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 *huR- 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.

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 ‘and’ (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, that is node 28, Proto-Philippines, in Gray, Drummond and Greenhill (2009).

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 corresponds to -k in Kra-Dai, the Kra-Dai word for ‘10’ ends in *-t, as if it came from *pulut: Proto-Kra (Ostapirat 2000) *pwlot ’10’; Proto-Hlai (Norquest 2015) *fu:t ’10’. The languages of the Kam-Tai branch have replaced the inherited form with a Chinese loanword.

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.


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

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

Ostapirat, Weera. 2000. Proto-Kra. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 23.1:1-251.

iwa vs. siwa ‘nine’ in Puyuma

(jump up to Puluqish)

The Walu-Siwaish word for ‘nine’ is reconstructed as *Siwa with capital *S. This is expected to give iwa in Puyuma, where *S evolves to zero. As recorded by Li and Tsuchida (here), Nanwang Puyuma indeed has iwa, but Thomson 1875 gives siva for the ‘tribe at Pilam’, which is 卑南, modern Beinan, Nanwang Puyuma.  Cauquelin’s dictionary of the same dialect gives both iwa and siwa, the latter  used in serial counting. Puyuma initial s- reflects PAN (and PWS) *s.

In an insightful paper, Blust (2001) stated that Formosan languages reflect *Siwa while Malayo-Polynesian languages reflect *siwa. He argued that the irregular shift of *S to *s in ‘nine’ in PMP was motivated by the proximity of *sa-puluq ‘ten’, which begins with *s-.  The existence of siwa in Puyuma shows that the shift from *S to *s in ‘nine’ is older than PMP. If Blust’s analogical explanation is correct, then Puyuma, or an ancestor of Puyuma, must once have had *sa-puluq  for ‘ten’. This is precisely what the etymology I have recently presented for *puluq ‘ten’ implies.


Blust, R. 2001. Malayo-Polynesian: new stones in the wall. Oceanic Linguistics 40, 1: 151-155.

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

Thomson, J. 1875. The straits of Malacca, Indo-China, China or ten years’ travel, adventures and residence abroad. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Low and Searle.

The merger of PAN *S1 and *S2

The merger of PAN *S1 and *S2 is an innovation of eastern Walu-Siwaish

Working in the tradition of Dyen (1971), Tsuchida (1976:250, 308) distinguished two major PAN sibilant phonemes, *S1 and *S2. Examples of the former are many; Tsuchida (1976:250 and index) exemplified the latter with seven lexical items:

  • *S2uni ‘chirp’,

  • *S2uReɬa ‘snow’,

  • *kaS2iw ‘tree, wood’,

  • *CuS2uR ‘to thread’,

  • *q4uS2uŋ ‘mushroom’,

  • *Cuma[S2H1] ‘body louse’,

  • *guS2am ‘skin disease’.

The ending in *Cuma[S2H1] is ambiguous with *H1 if the evidence is limited to Saisiyat and Atayalic (as in Tsuchida 1976:202), but when Kavalan tumes and Amis tomes are included, *H1 is excluded. More examples can be added. By my count at least 14 reconstructable Austronesian words include *S2.  Click  PAN *S2_table of 14 exx_modified April 2024.

14 words is not a negligible number. *S2 occurs in all positions: initial, medial, final.

The distinction between *S1 and *S2 is consistently observed in Saisiyat (S ≠ h), Pazeh (s ≠ h), Atayal (s ≠ h), Seediq (s ≠ h), Thao (ʃ ≠ 0), Siraya (x ≠ 0), Bunun (s ≠ 0), Tsou (s ≠ 0), Kanakanabu (s ≠ 0) and Rukai (Maga dialect: s ≠ 0; Mantauran dialect ʔ ≠ 0). It is lost in Saaroa (0 = 0), Kavalan (s = s), Amis (s = s), Paiwan (s = s), Puyuma (0 = 0), PMP (0 = 0), Proto-Kra (word-medially: s = s), Proto-Hlai (word-finally: -t = -t), Proto-Tai (word-medially: s = s). The evidence for the merger in Kra-Dai will be detailed below.

Treatment of *S1 and *S2 in extinct Taokas, Favorlang/Babuza, Hoanya, Papora, Basay and Trobiawan cannot be fully determined due to the fragmentary character of the evidence.

Geographically the languages that merge *S1 and *S2 are spoken along the eastern and southern coasts of Taiwan. Those that keep them distinct are found on the west coast and in the central regions. Saaroa, a central Taiwan language that merges *S1 and *S2 is special: its distance from the eastern coast, and its affiliation with Tsouic argue strongly that the same merger took place independently on the east coast and in Saaroa.

