Southern Austronesian lexical innovations

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Each of the lexical innovations listed below associates a Malayo-Polynesian form with reconstructions from one or more Kra-Dai branches. The MP side of the comparison either has no Formosan cognates, or cognates with distinct semantics. If it has no Formosan cognate, a Formosan etymon of the same meaning, partly or fully displaced by the MP etymon, exists.

1. PSA *baqbaq ‘mouth’.  Tsuchida’s *ŋuθuq ‘mouth’ (1976:130) is identical with Blust’s *ŋusuq ‘mouth’ and Wolff’s *ŋucuq ‘snout, beak’. This is the highest-reconstructing  Austronesian etymon for ‘mouth’ (humans and animals). It is reflected in Tsouic, Batanic and Oceanic (cognate set #2 here). In MP  *baqbaq ‘mouth’ (cognate set #1 here; see also here) is more widespread. In Taiwan Wolff recognized its precursor in Bunun vaqvaq ‘chin’ (2010:757); Bril (p.c., April 13, 2020) mentioned northern Amis babaq ‘jaw’. The most likely scenario, then, is that *baqbaq, a word for ‘chin’ or (lower ?) ‘jaw’ in a Formosan precursor of PMP, shifted to ‘mouth’ in PMP, competing with *ŋuθuq, ultimately displacing it in Cebuano, Malagasy, Old Javanese and other languages.

A reflex of *baqbaq is the word for ‘mouth’ in the Kam-Tai branch of Kra-Dai: Proto-Tai (Pittayaporn) *pa:k D, Proto-Kam-Sui (Thurgood) *pa:k 7, Proto-Ong-Be *ɓa:k D1.  For the  correspondence of PAN *-aq to Kam-Tai *-a:k, compare ‘otter’, PAN  *Sanaq : Proto-Tai *na:k.  Normally a singleton PAN *b in word medial position ought to evolve to Kam-Tai initial *b or *ɓ, not to *p: *p- in this word actually corresponds to PMP *b in the word-internal *-qb- cluster.

2. PSA *biRáq ‘kind of taro’.  An etymon *biRaq has been assigned to PAN in two meanings: ‘leaf’ and ‘taro/wild taro’. Evidently these are related, as the taro’s leaf is remarkable. Blust reconstructs the meaning as ‘taro’ (here) but as shown by Wolff (2010) Saisiyat bilaʔ, Tanan Rukai bia, Kavalan biɣi, Puyuma bira, all mean ‘leaf’. In MP,  the meaning ‘leaf’ has disappeared, all languages indicate ‘taro’ or a meaning derivable from ‘taro’.

In the Kra-Dai languages, *biRaq appears as ‘taro’, never as ‘leaf’: Proto-Kra *p-ɣak D (Ostapirat), Proto-Hlai (Norquest) *ra:k, Proto-Tai (Pittayaporn) *prɯək, proto-Kam-Sui (Thurgood) *ɓra:k 7.  The vowel in the Proto-Tai form points to a precursor with penultimate stress, such as reduplicated *biRaq-bíRaq. Kra-Dai and MP share the loss of the meaning ‘leaf’.

3. PSA -ŋel ‘deaf’. Blust reconstructed PAN * Culi ‘deaf’ (here), Wolff *tilu ‘id’. This word persists in MP, but MP languages add words for ‘deaf’ having root *-ŋel (here), possibly somehow connected with *deŋeR ‘hear’ (Puyuma, Paiwan, MP).

The Kra-Dai languages reflect *ŋel: Proto-Kra (Ostapirat) *ŋel C ‘deaf’.

4. PSA *píntu ‘door’. A PMP word for ‘door’, reflected as Malay pintu, Tagalog pinto, pintu-an reconstructs to PMP as *pintu, even though the cognate set is not recognized by either of Blust or Wolff. Formosan words for ‘door’ often include root *-Neb ‘close’ (Blust; here) so *pintu is clearly innovative. Its etymology is unknown. Metanalysis of a compound including root *-pit ‘hold by pinching’ is a possibility (Wolff 2010; see also Blust’s evidence for this root here).

The Kra-Dai word for ‘door’ is cognate with PMP *pintu. Buyang, a Kra language, has ma tɔ  A2 ‘door’, where ma is the expected reflex of an Austronesian first syllable beginning in a labial (e.g. *walu > ma ðu ‘eight’, *buŋaH1 > ma ŋa C ‘flower’, *maCa > ma ta A ‘eye’), and   A2 reflects an unstressed *-ntu, i.e. a paroxytone PSA prototype *píntu. ‘A2’ is the low variant of tone A: it shows that initial t– went through a voiced stage, as it evolved out of  PSA *-nt-. PSA plain medial *-t- would evolve to Buyang t- with a high-series tone. Compare PSA *taŋkup ‘to cover’, PMP *ta(ŋ)kup or *tuŋkup id., Buyang ta qup D2 id. Proto-Lakkja (Theraphan) also has a low tone in ‘door’: *tɔ: A2.

