URN-ING MY PAY
1. Four years of studying Pyu are paying off. Prof. Janice Stargardt
of Cambridge made me reexamine the
Hpayahtaung urn inscription (PYU 20). After all my advances in Pyu
phonology, grammar, and lexicography, I'm finally beginning to
understand it now. Just beginning. I imagine that the Khitan Small
Script Research Group felt like I did when they began to make progress
in understanding Khitan in the late 70s. The decipherment of both Pyu
and Khitan both have a long way to go - neither is remotely as advanced
as the decipherment of Tangut - but I am now beyond the level of mere
isolated words and a handful of grammar rules.
I thought Pyu was totally hopeless when I first tried to wrestle with it in 2015. But I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel now. I'll probably never reach the end of the tunnel, but I hope my work can help others get there.
2. I try not to have tunnel vision. Paradoxically, not focusing on Pyu is the key to understanding Pyu. It's my knowledge of other languages that have made a difference in my efforts to crack that extinct language. I don't have time to look into anything other than Pyu in depth anymore, but I can still glance at the world outside first-millennium Burma.
While Googling for spontaneous nasalization for last
night's entry, I came across Rémy Viredaz' "Two
unrecognized vowel phonemes in Proto-Slavic".
Even before I got to the mind-blowing part about new phonemes (p. 13), I was stunned by his phonetic interpretation of the traditional set of vowel phonemes as a symmetric system (p. 1). Imagine a Slavic conlang retaining those old phonetic values.
One of Viredaz' new phonemes accounts for the unusual -e of the Old Novgorod masculine o-declension corresponding to *-ъ in the Slavic mainstream.
Now I wonder how Magadhi got -e in the masculine a-declension
corresponding to the Slavic masculine o-declension. Needless to
say, an Indic verson of Viredaz' solution won't work.
3. I haven't forgotten about northeast Asia. Last night I also saw Andrew Shimunek's "Phonological and literary characteristics of some pieces of Khamnigan oral folklore" which made me wonder if anyone has done a survey of what might be called phonoliterary techniques in the Altaic world. Both Khamnigan and Khitan use rhyme which is alien to Korean and Japanese. Oddly a couple of words that rhyme in Russian have Khamnigan forms that do not rhyme:
R zeljonka > Kh tʃilɔːɴqʰɔ 'green tobacco'
R kartofel' ~ kartoška > qʰɔrtʰapqʰa 'potatoes'
4. Alexander Vovin's "EOJ [Eastern Old Japanese] specific vocabulary and Ainu vocabulary from the Man'yōshū" is a handy reference that only an expert in both early Japonic and Ainu could write.
Now I'm curious about the Proto-(Mainland) Japanese and even Proto-Japonic forms underlying the EOJ and Western Old Japanese forms: e.g., what I presume would be *yuru for EOJ yuru and WOJ yuri < *yuru-i 'lily'.
22.214.171.124:01: INDO-BURMESE IRREGULARITIES
I'm going to retire the Jurchen day titles because they would all reappear after sixty days. And they made sense as umbrella titles under which I could write about multiple topics, but they make less sense if I'm only going to write about one thing.
John Okell and Anna Allott's Burmese/Myanmar Dictionary of Grammatical Forms - like John Okell's other works on Burmese - is a model that ought to be emulated by teachers of other languages. Saya John's Burmese learning materials are the best I have ever used for learning any language, so I can say without a doubt (and with great shame) that the poverty of my Burmese is all my own fault.
DGF - as Prof. Justin Watkins called it - is a pleasure to read. If only I could retain everything I had read in it. It's been nearly three years since I studied Burmese in Rangoon under Saya John, reading DGF for fun every morning at breakfast. (That's a redundant phrase - what other meal I would I have in the morning?).
Today I looked up the organization ဒို့ အိမ် <dui. im> [do̰
Eain 'Our Home' and wanted to see what DGF had to say
<dui.> an abbreviation of ငါတုိ့ <ṅā tui.> 'I plural' =
'we'. While looking in the
စကြဝဠာ <cakravaḷā> [sɛʔ tɕa̰ wə là] 'universe' (cakra is cognate to English wheel)
which looks like a mix of Sanskrit cakravāḍa (later cakravāla) and Pali cakkavāḷa (Pali ḷ is from ḍ, and Sanskrit l looks like a Classical Sanskrit substitution for ḷ which isn't in the CS consonant system). What surprises me is that it is not †<cakravāḷa> [sɛʔ tɕa̰ wa la̰] with the penultimate and ultimate written vowel lengths/spoken tones reversed to match the Indic originals.
