In the Chinese writing system, l-characters can serve as phonetics in non-l characters: e.g.,

龍 Mandarin long < Middle Chinese *luoŋ < Old Chinese *(mɯ-)roŋ is phonetic in

Mandarin Middle Chinese Old Chinese
pang, long *bɔŋ, *loŋ *broŋ, *roŋ
chong *ʈhuoŋ *hroŋ

龍 also has an uncommon m-reading Md mang < MC *mɔŋ < OC *mroŋ.

婁 Md ~ lou < MC *luo ~ *ləw < OC *ro(ʔ) ~ *ro(ʔ) is phonetic in

Mandarin Middle Chinese Old Chinese
ju *kuoh *kros
ju *guoʔ *groʔ
shu, shuo, cu [tshu] *ʂuoʔ/h, *ʂɔk, *tshuok *sroʔ(-s), *srok, *ksok
shu, sou *ʂuoʔ, *səwʔ *sroʔ, *soʔ

The low-frequency reading cu for 數 (not in the 1971 edition of Xinhua zidian) is a rare example of an alveolar affricate-initial character with an l-phonetic (婁).

The reverse may be as rare or rarer. Are Sino-Vietnamese 鼱 linh (in 鼱鼩 linh câu 'shrew') and Cantonese 靚 leng 'beautiful' the only two l-graphs with an alveolar affricate-initial phonetic

靑 MC *tsheŋ < OC *tsheŋ  'blue, green'?

SV and Cantonese (and Mandarin) l- generally come from Old Chinese *r-, though they may also come from OC *CV-l- (Sagart 1999: 124-130). One might try to reconcile the l-readings of 鼱 and 靚 with the *tsh-initial of 靑 by reconstructing clusters:

*r-cluster solution:

鼱 OC *reŋ > MC *lieŋ > SV linh in linh câu 'shrew'

but OC *s-t-reŋ > *tsreŋ > *tseŋ > MC *tsieŋ > Ct, Md jing in Ct keuijing?, Md qujing 'shrew'

靚 OC *reŋ(ʔ)-s > MC *lieŋh > Ct leng 'beautiful'

probably cognate to 亮 OC *raŋ(ʔ)-s > Ct leung, Md liang 'bright'; currently half of Md 漂亮 piaoliang 'beautiful'and 朗 OC *raŋʔ > Ct long, Md lang 'bright'

Xinhua zidian (1971: 262) lists a Md reading liang defined as <方>漂亮,好看 '(dialectal) beautiful, good-looking'. Is this an artificial standard Mandarinization of non-Mandarin form(s?) like Ct leng, or is it a real word in Mandarin dialects?

but OC *N-s-t-reŋ(ʔ)-s > *dzreŋ-s >*dzeŋh > MC *dzieŋh > Ct, Md jing 'apply makeup' (same root as 'beautiful')

*l-cluster solution:

鼱 OC *sɯ-tɯ-leŋ > *leŋ > MC *lieŋ > SV linh in linh câu 'shrew'

but OC *sɯ-tɯ-leŋ > *s-t-leŋ > *tsleŋ > *tseŋ > MC *tsieŋ > Ct, Md jing

靚 OC *sɯ-tɯ-leŋ(ʔ)-s > *leŋh > MC *lieŋh > Ct leng 'beautiful'

probably cognate to 亮 OC *Cɯ-laŋ(ʔ)-s > Ct leung, Md liang and 朗 OC *Cʌ-laŋʔ > Ct long, Md lang 'bright'

but OC *N-sɯ-tɯ-leŋ(ʔ)-s > *N-s-t-leŋs > *dzleŋs >*dzeŋs > MC *dzieŋh > Ct, Md jing 'to ornament; tranquil' (another spelling of 靜)

The earliest OC forms of 鼱 and 靚 could have had *tɯ-sɯ- instead of *sɯ-tɯ-, and thes in those presyllables could be reductions of even earlier nonlow vowels: *i, *ə, *u.

