Here are the other two pre-Old Chinese (OC) roots I had in mind:

root 2 = √krw + vowel(s), affixes > ngkruk(s), ngkrakws, kraw, krakws

root 3 = √hly + vowel(s) > hli, hlay

Root 3 is straightforward: hly > hli with zero grade (root-final y becomes its vocalic counterpart i).

Root 2 might have been straightforward in pre-OC but is complicated by a sound change in OC:

pre-OC a-w-k(-s) > OC akw(s)

This sound change might have prevented OC speakers from realizing that -uk and -akw words with different final consonants might share common roots. (Or would it?*)

Once kw is traced back to-w-k, the structure of the √krw set becomes clear:

SinographGlossMy reconstructionPrefixRoot initialRoot vowelRoot finalSuffix(es)
learn, schoolngkrukng-kr-zero-w-k
imitate, follow, give instructions tongkrakws-a-
teachkraw, krakwsnone(-k-s)

But is it really necessary to postulate a zero grade? David Boxenhorn proposed an alternate analysis:

Is there a reason to prefer a zero-grade hypothesis to kuw, kaw > ku, kaw with u/a alternation? ...

I presume that for cases 2, and 3, you are proposing roots krw and hly, but couldn't that just as easily be kru and hli, with kruw > kru and hliy > hli?

Next: Zero grades or long vowels?

* The shared morphological structure of -uk and -akw words might have been transparent to OC speakers if these rhymes were phonetically [uwkp] and [awkp] sharing a coda [wkp] (cf. Vietnamese -uc [uwkp] and -oc [awkp] [Pulleyblank 1991: 48-49, Nguyễn Đình-Hoà 1987: 783]):

kruk = [qRuwkp] (zero grade)

krakw = [qRawkp]

('Emphatic' k and r might have been uvular [q] and [R].)

The nasal countepart of final [wkp] would be [wngm]: cf. Viet -ung [uwng], -ong [awngm].

This late Old Chinese (LOC) transcription of Skt akShobhya (from Soothill) suggests that [wkp] existed in LOC:


Middle Chinese (MC) 'a Chhuk piə' (Chh = retroflex aspirated ch)

LOC 'a kShu(wkp?) pie'

OC 'ay ksxup? (ksrup? ksx/rəwkp?) pe'

(This word didn't exist in OC, so the above represents the readings of the individual graphs.)

The second sinograph 閦 definitely ended in -k in MC but its LOC coda is uncertain. Assuming that it also ended in -k in LOC makes little sense - why transcribe -kSho(bh)- as -kShok- with -k? Hence I suspect that it ended in [wkp]. (There are many instances of double consonants in Chinese transcriptions corresponding to Indic single consonants: in this case, -wkpp- : -bh-. The significance of this phenomenon is unknown.)

Pulleyblank (1962: 129, 235) proposed that 閦 originally ended in -p since its phonetic element 乑 (= 众) ended in -m: MC ngïm < OC ngəm? (The OC initials of 閦 and 乑 are hard to reconcile; all that can be said for certain is that they contained velar elements.) I think 閦 could also have originally ended in -kw [wkp]. In either case, the OC coda of 閦 was partly or wholly labial. A KRU-EL* SOLUTION

In "Death Lessons", I asked,

Assuming that my reconstructions are correct, can you come up with three pre-OC [Old Chinese] roots for sets 1-3 that had consistent consonants and variable vocalism?

root 1 + vowel(s), (affixes?) > ku, kaw

root 2 + vowel(s), affixes > ngkruk(s), ngkrakws, kraw, krakws

root 3 + vowel(s), (affixes?) > hli, hlay

The trick (which may turn out to be wrong) is to assume that pre-OC had zero grade forms without any inserted vowels. I took the term 'zero grade' from Indo-European linguistics. Some zero grade forms can still be found in Sanskrit: e.g.,

nR 'man' (root √nr, no inserted vowel, r becomes syllabic R)

Non-zero grade derivatives of √nr include nar-a 'man' (with -a-) and naar-a 'relating to men' (with -aa-).

