In my case, even though it would have been nice to have polished one sword, that wasn't possible for me. Since I did a variety of things, each of them wasn't very polished, and I wonder if they'll end up like dull swords.

- Nishida Tatsuo, "Looking Back on Tangut Linguistic Research", The Language and Culture of the Tangut Kingdom (1997), p. 3

I think I understand how Nishida felt. I've long considered myself an Asian linguistic generalist. Although Japanese was the focus of my academic career and remains my strongest language, it wasn't my only sword. I've also published articles on Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese, and obviously I've been working on Tangut off and on for the last 12 years. Along the way I've dabbled in most of the major Asian languages and a few minor ones. Sometimes I've thought that I would have been a better Japanologist if I had stuck to a single sword, but on the other hand, Japanese doesn't exist in a vacuum. One has to understand its neighbors, and how languages work in general, to truly understand the history of Japanese. That's why this blog is not 100% Tangut.

(Thanks to a reader for sending me Nishida's book - and so many other works on Tangut!) 布央 CLOTH CENTER CONSONANTS

Why does the variety of 布央 Buyang (mentioned at the end of "A Fiery Theory") described by Li and Luo (2006) have so many initials? It has eleven types of single labial stop onsets

p- pj- pw- ph- phj- phw-

b- bj- bw- bh- bhj- (there is no bhw-)

compared to only four

*p- *ph- *b- *ɓ-

in early Siamese. In modern Siamese,*b- has merged with ph- and *ɓ- has become a new b-.

The variety of Buyang in Laurent Sagart's word list seems to have only three or four, though a few more might not be represented:

p- (pj-) ph- ʔb- (is this [ɓ]?)

pj- and kw- are the only onset clusters in the word list. They might be unit phonemes.

Has L&L Buyang preserved more consonant types than Sagart's Buyang? I suspect that the L&LB consonant system is actually more innovative than conservative:

- preglottalized stops (still in Sagart's Buyang) were lost (did they merge with or simply become b- and d-?)

- the palatalized series might be from labial + *-j-/-r-/-l- clusters

cf. modern standard Siamese which has pr- pl- phr- phl-

and the Kadai language Laha (Edmondson n.d.) which has pl- phl- bl-

- the labialized series might be from *Cw- clusters and perhaps even *C- followed by labial vowels that later delabialized: e.g.,

*ko > *kwo > kwa

- the voiced aspirates could be from earlier clusters or presyllables with voiceless consonants: e.g.,

*s(V)b- > *hb- > bh-

- the palatal affricates might partly be from earlier coronal or velar + *-j-/-r-/-l-clusters that merged with the original palatal affricates; notice there are no palatalized dentals or velars

These are nothing but educated guesses. I presume the answers are in books like Ostapirat's (2000) reconstruction of Proto-Kra (= Kadai) which I never got around to reading. I left it in Hawaii. I'll have to dig it up when I go back in December. A FIERY THEORY

For the last six years, I've been theorizing that the Old Chinese A/B distinction (which I interpret as 'emphatic'/'nonemphatic') largely originated from synharmony between unstressed presyllables and stressed main syllables: e.g.,

Stage 1: *CaCí (disyllabic word with iambic stress)

Stage 2: *CʌCí (neutralization of unstressed low vowels to *ʌ)

Stage 3: * (presyllables with low vowels became emphatic)

Stage 4: *CʌCí (emphasis spread into the following syllable)

Stage 5: *CʌCéj (emphatic high vowel bent down to mid)

Stage 6: *Cej (presyllable lost, so no need to indicatte stress)

Stage 7: *Cej (emphasis lost)

Stage 8 in southern late OC: *Caj (vowel lost palatality)

Tonight I was looking through the introduction to Tai languages by David Strecker in The World's Major Languages (1987) and noticed a passage that I first read almost 15 years ago but had long since forgotten:

[The word for] 'fire' might have been something like Proto-Tai *aviiA. In Northern Tai the weak pretonic syllable a was simply lost, giving *viiA, whereas in Southwestern and Central Tai it interacted with the vowel of the tonic syllable, giving *vayA (p. 754).

Words of the type *aCi may have become *CVj in both OC and non-northern Tai. If Proto-SW Tai and Proto-Central Tai postdate the vowel change in OC, then the breaking of *i could have occurred independently in the two language families.

According to Strecker,

The reconstruction of Proto-Tai vowels is perhaps the most controversial and vexing area in comparative Tai. (p. 754)

I wonder if different presyllables in different branches of Tai could account for vocalic variation.

I also wonder if presyllabic vocalism can partly account for the complex Tangut rhyme system. Could some of the many instances of medial *-j- have originated from presyllables with palatal vowels?

*CiCV > *CiCjV > *CjV

I've proposed that Tangut *w- in some cases may be from an earlier *-p- that lenited after a presyllable:

*CVpV > *CVβV > *wV

PT *avii looks vaguely like Proto-Austronesian *Sapuj 'fire'.

If PT and PA are not related, the word could be a loan (or substratal survivor?) from an early AN language that lost *S-.

(Many modern AN languages have no trace of *S- in 'fire': e.g., Malay api, Hawaiian ahi.)

PT *-p- could have been lenited to *-v-, just as Tangut *-p- lenited to *-β-.

Wuming Zhuang foi 'fire' (as recorded by Li Fang-kuei and Nakajima) has a rounded vowel that corresponds to PA *-u-. Buyang, a Kadai language, has pui with -u-, according to Laurent Sagart at the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database. THE FATHER OF PINYIN HAS THE LIGHT*

Until last Friday, I didn't know that he was still alive! He's now 102, and Pinyin turned 50 on February 11. You can see him in this English-language interview.

*周有光 Zhou Youguang's personal name means 'has light'. VOX ACACIAE*

In "Sigma Theta Hl-ambda", I examined the numerals of several Tai varieties, including a language spoken in Longzhou that was documented by the late Li Fang-kuei. While Googling for Longzhou last night, I discovered this extremely long interview with Li covering the entire span of his life. I've known that he was a star in four different fields (American Indian, Chinese, Tai, and Tibetan linguistics) for a long time, but there's so much more to the man. Over dinner and lunch, I've only gotten up to the end of part I. I'm looking forward to the rest which I've only been able to skim. (An early Tangutologist has a cameo in part 2.) I expect the whole to be as fascinating as a similar interview with another Chinese linguistics superstar, the late Chao Yuen Ren. I read the interview with Chao when I was a graduate student in the 90s without expecting to ever read any others like it. Alas, a interview in this series with Ferdinand Lessing doesn't seem to be online.

*The Kuei of 李方桂 Li Fang-kuei means 'acacia'.

Some forms of Latin acācia have their own Wiktionary entries!

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