Last week I finally started an entry that was more than just a link to another scholar's work. However, I ran into Internet problems and put off writing nearly all of the entry until tonight.

On the 14th I discovered Evans et al.'s "Uvular approximation as an articulatory vowel feature". Although the paper only discusses that feature in the Mawo and Luhua dialects of Northwestern Qiang, I wonder if that feature characterized Grade II in Middle Chinese (MC).

Old Chinese (OC) syllables with 'emphasis' (pharyngealization) became Grade II syllables in MC if they had a medial *-r-. Otherwise they became Grade I syllables:



In my reconstruction of OC, uvulars were only in 'emphatic' syllables. Medial *-r- had an uvular allophone *[ʀ] after 'emphatic' initials. This *[ʀ] weakened to a fricative *[ʁ] and uvularized the following vowel before disappearing in late OC:

OC *CˁʀV > *CˁʁV > *CˁʁVʶ > *CVʶ

Tangut Grade II may have had a similar origin: e.g.,

*pʰroH > *pʰˁʀoH > *pʰˁʁoH > *pʰˁʁoʶH > 0080 2pho2 [pʰoʶ²] 'snake'

There was no way to indicate uvularization in the Tibetan script, so Tangut Grades I and II were not distinguished in Tibetan transcription.

MC Grade II vowels were borrowed as nonuvularized vowels in Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese - all languages lacking uvularization:

Vietnamese Korean Japanese
*ka (Grade I) 'song' ca [kaː] ka

*k(ɰ/j)aʶ (Grade II) 'to add' gia [zaː] < *kjaː

Grade II developed a glide after velars in the MC dialect underlying Sino-Vietnamese:

OC *KˁʀV > *KˁʁV > *KˁʁVʶ > *KɰVʶ > *KjVʶ

Sino-Korean is based on an eighth century northeastern dialect in which that glide had not yet fronted to *-j-. Velar *-ɰ- has not left a trace in Sino-Korean. The -y- in a few Sino-Korean borrowings of Grade II syllables is due to the Korean-internal breaking of *e and does not reflect later NE MC *-j-: e.g.,

界 MC *kɰèʶj > Old Korean *kéy > Middle Korean *〮곙 *kyŏ́y > modern Korean 계 kye [ke]

(5.24.1:42: The MC 'departing' tone that I indicate with a grave accent corresponds to the Middle Korean high tone that I indicate with an acute accent. I have projected the high tone back into Old Korean, but it is possible that the OK source of the high tone had a different contour. In any case, the contours of the OK and the northeastern MC tones were probably similar.

The earliest attested MK reading for 界 is a prescriptive reading 〮갱 káy that is not ancestral to modern Korean 계 kye. The prescriptive reading is from 界 MC *kɰàʶj. I reconstructed MK *〮곙 *kyŏ́y to account for the modern form.)

Sino-Khitan is based on a later stage of that northeastern dialect in which *-ɰ- had fronted to *-j-: e.g.,

家 MC *kɰaʶ > Liao *kja(ʶ) > Khitan small script  <g.ia>

Uvularization may have been lost in Liao Chinese after plain *a raised to *o, leaving a gap to be filled by uvularized *aʶ:

*aʶ > *a > *o

If uvularization persisted in later stages, it must have been subphonemic. It has not been observed in any living Chinese languages.

Tangut fonts by Mojikyo.org
Tangut radical and Khitan fonts by Andrew West
Jurchen font by Jason Glavy
All other content copyright © 2002-2015 Amritavision