OC 皐 ku 'high' would be to OC 高 kaw 'high' what Skt nR 'man' is to Skt nar-a 'man':

rootpre-OC √kwSkt √nr
zero grade
(root-final consonant substitutes for vowel)
OC ku
is the vocalic version of w)
Skt nR
is the vocalic version of r)
a-grade ('full grade' / Skt guNa)OC kawSkt nar-a (with suffix -a)

Sanskrit has similar u ~ au alternations: e.g.,

root √yu 'unite':

yute 'unites' (Vedic)

yauti 'unites' (< earlier yaauti with 'lengthened grade' / Skt vRddhi])

If pre-OC root 1 was √kw, can you figure out the other two roots by analogy? Root 3 should be easy, but root 2 is more hidden than either of the others. Or is it?

* Not to be confused with the cousin of Superman's father. DEATH LESSONS

(There is no Tibeto-Burman [TB] content in this post, so I'm not including this as part of the "(Not) TB" series, even though this is an appendix to part 3. Part 4 had no TB content either until I added these speculations.)

In part 3 of "2V (or Not) TB?", I left out three of Pulleyblank's (1963: 221) examples of Old Chinese (OC) ə/a alternation because they were more complicated than the others:

SetSinographGlossRhyme in Pulleyblank's 1963 OC reconstructionRhyme in Pulleyblank's 1991 OC reconstructionMy reconstruction
2learn, school-əwk-əkwngkruk
imitate, follow, give instructions to-awks-əkwsngkrakws
teach-aw(ks)-aw, -akwskraw, krakws
3set forth, display (usually 'corpse' [hence "Death" in the title] but here used for a homophone)-əyð or -yəð-əyhli
spread out, expose-að-alhlay

(I have added 敎 'teach' to set 2. Words in this set may be related to OC 交 kraw 'exchange' since learning and teaching involve exchanges of information.)

The first set is straightforward in Pulleyblank's reconstructions, though it is less so in mine: his simple ə/a vowel alternation corresponds to my -u/-aw rhyme alternation.

The second set is complicated by my addition of 敎 'teach' which has a-k-less reading regardless of reconstruction.

The third set is potentially awkward in Pulleyblank's 1963 reconstruction if it involves an alternation of -əyð and -að. I would expect the alternations

-əð ~ -að

-əyð ~ -ayð

instead. If 尸 were read with a final -əyð, perhaps that -y- was a trace of an earlier final -i:

-əð-i > -əyð-i > -əyð

The third set must be rejected if Pulleyblank's 1991 reconstruction is correct, since an alternation of rhymes ending in totally different consonants (-y and -l) is unexpected (unless those consonants were suffixes, and the root was vowel-final).

Assuming that my reconstructions are correct, can you come up with three pre-OC roots for sets 1-3 that had consistent consonants and variable vocalism?

root 1 + vowel(s), (affixes?) > ku, kaw

root 2 + vowel(s), affixes > ngkruk(s), ngkrakws, kraw, krakws

root 3 + vowel(s), (affixes?) > hli, hlay

Next: A cruel solution. 2V (OR NOT) TB? (PART 4)

I had intended to give a full list of Old Chinese (OC) ablaut patterns compiled by Wolfgang Behr, but I couldn't find his article. I don't have the energy to go through too many patterns tonight, so I'll stick to a handful.

Last night, I asked,

If Pulleyblank's 1991 two-vowel system for OC (2VOC91) is correct, which alternations should not occur in terms of a six-vowel system (6VOC)? Should, for example, 6VOC a/e (= 2VOC91 a/ay) alternation be impossible? What about 6VOC a/i (= 2VOC91 a/əy) alternation?

