“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice: a rejoinder.

I am aware of two reactions to my last post by authors of the Alam et al. paper:  Rafal Gutaker’s private reply to me, and Dorian Fuller’s reaction both rejected my claim that the very different histories of temperate and tropical japonica rices in the Austronesian world imply that different words for the two types of rice should exist in AN languages, instead of just one, as is the case; unless the early Taiwanese Austronesians carried temperate japonica south with them at the time of the Out-of-Taiwan event. Their reasoning—if I understand it well—seems to be that since the Austronesian word for the rice plant does not specifically refer to either tropical or temperate japonica, the issue I am raising is only apparent. They seem to be assuming that Austronesian speakers have in their mental lexicons a word for ‘rice plant’, whether they cultivate rice or not, and that they will give that name to whatever kind of rice they encounter in the course of their expansion.

Languages in the modern world can have a word for a domesticated plant without that plant being cultivated by its speakers—because we import it, buy it in shops, eat it, etc. Neolithic groups only have words for plants they cultivate. The Austronesians in Oceania have abandoned cereal agriculture: accordingly they do not have a traditional word for rice.

The Alam et al. paper presents the history of Austronesian rice as a pincer movement introducing temperate japonica from northeastern  Asia to Taiwan while tropical japonica was introduced from the south.  The role of Taiwan in this medel is to be a mere contact region between north and south. However the question arises as to whether, during the period of time tropical japonica had not yet reached Taiwan, Taiwanese temperate japonica had already been introduced to the south in the Out-of-Taiwan event; and whether there was interaction between the two south of Taiwan. Linguistics has useful hints there.

At the moment tropical japonica rice was introduced to the southern Austronesian world, the Austronesian people to whom it was introduced gave it the name *panjay. This means that they already cultivated rice. Otherwise, they would have had no name for it, and would either borrow the name used in the language of the group they were receiving it from, or coin a new name for it. Only by miracle would they come up with the same name that was used in Taiwan.

Further, and importantly, the local words for the rice plant that derive from *panjay exhibit the same pattern of phonetic variation, or sound laws,1 as a significant  part of the Austronesian vocabulary, simultaneously present in and outside of Taiwan.  Linguists assign that vocabulary to the ancestor of all known Austronesian languages. That this vocabulary—currently at least several hundred words—obeys the same set of sound laws must mean that it traveled as a package in the course of the Austronesian expansion. Moreover, that phonetic shared innovations [this is the linguistic equivalent of ‘synapomorphies’ in cladistics] of the non-Formosan Austronesian languages have been observed on this vocabulary leaves no doubt that the expansion went south from Taiwan.

Thus, whatever rice was present in Taiwan at that time was transferred south, together with its name. Most likely that was temperate japonica—what else ? That would certainly explain why it was so easily eliminated by tropical japonica.

In conclusion the finding that rice south of Taiwan is of the tropical japonica type does not argue agains the “Out of Taiwan” hypothesis. This hypothesis does not predict that modern Austronesian rices south of Taiwan should be temperate japonicas. It merely predicts that at the moment of the Out-of-Taiwan event, the Austronesians carried rice with them in their canoes and that they and their descendents grew it in the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, Indonesia… On linguistic evidence, such was indeed the case.

In closing I note the lack so far of reactions to my criticism regarding the far too recent date proposed in the Alam et al. paper for the  introduction of temperate japonica to Taiwan.

1 This table illustrates the regularity of sound correspondence in the words for the rice plant and other words in selected Austronesian languages in and outside Taiwan.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice: a rejoinder.," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 30/08/2021, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1433.