I now present the evidence for the merger of *S1 and *S2 in the Kra-Dai branches. The evidence is as limited as the examples of *S2 are. To my knowledge, only *CumeS2 ‘louse’, *kaS2iw ‘tree, wood’, and *qaluS2ip-an ‘centipede’ are reflected in Kra-Dai.

In the Kra branch, Proto-Kra *sui A ‘firewood’ (Ostapirat 2000) is the most probable reflex of *kaS2iw ‘tree, wood’—several Formosan languages reflect *kaS2uy instead of *kaS2iw. This shows that the PK reflex of *S2 in word-medial position is *s-. *s- is also the reflex of *S1 in the same position: PAN *duS1a ‘two’ = PK *sa A.

In the Hlai branch (Norquest 2015) we have *CumeS2 ‘louse’ reflected by Proto-Hlai *hməːt ‘flea’ and ‘to winnow’ *tapeS1 by *wet, showing the merged reflex of *S1 and *S2 is -t in word-final position.

In the Tai branch, Proto-Tai *q.sip D (Pittayaporn 2009) ‘centipede’ corresponds to PAN *qaluS2ip-an ‘centipede’ (I take final *-an to be suffixal, compare *waNiS-an ‘boar’, *RiNaS-an ‘pheasant). PAN medial *S1 also goes to s- in Proto-Tai: PAN *qaS1aN ‘grain before husking’, PT *sal A ‘husked rice’ (Pittayaporn 2009).


Dyen, I. (1971) The Austronesian languages and Proto-Austronesian. In T. Sebeok (ed.) Current Trends in Linguistics, Vol. 8:5-54. The Hague and Paris: Mouton.

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

Ostapirat, Weera. 2000. Proto-Kra. Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area 23.1:1-251.

Pittayaporn, Pittayawat (2009) The phonology of proto-Tai. Unpublished Cornell U. dissertation.

Tsuchida, S. (1976) Reconstruction of Proto-Tsouic phonology. Tokyo: Study of languages and cultures of Asia and Africa monograph series N° 5.

OC ‘wing’ and ‘next day’

Baxter and Sagart (2014) (hereafter ‘B&S’) reconstruct ‘wing’ as *ɢʷrəp > MC yik. Although the MC form ends in -k, and ‘wing’ constantly rhymes as *-ək in the Shijing odes—is quite a prolific rhyme word in the Shijing—OC *-p was proposed on the basis of the phonetic element 立, OC *k.rəp, which occurs in some tokens of the Shang graph, alongside a naturalistic drawing of a wing. Moreover, with or without , the graph for ‘wing’ serves as a jiajie for ‘next day’, presumably because the two were close or identical in pronunciation—it does not seem likely that the two are etymologically related. In Middle Chinese and Modern Standard Chinese, or yik > yì ‘next day’ is a homophone of ‘wing’ yik > yì ‘wing’. Note that, as with ‘wing’, the (modern) characters for ‘next day’ include phonetic , implying OC *-p here too. The replacement of final *-p by *-k in OC is best treated as the result of a sound change: any other kind of explanation would hardly explain the two words simultaneously. B&S therefore assign ‘next day’ the same OC form as ‘wing’, i.e. *ɢʷrəp. They assume that dissimilation between the labial elements in the onset and final caused the *-p coda to shift to *-k, in both words. Interestingly final nasals seem unaffected by the change, for instance

*prəm > pjuwng > fēng ‘wind (n.)’

consistently rhymes with other *-əm words, such as *səm > sim > xīn ‘heart’ in the odes. The labial initial in ‘wind’ has not triggered a change from *-m to *-ŋ. Such a change will eventually take place, but later, after the Shijing period. Change of *-p to *-k in words with labial initials (even over medial -r-) is very early, predating Shijing rhyming, perhaps in terminal Shang or initial Zhou times.

As justification for the *ɢʷr- onset in ‘wing’, Baxter & Sagart (2014:386 fn 30) note that often writes *[ɢ]ʷrəp-s > hwijH > wèi ‘standing, position’. This word they treat as a contraction of a honorific *ɢʷəʔ (as in 有商 ‘the Shang’) and root *rəp ‘to stand’, with a nominalizing *-s suffix. They suppose that in ‘wing’ and ‘next day’, phonetic stands for *[ɢ]ʷrəp-s, whence the onset proposed for the two words.

The phonetic is not associated with the graph for ‘wing’ before Zhou bronze script: there is no need to assume final -p and dissimilation from a labial onset: B&S reconstruct *ɢ(r)ək-s > yiH > yì ‘different’.