If a language has ablaut, it has words derived from a single root with consistent consonants and variable vowels (or perhaps no vowel at all!): e.g.,

English sing, sang, sung, song (s-ng remain consistent)

Sanskrit root k-r 'do':

kR-ta 'done' (zero vowel between k and r; r > vocalic R)

kar-ma 'act' (i.e., what is done)

cha-kaar-a 'did'*

If OC had Pulleyblank's two-vowel ablaut, we would expect alternations such as

(C = an unspecified root consonant)

a. 2VOC91 Ca ~ Cə (= 6VOC Ca ~ Cə)

b. 2VOC91 Cay ~ Cəy (= 6VOC Ce ~ Ci)

but not

c. 2VOC91 Ca ~ Cay (= 6VOC Ca ~ Ce)

d. 2VOC91 Ca ~ Cəy (= 6VOC Ca ~ Ci)

(i.e., patterns like

2VOC91 C1aC2 ~ C1əC3

in which C2 or C3 are non-identical final elements; in c. and d., C2 = zero and C3 = y.)

unless -y could be explained away as a suffix (derived from an earlier -i?: Cay < Ca-i?)

I can't think of any examples of alternation d. in OC, but Behr (1998) does give some examples of an alternation similar to c. (I added the first and fifth ones):

SinographGloss2VOC (my guesses using Pulleyblank's 1991 system)6VOC (mine)
be bright; glory, brightnessk-wangk-wang
glaring; to blindk-wang-'k-wang-'
golden, yellowa-k-wangng-k-wang
a kind of precious stone; brilliant**wangyweng
炯 冏clear, lucidk-wangy-'k-weng-'
light, brightnessk-wangy-'k-weng-'
clear, bright, visiblek-wangy-'k-weng-'

If those Pulleyblank-style OC reconstructions are correct, what appear to be wang ~ wangy alternations would have to be explained as

forms derived from unrelated yet nearly homophonous roots wang and wangy with similar meanings

or forms derived from a single root wang with a variant wangy from an earlier wang-i

I would prefer to posit a single root w-ng with a ~ e ablaut***.

Next: Death lessons.

* One might think that cha- in Skt chakaara 'did' is a past tense prefix, but it is actually a partial reduplication of the root which was originally kw-r:

Proto-Indo-European ?kwe-kwor-e > Skt cha-kaar-a

(PIE kwe > Skt cha but kwo > Skt ka[a]; o > aa according to Brugmann's law)

** 瑩 'a kind of precious stone; brilliant' also has a Middle Chinese reading 'engh implying OC 'engs with initial glottal stop instead of w-. Could this be from an earlier '-weng-s?

*** It's possible that this a ~ e ablaut originated as umlaut:

Stage 1: pre-OC wang-i

Stage 2: pre-OC weng-i (a > e to assimilate to following i)

Stage 3: OC weng (suffix -i dropped; left a trace in the root vowel)

A similar process resulted in some English irregular plurals: e.g.,

foot-i > ?feet-i > feet Could this also be the explanation for a ~ e ablaut in Tibetan?

And could the -o- of Tibetan imperatives reflect a root vowel assimilating to a lost final rounded vowel -u or -o? 2V (OR NOT) TB? (PART 3)

Why did Pulleyblank (1963: 220) think that Proto-Sino-Tibetan had a two-vowel system? One reason was ablaut (vowel alternation within a root*):

It is also of interest that one of the main types of verbal ablaut in Tibetan consists of alternation between e in the present and a in the perfect [also called 'past'] and future (leaving aside the question of the imperative in which the characteristic o vocalism seems to be independent of the other forms). For example:

[Pres.] Hgegs-pa 'hinder'

Perf. bkag[-pa]

Fut. dgag[(s)-pa]

According to my analysis this e/a alternation is in fact an alternation between close and open nuclear vowel: ə/a. The same type of alternation is common in Chinese word families though there is in Chinese no formalized system of verbal conjugation, e.g., (in my Old Chinese reconstruction -A):

rdə' 'to store, prepare' : 儲 da 'a store' [root d-]

rtə 'set, place, arrange' : 著 rta 'place, order of place, position' [root rt-]

硋, 礙 ngəs 'obstruct' : 忤 ngas 'oppose' (cf. Tibetan Hgegs-pa 'obstruct') [root ng-s]

'give' : 予 la 'give' [root l-]

'connective particle' ['and'] : 如 na 'like, if' [root n-]

təng' 'step, class' : 黨 tang' 'class, category' [root t-ng']

ləm 'speak about' : 談 lam 'speak, converse' [root l-m]

ləm 'keep in the mouth' : 啖 lam 'devour' [root l-m]

gəp 'join, unite, shut' : 盍 gap 'to thatch, cover' [root g-p]

'əy 'to lean on' : 倚 'ay' 'to lean on' [root '-y]

ngəy' 'ant' : 蟻 ngay' 'ant' [root ng-y']

məy 'small, there is not' : 靡 may 'small, there is not' [root m-y; belongs to a family of m-negatives]

[Some complex examples have been omitted and saved for a future post.]