“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice

Alam, O., Gutaker, R., Wu, C., Hicks, K., Bocinsky, K., Castillo, C., Acabado, S., Fuller, D., Guedes, J., Hsing, Y., Purugganan, M. (2021). Genome analysis traces regional dispersal of rice in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Molecular Biology and Evolution Doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msab209 Download

This recent paper by Alam et al. makes the case from genome analysis that the traditional rices cultivated by Austronesian-speaking peoples outside of Taiwan are different from those cultivated in Taiwan: they are tropical japonica rices, similar to those from mainland southeast Asia, while the majority of Taiwanese rices are temperate japonicas, close to the rices grown in north China, Korea and Japan.  In their view, this goes against the “out of Taiwan” paradigm of Austronesian prehistory. Their idea is further detailed here.

The paper claims that the Taiwanese temperate japonicas were introduced from northeast China, and that the tropical japonicas in the Philippines were introduced from the south; and further, that temperate japonicas never left Taiwan. Given these very different histories, one would normally expect to see different words for temperate and tropical japonicas in the Austronesian languages. Instead, the Austronesian languages mostly use the same word for the japonica plant, whether temperate or tropical, in Taiwan or outside of Taiwan. Local phonetic variations are mostly predictable: this indicates that the words are inherited from the Austronesian ancestor language, as opposed to being borrowed locally from other Austronesian languages through contact. This term is reconstructed as *pajay in a widely-used resource [1]. My own reconstruction is *panjay. This word is regarded by linguists as the name of the rice plant in the ancestral Austronesian language, widely believed to have been spoken before 5000 BP in Taiwan.

The formation of the Austronesian language family through a primary differentiation in Taiwan, followed by a single migration out of Taiwan circa 4000 BP, is supported by multiple lines of evidence: shared linguistic innovations of non-Formosan languages [2]; , Bayesian phylogenies of Austronesian languages [3], archaeology [4], studies of the Austronesian human Y-chromosome [5], genetics of the human pathogen Helicobacter pylori [6], and of the paper mulberry, a domesticated plant [7]. Language, then, argues that the out-of-Taiwan migration did introduce temperate japonica rices, together with the term *panjay to the Philippines and islands further south. Absence of temperate japonicas in these modern regions can be explained in terms of competition between temperate and tropical japonicas: as the latter did not grow well in the new southern environment, they were  out-competed by tropical japonicas introduced “from the south”— probably from mainland southeast Asia.

The higher yields of tropical japonicas would feed a larger population. This can be related to a recent proposal that Bayesian phylogenetics of Philippine languages support a diversification from the south, implying a northward back-migration of Philippine speakers   [8]. This population movement was quite plausibly fueled by the possession of tropical japonicas: it was also the instrument of their northward spread. Philippine farmers, one supposes, did not think of tropical and temperate japonicas as different plants, referring to both kinds as *panjay—they would later also recognize the more strongly divergent indica rices, introduced from the Indian subcontinent, as *panjay. When temperate japonicas were abandoned, their original name continued to be used for tropical japonicas. This both accounts for the existence of a single term for the rice plant in the Austronesian languages, and reconciles the out-of-Taiwan hypothesis with the finding of a southern origin of tropical japonicas.

The date of separation between temperate japonicas from northeast Asia and from Taiwan, given as 2600 BP by the authors, is another problematic area. They attribute the introduction of temperate japonica to Taiwan to a migration from northeast Asia, which must, then, have started after 2600 BP, and reached Taiwan at an even later date. They seek support for the migration, and for their own chronology, in the observation that “Taiwanese peoples from ~1300 BCE to 800 CE carried ~25% of a northern East Asian lineage in their genomes” [9]. This, however, means that the northerners had already reached Taiwan by 3300 BP, 700 years before the proposed date of separation. The northerners and their temperate japonica rices may actually have reached Taiwan much earlier, as the last-mentioned study did not use any earlier ancient DNA data for Taiwan. The date the authors of that study suggest for the arrival of northerners in Taiwan is 5000-4500 BP: this is based on archaeological finds of domesticated foxtail millet in Taiwan during that period. Foxtail millet is generally thought to have been domesticated in north China around 8000 years ago. Under the Alam et al. paper, two distinct southward migrations are necessary for the introduction of millet and rice to Taiwan from northeastern China.