I reject the *r-solution because OC *T(s)r-clusters normally become MC retroflexes. OC *tsreŋ and *dzreŋ-s should have become MC *t*l-sd and *ɨeŋh, not *tsieŋ and *dzieŋh.

On the other hand, OC medial *-l- usually disappears without a trace and has to be reconstructed on the basis of initial alternations (靚 Ct j- ~ l-) and word families (靚 'beautiful/apply makeup' ~ 亮, 朗 'bright'). So OC *tsl- and *dzl- are expected to become MC *ts- and dz- and Ct, Md j-.

The *l-solution has consequences that go far beyond 鼱 and 靚. I'll explore them next time. ARE HYENAS AMONG FIVE THOUSAND CHARACTERS?

The short answer is no.

On Sunday, I looked for Vietnamese linh cẩu 'hyena' in 五千字 Ngũ thiên tự (Five Thousand Characters), an undated premodern Chinese-Vietnamese dictionary arranged by categories. (You can read more about early Vietnamese lexicography at vietnamjournal.org.) You can see the first ten pages of a trilingual edition of Five Thousand Characters at viethoc.org (學 học = 'studies'). The entry at the top left of the first page is


(the second character is 天 'sky' over 上 'top')

thiên giời (with trời handwritten beside it)


telling us that Sino-Vietnamese 天 thiên 'sky' corresponds to native Vietnamese 天+上 giời ~ trời 'sky' and ciel 'sky' in French.

In section 30 (毛族 Mao tộc 'The Furry Clans') of the bilingual editions I have, I found a similar-sounding but unrelated word:

鼱鼩 𤝞 窒

(the third character is 犭+朮)

linh câu / chuột nhắt

Native Vietnamese chuột nhắt is literally 'mouse small' = 'small mouse' with typically Vietnamese (and un-Chinese) noun-adjective order.

Sino-Vietnamese 鼱鼩 linh câu 'shrew' has an unusual initial consonant. 鼱 contains the phonetic 靑 which is normally associated with SV t- and th- from Middle Chinese *ts-/dz- and *tsh-: e.g.,

靑-sinograph MC SV
精睛箐菁 *tsieŋ tinh
*tshieŋ thanh
情晴 *dzieŋ tình

(The -inh ~ -anh variation may reflect different strata of borrowing.)

In Middle Chinese, 鼱 was *tsieŋ which should correspond to SV tinh, not linh. If the l- of SV linh is not an error, it is reminscent of the l- in Cantonese 靚 leng 'beautiful' which also contains the same phonetic (and has the expected readings tịnh and jing in SV and Mandarin from Middle Chinese *dzieŋh.).

I wonder if SV linh câu was borrowded from an Old Cantonese word *liŋ kəw. What is the modern Cantonese word for 'shrew'? Is it linggau < *liŋ kəw or 鼩鼱 keuijing corresponding to Mandarin 鼩鼱 qujing (with 鼩 and 鼱 reversed!)? I wish there were a Cantonese Wikipedia page corresponding to the Mandarin page for 鼩鼱 so I could see what at least one Cantonese word for 'shrew' was. I assume that Cantonese speakers would pronounce the standard Chinese (i.e., Mandarin) term 鼩鼱 as keuijing, but I cannot assume that keuijing is their native word for 'shrew'.

鼱鼩 is in older texts (see Han, Song, and Qing Dynasty examples here) but 鼩鼱 in modern Mandarin. When did the syllables reverse, and why?

And why does the SV reading of 鼩 câu imply MC *kəw instead of the MC *guo implied by Cantonese keui and Mandarin qu?

I have no answers for those questions, but I'll look into the initial l- of SV 鼱 linh and Ct 靚 leng next time. ARE HYENAS COFFIN DOGS?

This morning I figured out a solution to last night's mystery. In Chinese, 靈 can be short for 靈柩 'coffin', borrowed into Vietnamese as linh cữu. Could Vietnamese linh cẩu 'hyena' be 靈狗 'coffin dog'?