I looked for the word in John Okell's Burmese: An Introduction to the Script whose "Mismatches" section (pp. 308-311) is still a great reference long after one has mastered all the regular patterns of the script. It wasn't there (though it is an example of the "Unwritten final consonant" type since <cakra> should theoretically be †[sa̰ tɕa̰] with an open first syllable rather than [sɛʔ tɕa̰] from earlier cakra). But what was there was
ဇိဝှာ <jivhā> [zḛĩ ʍa] 'tongue' < Pali jivhā (cognate to English tongue)
as an example of "an unwritten creaky tone". If the word had a
regular spelling, it would be †<jin.vhā> or †<jim.vhā> with
the nasality (<n>/<m>) and creaky tone (<.>)
indicated. If the word were a regular borrowing from Pali it would be
[zḭ ʍa] without nasality or the mid vowel [e] that developed after an
In both 'universe' and 'tongue', it seems that an initial short
syllable was filled out with a coda (*k and either *n
or *m). This filling seems to have taken place after the
pattern of borrowing Indic short vowels as *creaky vowels was set, so
Pali jivhā was borrowed as *dʑḭN ʍa (*N = nasal I'm
uncertain about) rather than as †dʑiN ʍa.
This filling has paralells in Thai: e.g., Sanskrit cakra corresponds to Indo-Thai จักร <cakra> [càk krà-] with an unwritten filler (echo) [k].
The rule for fillers seems to be that they echo following
stops and are homorganic (?) nasals before following sonorants (so
maybe the earlier Burmese word for 'tongue' was *dʑḭm ʍa).
I can understand the motivation for fillers in Thai in which there is a constraint against syllables ending in short vowels. But there is no similar constraint in Burmese which has syllables ending in creaky (*short?) vowels: e.g., စ <ca> [sa̰] 'to start'. Why couldn't cakra, uh, start with †[sa̰]?
Might fillers in Indo-Burmese tell us something about how Indic vocabulary was acquired by Burmese speakers? In other words, are the fillers traces of a Mon intermediary? Old Mon did not allow open stressed syllables: e.g., <ca> 'to eat' was [caʔ] with an unwritten final [ʔ]. Unfortunately, Shorto's Old Mon dictionary doesn't have an entry for cakra- or any compounds with it; the closest entry to Burmese <cakravaḷā> is <cakkavāḷa> [cakkəwal] which matches the Pali. And Shorto has no entry for any Old Mon version of Pali jivhā 'tongue'.
Maybe echo fillers go back to Pyu: e.g., vikrama 'valor'
appears in Pyu as vik·krama. But Pyu had no constraint
against open syllables like those of Old Mon or Thai, so I suspect the
Pyu echo fillers go back to Indic itself:
The first consonant of a group—whether interior, or initial after a vowel of a preceding word—is by the grammarians either allowed or required to be doubled. (Whitney, Sanskrit Grammar, §229)
But what of nasal fillers? They have no basis in Pyu or early Indic.
I think 'spontaneous' nasalizations are a later phenomenon, and even if
they were contemporary with Old Burmese, would they have affected the
pronunciation of 'high' languages like Sanskrit or Pali at the time?
These issues should be covered in the definitive work on Indoxenic - systematic Indic borrowings outside India. Will such a book ever exist? Does anyone know enough both about Indic and Southeast Asian languages past and present to write it? There's no similar book for Sinoxenic yet. Long ago I had hoped to write a book on 'megaloan' systems covering both Indoxenic and Sinoxenic and even Arabic loans in the Islamic world. I had no shortage of ambition back then. Now I have a shortage of time ...
21:31: I forgot to ask: what is -vāḍa/-vāla/-vāḷa? None of the meanings I can find make any sense when combined with cakra- 'wheel' to form 'universe':
From Monier-Williams' Sanskrit dictionary:
vāḍa (no entry)vāla (said to be a later form of vāra, but I suspect it's an l-dialect variant) 'hair of an animal's tail'
From the Pali Text Society dictionary:
vāḷa 'snake, beast of prey [< Skt vyāḍa 'id.']; music (?)'
This problem isn't Indo-Burmese; it's just Indic.