These reconstructions resolve an interesting range of issues, but there is a difficulty: Qiu Xigui (2012) observed that occurs in the Shijing and Shujing in some of the same contexts where was used in the oracular inscriptions. This is difficult to explain with our reconstructions *ɢ(r)ək-s and *l̥ək: in the current framework there is no way that an OC *ɢ- or *ɢ(r)- can evolve to a late OC lateral; but *m-r- does evolve regularly to late OC *l- (Baxter and Sagart 2014:133). Consequently it is preferable to reconstruct as *m-rək. Further, would be a perfect phonetic for ‘wing’ in Zhou times is ‘wing’ itself were *m-rək. Replacing initial *ɢʷr by *m-r- would not prevent labial-to-labial dissimilation, since m is labial too: a terminal Shang-time or initial Zhou-time *m-rəp would dissimilate to early Zhou *m-rək just as well. In addition, the new proposal would avoid the complication of supposing that in ‘wing’ and ‘next day’, phonetic stands for . If *k is a prefix in *k.rəp > lip > lì ‘stand (v.)’ (our reconstruction leaves the possibility open) then the root *rəp is eligible for prefixation by *m-, which in verbs marks actions controlled by the subject.

An OC *m-r- would give *z- in Proto-Min (p. 134, table 4.39). Indeed, ‘wing’ has *z- in Proto-Min (Norman 1974:34).

Externally, the new reconstruction *m-rəp ‘wing’ would make an attractive match for Proto-Tangkhulic *raap ‘rib’ (Mortensen) and the etymon #558 PTB *s/b-ram RIB in the STEDT. The folded wings of a bird are located along its sides, like the ribs.


OC (proposed)

Proto-Min (Norman 1974)


*m-rəp > yik > yì ‘wing’


*s/b-ram RIB

*m-rəŋ > ying > yíng ‘fly’


*s-b-(r/y)aŋ FLY (n.) / BEE

where OC *m-r- appears to correspond to the /b-r-/ onset strings in the two STEDT reconstructions.


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

Norman, Jerry. 1974. The initials of Proto-Min. Journal of Chinese Linguistics 2.27-36.

Qiú Xīguī 裘錫圭. 2012. Bǔcí “[yì]” zì hé Shī, Shū lǐ de “[shì]” zì 卜辭 “異” 字和詩、書裏的 “式” 字. Qiú Xīguī xuéshù wénjí 裘錫圭學術文集, vol. 1, 212–229. ( 6 v.). Shànghǎi 上海: Fùdàn dàxué chūbǎnshè 復旦大學出版社.

A dialectal sound change in the Shi Jing: -it-s > -ut-s after labial consonant

[This post was revised March 12 and 15, 2020]

There are at least six examples in the Odes of OC *-it-s rhyming with *-ut-s (whether original OC *-ut-s, or *-ut-s from OC *-up-s). This happens only when *-it-s is preceded by a labial consonant. Most likely, a dialectal sound change has taken place, changing *-it-s to *-ut-s after a [+labial] consonant, and allowing words pronounced as *-it-s elsewhere to rhyme with *-ut-s:

*-it-s > *-ut-s /[+labial] __

The locations in the Odes where this rhyming can be seen are:

  • 58.5 *mi[t]-s with *sə-lu[t]-s,
  • 60.1 悸 *[g]ʷi[t]-s with *sə-lu[t]-s,
  • 65.2 穟 *s.[ɢ]ʷi[t]-s with 醉 *Cə.tsu[t]-s [added March 15]
  • 241.3 季 *kʷi[t]-s with 對 *[t]ˤ[u]p-s,
  • 241.4 季 *kʷi[t]-s with 類 *[r]u[t]-s,
  • 256.4 寐 *mi[t]-s with 內 *nˤ[u]p-s.

Presumably each of the twelve words above ended in [uts] in the pronunciation these odes were composed in, whence the particular rhyming pattern. Note that rhymes twice with *-ut-s in different stanzas of ode 241, each time with different words: this shows the phenomenon is not a fluke, but a dialectal characteristic.

This rhyming tends to make the OC vowel in *[t]ˤ[u]p-s and *nˤ[u]p-s more secure, as the alternative to *u in both cases is *ə, not *i. The brackets around [u] are no more needed.

Odes 241 and 256 are part of the Da Ya, a section believed to be associated with western Zhou and (north-)western China at the time. Odes 58, 60 and 65 are from the Guo Feng section (58 and 60 from 衛風, Hebei-Henan boundary;  65  from  王風 , We may be dealing with a northern/northwestern isogloss.

