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.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Faulty etymologies in the STEDT II: ‘to love’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 21/07/2019, https://stan.hypotheses.org/365.
  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 names of the rice plant. II ‘Tibeto-Burman’ (continued)

This post continues an earlier one (here) where a name of the rice plant, pre-reconstructible as #am, was shown to occur in languages of three distinct branches of the non-Sinitic part of Sino-Tibetan.

In addition, I cited a related pair of forms in Chepang: ʔamʰ ‘cooked rice’ and yam ‘rice plant’, noting the parallel alternation in Chepang ʔat and yat, both ‘one’. Prothesis of y- in yam and yat calls for an explanation. 

I also noted related forms where #am is apparently preceded by an m- formative:  Jingpo mam³³ ‘rice’ (paddy) and Thulung (Allen 1975), a Kiranti language,  mam ‘grain of rice remaining unhusked after milling’.

It is possible that this m- formative is the remnant of a morpheme cognate with Chinese 米 *(C.)mˤ[e]jʔ > mejX > mǐ ‘grains of any cereal, dehusked and polished’. In the STEDT website, Matisoff gives this cognate set, with the gloss RICE/PADDY, but, as in Chinese, the same morpheme can be used of millet, e.g. Garo (Burling) mi-si-mi ‘millet’, Gyarong (Ma’erkang) sməi khri  ‘millet’. Thus Jingpo mam³³ ‘rice’ (paddy) would be from #mej-am ‘grain(s) of rice/rice in grains’; and Thulung  mam ‘grain of rice remaining unhusked after milling’ would also be from ‘grain of rice’, without the need for a wide-ranging semantic shift.

This idea has the additional potential of explaining the prothesis of y- in the Chepang form cited above, if we suppose an evolution of the kind of #mej-am > mej-jam > jam.

As to the morpheme #am ‘rice plant’ itself, it seems likely that it arose out of a verb ‘to eat’, for which the STEDT has this  cognate set. For a parallel, the Proto-Austronesian verb *kaen ‘to eat’ has a patient noun derivative with *-en: *kaen-en ‘food’ which evolves to ‘rice’ in certain Philippine and Bornean languages where rice is the main staple.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The names of the rice plant. II ‘Tibeto-Burman’ (continued)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 03/11/2018, https://stan.hypotheses.org/248.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Sun, Jackson Tianshin. 1993. Tani synonym sets. (unpublished ms. contributed to STEDT). Accessed via STEDT database <http://stedt.berkeley.edu/search/> on 2018-02-09.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The names of the rice plant. II ‘Tibeto-Burman’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 09/02/2018, https://stan.hypotheses.org/176.

A possible case of dissimilation of -r to -l in Written Tibetan

There exist occasional cases of alternations between words with preradical d- and r- in Old/Written Tibetan (OT/WT), for instance dba vs rba ‘wave’, dgu ‘nine’ vs. rgu ‘many’. I am uncertain of the nature (phonological ? dialectal ?) of these alternations. At the same time, rb-type onsets are rare in Written Tibetan and rp- onsets are entirely absent. In a blog dated 19/11/2015 (https://panchr.hypotheses.org/527) Guillaume Jacques proposed that a metathesis has affected pre-Tibetan *rp-, changing it to WT phr-; this is supported by a comparison between WT phrag-pa and Japhug tɯ-rpaʁ, both ‘shoulder’, both forms being derivable from an earlier *rpak. Combining Jacques’ hypothesis with r-/d- preradical doubleting stimulates us to look for db-/br and dp-/phr- doublets. Here is an apparent instance of a db-/br- doublet: dbur ‘to grind, pulverize; flour’ vs. brul ‘very small broken pieces’. These two forms could go back to a dbur vs. rbur doublet, assuming the evolution from rbur to brul involves a dissimilatory change of final -r to -l.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "A possible case of dissimilation of -r to -l in Written Tibetan," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 12/06/2017, https://stan.hypotheses.org/11.