog, a Central Philippines language, has at ‘and’, which can only reflect *at, unless it is a loan from neighboring Kapampangan at ‘id.’ (personal communications from L. Reid and R.D. Zorc, April 2007). Kapampangan is known to be a source of loanwords to Tagalog. Among the Central Cordilleran languages reflecting *et ‘and’, Isinai, Kalinga and a few others use a phonologically reduced form of that morpheme between pulu ‘ten’ and a following unit numeral. Thus in Kalinga, ‘ten’ is simpulu < *sa-n(g)a-puluq, but ‘eleven’ is simpu:lut osa (Tryon et al. 1995, Vol. 4, 43-45). That last form is analyzable as /sin-pulu=t osa/, where /=t/ ‘and’, /osa/ < *əsa ‘one’. Similarly, ‘twelve’ is simpu:lut duwa /sin-pulu=t duwa/, where /duwa/ < *duSa ‘two’ and /=t/ ‘and’. Kapampangan, the only Central Luzon language with a reflex of *et, does not use it in compound numerals. Although Tagalog may have borrowed the conjunction from Kapampangan, it does use a reduced form of at in compound numerals above ‘20’, in a very similar way to Kalinga and Isinay:


twenty’ < *daduha ‘two’ + nasal linker + *puluq ‘ten’

dalawampút isá

twenty-one’ < *daduhatwo’ + nasal linker + *puluq ‘ten’ + =(a)t ‘and’ + *esa ‘one’

dalawampút dalawá

twenty-two’ < *daduhatwo’ + nasal linker + *puluq ‘ten’ + =(a)t ‘and’ + *daduha ‘two’

The puluq-t-numeral form cannot easily have been borrowed from Cordilleran into Tagalog, as the languages are not in contact: if Tagalog borrowed the conjunction from Kapampangan, Tagalog shows a development parallel to Cordilleran in its use of the conjunction.

There are two possible accounts of the development of the conjunction itself in the Philippine languages. In the first, the conjunction’s oldest form in the Philippines was *et [ət], regularly evolving to at in Kapampangan, and loaned to Tagalog as at. Under that account, the conjunction, inherited only in the South-Central Cordilleran and Central Luzon groups, reconstructs to the northern clade of Philippine languages in the phylogeny of Gray, Drummond and Greenhill (2009), which this post follows for Malayo-Polynesian. Use of the conjunction between *puluq and a following numeral in Cordilleran and in Tagalog must be the result of parallel innovations.

In a second account, the conjunction’s oldest form in the Philippines was *at. Kapampangan and Tagalog inherited it in that shape, while in the Cordilleran languages the presumably unstressed vowel underwent centralization, to [ət]. Under that account, Tagalog being part of the southern clade, both *at ‘and then’ and the *puluq=at+numeral construction reconstruct higher, to the ancestor of the southern and northern Philippine clades.2

Whether as *et or *at, the Philippine conjunction is reminiscent of the form ato ‘and, with’ in Amis (central Amis: Fey 1986, Namoh 2013) and of the conjunction katu in Paiwan. In Nataoran Amis (Nataoran Amis: Bril fieldwork), atu may occur in numeral expressions (Isabelle Bril, p.c., 11 February 2014):

a cacay-en atu la-tusa ku ni-pabeli itakuan-an tu pawli

HORT one-UV and half NOM PERF.NMZ-give me-OBL ACC banana

Give me one and a half banana (lit. ‘let it be one and a half the giving a banana to me’)

Both Namoh (2013:136) and Bril treat ato~atu as originally composed of a ‘and’ plus =to ‘oblique common noun marker’, drawing a parallel to aci ‘and + personal noun’ (<a ‘and’ + =ci ‘personal noun marker’). The oblique common noun marker to itself is analyzable into t- oblique and u or o common noun marker.

In a northern Amis numeral system recorded by Tsuchida (here), tu, a shortened form of atu, serves in numerals between 11 and 19 as a linker between the locally innovated word for ‘ten’: sabaw , and the following unit number, e.g. sabaw tu tulu ‘13’, sabaw tu lima ‘15’.

Similarly, in a Paiwan dialect recorded by Chang Hsiou-chuan (here), a conjunction katu occurs between *sa-puluq and a following unit number, e.g. tapuluʔ katu ʔunəm ‘16’. katu is analyzeable as katu ‘and-oblique noun marker’, or possibly kaatu ‘andoblique noun marker’.

While *sa-puluq, the Puluqish word for ‘10’ ends in *-q, which correspoponds to -k in Kra-Dai, the Kra-Dai word for ‘10’ ends in *-t, as if it came from *pulut. The Philippine developments suggest an explanation. The following scenario is based on the hypothesis that the oldest Philippine form of the conjuction was *at. It is also possible to explain the facts under the view that it was *et, but the explanation is slightly more complex.