For the numbering of the Odes readers should refer to Appendix B in Baxter (1992), and to Mattis List’s Shijing Rhyme Browser (March 12, 2020: thanks, Mattis, for modifying  your browser to allow queries by OC rhyme! reader, to get the browser to list all Shi Jing occurrences of a certain OC rhyme, type the rhyme in B&S system, within double angle brackets, like this: «ək», in the query window).

A counterexample ?

There is in the entire Da Ya and Wei () Feng sections of the Shi Jing a single example of *-it-s after a labial NOT rhyming as *-ut-s: in 245.4 (Daya), ‘ear of grain’, OC *s.[ɢ]ʷi[t]-s (same word as , the older graph) rhymes with , MC bajH. This MC form could go back to either of *-at-s or (following a labial consonant) *-ots , but the fact that the phonetic series’s head-word is 巿 *put ‘knee covers’ suggests that the MC reading with -ajH is anomalous, even if from *-ot-s, and that Ode 245 read as *-ut-s.

Consequently there is no strong counterexample to the change *-it-s > *-ut-s /[+labial] __ in the Da Ya, Wei () Feng and Wang (王) Feng sections of the Odes, and we may regard this as a constant dialect feature of these sections of the Shi Jing.

Outside of the Daya, Wei () and Wang (王) Feng, the change does not occur at all. In the Guo Feng we have:

  • 30.3 *mi[t]-s with 嚏 *[t]ˤi[t]-s,
  • 53.1 *pi[t]-s with 四 *[j]-s,
  • 110.2 *mi[t]-s and *kʷi[t]-s with *[kʰ]i[t]-s.

Odes 30, 53 and 110 belong, respectively, to Bei Feng 邶風 (Henan, between Zhengzhou and Anyang), Yong Feng 鄘風 (Henan, near Bei) and Wei Feng 魏風 (south Shanxi): a region on the middle course of the Yellow River valley.

In the Xiaoya there are no examples of the change, at all. Where *-it-s occurs after a labial consonant, it rhymes with *i words:

197.4 嘒 *qʷʰˤi[t] -s and 淠 *pʰˤi[t]-s and *mi[t]-s with 屆 *kˤr[i][t]-s,

222.2 qʷʰˤi[t] -s and 淠 *pʰˤi[t]-s with *[j]-s and 屆 *kˤr[i][t]-s.

In these two instances, the presence of 屆 kˤr[i][t]-s and 駟 *[j]-s in the rhyme sequences guarantees that 嘒* qʷʰˤi[t] -s, 淠 *pʰˤi[t]-s and 寐*mi[t]-s were pronounced with *i vowel.

[added Feb. 14, 2021: find a sequel to this post here]

Chinese-Tibetan vowel correspondences I

Hill (2019: §33, §224) reconstructs a vowel *e in the Sino-Tibetan parent language (Proto-Trans-Himalayan in his terminology; I will be using the term PCT ‘Proto-Chino-Tibetan’, meaning the language one would reconstruct if only Old Chinese an Tibetan were available). He argues that this vowel is preserved unchanged in OC, and that its reflexes in WT are conditioned by the ending: one has WT e before labials, i before velars, and a before dentals (including –r and –l). Below are examples of the correspondence OC *e to Written Tibetan a in words without a coda (1), with labial codas (2-3), velar codas (5-6), PCT *-q (7) and PCT *-ʔ (8-9)

OC *e : WT a

1. 溪 *kʰˤe > khej > xī ‘valley with stream in it’ : WT rka ‘small furrow conveying water from a conduit to trees and plants’
2. 占 *tem > tsyem > zhān ‘prognosticate’ : WT gtam ‘talk, discourse, speech’
3. 攝 *kə.n̥ep > syep > shè ‘catch, gather up’ : WT rnyab ‘seize or snatch together’
4. 貞 *treŋ > trjeng > zhēn ‘straight; correct’ : WT draŋ-po ‘straight’
5. 脛 *m-kʰˤeŋ-s > hengH > jìng ‘leg, shank’, 牼 *m-kʰˤeŋ > heang > kēng ‘shank bone’ : WT rkang ‘marrow, leg bones, stalk’
6. 清 *tsʰeŋ > tshjeng > qīng ‘clear (adj.)’, 淨 *m-tseŋ-s > dzjengH > jìng ‘cleanse (v.t.)’ : WT g-tsang-ba ‘to be clean, pure’
7. 舐 *Cə.leʔ > zyeX > shì ‘lick’ : WT ldag pa ‘to lick’
8. 庳 *N-peʔ > bjieX > bì ‘low, short’, 鼙 *[b]ˤe > bej > pí ‘small hand-drum’ : WT p’ra-ba ‘thin, fine, minute; little, small’
9. 諀 *pʰeʔ > phjieX > pǐ ‘slander’ : WT p’ra-ma ‘slander’

[added Oct 29, 2021]: two more examples: 葉  ‘leaf’ and  甲 ‘shell, buffcoat’ are discussed  here.