[Added Aug. 30, 2021: this post occasioned some reactions from authors of the Alam et al. paper. See my response here].


[1] Austronesian Comparative Dictionary, web edition. Robert Blust and Stephen Trussel. Online at www.trussel2.com/ACD.

[2] Blust, R. A. 2009. The Austronesian languages. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

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

[4] Bellwood, Peter. 1985. Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago. Sydney: Academic.

[5] Trejaut J.A., Kivisild T, Loo J.H., Lee C.L., He C.L., et al. 2005. Traces of archaic mitochondrial lineages persist in Austronesian-speaking Formosan populations. PLoS Biol 3(8).

[6] Moodley, Y, B. Linz, Y. Yamaoka, H. M. Windsor, S. Breurec, J.-Y. Wu, A. Maady, S. Bernhoft, J.-M. Thiberge, S. Phuanukoonnon, G. Jobb, P. Siba, D. Y. Graham, B. J. Marshall, M. Achtman. 2009. The Peopling of the Pacific from a Bacterial Perspective Science, 323 (5913), 527-530 DOI: 10.1126/science.1166083

[7] Olivares G, Peña-Ahumada B, Peñailillo J, Payacán C, Moncada X, Saldarriaga-Córdoba M, Matisoo-Smith E, Chung KF, Seelenfreund D, Seelenfreund A. Human mediated translocation of Pacific paper mulberry [Broussonetia papyrifera (L.) L’Hér. ex Vent. (Moraceae)]: Genetic evidence of dispersal routes in Remote Oceania. PLoS One. 2019 Jun 19;14(6):e0217107. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.

[8] Benedict King, Lawrence A. Reid, Mary Walworth, Simon J. Greenhill, Russell D. Gray. 2021. Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of Philippine languages supports rapid initial Austronesian expansion followed by northward back-migration. Communication to 15ICAL, June 28-July 2, 2021 (online).

[9] Wang CC, Yeh HY, Popov AN, Zhang HQ, Matsumura H, Sirak K, Cheronet O, Kovalev A, Rohland N, Kim AM, Mallick S, Bernardos R, Tumen D, Zhao J, Liu YC, Liu JY, Mah M, Wang K, Zhang Z, Adamski N, Broomandkhoshbacht N, Callan K, Candilio F, Carlson KSD, Culleton BJ, Eccles L, Freilich S, Keating D, Lawson AM, Mandl K, Michel M, Oppenheimer J, Özdoğan KT, Stewardson K, Wen S, Yan S, Zalzala F, Chuang R, Huang CJ, Looh H, Shiung CC, Nikitin YG, Tabarev AV, Tishkin AA, Lin S, Sun ZY, Wu XM, Yang TL, Hu X, Chen L, Du H, Bayarsaikhan J, Mijiddorj E, Erdenebaatar D, Iderkhangai TO, Myagmar E, Kanzawa-Kiriyama H, Nishino M, Shinoda KI, Shubina OA, Guo J, Cai W, Deng Q, Kang L, Li D, Li D, Lin R, Nini, Shrestha R, Wang LX, Wei L, Xie G, Yao H, Zhang M, He G, Yang X, Hu R, Robbeets M, Schiffels S, Kennett DJ, Jin L, Li H, Krause J, Pinhasi R, Reich D. Genomic insights into the formation of human populations in East Asia. Nature. 2021 Mar;591(7850):413-419. doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-03336-2.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "“Out of Taiwan” and the history of Austronesian rice," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 26/08/2021, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1423.

The Chinese name of the soybean

The soybean (Glycine max) is credited with having provided Chinese civilization with an abundant source of protein, but considering that it is “the  world’s foremost oilseed source” and that is “is widely used as cooking oil“, the primary reason behind its domestication may have been its high content in oil.

