Middle Chinese (MC) *d- has two main Early Old Chinese (EOC) sources: *d- and *l- before the 'lower' vowels¹ *a/e/o. (I list all other sources here.²)

In theory, MC 大 *da̤(j) 'big' < EOC *lats (last seen in my last post) could have had *d- or *l- in EOC, and in fact, the word has been reconstructed in Old Chinese with both initials (*d- by Schuessler 2009 and *lˁ- [= my *l-] by Baxter and Sagart 2014). Two pieces of evidence point toward *l-:

- an alternate spelling as 世 *Hɯ-lap-s (Baxter and Sagart 2014: 109; they reconstruct *l̥ap-s)
*H- indicates a consonant that conditions aspiration or devoicing: *Hɯ-l- > *l̥-.

The use of 世 could indicate that 'big' was really *laps or that 世 was chosen to write *lats after *-ps merged with *-ts. Unfortunately there are no known cognates that could point to *-t or *-p.

- the 古丈 Guzhang subvariety of the 瓦鄉 Waxiang variety that preserves *l- in 'type A' syllables with 'lower(ed)' vowels has /lu 22/ 'big' with /l-/ (Baxter and Sagart 2014: 109).

I am guessing /u/ is from *-as and not *-ats.

For some time I thought EOC *lats (or *laps?) was cognate to Tangut

4456 2leq3 'big'

and would have correlated the pre-Tangut *S- which conditioned -q (tenseness) with an aspirating prefix *H- that made *lats into 太 *H-lats > MC *tʰa̤j 'great'.

Now I see that a proto-Sino-Tibetan *l-word for 'big' based on those Chinese and Tangut words is impossible. The rhymes do not match. Converting Jacques' pre-Tangut reconstructions into my system, I posit three possible sources for *2leq3:

1. *Sɯ.leH

2. *Sɯ.leŋH

3. *Sɯ.laŋH

Lining up the components of the EOC and pre-Tangut forms:

*H (= *s?)
*t or *p
*a or *e
or *ŋ *H


✓ or ✕

In theory, EOC 太 'great' could have been *sɯ-lats with a high presyllabic vowel that was lost before it could trigger partial vowel raising in the main syllable.

The presyllables might match, but there is no way pre-Tangut *-e, *-eŋ, or *-aŋ can be reconciled with EOC *-ats or *-aps. So I can only regard the pre-Tangut and EOC words for 'big' as lookalikes.

¹EOC had two sets of vowels:




This happens to be identical to the higher/lower eight-vowel system I reconstruct for Early Korean apart from the inclusion of stress which is irrelevant to Korean phonology. Higher/lower systems are a trait of northeast Asian languages (EOC, Mongolic, Tungusic, Korean³, and possibly Tangut - but not Tibetan to the west, Burmese to the south, or Japanese across the sea to the east).

and are cover symbols for 'unknown unstressed higher vowel' and 'unknown unstressed lower vowel'. They are based on the Korean higher and lower minimal vowels which really were and *ʌ. It seems that EOC had *i as an unstressed higher vowel at an early point, and it is possible that the unstressed subsystem was triangular: *a/i/u. If that was the case, *u has left no traces of its labiality on the following syllable, whereas *i has left traces of its palatality, and *a = has triggered partial vowel lowering and pharyngealization.

EOC *d- and *l- before the 'higher' vowels *ə/i/u have palatalized Middle Chinese reflexes *d- and *j-:

時 EOC *də > MC *dʑɨ 'time'

慎 EOC *dins > MC *dʑi̤n 'careful'

受 EOC *duʔ > MC *dʑṵ 'to receive'

怡 EOC *lə > MC *jɨ 'cheerful'

引 EOC *linʔ > MC *jḭn 'to draw a bow'

誘 EOC *luʔ > MC *jṵ 'to lead, influence'

The last two examples might have had EOC *ɟ- (me), *j- (Schuessler), or *z- (Karlgren), but let's go with a currently mainstream *l- for now.

There is no such palatalization before the 'lower' vowels (unless a higher-vowel presyllable preceded during the period of height harmony; see below).

²All other sources of MC *d- (converted from Baxter and Sagart's 2014 reconstruction):

1. EOC *nasal preinitial or *nasal-ʌ-presyllable + *t-

奠 EOC *N-ten-s > MC *de̤n 'to be fixed (v.i.)'

奠 EOC *m-ten-s > MC *de̤n 'to set forth (v.t.)'

突 EOC *mʌ-tʰut > MC *dot 'to burst through'

毒 EOC *mʌ-duk > MC *dok 'to poison'

with a longer version of the volitional prefix in 奠 EOC *m-ten-s 'to set forth'

2. EOC *Cʌ.d/l-

道 EOC *kʌ.luʔ > *kʌ.lʌuʔ > MC da̰w 'way'

cf. Proto-Hmong-Mien *kləuʔ 'way', a borrowing from Chinese

3. EOC *Cɯ.d/l- + *a/e/o > *C.d/l- + *a/e/o

The presyllabic higher vowel was lost by the period of height harmony, so it could not trigger partial raising of the vowel of the main syllable.

4. EOC *mV- + *r- > Early Middle Old Chinese (MOC) *mr- > Late MOC *d-

There were two waves of *mV.r- simplification: this one (1) and a later one (2):

Stage \ Simplification wave
1. EOC
2. Early MOC
3. Late MOC
4. MC

Examples of the two waves:

Wave 1: 逮 EOC *mʌ.rəp-s > Early MOC *mrʌəts > Late LOC *dəts > MC *də̤j  'to reach to'

Like Schuessler, I would normally prefer to reconstruct *l- instead of *r-, but for the moment I want to make the Baxter-Sagart *r- work within my system. For the logic behind *r-, see Baxter and Sagart (2014: 133-134).