Similarly, the correspondence OC *e : Tibetan e is not limited to words with labial endings. Below are examples in words without a coda (1), ending in some kind of back-of-the-mouth fricative (2-3) and, in apparent violation of Dempsey’s law, in a velar (4-5):

OC *e : WT e

1. 佳 *[k]ˤre > kea > jia ‘good’ : WT dge ‘happiness, welfare, happy, propitious’
2. 秝 *[r]ˤek > lek > lì ‘successively, sequence’ : WT re ‘one at a time’, etc.
3. 譬 *pʰek-s > phjieH > pì ‘example’ : WT dpe ‘pattern, model; example, illustrative parable’
4. 積 *[ts]ek-s > tsjeH > jī ‘to hoard’ : WT rtseg-pa, pf. (b)rtsegs ‘to lay one thing on or over another, to pile up, stack up, build up’
5. 易 *lek-s > yeH > yì ‘easy’ : WT legs-pa ‘good, happy; neat, elegant, beautiful …’

These two correspondences of OC *e are not in complementary distribution.

Hill, Nathan W. 2019. The Historical Phonology of Tibetan, Burmese and Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Faulty etymologies in the STEDT II: ‘to love’

One of the weaker Sino-Tibetan comparisons in the STEDT can be found here:


The reconstructed form has detachable *ŋ- pre-initial (not a prefix), and a *w- onset marked as optional by means of parentheses.1 The possibility that forms with and without reflexes of these elements are unrelated is not given any consideration. In Matisoff’s Schrödinger-like version of comparative reconstruction, phonemes can be there, and not there.

At Sino-Tibetan level, ‘PTB *ŋ-(w)a:y’ is compared with Chinese 愛 ‘to love’, Middle Chinese  ‘ojH > modern ài.  The Chinese comparandum is vaunted as ‘excellent’ at the top of the STEDT page for this set.

愛 ài expresses a kind of feeling associated with the Confucian virtue of 仁 *niŋ > nyin > rén ‘kind(-ness), benevolence’.  Although its modern meaning is ‘to love’, and it is often translated by the verb ‘to love’, its more specific meaning in classical texts is  ‘to care for’,  as in this famous passage from the Confucian Analects 3.17/6/6, where in response to his disciple Zigong’s objection to the ritual sacrifice of a sheep, Confucius is quoted as saying “爾愛其羊,我愛其禮” “You love (=care for) the sheep, I love (=care  for) the rite”. Such is probably the original meaning.  The OC word for ‘to love’ was 字 *mə-dzə(ʔ)-s, correctly compared by Benedict to his PTB *m-dza ‘to love’.  In all Chinese dialects except (to my knowledge) the very archaic Waxiang and Caijia dialects, this word has been displaced by 愛 ài. ‘Love’ semantics, in the sense of a warm feeling one experiences for an individual person, are not old with 愛 ài.

A  minimal version of the comparison in STEDT had appeared in Benedict’s Conspectus (1972:192, fn.491): it related Proto-Karen *ʔai ‘love’ with 愛 ài. This would  be phonologically viable if the OC root ended in *-əj. In general, MC words with grave initials and rhyme -ojH (with ‘H’ for tone C, a.k.a qusheng) can go back to OC *-əj(ʔ)-s, *-ə(ʔ)-s, *-ək-s, *-ət-s or *-əp-s. Of these, only *-əj(ʔ)-s could potentially match forms in -a(:)j  outside of Sinitic. However, Baxter (1992) reconstructed *ʔɨt-s, with root-final *-t. Still, Zev J. Handel maintains at the bottom of the STEDT page for the item under review that *-j-s remains possible because OC rhyming does not provide direct evidence of contacts with *-t. While this is true, one should keep in mind that 愛 ài only rhymes once in the Shi Jing, and 僾 ài  ‘to pant, lose the breath’, whose phonetic is 愛 ài, also once: the opportunities for an unsuffixed final stop to surface in rhyming are thus quite limited. Absence of *-t (or *-p, for that matter) among the rhyme contacts of 愛 ài or 僾 ài  is not in itself evidence for a root ending *-j.