Soybean is called 荏菽 MC nyimX syuwk in ode 245〈大雅・生民〉of the Shi Jing:


Legge’s translation of this passage:

“He fell to planting large beans.
The beans grew luxuriantly”

Legge’s “large beans” is 大豆, the common appellation of soya beans in Chinese culture.  The Mao commentary on the Shi Jing states that 荏菽 is the same thing as 茙菽, which was presumably how that thing was called when the Mao commentary was written. Zheng Xuan’s 鄭玄 (127-200) Maoshi jian 毛詩箋, a commentary on the Mao commentary, adds that both 荏菽 and 茙菽 refer to 大豆— the soybean. So we have two ancient names for the soybean: in MC pronunciation, nyimX syuwk  and nyung syuwk.

In a forthcoming paper, Ma Kun and I present evidence of a dialectal difference in Western Zhou times, manifested in particular in the treatment of the Old Chinese *-um rhyme: in western Old Chinese, *-um changes to *-uŋ, while in  eastern OC, it changes to *-əm. Middle Chinese continues eastern OC, with *-əm further evolving to MC -im after nonpharyngealized onsets. Western OC words also find their way into a limited layer of Middle Chinese: 茙 nyuwng and 荏 nyimX clearly form a doublet, western and eastern, of an OC *num(ʔ). We may reconstruct an early OC form *num(ʔ)-s-t(ʰ)uk, where *s-t(ʰ)uk means ‘bean’ and *num(ʔ) is its modifier. What did *num(ʔ) mean ?

Not ‘Glycine max’. 荏 MC nyimX also refers to 蘇, the plant Perilla, another source of oil. This suggests that *num(ʔ) was a name of vegetal oil in OC. I propose that 荏菽 and its western doublet 茙菽 originally meant ‘the oil bean’.

A number of western ST languages have a word num or similar to express the meaning ‘oil’: Tibetan snum, and similar forms in Lepcha, Cuona Menba, Boka’er.  Chinese *num(ʔ) and these western ST forms are evidently cognate.

There is no linguistic evidence to suggest that the soybean was a Sino-Tibetan domesticate, although it may have been used as a source of oil.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The Chinese name of the soybean," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 24/08/2021, https://stan.hypotheses.org/1417.

Michel Ferlus et l’interface austronésien/kra-dai

Michel Ferlus avait fait à la conférence austronésienne 11-ICAL d’Aussois en 2009 une présentation où il résumait une nouvelle théorie des relations entre austronésien, kra-dai (il utilise le terme de Benedict: tai-kadai) et malayo-polynésien. Elle peut être consulté ici, en versions française et anglaise. Elle répondait à un de mes articles (2004) où je proposais que le kra-dai est une branche de l’austronésien, notamment sur la base d’innovations partagées dans les système des numéraux.

Ferlus déplore aujourd’hui le peu d’attention accordé à son texte, allant jusqu’à parler de “refus du débat scientifique”. Je vais donc donner ci-dessous une liste de problèmes contenus dans sa présentation qui sont, me semble-t-il, la cause du manque d’intérêt de ses collègues. Précisons que personne n’a abandonné l’idée du “out of Taiwan” suite à la présentation de Ferlus: j’ai moi-même employé ce terme dans un article paru l’an dernier dans la revue Rice (ici).

Tout d’abord, résumons rapidement l’idée de Ferlus.