5. PSA *qi(d)zúR ‘sputum, saliva’. The earliest recontructable Austronesian form for ‘sputum’ or ‘saliva’ is PCEWS *ŋalay, a form reflected in Rukai-Tsouic, Amis, Puyuma and Bashiic (Tsuchida 1976:230). The corresponding reconstruction in Blust’s system: *ŋajay is erroneous, as the medial consonants in Paiwan ŋadjay and –h– in Yami ŋahay are not regular outcomes of PAN *-j-. In MP, *ŋalay is not found except in several Bashiic languages (Yami, Itbayaten, Ivatan…). In KD, Proto-Tai *la:j A, Proto-Lakkja *lei A reflect *ŋalay, and Ferlus (REF), unaware of the Austronesian comparison, reconstructs the Proto-Kam-Sui initial as *ŋl-.

PMP innovates *qi(d)zuR ‘saliva, spittle’ (Blust *qizuR), reflected in the Philippines (Ibaloi, Southern Cordilleran), Toba Batak, Javanese. In KD, the Kra branch reflects *qi(d)zuR: Buyang qa tu B (remember that PSA *-R goes to tone B in KD).

From what precedes, PCEWS *ŋalay and PMP *qi(d)zuR are in competition in Philippine and KD languages, and nowhere else. This fit well with the idea that the competition existed from PSA through an early time in the diversification of MP.

6. PSA qa-sáuŋ ‘canine tooth’. The highest reconstructable word for ‘canine tooth’ is *waqit (Blust, ACD), a Formosa-only etymon reflected in Atayal and Puyuma. *bangeliS (Also Blust, ACD), with reflexes in Kavalan and MP, is specifically a word for ‘tusk’. As ‘canine tooth’, *sáuŋ  displaced *waqit in Philippine languages. This became the word for ‘tooth’ in the Kra branch of KD: Proto-Kra *C-tʃuŋ A ‘tooth’ reflects *sáuŋ with a prefixed element, which Buyang qa ɕɔŋ 54 ‘tooth’ shows to have been a velar or uvular: *ka-sáuŋ or *qa- sáuŋ.

7. PSA *sapeléd, *ma-sapeléd ‘astringent’. Blust (ongoing) reconstructed *qasepa ‘astringent’, reflected in Puyuma and MP, and thus assignable to Puluqish. Only in Puyuma is the meaning ‘astringent’: all MP forms (Iban, Malay, Javanese) mean ‘stale’, ‘insipid’, ‘tasteless’. Subsequent to this semantic shift, the Puluqish word was displaced by a new word: PMP *sapeled, with reflexes in the Philippines, Malay and Mongondow (reconstructed in Blust, ongoing). A stative ma-prefix is moreover in evidence in Bikol, Hanunoo. In Kra-Dai, Buyang phat 54 ‘astringent’ reflects a prefixed variant of *sapeled, possibly *ma-sapeled. The Buyang vowel points to a stressed vowel in the PSA prototype, thus *Pfx-sapeléd. Austronesian  vowels except for the last one are  lost in the evolution to Kra. For the reduction of the -pl- internal cluster to -p- in Buyang, compare PSA *sa-puluq-Vt ‘ten’, Buyang put 54 id. Buyang voceless aspirated stops originate in voiceless stops preceded by a voiceless obstruent, here /s/. Proto-Tai ʰwɯət probably has the same origin as Buyang *phat. Of the two words for ‘astringent’, it is the innovated one which occurs in KD.

8. PSA *buŋáH1 and *bujak ‘flower’.  Which was the earliest Austronesian etymon for ‘flower’ ? Despite Blust (ongoing) and Wolff (2010), not *buŋaH1—I reconstruct final H1 in this word based on the correspondence between Aklanon final -h and Proto-Kra-Dai tone C. When examining the semantics of *buŋáH1 one must evidently leave aside languages (Atayal, Seediq, Thao, Amis, Puyuma, Thao) where the referent is ‘sweet potato’, a south American domesticate spread across the Pacific in prehistoric times. Such forms are in all likelihood loanwords, spread from an unknown source. This leaves only the two Southern Tsouic languages Kanakanabu and Saaroa. Inherited reflexes of *buŋaH1,not meaning ‘sweet potato’,  have been reported to occur there. During fieldwork on Saaroa in 2014 by myself and Hsu Tzefu, I elicited vuŋavuŋa < *buŋa-buŋa as ‘ear of foxtail millet’ (here). Wolff (2010) gave Saaroa vuu-vúŋa < *buu-buŋa ‘flower’. For Kanakanabu we have conflicting evidence. Wolff (2010 sub *buŋa) cited vuŋávuŋu, which seems to be vuŋ < *buŋ reduplicated, with final echo vowel; he notes a variant vuŋávuŋ. This does not reflect  *buŋa well—where is final *-a ? more probably it reflects *buŋ-a-buŋ. A root connection to Proto-Philippine *sabuŋ ‘flower’ (here) is possible. Blust (here) cited Kanakanabu buŋa-buŋa ‘flower’, the language source hyperlinked to Tsuchida (1976), but I could not find that form there.  Reconstructing Proto-Southern Tsouic (PST)  from Blust’s Kanakanabu buŋa-buŋa ‘flower’ and my Saaroa vuŋavuŋa ‘ear of foxtail millet’ one obtains PST *buŋa-buŋa ‘outgrowth of a plant’. The meaning ‘flower’ is too narrow.