I am not sure because I cannot find 'coffin' as a meaning of 靈 linh in Vietnamese, Korean, or Japanese. Perhaps the meaning 'coffin' developed after massive borrowing from Chinese into those languages ended along with the Tang Dynasty. Karlgren (1957: 222) lists no such meaning for 靈 in pre-Han Old Chinese. The Taiwanese government dictionary gives an example of 靈 'coffin' from the undated late Qing Dynasty novel 兒女英雄傳 A Tale of Heroic Sons and Daughters. So the meaning 'coffin' probably developed between the Song and Qing Dynasties. Could 靈狗 'coffin dog' be a nonstandard and/or obsolete Chinese word for 'hyena' that was introduced into Vietnam within the last century or so and converted into Sino-Vietnamese linh cẩu?

3.18.00:51: Xinhua zidian (1971 ed.) lists one definition of standard Mandarin 靈 ling as 属于死人的 'belonging to dead people', citing 靈柩 lingjiu 'coffin' as an example. (柩 jiu by itself means 'coffin'.) This meaning is an even better fit for 'hyena', but I can't find it in Vietnamese, Korean, or Japanese dictionaries. ARE HYENAS SPIRITUAL DOGS?

The modern Chinese word for 'hyena' is not written with two tigers over a cowry. Mandarin 鬣狗 liegou is literally 'mane dog'. (Another word is Md 土狼 tulang 'earth wolf', though Wikipedia equates this with 'aardwolf' - aard being Afrikaans for 'earth'.)

One might predict that 鬣狗 was borrowed into Japanese and Korean, but their words for 'hyena' are respectively ハイエナ haiena and 하이에나 haiena rather than Sino-Japanese 鬣狗 ryouku < *repuku and Sino-Korean 엽구 (鬣狗) yŏpku < ryəpku. I suspect that

- the Chinese word 鬣狗 was coined in modern times and did not, as far as I know, spread to Japan and Korea (but if there are any premodern attestations, I'd like to know)

- the Japanese word ハイエナ haiena was borrowed from English, or at least influenced by English - hence ai instead of i for y. I would expect ハイーナ haiina from English, but perhaps ハイエナ haiena was based on an obsolete pronunciation or on a partly incorrect guess of the pronunciation.

- the Korean word 하이에나 haiena was borrowed from Japanese; a direct loan from English would have been 하이나 haina.

At first one might think Vietnamese linh cẩu 'hyena' is simply the Sino-Vietnamese reading of Chinese 鬣狗 'mane dog'. And cẩu indeed is Sino-Vietnamese, but the SV reading of 鬣 is liệp, not linh; cf. Cantonese lip and Sino-Korean yŏp < ryəp which preserve the final *-p of Middle Chinese *liep.

So what is linh? I assume it's SV because cẩu 'dog' is being modified, and modifier-modified order occurs in SV words (e.g., 海狗 hải cẩu 'seal', lit. 'sea dog') whereas native Vietnamese words have modified-modifier order (e.g., chó săn 'hunting dog', lit. 'dog hunt'). The first SV morpheme that came to mind was 靈 linh 'spirit'. Hyenas are spiritual dogs? No way. Next was 零 linh 'zero', which made even less sense.

Looking up linh at nomfoundation.org led to 28 characters. Some are variants of others. The most likely candidate seems to be 犭+灵, 犭 'dog' plus the phonetic 灵 linh (a simplification of 靈 linh 'spirit'). No gloss is given. I wonder if this is a vietograph, a made-in-Vietnam character. Writing out its phonetic in full results in 𤣤 (犭+靈) which the Taiwanese variant dictionary defined as a 良犬 good dog. 犭+ 靈 should theoretically be read linh in Vietnamese. However, that dictionary doesn't list any attestations of 犭+靈 earlier than Longkan shoujian (997 AD), after Vietnam gained its independence. It's unlikely that the Vietnamese borrowed an obscure Chinese word following the end of Chinese rule in 938. Did the word already exist in Vietnam before 938? A word first attested in 997 could long predate its first appearance in writing. Or is the linh of linh cẩu something else entirely?