Wave 2: 埋 EOC *mʌ.rə > Late MOC *mrʌə > MC *mɛj  'to bury'

I could treat cases like

萏 EOC *CV-romʔ  > MC *də̤m, second syllable of MC 菡萏 *ɣə̤mdə̤m 'lotus flower'

cf. Baxter and Sagart 2014's *rˁomʔ which should normally become MC *la̰m, not *da̰m!

as examples of wave 1 with presyllabic *m-, though once again I would prefer to reconstruct *l- instead of *r-.

Baxter and Sagart (2014: 134) posit different developments in different dialects instead of two waves within the same language.

5. EOC *N.r- + *a/e/o

 蕩 EOC *N.raŋʔ > MC *da̰ŋ 'to beat furiously (heart)'

Again, I would normally prefer to reconstruct *l- instead of *r-, but for the moment I want to make the Baxter-Sagart *r- work within my system. This word is not in Schuessler (2009), but it would have *l- in that book's system.

³I hesitate to say 'Koreanic' since I do not know if non-Korean Koreanic languages also had higher/lower vowel systems. Korean height vowel harmony seems to be an internal innovation dating long after EOC; it may be due to contact with Jurchen to the north. THEY KANTU BE COGNATES

While looking for cognates of Vietnamese trai ~ giai 'boy' outside Vietic for my last post, I discovered a Kantu noncognate ʔandrus 'male, man' (L-Thongkum 2001¹). If a layman saw these three words and were asked to pick the one word not related to the other two, they'd choose nara-:

Kantu ʔandrus 'man'

Ancient Greek andrós 'man (genitive singular)'

Sanskrit náras 'man (nominative singular)'

But of course the last two are from Proto-Indo-European *ʕnḗr 'man'. The Ancient Greek nominative singular anḗr is almost identical apart from the epenthetic -a-.

The direct Sanskrit cognate of anḗr is nā́ 'man'. The loss of *ʕ- and the shift of *ḗ to ā́ are regular; the loss of *-r is not² (compare with PIE *dʰwṓr > Skt dvār 'door' which retains *-r but has a different irregularity - d- instead of dh-).

Sanskrit nár-a- is an extended version of the same word with an -a- suffix.

The Kantu word has a compressed variant ndrus. Kantu is a Katu dialect; other Katu varieties and Souei have

- shifted -s to -jh

(cf. Old Chinese *-ts, *-ps > Late Old Chinese *-s > Early Middle Chinese *-jh)³

- lost the nasal

- or added a prefix

assuming that they derive from Sidwell's (2005) Proto-Katuic *ʔndruːs 'male, man':

Katu (Triw) ʔandruːjh 'male, man'

Katu (Phuong) trus ~ padrɨjh 'boy, man'

why two different rhymes? different dialects?

Katu (An Diem) padruːjh 'boy, man'

Souei kantruah 'male, man'

¹Why isn't this word visible when I view L-Thongkum (2001) using the "build custom dictionary" option in the SEAlang Mon-Khmer database?

²This loss is regular for -stems like nr̥ for nā́, but it is not regular for Sanskrit as a whole (hence the *-r-retention in 'door').

³18.7.6.22:21: An even more relevant parallel is in Vietnamese:

*-s > *-ɕ > *-jh > hỏi/ngã tone (depending on voicing of the *onset) + /j/ as in mũi 'nose'

Thavung mús 'nose' (Premsirat 2000) retains the original *-s. Ruc muːʃ  'nose' (Phu 1998) is like my intermediate stage *-ɕ between *-s and *-jh; another Ruc form, muᵊh (Phu 1998), has no final palatal segment.

In Chinese, primary and secondary *-s generally had two different reflexes which are like those of Vietnamese *-h and *-s:

Early Old Chinese
Middle Old Chinese *-s
Late Old Chinese
Middle Chinese
'departing tone'
*-j + 'departing tone'

The general pattern of mergers (four categories into two) is clear, but the phonetic details are not: e.g., perhaps *-ks became *-x and merged with *-h from *-s at the Middle Old Chinese stage:

Early Old Chinese
Middle Old Chinese *-h
Late Old Chinese
Middle Chinese
'departing tone'
*-j + 'departing tone'

The two scenarios above need not be mutually exclusive, as they - and others I have not yet imagined - could represent what happened in different varieties of Old Chinese.

Late Old Chinese secondary *-s may have been phonetically *[ɕ], a simplification of *[tɕ] < *[ts] < *[ts] and *[ps]. I am unaware of any evidence for reconstructing an affricate as a source of Vietnamese *-s.

The high-frequency Early Old Chinese word  大 *lats 'big' has modern reflexes with and without [j]: e.g., Mandarin < *las and dài < *lats. (7.17.8:57: Thanks to Gong Xun for pointing out that Taiwanese tuā is in fact from *lats and not *las despite the superficial similarity of tuā to Mandarin dà.)

I am not aware of evidence pointing toward a dialect in which all *-ts (and *-ps?) merged with *-s and *-ks as *-s, though there is no a priori reason for doubting that such a massive merger could happen.

High-frequency words may be subject to greater erosion, so perhaps *lats had an abbreviated variant *las that became the ancestor of standard Mandarin (as opposed to standard Mandarin dài < *lats.)

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