Ferlus pense que l’austronésien, originellement parlé dans le bas-yangtzé, s’est d’abord répandu vers le sud le long de la côte chinoise. De là, des groupes austronésiens auraient peuplé Taiwan les uns après les autres (ainsi, il n’y a pas de proto-formosan dans la théorie de Ferlus). Les austronésiens restant sur le continent auraient ensuite continué vers le sud jusqu’au Guangdong, où ils seraient devenus malayo-polynésiens. Là, ils auraient été recouverts par la famille kra-dai, laquelle aurait emprunté beaucoup de vocabulaire de base au malayo-polynésien, donnant l’impression d’une parenté génétique entre le kra-dai et l’austronésien. Par la suite, les malayo-polynésiens seraient passés du Guangdong aux Philippines, d’où ils auraient peuplé tout le Pacifique. Ils n’auraient pas laissé de traces sur le continent. Parallèlement à leur expansion vers le sud, ils auraient, au nord, influencé les langues de Taiwan, leur transmettant les nombres de 4 à 10, mais apparemment rien d’autre sur le plan linguistique. La transmission des nombres malayo-polynésiens aux langues de Taiwan se serait faite de façon graduée, les langues du sud recevant plus de nombres MP que celles du nord. Outre les nombres, des éléments culturels auraient été transmis par les malayo-polynésiens des Philippines aux formosans du sud, en particulier un certain type de poterie (“red-slipped pottery”, terme que Ferlus traduit par “lissé-rouge”), et le riz indica.

Voyons les problèmes inhérents à cette théorie.

1. Une famille kra-dai distincte ?

Laissant de côté les emprunts au chinois, le vocabulaire de base kra-dai contient une couche principale austronésienne et une couche secondaire, plus petite, austroasiatique. Si le kra-dai était une famille distincte, il devrait exister une couche lexicale indigène très fondamentale qui ne serait ni AN, ni AA, ni chinoise. Ferlus ne fait aucun effort pour caractériser une telle couche. Notons qu’elle ne comprendrait ni les pronoms personnels, ni les nombres, et bien peu de noms de parties du corps. En l’absence de caractérisation lexicale, l’idée d’une famille kra-dai distincte n’est pas recevable.

2. Les kra-dai auraient acquis l’agriculture des austroasiatiques.

Selon Ferlus, les premiers TK auraient été des végéculteurs (du taro, en particulier), et le vocabulaire kra-dai de la riziculture serait entièrement d’origine austroasiatique. Pourtant :

  • “riz décortiqué”, Proto-Tai *sa:l A, proto-Kra *sal A. Ce mot est d’origine austronésienne: PAn *qaSaN “grain non décortiqué”;
  • “riz cuit”, Proto-Kra *m-laɯ C. Ce mot est d’origine austronésienne: PAn *beRas “grain décortiqué”
  • “rizière inondée”, Proto-Kra *na A, proto-Hlai *ana B, également d’origine austronésienne : PAn *bena “champ de plaine”.

Il n’y a pas lieu de supposer que les kra-dai aient jamais eu un mode de vie non-agricole.

3. L’interaction malayo-polynésien/kra-dai au Guangdong : un scénario peu clair.

Selon Ferlus (p. 5) vers le 2e siècle avant notre ère, le malayo-polynésien du Guangdong “aurait été recouvert par une poussée du TK originel venant de l’intérieur.” Il ajoute : “Ce scénario explique pourquoi le vocabulaire commun au TK et à l’AN appartient au lexique fondamental.” Or, le gaulois a été recouvert par le latin, sans que le latin tradif parlé en Gaule reçoive du vocabulaire fondamental gaulois. Les explications sont insuffisantes.

4. La date du départ des malayo-polynésiens du Guangdong vers les Philippines.

Ferlus place ce mouvement vers 3000 avant notre ère. Or il n’y a pas trace d’un mode de vie néolithique aux Philippines jusqu’à 2000 avant notre ère.

5. “La parenté du vocabulaire partagé entre le TK et l’AN est à placer au niveau du PMP”

C’est une erreur. Les mots austronésiens en kra-dai n’ont subi aucune des innovations phonologiques du malayo-polynésien: *C et *t sont toujours distincts, *N et *n également, *S est toujours une sifflante, les métathèses de -h final n’ont pas eu lieu. En particulier, le mot “oeil” cité par Ferlus, PAN *maCa, devenant *mata en PMP, est *m-ʈa A en Proto-Kra (Ostapirat 2000, sur la foi du Gelao de Qiaoshang), et non *m-ta A qui serait la forme correspondant au PMP *mata.

