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.

Specks of dust, brooms and comets

Previously in this thread: I argued that the *-it-s vs. *-ut-s alternation affecting 寐, 穟, 季 and 悸 in Shi Jing rhyming is due to a dissimilatory sound change in early eastern China turning *Cʷut-s to *Cʷit-s. To that end I began to assemble a word-family based on a root *Pˤut (where ‘P’ stands for either of *b, *m-p- or *m-pʰ), with dust-related meanings including ‘powdery’, ‘duster=broom’ and ‘comet’, out of ‘broom’. So far, the family includes 孛 MC bwot, bwojH ‘comet’, 勃 MC bwot ‘powdery’ (of soil), and 彗篲 MC zwijH ‘broom, comet’. I have described how MC zwijH was derived out of root *Pˤut through lenition of the original labial initial, voicing of the prefix, and dissimilatory shift of *Cʷut-s to *Cʷit-s.

I now examine the initial in root *Pˤut. Was it *b-, *p- or *pʰ- ? Consider 嘒 ‘to chirp, of insects’, OC (BS) *qʷʰˤi[t]-s > MC xwejH. This is an old word: it rhymes as *-it-s in Odes 197 and 222, and also occurs with the meaning ‘small-looking’ (as glossed in the 毛傳:“微貌”) in Ode 21  小星, at the beginning of the first line of stanzas 1 and 2:

嘒彼小星 ‘small are those starlets’ (tr. Legge)

The maning of 嘒 in Ode 21 cannot simply be ‘small’, as 小 occurs two words later. In that ode, a prince’s concubines compare their fate  to that of a prince’s principal wife, describing themselves as faint stars in the sky. The idea is that of  being faint, almost invisible, insignificant. Supposing the root in 嘒 ‘small’ is the same as in 勃 MC bwot ‘powdery’ (of soil), we may infer the more specific meaning ‘tiny as a particle of dust’. In order to evolve to MC xw-, an OC labial stop would have to be aspirated, and to be lenited intervocalically: *Cə-pʰ-. The evolution would be parallel to that of 彗, via *Cə-ɸ- (lenition) >  *ɸ- (prefix loss) and finally xw-.

To my knowledge, this evolution path has not been proposed before. Are there any parallels ? the word 華 ‘flower’, MC xwae, is given the OC reconstruction *qʷʰˤra in Baxter and Sagart (2014) but this ignores 郭璞 Guo Pu’s comment to Fangyan 1. 7. 23 , that “江東呼華為荂, 音敷” (BS *pʰra); and the Shuo Wen entry for 葩 (reconstructable as *pʰˤra) : “葩, 華也”. It makes more sense to propose OC 【*Cə-pʰˤra 】 ‘flower’, with the same evolution as for 嘒:  through *Cə-ɸ-  >  *ɸ- > xw-  (I am using thick brackets【】for reconstructions that modify those in Baxter and Sagart 2014).

This parallel supports treating the root in 孛勃彗篲 as *pʰˤut, with the basic meaning ‘dust’ (v. and n.). 孛 ‘comet’, MC bwot and bwojH, then goes back to 【*m-pʰˤut 】 and 【*m-pʰˤut-s 】, where the prefix is the  instrumental nominalizer called *m1c– by Baxter and Sagart (2014:55). A broom (out of which we may suppose the meaning ‘comet’ arose) is an instrument of dusting. 彗 and 篲, both ‘comet’ and ‘broom’, involve the long, iambic form of *s-, more specifically *s2-, a prefix deriving circumstantial nouns including names of instruments (Baxter and Sagart 2014:56), plus *m1b-, which turns a noun into a verb of volitional/controlled action: thus 彗 and 篲【*sə-m-pʰˤut-s】’instrument for dusting=broom=comet’. 勃 MC bwot ‘powdery’ (of soil) would have had *N-, the stative-intransitive voicing prefix (Baxter and Sagart 2014:54): 【*N-pʰˤut】. Finally 嘒  ‘small as a speck of dust’ had an iambic prefix of whose function little can be said: 【*Cə-pʰˤut】 . To recapitulate:

Root pʰˤut ‘dust (n.), to dust’:

孛 ‘comet’【*m-pʰˤut 】 and 【*m-pʰˤut-s 】> bwot and bwojH

勃 ‘powdery’ (as soil) 【*N-pʰˤut 】> bwot

彗篲 ‘broom, comet’ 【*sə-m-pʰˤut-s】> zwijH

嘒  ‘small as a speck of dust’ 【*Cə-pʰˤut】> xwejH

And, from another root:

華 ‘flower’ 【*Cə-pʰˤra 】 > xwae

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Specks of dust, brooms and comets," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 14/02/2021,

PMP *inum ‘to drink’

(to clickable tree)

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,

PAN *u- common noun marker

(to clickable tree)

This marker is reflected in three kinds of contexts:

  • In northern Amis, before common nouns, inflected for case as k-u (nominative) t-u (oblique), n-u (genitive) without any number distinction (Bril, in press);
  • prefixed to numerals of the non-human series in the southern Tsouic languages: Kanakanabu, Saaroa; and in Kavalan. Modern Rukai dialects do not show it but Ino’s recording of Karei Rukai  (Ino 1898:25-33) gives an almost complete series: isa, urisiri, utool, usipat, urima, ulumu, upitoo, uvaŋat, (puruk ’10’ is a loan from Paiwan). The missing u-prefixed word for ‘1’ in Rukai is u-tsani in Karei, discussed here. Vestiges of u-prefixation also exist in Tsou numerals: usupat ‘four’ in one variety of Tsou, here.
  • sporadically reinterpreted as an onset consonant w- or v-  with PAN nouns beginning in vowels, as noticed by Bril (p.c, April 20, 2020) for Natauran:

*asu, ‘dog’, *u-asu id. > Natauran Amis wacu, Pazeh wazu, Kavalan wasu, Paiwan vatu;

*aNak, ‘child’, *u-aNak id. > Proto-Rukai vanakə (Li 1977);

*amaH2 ‘father’, *u-amaH2 > Natauran Amis  wama.

