Home 羅杰瑞 JERRY NORMAN (1936-2012)

Jerry Norman (Chinese Wikipedia entry) of the University of Washington has had a major impact on my scholarly work.

Seventeen years ago, I read his articles on Proto-Min as a student of Robert Cheng at the University of Hawaii. Until then I had assumed that Middle Chinese as recorded in the Qieyun rhyme dictionary (601 AD) could account for the phonology of modern Chinese languages in a simple, mechanical manner. Norman's (1973) "Tonal Development in Min" opened my eyes to the problems with this model:

... the QY [Qieyun] language is an inadequate basis for explaining the tonal evolution of a part of the Min dialects; additional initial features must be assumed [...] Whereas the tonal evolution of other dialects [i.e., non-Min Chinese languages] is influenced by only a three-way division of the initials, I propose to demonstrate that a six-way division must be postulated to explain the tones of the Min dialects.

The most interesting of these divisions were his second and sixth: softened voiceless and voiced obstruents: e.g.,

Proto-Min *-p-, *-b- (the first hyphen indicates a prefix*) > Jianyang v- (but zero before y and i)

These reminded me of the softened obstruents of Vietnamese which developed from lost prefixes: e.g.,

Old Vietnamese *CV-p- > *CV-b- > *CV-β- > Middle Vietnamese β- > Modern Vietnamese v-

(Many years later, I proposed a similar process in pre-Tangut; see my 2012 paper.)

Vietnamese borrowings from Chinese on occasion have softened initials: e.g., vốn 'origin' corresponding to Middle Chinese 本 *ponʔ. I thought the softened initials of Min might have a similar origin, and I was hoping to find correspondences between softened initials in Sino-Vietnamese and Min, but found none in the tiny sample of words I had on hand. At the time I thought it was possible that the Chinese source dialect of Vietnamese and Min had prefixes on different words and that some of the Vietnamese prefixes might have been indigenous rather than from Chinese: e.g.,

Middle Chinese 時 *dʑɨə > Old Vietnamese *CV-dʑɨə (with Vietnamese prefix?) > Modern Vietnamese  giờ 'time'

cf. Norman's (1974: 34) Proto-Min *ž- (not softened *-dž-!**) for 'time'

I would like to reinvestigate this issue with a larger data set someday.

Borrowing went in both directions. Vietnamese is an Austroasiatic language, and Norman and Mei Tsu-lin (1976) made me aware of probable Austroasiatic loanwords in Chinese.

The following year, I began to study Manchu under Alexander Vovin, and I came to use Norman's A Concise Manchu-English Lexicon. I still refer to it today when I work on Manchu's predecessor language Jurchen. I look forward to the publication of Norman's A Comprehensive Manchu-English Dictionary. David Branner has posted a sample page here.

Norman's background in Manchu and Russian enabled him to write a 1994 paper whose influence may only increase over time: "Pharygealization in Early Chinese". Leon Serafim first showed it to me when I was his student in the mid-90s and at the time I was skeptical. How could Chinese be like Manchu, Russian, and of all things ... Semitic!? I couldn't think out of the box - not even after studying Manchu and Russian - until I found a book on Maltese in the Leiden University library in 2000 and found what Norman's hypothesis predicted: the lowering of vowels in the vicinity of pharyngealized consonants (or as I prefer to call them, 'emphatics'). Compare:

Arabic طين tˁiːn > Maltese tayn 'mud' (Borg 1997: 271)

Old Chinese 底 *tˁiʔ > Meixian Hakka and Cantonese tai 'bottom'

Both Maltese and Chinese have lost 'emphatic' t, but the following vowel reflects the 'emphasis' that once preceded it.

Two years later, I came up with an explanation for how Chinese developed a large number of 'emphatic' consonants. I later tested my hypothesis in a paper that was published in the 2008 Festschrift for Frederik Kortlandt who had brought me to Leiden. I have since modified the hypothesis and applied it to Tangut in order to explain the huge number of vowels in that language. None of this would have been possible without Norman's landmark paper. Perhaps his posthumous Manchu dictionary will open doors for my work on Jurchen.

Norman is the heir of a distinguished line of scholars. I never met him, but I hope to honor him by building upon his work.

*7.15.1:12: Zev Handel (2003: 36-37) more recently reconstructed Proto-Min *bʱ- without a prefix (from an even earlier *mp- and *mb-) instead of Norman's *-p- and *-b-.

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