Comparison of Amis and Paiwan leads one to posit a conjunction *atu ‘and’ between *sa-puluq ‘10’ and a following numeral. In PSA the presumably enclitic conjunction was reduced to *at through syncope. Proto-Malayo-Polynesian and Proto-Kra-Dai, the direct daughters of PSA, inherited both *at and the compound numeral construction with it. Proto-Malayo-Polynesian in turn transmitted these to its immediate daughter Proto-Philippines, but the conjunction and construction were lost in Malayo-Polynesian outside of the Philippines. For this to occur, a single loss is required as such a node is supported with 98% posterior probability in Gray, Drummond and Greenhill (2009). Soon after Kra-Dai branched off, and independently from developments in the Philippines, *at ‘and’ was further reduced to /t/, and the resulting *sa-puluqt was reduced to *sa-pulut in PKD. This then evolved to Proto-Hlai *apu:c, Proto-Kra *pwlot. The outcome in Proto-Kam-Tai is unknown because these KD languages have abandoned Austronesian numerals for Chinese ones.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Southern Austronesian *sa-puluq-at in numbers 10 to 19," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 07/05/2020,

Lockdown etymologies: chowder

The American English word chowder refers to a thick fish soup made in New England. It is said (here) to go back to late Latin caldaria ‘cooking pot’. More specifically: Fr. chaudrée, a thick fish soup of the Charentes region (recipe here).

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Lockdown etymologies: chowder," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 04/05/2020,

Lockdown etymologies: dog

As known already to Albert Dauzat, a major source of names of adult domesticated animals is in the name of the young. Thus French poulet ‘chicken’, earlier ‘chick’; English chicken, earlier ‘chick’; French cochon 1268-71 ‘young pig’ > 1611 ‘adult pig’; English pig , earlier > ‘young pig’;  Chinese zhu1 ‘pig’, earlier ‘young pig’; Modern Greek σκυλί ‘dog’, < Classical Greek σκύλαξ ‘puppy’; Modern Chinese gou3 ‘dog’, earlier (c. 200 BCE) ‘hairless puppy’; etc.

This might be true of the English word dog too. The early meaning of ‘cub’ perhaps survives in the term dogies, referring to calves in the cowboy song Git along, little dogies (here).

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Lockdown etymologies: dog," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 04/05/2020,

The etymology of PRT *cáni ‘one’

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(up one level to Rukai-Tsouic master post)

Wolff (2010, sub *táni) noticed the connection between PRT *cáni ‘one’, Itbayaten tanih ‘alone’, Ratahan tani ‘to separate’ and Bare’e tani ‘independent’; add Kavalan tani, utani ‘some, several, a few’. Bril (p.c. April 20, 2020) finds tani ‘only’ in Natauran Amis. The Rukai-Tsouic innovation consists of the semantic shift  of *cáni  to ‘one’ out of an original meaning something like ‘alone, only’.


Wolff, John U. (2010) Proto-Austronesian phonology with glossary. 2 vols. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia program publications.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The etymology of PRT *cáni ‘one’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 26/04/2020,

PMP *inum ‘to drink’

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In this post  I argued that Proto-Eastern Walu-Siwaish (PEWS) innovated *nanum ‘water’, which competed with  PAN *daNum. PEWS *nanum is reflected in all the EWS languages of Taiwan save Paiwan, as well as in all the Kra-Dai branches. A direct reflex is however not to be found in the Malayo-Poynesian languages, where *daNum reigns as ‘water’. In PEWS there existed a denominal verb  *mi-nanum  ‘to get water, to drink’: *mi-N constructions meaning ‘to acquire, get, obtain, collect, N’ are common Actor-Focus verbs in EWS languages. This *mi-nanum is the probable source of the main MP word for ‘to drink’: *inum, *um-inum.

Shortly before PMP, AF *mi-nanum ‘to drink’ underwent syncope of the unstressed middle vowel, much as in pre-MP *paŋudaN ‘pandanus’, giving Tagalog pandán, Malagasy fandrana, Malay pandan, Old Javanese paṇḍan, etc. This gave *mi-nnum. As the noun part of this *mi-N construction was not recognizable anymore, *mi-nnum was reanalyzed as*m-innum, with prefixed m- allomorph of <um> in words beginning in vowels. The internal cluster was then regularized, giving PMP *m-inum ‘to drink’.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "PMP *inum ‘to drink’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 25/04/2020,

*nanum, an Eastern Walu-Siwaish word for ‘water’.