Word-families provides strong evidence for excluding *-j-s in 僾 ài ‘to pant, lose breath’, just cited: this word is the s-suffixed derivative of 唈 *qˤ[ə]p > ‘op > yì ‘short of breath’.  This is confirmed by the fact that  僾 ài  ‘to pant, lose the breath’ rhymes with 逮 modern dài < OC *m-rˤəp-s  ‘reach to’  in Ode 257. 逮 dài itself is the s-suffixed derivative of 眔 *m-rˤəp > dop > tà ‘reach to’.  There can be no question that 僾 ài and 逮 dài ended in *-p-s.

Baxter and Sagart (2014) accordingly reconstructed 僾 ài  as *qˤəp-s. This in turn cannot be reconciled with the view that 愛 ài ended in *-j-s: how could a word ending in *-j-s  be chosen as a phonetic for another ending in *-p-s ? evidently the root in 愛 ài  also ended in a stop. But which ?

While 愛 ài  ‘to care for’ was reconstructed with *-t-s in Baxter (1992), the OC contrast between *-p-s and *-t-s was lost at a late stage of OC: if the rhyming of 愛 ài   and 謂 *[ɢ]ʷə[t]-s > hjw+jH > wèi ‘say, tell, call’ in Ode 228 is based on a pronunciation in which the merger had taken place, 愛 ài may have had *-p-s earlier on, like 僾 ài. Accordingly Baxter and Sagart (2014) reconstructed 愛 ài as *[q]ˤə[p]-s, with square brackets around -[p] to convey the uncertainty between *-p and *-t.

Shortly after the publication of their book, and independently from it, Norquest (2015) arrived at the Proto-Hlai reconstruction *ʔə:p ‘to love’. He did not notice any connection to Chinese 愛 ài . Norquest’s *ʔə:p is not found in the other Kra-Dai branches,  in Austronesian or Austroasiatic. It is probably a Chinese loanword: this leaves no doubt that the Chinese word’s root ending was *-p.

Chinese root-final *-p is not reflected anywhere in the rest of Matisoff’s set: the likelihood that the Chinese form is related to the rest is nonexistent. The superficial resemblance between the Chinese and Karen forms is the fruit of convergence.


Baxter, W. H.  1992. A Handbook of Old Chinese phonology. Trends in Linguistics Studies and Monographs 64. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

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

Benedict, P.K. 1972. Sino-Tibetan: a Conspectus. Cambridge: University Printing House.

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

  1. There is nothing wrong in itself with parentheses. Baxter and Sagart (2014) use parentheses in their OC reconstruction to signal phonemes whose presence or absence in a protoform are both compatible with all the comparative evidence at hand: for instance they reconstruct medial-r- between parentheses in 夫 *p(r)a > pju > fū ‘man’  because given Middle Chinese pju it is impossible to decide whether Old Chinese had -r- or not. Matisoff’s parenthesized phonemes are different: they are used to make manifest Matisoff’s decision to overlook a phoneme in making cognate decisions. []

Conflated cognate sets in the STEDT I — ‘excrement’

I have elsewhere (Sagart 2006) pointed out that sound correspondences are a minor part of the grounds on which the cognate sets in Matisoff’s 2003 book were assembled, despite Matisoff’s anger (Matisoff 2007) when the point was made in print. The same applies to the cognate sets in STEDT, which are a more evolved state of those in the book. Granted, to some extent relying on educated guesses is unavoidable in cognatising a large number of related languages: however, the sound correspondences in Matisoff’s book, which are his most recent statement on ST phonological history, are not sufficient to distinguish between phonetically and semantically resemblant etyma in ST.

Consider the STEDT cognate set #572 *kləy ‘excrement’ (here). In several of the languages where this putative etymon is reflected, doublets appear. The most prominent type includes one form with a liquid in its onset (column I) and another without (column II). See table 1.

Kanauri (Sharma)s kli ‘urine’khə ‘shit’
Central Tsangla
le ‘intestines’khi chung ‘buttock’
Bodo (Bhat)bi klə́ ‘liver’bi kí ‘excrement of fish’
Mikir (Grüssner)mék-krí ‘tears’hī ‘feces / shit’
khrə¹¹ ‘body dirt’ci¹¹  ‘body dirt’
Newar (Genetti) ʈi (< kr-) ‘(ear)wax’khi  ‘shit’
Sunwar (Michailovsky)khriː ‘feces’kiː  ‘intestines’

Table 1: doublets in the STEDT cognate set #572 (accessed mid-may, 2019)

The differences in onsets and rhymes between the forms in the two columns are not explained anywhere in Matisoff (2003) or STEDT. They are not due to identified morphological processes applying on a single lexical root. We are dealing with two etyma: the first has an onset cluster, the second does not. Semantically the forms in the first column have more associations with ‘body dirt’ and those in the second column with ‘excrement’.