Next: Is a hyena hiding among five thousand characters? PHROM CAESAR TO CHI-P'O

I thank Andrew West for gving me a link to this Tibeto-Logic post on Phrom Ge-sar.

The name Phrom might look vaguely familiar if you read last Saturday's post. It's the Tibetan counterpart of Late Middle Chinese 拂菻 *Fur-lim (there is no f in Classical Tibetan):

From (Phrom) comes via Hrom (pronounced From) from Rome, meaning the eastern Rome of the Byzantines, not that one in Italy you’ve been told about.


Were these Phrom people Turkic? The answer is: Yes, I think so; etymologically or properly it means Roman, ‘Byzantine’ or Greek ethnicity, I suppose ... But ethnonyms do quite often shift from one group of people to another.

I'll get back to the Turkic connection shortly.

Gesar is from Caesar. I had seen that theory before, but I dismissed it since it

look[ed] like just one more example of Tibet-outsiders finding — or creating or inventing or constructing — ‘linkages’ with Tibetan culture for some strategic reasons of their own.

However, I'm more convinced after reading that post. This passage leapt out at me:

One year later, in 739, Tegin shah [of the Turk Shahi] abdicated the throne of Gandhara in favor of his son, Fu-lin-chi-p’o (also known as Fromo Kesaro, the Bactrian form of his name) ... The name implies an anti-Arab programme and propaganda at the time, which might be explained by Fromo Kesaro's having entered into manhood as an er at (meaning ‘man’s name’ [in Turkic]) in 719, the year in which a Byzantine delegation travelled through Tokharistan on their way to the Chinese emperor and informed the kingdoms of Central Asia of the great victory they had won over the Arabs the previous year.

Fu-lin chi-p'o (Pinyin: Fulin Jipo) is the modern Mandarin pronunciation of Late Middle Chinese 拂菻罽婆 *Fur-lim Kɨej-ba. *Fur-lim (< *Frim 'Rome' in some Iranian language?) corresponds to Bactrian Fromo, but why does *Kɨej-ba have a *-b- absent from Kesaro? I and others regard 婆 *ba 'old woman' as an error for the similar-looking rarer graph 娑 *sa (second half of 婆娑 *basa 'whirling'). 罽娑 *Kɨej-sa is the closest possible LMC approximation of *Kesar:

- LMC had *kɨe-, but not *ke-

- LMC had *-ej, but not -e

- LMC had no syllables ending in *-r

In modern Chinese, 'Rome' and 'Caesar' are now written as

羅馬 Luoma (< earlier lo; there is no lo in standard Mandarin)

凱撒 Kaisa

rather than as 拂菻 and 罽娑 - though wouldn't it be neat if the old transcriptions were still in use? Many people would wonder why 拂菻 Fulin and 罽娑 Jisuo meant 'Rome' and 'Caesar'. But you wouldn't be among them.

3.16.00:18: 罽 LMC *kɨej 'fish net; woollen carpet' has a very strange graph.

I can't find 罽 in Karlgren (1957), so I don't know if it existed before the Han Dynasty. If it did, it would have been pronounced Old Chinese *kats.

罽 consists of

罒 'net' (semantic)

厂 'cliff'

炎 'flames' (itself 火 'fire' x 2)

刂 'knife'

I have no idea what the last three components are for. 罽 is as opaque as some Tangut graphs. Shuowen says that 厂+炎+刂 is phonetic in 罽, but the Taiwanese variant dictionary lists 厂+炎+刂 as a variant of 罽!

Some other variants of 罽 have more sensible components like 毛 'hair'. TIGERS / ANCESTORS + COWRY = ?

I thank Andrew West for bringing the graph

to my attention.

It is the Middle Chinese name of an animal from 拂菻 *Fur-lim which I discussed in my last post.