‘Outgrowth of a plant’ also characterizes the meaning of *buŋáH1 in Philippine languages well: ‘fruit’, ‘seed’, ‘sapling’, ‘outgrowth’, ‘result’ are common meanings. ‘Flower’ is not among them, evidently because *buŋáH1 as ‘flower’ was displaced by *bujak (here). In MP languages from Malagasy to Oceanic where *bujak has not become the word for ‘flower’, the meaning of *buŋáH1 has narrowed down to ‘flower’.

What, then, was the earliest AN word for ‘flower’ ? very probably *buRay, a reconstruction of Dyen’s accepted by Blust   (here). This is based on Saisiyat and Paiwan forms, with the possible addition of Atayal and Kavalan.   In the post-Formosan phase of Austronesian history, *buRay was displaced as ‘flower’ by innovative *bujak and a semantically narrowed version of *buŋáH1. The former took hold in the Philippines, the latter in the rest of Malayo-Polynesian. Kra-Dai reflects both *buŋáH1 and *bujak.

A direct cognate of *buŋáH1 is seen in the Kra branch: Buyang ma ŋa 11 (tone C) ‘flower’, Proto-Kra (Ostapirat) *hŋa C id.. Preinitial ma in Buyang is regular for any labial initial in PSA. *h in Ostapirat’s reconstruction *hŋa C serves to account for the high-series tones in certain Kra varieties, but a reconstruction with *pŋ- or *ɓŋ- would serve the same purpose (the KD reflexes of PSA *b and *d are high-toned in KD), while accounting better for the Buyang pre-initial.

Proto-Tai *ɓlo:k (Pittayaporn) ‘flower’ is a cognate of *bujak .  PSA *j merges with PSA *d as PT *ɗ: *mújiŋ ‘nose’, PT *ɗaŋ A id. ; *púja ‘navel’, PT *ɗwɯ A. When forming a cluster with a preceding labial stop (as inside a trisyllable, where syncope of the second vowel occurs), the stop is retained and *ɗ (like *t-) lenites to l-: PSA *(Pfx-)punti ‘banana’, PT pli: A ‘banana blossom’; PSA *qapejúH2 ‘gall’ : PT *ɓli: A id. (change of *u to *i after *j is regular).

In order to have cognates of both *buŋáH1 and *bujak, KD needs to have branched off at a time when both words were in competition. That would have been the case between the moment when  *buRay was displaced (by *buŋáH1 and *bujak) and the separation between Proto-Philippines and the rest of MP: in other words, around the time of the out-of Taiwan event, c. 2000 BCE.


RETRACTED: PSA *sedút ‘to suck’. Austronesian etyma for ‘to sip, suck’ assignable to pre-MP times are mostly onomatopoetic forms that begin in a sibilant and end in -p: Blust’s PAN *SiRup, *sepsep, *supsup, Wolff’s *siɣup, *cep, *cepecep , *cipecip, etc.  Blust’s PWMP *sedut ‘to sip, suck’ is a minor form with a  patchy but geographically widespread distribution in Sarawak, Lombok and New Guinea.

Kra-Dai has a cognate of *sedut: Proto-Hlai (Ostapirat) *iru:c ‘to suck’, Saek du:t 6, Siamese du:t 2.

This comparison is retracted because of Amis hedot ‘to ingest noisily, making sucking noises’ (Namoh). This apparently reflects *Sedut,  distinct from *sedut (which would give Amis #cedot), but the Kra-Dai forms just cited could reflect either.


Dyen, Isidore. 1995.Borrowing and inheritance in Austronesianistics. In Paul Jen-kuei Li, Cheng-hwa Tsang, Ying-kuei Huang, Dah-an Ho, and Chiu-yu Tseng, eds., Austronesian studies relating to Taiwan:455-519. Symposium Series of the Institute of History and Philology, No. 3. Taipei: Academia Sinica].

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.

Theraphan L.-Thongkum. 1992. A preliminary reconstruction of Proto-Lakkja (Cha Shan Yao). Mon-Khmer Studies 20: 57-89.

Thurgood, Graham. 1988. Notes on the reconstruction of Proto-Kam-Sui. In Jerold A Edmondson and David B. Solnit (eds) Comparative Kadai: Linguistics studies beyond Tai, 179-218. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington publications in Linguistics.

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

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

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Southern Austronesian lexical innovations," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 07/05/2020,

Southern Austronesian (master post)

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Within Puluqish, the Malayo-Polynesian (MP) and Kra-Dai (KD) languages form a southern clade,  consisting of all Austronesian languages spoken south of Taiwan. I use the term ‘Southern Austronesian’ (SA). Shared innovations cannot be grammatical since KD preserves morphology indirectly at best and grammar has aligned on Chinese, but they can be phonological or lexical.

phonological innovation

Puluqish linker *atu ‘and’ reduced to *at after *sa-puluq in numbers 10 to 19 (here)

Lexical innovations (here)

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Southern Austronesian (master post)," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 13/04/2020,