Sur le plan lexical, les innovations malayo-polynésiennes dans le domaine des nombres sont présentes en kra-dai, mais on trouve aussi en kra-dai des mots non-malayo-polynésiens, par exemple PAN *puja ‘nombril’, remplacé par *pusej en PMP, et pourtant reflété par Proto-Kra *m-ɖaɯ A, Proto-Tai *ɗwɯ A, Proto-Hlai *urɨ A. La seule explication est que le kra-dai est issu d’une langue du sud de Taiwan ayant les innovations dans les nombres, mais pas toutes les innovations lexicales, et aucune des innovations phonologiques du malayo-polynésien.

6. Transmission des nombres malayo-polynésiens aux langues de Taiwan : vraiment, seulement les nombres ?

Les nombres de 5 à 10 appartiennent au lexique modérément fondamental. Ils sont plus facilement empruntables que les pronoms, parties du corps, noms des éléments de base de la nature ; que les verbes aller/venir, mourir, manger, dormir ; mais sont plus difficilement empruntables que le vocabulaire culturel (techniques, commerce, calendrier etc.). Il n’est pas concevable que des nombres soient transmis par contact sans que du vocabulaire culturel le soit aussi. Si des nombres malayo-polynésiens ont été transmis aux langues du sud de Taiwan, on devrait aussi y trouver toute une couche de mots culturels malayo-polynésiens. L’existence d’une telle couche ne devrait pas être trop difficile à établir, étant donné les innovations phonologiques très visibles du malayo-polynésien. Mais personne ne l’a jamais vue. Les emprunts malayo-polynésiens dans les langues de Taiwan… sont très peu nombreux, et généralement plutôt récents (tabac, écriture etc).

7. Transmission des nombres malayo-polynésiens aux langues de Taiwan : le pattern d’implications est ignoré.

J’ai montré dans mon article de 2004 que les nombres malayo-polynésiens apparaissent dans les langues de Taiwan selon un pattern constant: la présence de *puluq ’10’ implique celle de *Siwa ‘9’ et *walu ‘8’, qui impliquent *enem ‘6’, qui implique *lima ‘5’, qui implique pitu ‘7’; mais l’inverse n’est pas vrai. Dans la géographie, plus on descend vers le sud, plus le paradigme malayo-polynésien est complet. De ce pattern, Ferlus ne retient que la ressemblance croissante (en termes du nombre de formes communes) avec le malayo-polynésien du nord au sud de Taiwan. Le pattern d’implications est ignoré.

8. Transmission des nombres malayo-polynésiens aux langues de Taiwan : les nombres bas vont plus loin que les hauts.

On sait depuis Greenberg que les nombres sont d’autant plus faciles à emprunter qu’ils sont élevés : ainsi ’10’ s’emprunte plus facilement que ‘9’, qui s’emprunte plus facilement que ‘8’, qui s’emprunte plus facilement que ‘7’, etc. Dans le modèle de Ferlus, les nombres malayo-polynésiens qui sont empruntés par le plus grand nombre de langues (et donc remontent le plus au nord) sont ‘5’, ‘6’ et ‘7’. Ceux qui restent confinés au sud de Taiwan, et donc qui sont empruntés par le plus petit nombre de langues, sont ‘8’, ‘9’ et ’10’. C’est l’inverse du pattern habituel.

9. Transmission d’éléments culturels malayo-polynésiens au sud de Taiwan : le cas de la poterie lissé-rouge.

La poterie lissé-rouge est plus ancienne à Taiwan qu’aux Philippines : elle est dominante vers -2100 avant notre ère dans le sud-est de Taiwan, mais ne commence à apparaître qu’après -2000 aux Philippines (Hung 2008: 23, 107). En général, les artefacts austronésiens communs à Taiwan et aux Philippines sont plus anciens à Taiwan (ibid.). Leur transfert a évidemment eu lieu du nord vers le sud.

