Tag Archives: substratum

Undetected contact in the STEDT I: ‘excrement’

The STEDT reconstructs eight ‘PTB’1 words for ‘excrement’ (see my  recent post on one of them). A high number of reconstructed words for any particular meaning is usual with the STEDT. It simply reflects the fact that since ‘Tibeto-Burman’ phylogeny is viewed by the STEDT as star-shaped, any item shared by two or more branches reconstructs to the top.

This post deals with the etymon given as #576 PTB *ya(k) SHIT / FECES / DUNG / EXCREMENT. This collection has a broad, generally southern, distribution. Reconstructed mesoroots according to the STEDT are:

It is difficult not to see the resemblance to Shorto’s Proto-Mon-Khmer etymon:

#794 *ʔic; *ʔiə[c]; *ʔ[ə]c excrement, faeces

In several of the cited MK languages , the final consonant is -k: Jeh ek, Halang ik, Biat ɛːk, Kammu-Yuan ʔyíak. Shorto (2006:238) sees this etymon as the source of the Kuki-Chin and Karen forms, and even of some loans to He says nothing of similar forms in Tani, Lepcha, Kiranti etc., but a loan or substratum explanation is available for these too. Forrest (1962) had earlier recognized that the Lepcha word for ‘excrement’: ít, is part of a Mon-Khmer lexical substratum.

This word also occurs in Kra-Dai: one of the two Proto-Kra words for ‘excrement’ is *ʔik (Ostapirat 2000). The other word: *kai C, occurs in Kra-Dai languages outside of Kra: it reflects the Austronesian word *Caqi(). *kai C is the inherited KD word for ‘excrement’. The Kra languages have a significant Austroasiatic layer in their vocabulary (Sagart, in preparation).

It also occurs among Austronesian languages of the Aceh-Chamic group, as Shorto (ibid.) recognizes:  “Cham ɛh, Jarai ɛːh, Röglai, North Röglai eh, Acehnese ɛʔ”.

If Austroasiatic, non-Sinitic Sino-Tibetan, Kra-Dai and Aceh-Chamic languages share an etymon for ‘excrement’, this  is presumably because some Sino-Tibetan, Kra-Dai and Austronesian languages have an Austroasiatic substratum. It is therefore misleading to treat this etymon as an innovation of a common ancestor of Kuki-Chin, Karen, Kiranti, Lepcha etc., as it may have entered the Sino-Tibetan family on several distinct occasions. A phylogenetic study of Sino-Tibetan should ignore this word.

1. Sagart et al. (2019) show that Tibetan and Burmese belong to the same subbranch of the ST family. For that reason I now use the term ‘non-Sinitic’ for the clade containing all ST languages save Chinese, formerly called ‘Tibeto-Burman’.


Forrest, R.A.D (1962) Lepcha and Mon-Khmer. JAOS 82.

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

Laurent Sagart, Guillaume Jacques, Yunfan Lai, Robin J. Ryder, Valentin Thouzeau, Simon J. Greenhill, Johann-Mattis List. 2019. Dated language phylogenies shed light on the ancestry of Sino-Tibetan. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2019, 116 (21) 10317-10322; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1817972116.

Shorto, Harry L. (2006). A Mon-Khmer comparative dictionary, edited by Sidwell, Paul, Cooper, Doug and Bauer, Christian. Canberra: Australian National University. Pacific Linguistics 579.

Cite this post as: Laurent Sagart, "Undetected contact in the STEDT I: ‘excrement’," in Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian, 19/07/2019, https://stan.hypotheses.org/349.