Many other examples can be added, and even more if one takes into account cases where ə/a contrast (and sometimes [consonantal sources of] tone) are not the only differences between the words, e.g., 似 [AMR OC slə'] 'resemble' : 像 [AMR OC slang'] 'resemble, image'. Many cases will be found listed among Karlgren's "Word Families" (1934).

I use my own OC reconstructions to illustrate that a/ə vowel alternation can be demonstrated without using Pulleyblank's reconstructions. The OC pairs would also be reconstructed with ə/a vowel alternation by most other scholars. The question is not whether OC had ə/a vowel alternation, but whether it had other kinds of vowel alternations as well.

Pulleyblank's answer would be 'no' since there are no vowels in his OC other than ə and a. Other OC reconstructions such as Starostin's and mine have six-vowel systems (a i u ə e o). Pulleyblank would replace the four 'extra' vowels i u e o with combinations of the two vowels ə and a and adjacent consonants. Here's how Pulleyblank (1963: 207-211) reinterpreted his 1962 five-vowel system for OC as a two-vowel system:

Pulleyblank 1962aiueo
Pulleyblank 1963aəwə, əwyə, əy, ya, aywa, aw

Although the details have changed, his latest (?) two-vowel system still has similar correspondences with others' larger systems: e.g.,

Pulleyblank 1991aəyəwəayaẅ
Starostin 1989, AMR 2006aiuəeo
Baxter 1992, Sagart 1999aiuïeo

(ẅ is a labial-palatal glide, a blend of w and y. The symbol is to w what ü [the vocalic counterpart of ẅ] is to u.)

(The above chart applies only to vowels in certain OC rhymes for simplicity.)

If Pulleyblank's 1991 two-vowel system for OC (2VOC91) is correct, which alternations should not occur in terms of a six-vowel system (6VOC)? Should, for example, 6VOC a/e (= 2VOC91 a/ay) alternation be impossible? What about 6VOC a/i (= 2VOC91 a/əy) alternation?

Next: Actual ablaut.

* Ablaut is short for Abstufung der Laute 'gradation of the sound' (Beekes 1995: 274). 2V (OR NOT) TB? (PART 2)

To see how EG Pulleyblank (1963: 219) analyzed the five vowels of Written Tibetan (WT) in terms of a two-vowel system, replace the Written Burmese (WB) vowels in his correspondences with their two-vowel equivalents in his analysis of Burmese (2VB):

1. WT a : WB a (= EGP 2VB /a/)

2. WT e : WB i (= EGP 2VB /i/)

3. WT i : WB e (= EGP 2VB /iy/)

4. WT u : WB ui (= EGP 2VB /iw/)

5. WT o : WB u (= EGP 2VB /wi/) or wa (= EGP 2VB /wa/)

Then replace EGP 2VB /i/ with /e/ to create EGP 2VT (two-vowel Tibetan):

1. WT a = EGP 2VT /a/ : EGP 2VB /a/

2. WT e = EGP 2VT /e/ : EGP 2VB /i/

3. WT i = EGP 2VT /ey/ : EGP 2VB /iy/

4. WT u = EGP 2VT /ew/ : EGP 2VB /iw/

5. WT o = EGP 2VT /we/, /wa/ : EGP 2VB /wi/, /wa/

Pulleyblank's two-vowel systems all contrast a with some non-low vowel:

2VOC: /a/ : /ə/

2VB: /a/ : /i/

2VT: /a/ : /e/

(OC = Old Chinese)

Pulleyblank thinks that 2VB /i/ was "presumably once a high central vowel [ï] rather than a close front vowel." That [ï] and 2VT /e/ may have been raised and fronted from an earlier 2VPST (Proto-Sino-Tibetan) /ə/ still intact in 2VOC.