10. Transmission d’éléments culturels malayo-polynésiens au sud de Taiwan : le cas du riz indica.

Ferlus propose (p.6) que le riz indica a été introduit à Taiwan depuis les Philippines par les malayo-polynésiens qui l’auraient, suppose-t-on, amené avec eux, depuis le Guangdong, en 3000 avant notre ère. C’est impossible. Le riz indica apparaît en Inde du nord par hybridation vers 2000 avant notre ère, et ne devient une composante stable de l’agriculture dans cette région que dans la période 1600-1000 avant notre ère (Silva et al 2018). Par la suite, il se répand dans l’Asie du sud-est, continentale et insulaire, à la faveur de l’expansion indienne du premier millénaire de notre ère. Depuis l’état hindouisé de Srivijaya à Sumatra, par le commerce maritime, il remonte vers le nord jusqu’à Taiwan. Les malayo-polynésiens des Philippines jusqu’à Madagascar cultivent traditionnellement du riz “japonica tropical”, aussi appelé “javanica”. Ce riz a des précurseurs biologiques dans les riz japonica des aborigènes de Taiwan (travail en préparation).

11. Pourquoi le malayo-polynésien n’est-il pas représenté à Taiwan?

Ferlus demande pourquoi le malayo-polynésien “qui serait né sur l’île de Taiwan n’y est plus représenté aujourd’hui”. C’est parce que les innovations caractéristiques du malayo-polynésien se sont produites aux Philippines, après la migration. La langue du sud de Taiwan dont le malayo-polynésien s’est séparé il y a 4000 ans a évolué vers… le paiwan moderne. Le paiwan est la langue de Taiwan la plus proche du malayo-polynésien. Ils ont les mêmes nombres et des innovations lexicales communes : les mots *alap ‘prendre’ et *Cazem ‘tranchant’.

Retournons la question à Ferlus : pourquoi le malayo-polynésien qui serait né au Guangdong n’y est-il plus représenté aujourd’hui ?


Bien que le chemin suivi par les Austronésiens depuis le continent ne soit pas le même chez Ferlus que dans la théorie standard, l’arbre phylogénétique impliqué par son modèle n’est pas différent du mien : les branches formosanes se séparent les unes après les autres du tronc commun, puis c’est au tour du malayo-polynésien. Un tel arbre a le potentiel d’exprimer l’idée que (à la différence du modèle de Blust) les langues formosanes ont des degrés de proximité différents avec le malayo-polynésien. Il contient potentiellement les noeuds auxquels accrocher les innovations successives *pitu 7, *lima 5, *enem 6, *walu 8, *Siwa 9, *puluq 10, expliquant ainsi simplement la hiérarchie d’implications entre ces nombres dans les langues de Taiwan. Dès lors, pourquoi rejeter mon modèle au profit d’un autre qui n’explique pas la hiérarchie d’implications ?


Hung, Hsiao-chun (2008) Migration and Cultural Interaction in Southern Coastal China, Taiwan and the Northern Philippines, 3000BC to AD 100: The Early History of the Austronesian speaking Populations. Canberra: Unpublished PhD dissertation, Australian National University.

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

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Michel Ferlus et l’interface austronésien/kra-dai," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 20/06/2019, https://stan.hypotheses.org/302.