In Fey’s dictionary of Amis one finds pairs like idaŋ/widaŋ ‘friend’, ina/wina ‘mother’.

In order to explain sporadic cases of initial w- or similar in  words for ‘dog’, ‘fire’, ‘child’, Dyen (1962) reconstructed a new Austronesian phoneme *W; the random appearance of a common noun prefix is a better interpretation.

Under my model of AN phylogeny, *u- ‘common noun marker’ reconstructs to PAN, being present in the Pazeh word for ‘dog’; Pazeh is regarded as a primary branch of PAN. Usage of *u- as a marker of numerals for non-human reference begins later, in Walu-Siwaish. It is  absent from western Walu-Siwaish (Hoanya, Papora), and potentially constitutes a shared innovation supporting a Central-Eastern Walu-Siwaish node.


Bril, I. in press. Northern Amis. Handbook on Formosan languages, ed. by P. Jen-kuei Li, E. Zeitoun, R. De Busser.  Leiden: Brill

Dyen, I. (1962) Some New Proto-Malayopolynesian Initial Phonemes. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 82, No. 2 (Apr. – Jun., 1962), pp. 214-215

Fey, V. (1986) Amis dictionary. The Bible Society in the Republic of China.

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, Paul Jen-Kuei. 1977. The internal relationships of Rukai. Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology 48:1-92.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "PAN *u- common noun marker," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 20/04/2020,

Puluqish and *paka-/*maka- abilitative

(Jump to Puluqish master post)

Prefixed *paka-, originally a causative with *pa- of stative verbs prefixed with *ka- (Zeitoun 2000), retains its causative function in a  broad range of Formosan languages: Saisiyat (pak-), Pazeh, Mayrinax Atayal and Mantauran Rukai (examples in Zeitoun’s paper); Siraya (Adelaar 2012:117), Kavalan (paq -̴ paqa-, Li & Tsuchida 2006:17), Central and Northern Amis (Bril, in press), and Puyuma (as in pa-ka-ulaŋ ‘make crazy’, Cauquelin 2015). paka-causatives are also found in the Philippines (Liao 2011).

In the Puluqish languages of Taiwan (Amis, Puyuma, Paiwan), in addition to paka-causatives, one also finds abilitative verbs with paka-: in the words of Liao Hsiu-chuan (2011:858), paka- expresses an actor’s ability to perform an action: ‘can V, able to V’. The present discussion is largely based on Liao’s  findings on the distribution and functions of paka- and maka- abilitatives, and on her examples for Taiwan and the Philippines.

Here is an example of paka- abilitative in Paiwan, cited by Liao from  Wolff (1995:567):

su=paka-qati-n ‘you (SG) can do it.’ (qati ‘succeed, achieve’).

In addition to paka-, Paiwan and Amis have an Actor-Focus prefix maka- which is also abilitative. A Paiwan example:

maka-qati ‘can do something’ (Wolff, ibid.)

Bril finds maka- abilitatives in Northern Amis too (p.c.):

maka-tengil tiya suwal
(he) could hear these words

Wolff (ibid.) derives Paiwan maka- from an earlier *<um>paka-. This seems likely. I assume the same explanation works for Amis.

Philippine languages use maka- not paka- in abilitatives (Liao 2011:859). maka-abilitatives are also found elsewhere in MP, as in Malagasy, under the form maha- (maha-fotsy ‘qui peut blanchir’).

paka- abilitatives maka-abilitatives
Northern Amis + +
Puyuma +
Paiwan + +
MP-Philippines +
MP-Malagasy +
Kra-Dai ? ?

These facts are susceptible of phylogenetic interpretation.  *paka- and/or *maka- abilitatives are only found in the southern languages Paiwan, Amis, Puyuma, and in PMP:  the innovations creating these two forms should therefore be assigned to proto-Puluqish. Whether  the abilitative prefixes were derived out of *paka- causatives, or out of another source is a question for further investigation.

Since proto-Kra-Dai is a Puluqish language, one would like to know whether these two innovations were present there too. Unfortunately the Kra-Dai languages do not preserve the left edge of words well enough for us to know the answer.


Bril, I. in press. Northern Amis. Handbook on Formosan languages, ed. by P. Jen-kuei Li, E. Zeitoun, R. De Busser.  Leiden: Brill

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

Liao Hsiu-chuan. 2011.  Some morphosyntactic differences between Formosan and Philippine languages. Languages & Linguistics 12, 4:845-876.

Wolff, John U. 1995. The position of the Austronesian languages of Taiwan within the Austronesian group. Austronesian Studies Relating to Taiwan, ed. by Paul Jen-kuei Li, Cheng-hwa Tsang, Ying-kuei Huang, Dah-an Ho & Chiu-yu Tseng, 521-583.
Taipei: Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica.

Zeitoun, E. 2000. Concerning ka-, an overlooked marker of verbal derivation in Formosan languages. Oceanic Linguistics, 39.2: 391-414.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Puluqish and *paka-/*maka- abilitative," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 07/04/2020,