Next: Why 2V? (And even later: why not 2V?) 2V (OR NOT) TB? (PART 1)

In "An Interpretation of the Vowel Systems of Old Chinese and of Written Burmese" (1963), EG Pulleyblank first proposed a two-vowel system not only for Old Chinese (OC) but also for the Tibeto-Burman (TB) languages Burmese and Tibetan - and for Proto-Sino-Tibetan (PST) itself. This surely would have surprised his readers at the time, for his 1962 OC reconstruction and the other three classical Sino-Tibetan (ST) languages all had more than two vowels:

Vowels of Pulleyblank's (1962) OC reconstruction: a i u e o

Vowels of Written Burmese (WB): a i u e ai o ui (disregarding graphic vowel length, correlated with tones in modern Burmese)

Vowels of Written Tibetan (WT): a i u e o (plus a sixth vowel in Old Tibetan, the enigmatic [at least to me] gi-gu inversé [reversed i] which I transliterate as ï)

Vowels in the Tibetan transcription of Tangut*: same as Written Tibetan including ï, though surely there were more since Tangut had 105 rhymes (disregarding tones) and the transcriptions indicated that Tangut syllables were mostly open (i.e., ended in many distinct vowels)

(*There was no full-scale reconstruction of Tangut available in 1963.)

If one did not look at any other languages, one might guess that PST had at least five vowels like OC, WB, and WT. One might also wonder if WB ui, Old Tibetan ï, and the many vowels of Tangut were retentions from PST which had been lost in OC.

Pulleyblank (1963), on the other hand, posited the opposite scenario: OC retained the original PST two-vowel system which was obscured by various changes in WB and WT (and presumably Tangut, which Pulleyblank has never mentioned as far as I know).

Pulleyblank reintrepreted the WB vowels in terms of combinations of a and i (< earlier ï?) with or without glides (y and w):

Written Burmeseaiueaioui
Pulleyblank's (1963) interpretationaiwiiyayawiw
Modern Burmese
(based on Wheatley 1987)
(vowel depends on following consonant)
a, i, Ei, eu, oeEO, auo, ai
Other spellings in
Old Burmese
(w)o for WB waoiyaayowuiw, iw, eiw;
i, ei
(before glottal stop)

He then cited five correspondences between WT and WB vowels (1963: 219):

1. WT a : WB a

WT nga 'I' : WB ngaa (: Tangut nga 2.14)

WT zla 'moon' : WB la (: Tangut lhyịy 2.60)

WT lnga 'five' : WB ngaaH (: Tangut ngwə 1.27)

WT tshwa 'salt' : WB chhaaH (: Tangut tshywi 1.10 'salty', tshyï 2.28 'salt')

WT sna 'nose' : WB hnaaH (: Tangut nyii 2.12)

2. WT e : WB i

WT me 'fire' : WB miiH (: Tangut məə 1.31)

WT shes 'know' : WB si (: Tangut syï 2.28 'know', syiy 2.33 'knowledge')

3. WT i : WB e

WT khyi 'dog' : WB khweH (: Tangut khywï 1.30)

WT bzhi 'four' : WB leH (: Tangut lyïr 1.92)

WT ñi 'sun', 'day' : WB ne (: Tangut nyïï 1.32 'heat of sun', nyïï 2.29 'day')

WT Hchhi-ba (present/future), shi-ba 'die' (past) : WB se (: Tangut syi 2.10)

4. WT u : WB ui

WT ngu-ba 'weep' : WB ngui (: Tangut ngwu 2.1)

WT dgu 'nine' : WB kuiH (: Tangut gyïï 1.32)

WT rus 'bone' : WB ruiH (: Tangut ryïr 1.86)

5. WT o : WB u or wa

WT tsho-ba 'fat, greasy' : WB chhuu (: Tangut tshwu 1.1; also tsyọ 1.72 [but initial doesn't match]?)

WT so 'tooth' : WB swaaH (: Tangut shywi 'age, teeth' 1.10?)

( I have added Pulleyblank's examples and Gong's Tangut reconstructions.)

Can you guess how Pulleyblank analyzed those WT vowels in terms of a two-vowel system?