Laufer (1919: 436) also mentions another name

𧹆 (宗+宗+貝)

(The graph appears in Firefox on Vista, but not in Chrome.)

which appears to be an error for 贙. It has 宗 'ancestor' instead of 虎 'tiger' atop 貝 'cowry' and is a variant of 賨 with only a single 宗 'ancestor' on top. The two graphs have never sounded alike:

贙 Old Chinese *(g)wi/en/(s) > Middle Chinese *ɣwenʔ/h > Mandarin xuan

虤 (= 虎 'tiger' x 2) Late Old Chinese/Middle Chinese *ŋεn 'tiger's rage' is not phonetic and is not in Karlgren (1957), so it may not have existed in Old Chinese; the function of 貝 'cowry' is unknown

3.16.00:24: Andrew West pointed out that the pre-Han form of 贙 in Karlgren (1957) has 鼎 'tripod cauldron' instead of 貝 'cowry'. He also found this even earlier inscription with 鼎 at the bottom of 贙.

賨 ~ (宗+宗+貝) Old Chinese *dzuŋ > Middle Chinese *dzouŋ > Mandarin cong 'tribute from southern tribes'

宗 Old Chinese *tsuŋ > Middle Chinese *tsouŋ > Mandarin zong is phonetic; 貝 'cowry' represents wealth

The earliest meaning I can find for 贙 is 'fierce animal' (Erya, 3rd c. BC). I wonder if it is cognate to 犬 Old Chinese *khwi/en/ 'dog' via a nasal prefix that voiced the initial: *N-khw- > *gw-.

Shuowen (2nd c. AD) defined 贙 as 分別 'separate', but I assume that this is an unrelated homophone.

During the Tang Dynasty, this graph was used to write the name of an animal from 拂菻 *Fur-lim (see my last post). Laufer (1919: 436) identified 贙 as

nothing but a transcription of Greek ὕαινα, hyaena, or ὑαίνη. On the other hand, it should be noted that this Greek word has also passed as a loan into Syriac; and it would therefore not be impossible that it was Syrians who transmitted the Greek name to the Chinese.

Unfortunately, he does not give the Syriac word for 'hyena'. In any case, Middle Chinese *ɣwenʔ/h and especially Late Middle Chinese *ɣwien or *ɣyen come very close to the Greek original. LMC could have already become voiceless *x. LMC *wi is labial and palatal like Greek υ, and *y is identical to Greek υ. I assume that υ was still [y]. According to Wikipedia,

Transcriptions [of Greek] into Gothic and, to some extent, Armenian suggest that υ still retained a [y] pronunciation, and the transition to [i] in mainstream Greek is thought to have taken place at the end of the 1st millennium.

i.e., after the end of the Tang Dynasty in 907. I initially wanted to think that the Chinese word was directly borrowed from Greek since Syriac had no y, but maybe the loan is from a Syriac form like *hwen(V) and predates the shift of *we to *wie ~ *ye in Chinese. Moreover, the Chinese initial fricative probably cannot directly reflect a Greek h- since Greek had been losing h- by the 4th century AD. It could reflect a Syriac *h- preserving a fricative that had still existed in Greek when the word was borrowed into Syriac:

Stage 1: Greek > Syriac borrowing Stage 2: Syriac > Chinese borrowing
Greek ὕαινα [hyεna] ~ ὑαίνη [hyεne] ([hyεni]?) ὕαινα [yena] ~ ὑαίνη [yeni] > ὕαινα [iena] ~ ὑαίνη [ieni]? (no [h])
Syriac *hwen(V)?
Chinese (none) *ɣwenʔ/h or, if borrowed in mid/late Tang, *ɣwien or *ɣyen (there was no mid/late Tang *xwen or *ɣwen)

贙 is the only one-graph (monographic?) Chinese transcription of a Greek word that I know of. Are there others?

贙 has some neat variants with inverted right-hand 虎 tigers. The pre-Han form in Karlgren (1957: 320) has an inverted right-hand tiger.

Tangut fonts by Mojikyo.org
Tangut radical font by Andrew West
All other content copyright © 2002-2010 Amritavision