Taraon klɑi53, Proto-Northern Naga *C̥-kləy (French 1983), Written Tibetan lci < hlyi, Lepcha tə kli probably belong to the first etymon. Japhug Gyarong tɯ qe ‘excrement’ (Jacques 2015) probably belongs to the second: the Japhug onset cannot originate in a Cl-type cluster (Jacques, p.c.).

With the Chinese word 屎 MC syijX ‘excrement’, one source of MC sy- is OC *l̥-: if OC *l̥- itself can remount to PST *kl-, one seems to have a match to #kləy. However the Proto-Min initial for 屎 is *š-, which excludes OC *l̥-. An OC *l̥- would evolve to Proto-Min *tšh- (Baxter and Sagart 2014:93). Consequently, the Chinese word probably does not belong with the first etymon either. Baxter and Sagart reconstruct 屎 tentatively with a uvular initial, OC *[qʰ]ijʔ. None of the other sources of MC sy-: OC *s.t-, *n̥-, *ŋ̊-, *l̥-, are plausible in this word. Thus 屎 OC *[qʰ]ijʔ probably belongs to the second etymon, like Japhug Gyarong tɯ qe.

The first etymon, with the lateral cluster and ‘body dirt’ semantics, is best compared with Chinese 尸 *l̥əj ‘corpse’, via the notion of ‘carrion’.

The second etymon can be compared with Proto-Austronesian (Blust) *Caqi ‘excrement’. There are reasons within Austronesian to think that this word ended in a laryngeal or back-of-the-mouth fricative (here), although I am not sure anymore of the identity of that phoneme.

In my next post, I will discuss the STEDT *etymon #601 *m/s-tuːk ‘to spit’.


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

French, Walter Thomas. 1983. Northern Naga: A Tibeto-Burman mesolanguage. New York, Univ., Diss. Ann Arbor : University Microfilms

Jacques, Guillaume. 2015. Dictionnaire Japhug-chinois-français 嘉绒-汉-法词典 Version 1.0.

Matisoff, J. A. 2003. Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press.

Matisoff, J. A. 2007. Response to Laurent Sagart’s review of Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman: System and philosophy of Sino-Tibetan reconstruction. Diachronica 24,2: 435–444.

Sagart, L. 2006. Review: James A. Matisoff (2003) Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman. System and philosophy of Sino-Tibeto-Burman Reconstruction. Diachronica 23,1: 206-223.

The origins of Kra-Dai tones, current status (I): tone C

October 8, 2019:  a paper on the origins of Kra-Dai tones is now  published (here). It represents my current understanding of the formation of Kra-Dai tones and supersedes the present three posts. There are more data in the paper, especially on the Austronesian final consonant I note as *X; there are also some significant differences between the present posts and the paper.  Thus, although it is clear that the word ‘excrement’, ususally reconstructed as *Caqi, ended in some kind of guttural fricative, it contains too many irregularities, possibly euphemistically motivated (as noted by Wolff), both in Austronesian and Kra-Dai, to identify that fricative. Therefore in the published paper I retreat from my suggestion that *Caqi ‘excrement’ was really *Caqix. I suggest instead that final *-x was the value of Tsuchida’s *-H2, thus converging with Blust’s proposal, but on completely different grounds (pages 7-9).

Like Old Vietnamese, Written Burmese and Proto-Hmong-Mien, the Kra-Dai languages exhibit a phonological typology strongly influenced by a form of Chinese which is later than Old Chinese and earlier than Early Middle Chinese: that is, a period extending beginning c. 200 BCE and covering the first half of the first millennium CE. Their tone system is structurally identical to that of Chinese of that time: three contrasting tones on words ending in sonorants (vowels, semi-vowels, nasals, liquids) while words ending in oral stops do not show any tonal contrast. The origin of the Vietnamese tone system was elucidated by Haudricourt (1954a): one tone originated in words ending in [h], another in [ʔ], a third in sonorants. Haudricourt (1954b) showed that the Chinese qùshēng 去聲 originated in an *-s suffix which evolved to [h] prior to becoming a tone. Mei (1970) completed Haudricourt’s picture by proposing that the Chinese shǎngshēng 上聲 goes back to words ending in a glottal stop. For details see Sagart (1999). The origins of the Burmese, Hmong-Mien and Kra-Dai tones have not been elucidated although some progress has been made for Kra-Dai by Ostapirat (2005) and Norquest (2013). Here I describe additional hypotheses which bring us closer to a solution.