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 name(s) of the rice plant. I: Chinese

The Chinese name of the domesticated rice plant Oryza sativa is 稻 *[l]ˤuʔ > dawX > dào.  The character occurs in  the Odes (Guo Feng 154 七月),  and in the Zhou Li, at least. The Shuo Wen defines it as 稌 *lˤaʔ > duX > tú ‘glutinous rice plant’, but the textual occurrences imply that the domesticated rice plant, whether glutinous or not, was the referent.  However, early forms of 稻 *[l]ˤuʔ > dawX > dào have the signific 米 ‘grain’ instead of 禾 ‘grain-bearing grass’, suggesting that the word’s original meaning was that of rice in some kind of grain form, rather than the standing plant. A shift of meaning appears to have taken place between the time of creation of the character and the late OC period, to which the above-cited texts belong. Etymologically, it is possible that the noun belongs to the word-family of 舀 *(m-)l[u]ʔ > yewX > yǎo ‘to scoop’  (used in particular of grain), which is also the phonetic element in 稻 dào.  The word’s meaning at the time the character was created may have been something like ‘rice grains as scooped out of storage and into a mortar for dehusking’. Rice grains are kept in storage with the husks on by the Austronesians in Taiwan, as a protection against humidity, rot and pests. The early Chinese may have followed the same practice. From the point of view of consumers, unhusked rice is rice in its most natural form. A semantic shift extending the meaning of 稻 *[l]ˤuʔ > dawX > dào to include the rice plant would be very natural. It is often the case in the languages of East Asian cereal farmers that the same term designates the plant and its unhusked grains. Different terms typically designate the de-husked grains, the de-husked-and-polished grains, and the cooked grain food.

Now if 稻 dào is innovative as ‘rice plant’, it presumably displaced an earlier word of the same meaning. 稻 dào does not occur in the Shang inscriptions. The only word possibly referring to the rice plant in the Shang inscriptions is a hapax in inscription 13505 of Jiaguwen Heji: 秜 *nrəj > nrij > lí.  Success or failure of rice harvests seems not to have been the subject of much interest on the part of the Shang kings. The main cereals economically were foxtail millet Setaria italica and broomcorn millet Panicum miliaceum. According to Shuo Wen, more than a millennium later,  the meaning of 秜 *nrəj was ‘perennial rice’, that is, rice regrowing each year without reseeding.  Perennial rices are normally wild, but inscription 13505 implies harvesting: ” 乎圃秜于(女+自), 受(有)年 ? ” Liu Zhiji et al. (incl. Takashima) (Jiaguwen jin yi leijian p. 441) translate: “will we harvest a good crop if we order Pu to plow paddies at Zi ?”. Compare this other inscription  (Jiaguwen jin yi leijian p. 2) “令眾黍, 其受(有)年 ?” if we order the multitude to plant millet, will we harvest a plentiful crop?”.

How can we make sense of all this ?  I propose this hypothesis: the word for the domesticated rice plant in Shang times was 秜 *nrəj while 稻 *[l]ˤuʔ, etymologically related to  舀 *(m-)l[u]ʔ > yewX > yǎo ‘to scoop’ , referred to rice grain in storage, still with the husks on. At some point in the first millennium BCE, 稻 *[l]ˤuʔ extended its meaning to include the name of the plant from which the grains came, ultimately displacing 秜 *nrəj as ‘domesticated rice plant’. By the time of Shuo Wen, c. 100 CE, 稻 *[l]ˤuʔ was established as the name of the domesticated rice plant, and 秜 *nrəj only referred to wild (‘perennial’) rice.

At this point we should ask this question: why did a new word for the rice plant, as opposed to the foxtail or broomcorn millet plants, evolve out of a verb ‘to scoop’ ? here we may gain some insights from the grain storage and preparation techniques of the Formosan Austronesians, as observed during our recent fieldwork (Nov 2017) by Mr Hsu Tze-fu of the Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology, Academia Sinica and myself.  While rice is stored as grain with the husks on, foxtail millet is kept in storage in the form of bundles of ears. Once dry, these are crushed underfoot or with a large pestle,  before pounding in the mortar to remove the husks, immediately before cooking. This process involves no scooping. If early Chinese practices were similar,  scooping was rice-specific and ‘scooped grain’ would have been synonymous with ‘rice grain in storage’.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "The name(s) of the rice plant. I: Chinese," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 09/02/2018, https://stan.hypotheses.org/169.