The PAN word for water was *daNum (Blust, ACD), *D2aNum (Tsuchida 1976), *daɫum (Wolff 2010).  Barring special circumstances, this word should remain unchanged into Eastern Walu-Siwaish (EWS). Among EWS languages, Basay (one dialect) lanom ‘water’,  Trobiawan zanum ‘water’, Kavalan zanum (in qi-zanum ‘to drink’), Amis radom ‘carry water from the water source’, Paiwan zaɫum ‘water’, PMP *danum ‘water’ show the expected outcomes.

Equally widespread in EWS languages are forms reflecting PEWS *nanum: Basay  nanom ‘water’, Kavalan nanum, m-nanum ‘to drink’, Sakizaya nanum ‘water’, mi-nanum ‘to drink’, Amis nanom ‘water’, mi-nanom ‘to drink water’, Puyuma nanum ‘water’ (male, religious). Papora mananu ‘to drink’ (Tsuchida 1982) may belong here too—this would raise *nanum ‘water’ to Proto-Walu-Siwaish— but loss of final *-m is problematic.

In Kra-Dai, PAN medial *-N- evolves to *l, while *-n- evolves to *n. Compare *aNak ‘child’, Proto-Kra *lak, Proto-Tai *lɯ:k, Proto-Kam-Sui (Ferlus) *la:k 8; *buNum ‘air, weather, sky’, proto-Tai *C̬.lɯm A ‘wind’, Proto-Kam-Sui (Thurgood) *hlwɯm 1, (Ferlus) *(C)l/rəm A. Consequently, all the Kra-Dai words for ‘water’: Proto-Hlai (Ostapirat) *nam C, Proto-Tai *C̬.nam C  (Pittayaporn; ‘C̬’ is a voiced consonant), Proto-Kam-Sui (Ferlus) *n-, Proto-Lakkja *num C (Theraphan) are cognates of *nanum, not *daNum.

There are no obvious reflexes of *nanum ‘water’ in MP, however it appears that the PMP word for ‘water’: *um-inum ‘to drink’ was reanalyzed from *mi-nanum ‘get water, drink water’ (here).


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, "*nanum, an Eastern Walu-Siwaish word for ‘water’.," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 23/04/2020,

My one and only

In the Formosan data recorded by Ino (1998:25), Taokas and Papora, two west-coast Formosan languages, have for ‘one’ the following forms: Sinkon (Taokas) tanu, Hajyovan and Vudol (both Papora) tanu. The form occurs reduplicated in Tanatanahu and Hameyan (both Taokas): tata:anu, and as ta’a:nu in Varaval (Taokas). The base form reconstructs as *tanu (not *Canu, since Sinkon Taokas reflects *C as s: masa ‘eye’, sareina ‘ear’, samani ‘to cry’; and the same is true of Papora: masa, sarina, samani: ). This is etymon #30 in the ABVD. The PAN word for ‘one’ is generally acknowledged to be *isa.

To this let us compare Natauran Amis tanu ‘only, just’ (Bril, p.c., 31 March 2020). I hypothesize that the original meaning of *tanu was ‘only’, as in Amis, which in Papora and Taokas shifted to ‘only one’ and ultimately to ‘one’.


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.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "My one and only," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 04/04/2020,

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, and north Formosan ( Kavalan, Basay, Ketagalan).

In Sakizaya, Amis’s close relative, bataʔan serves for ‘ten’ in and multiples of ten (data collected by McNaught, 2017; see the Sakizaya page in Eugene Chan’s ‘numeral systems of the world’s languages’ (here). There no trace of a reflex of *puluq, unlike in Amis and in Puyuma.

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. Tsuchida (1988) glossed 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 ’10’, at last

(Jump to Puluqish master post)

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 was defined by the innovation *puluq for ‘ten’ (note: another shared innovation of Puluqish is described here). My subgrouping 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. My inability to do so was interpreted as an indication that *puluq was etymologically opaque, as befits a PAN form, just like the numerals 1-4. If,  on the contrary,  *puluq was an innovative form, as I claimed, it must originate in another word or expression shifting to ’10’ just before proto-Puluqish, and traces of that original expression should be found, hopefully in modern Puluqish languages, or not too far from them on my tree.

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,  the bare stem polo’ is isolated and given the gloss  ‘separated from and left alone’. Perhaps one could gloss si-polo’ as ‘for a state of separation to exist’; ma-si-polo’ as ‘in a state of separation’, and ma-si-polo’-ay as ‘a N in a state of separation’.

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’  given by Namoh 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.

Although Puyuma shows no trace of the *sa- in *sa-puluq, indirect evidence that it once possessed the long form exists: the serial counting word for ‘nine’ in Nanwang Puyuma, siwa, can only be explain as the result of analogical alignment on the *s- at the beginning of *sa-puluq (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 ’10’, at last," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 22/03/2020,