The Kra-Dai tones are known as A, B, C and D. The core of these categories existed in Proto-Kra-Dai (Ostapirat 2000), though not necessarily as true phonetic tones having pitch as their main acoustic clue. When borrowed into Kra-Dai, Middle Chinese píngshēng 平聲 words (ending in sonorants in Old Chinese) typically have tone A; Middle Chinese shǎngshēng 上聲 words (ending in a glottal stop in Old Chinese) are treated by tone C; MC qùshēng 去聲 words (ending in *-h in late OC < OC *-s) show tone B. Chinese words ending in oral stops form the so-called rùshēng入聲 category. They do not contrast with the other Chinese tones. Kra-Dai ‘tone’ D is the corresponding category in Kra-Dai. Gedney (1978) suggests that the phonetic values of the Thai tones A, B and C are the same as the Old Chinese values of the Chinese píngshēng, qùshēng and shǎngshēng respectively, under the Haudricourt-Mei solution: sonorant endings, [h]-endings, [ʔ]-endings. Earlier attempts to solve the origin of Kra-Dai tones have assumed Gedney’s hypothesis.

Sagart (2004, 2005, 2008, 2011) argued that the Kra-Dai languages are a subgroup, not a sister, of the Austronesian language family. Here I attempt an account of the Kra-Dai tone categories from the viewpoint of Austronesian consonant endings. It should be borne in mind that the AN words in Kra-Dai, while very basic, are quantitatively limited: for that reason my proposals are based on small numbers of examples. This post deals with the Kra-Dai tone C. Two other posts deal with tones B (here) and A (here).

In examining the Kra-Dai tone categories in connexion with Austronesian, reference must be made to Tsuchida’s reconstruction of two final consonants (Tsuchida 1976): *H1 (-h in Pazeh, Saisiyat, Atayal, Sediq, Amis and Aklanon) and *H2 (-h in Takituduh and Aklanon). AN words ending in *H1 form the core of the Kra-Dai tone C:

PAN(Sa) Buyang (Li 1999) PHlai(Os) PTai(Pi)
to come, go’ *uwaH1 va11 < C2
head’ *quluH1 qa0 ðu11 < C2 *uRəu C *kraw C
shoot, outgrowth, flower’ *buŋaH1 ma0 ŋa11 < C2

PAN(Sa): Proto-Austronesian (Sagart, this post); PHlai(O): Proto-Hlai (Ostapirat 2004); PTai(Pi): Proto-Tai (Pittayaporn 2009)

Supporting evidence for these reconstructions:

*uwaH1 ‘to come, to go’: Atayal uah ‘come’, Mantauran Rukai oa ‘go’, Babuza m-oa ‘come’, Puyuma ua ‘go’;

*quluH1 ‘head’ : Paiwan qulu, Sediq (Taroko) qolox ‘skull’, Saisiyat ta-ʔœlœh, Aklanon úeo(h);

*buŋaH1 ‘shoot, outgrowth, flower’: Saisiyat poŋaeh ‘flower’ (p- unexplained; expect b-), Saaroa vuŋavuŋa ‘ear of foxtail’ (own fieldwork, 2014), Kanakanabu buŋabuŋa ‘flower’, Aklanon búːŋah ‘fruit’.

Some Kra-Dai C-category words cannot come from *H1. The word for ‘excrement’, Proto-Kra *kai C, Proto-Hlai *akaːi C, Proto-Tai *C̬.qɯj C, in all likelihood corresponds to a PAN word reconstructed as *C1aq3i (Tsuchida), Blust *Caqi (Blust), *taqí (Wolff). Under the generally accepted sound correspondences, these should yield sai in Pazeh and Kaxabu, two closely related languages of central-western Taiwan. If the word had ended in *-H1, saih would be expected in both. The attested forms are Pazeh saik, Kaxabu saix (Tun 2015). Recently, thanks to my friends Prof. Hsing Yue-ie and Hsu Tze-fu of the Institute of Microbial and Plant Biology, Academia Sinica, I was able to visit Mr Tun in Puli and to record his pronunciation of this word (here). Blust treats Pazeh saik as a metathesis, but that explanation cannot work for Kaxabu. Currently I do not know any other examples of the correspondence Pazeh –k to Kaxabu –x. One possibility is that the word ended in a rare consonantal ending PAN *-x, preserved unchanged in Kaxabu, and merged with *-k in Pazeh. The aberrant –l ending in Kavalan tal ‘excrement’ would be its indirect reflection, as would tone C in Kra-Dai. This is speculative, as no other example of the final-consonant correspondence shown by ‘excrement’ in Austronesian is currently known.

In two other posts I examine the origins of the Kra-Dai tone B (here). and A (here), B and C. A list of references is appended to the post on tone A.

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