In part 3 of my "Six Sticks" series, I wasn't pleased with my Early Old Chinese reconstructions because I still don't have a satisfactory answer to what I call the 'capital-shadow' problem involving phonetic series with Middle Chinese initial alternations like

京 MC *k- 'capital' : 影 MC *ʔ- 'shadow'
A Baxter-Sagart-style solution could reconstruct

京 MC kjæŋʔ < EOC *Cə-qraŋ

(EOC *kraŋ is also possible, but I'd like 京 and 影 to share a common initial cluster in EOC)

影 MC *ʔjæŋʔ- < EOC *qraŋʔ

implying a sequence of three changes:

1. *q- > *ʔ-

2. *Cə-q- > new *q-

3. new *q- > *k-

Last night, I initially reconstructed

京 MC *kɨæŋ < EOC *qraŋ

影 MC *ʔɨæŋʔ < EOC *Cɯ-qraŋʔ with reduction of medial *-q- to *-ʔ- followed by presyllable loss

This solution required fewer presyllables since the majority of graphs in phonetic series of this type have MC velar initials: e.g., 影 is the only derivative of 京 with MC *ʔ-.

Both solutions involve nonemphatic *q before a nonemphatic vowel that later raises. This bothers me because I don't know of any parallels in other languages. Cairene Arabic has a consonant inventory full of nonemphatic-emphatic pairs like these new school EOC reconstructions with one exception: q, which lowers adjacent /a aa/ and short /i u/ and cannot precede [a] (as opposed to emphatic /a/ [ɑˁ]). Is there a language in which vowels raise before q?

Yet another solution of mine involves uvular or glottal-initial presyllables (before velars?):

京 MC *kɨæŋ < EOC *kɯ-raŋ

影 MC *ʔɨæŋʔ < EOC *ʔɯ-(k)raŋʔ or *qɯ-(k)raŋʔ

The high vowels in the presyllables conditioned vowel warping in the main syllables::

*Cɯ-Ca > *Cɯ-Cɨa

Then the presyllables either fused with the following syllable

京 EOC *kɯ-raŋ > *krɨaŋ > MC *kɨæŋ

影 EOC *ʔɯ-(k)raŋʔ or *qɯ-(k)raŋʔ > *ʔrɨaŋʔ > MC *ʔɨæŋʔ

or were lost:

涼 EOC *Cɯ-rɨaŋ > *Cɯ-rɨaŋ > *rɨaŋ > MC *lɨaŋ 'cool'

(did its presyllable begin with *k-?)

I'm uncomfortable with all these presyllables. Although they are typologically plausible - even probable - I have not been able to find direct evidence for most of them. But this morning, I realized that I did have potential evidence for my derivation of MC *x- alternating with velars (parallel to my derivation of MC *ʔ- alternating with velars). I'll reveal this evidence on Monday. SIX STICKS (PART 3)

In the Book of Jin, there is a reference to the game of Liubo which begins,


'An owl is an ace'

(translation by Andrew West)

In modern Mandarin, this would be read as

xiāo, yāo yě

梟 Md xiāo 'owl' rhymes with 邀 Md yāo 'invitation' which Andrew interprets as 幺 Md yāo 'one', "the name of the best [Liubo] throw according to one source". Although one might assume the rhyme is coincidental, 'owl' and 'invitation' can be homophonous in Late Old and Early Middle Chinese:

梟 'owl': LOC/EMC *kew (not *xew!)

邀 'invitation': LOC/EMC *ʔiew, *kew

So was the passage in fact saying, 'A *kew (owl) is a *kew (ace)'?

One might assume that 'invitation' and 'one' were homophones in the past, but they weren't, as the only reading for 'one' I can reconstruct is *ʔew without an *-i-, and this is not homophonous with 'owl' or 'invitation'.

What's going on here?

There is no agreement on how to account for alternations of velar stops with *x and in Middle Chinese. According to my understanding of Baxter and Sagart's hypothesis (with some twists of my own)

梟 Md jiāo (obscure reading) < LOC *kew < EOC *Cə-qew

(uvular shielded by prefix became velar)

Yoshida Yoshio's database has Taiwanese readings kiau and hiau, but the ROC government dictionary only lists hiau, so I assume kiau is obscure or obsolete

梟 Md xiāo < LOC *xew (unattested in the Middle Chinese dictionary tradition, but nearly all modern languages imply *x-) < EOC *qhew < pre-EOC *?s-qew

(uvular aspirate sans prefix became velar fricative)

邀 (no Md reflex) < LOC *kew < EOC *Cə-qew (cf. 梟)

邀 Md yāo < LOC *ʔiew < EOC *qew

(voiceless uvular nonaspirate sans prefix became glottal stop)

幺 Md yāo < LOC *ʔew < EOC *ʔew (or *qew?)

(a uvular cannot be safely reconstructed since the phonetic series of 幺 has no velars; velar-glottal alternation justifies reconstructing uvulars)

Here's how I would tentatively reconstruct the Early Old Chinese readings of those graphs:

梟 Md jiāo < LOC *kew < EOC *qew

梟 Md xiāo < LOC *xew < EOC *?Cʌ-s-qew

(medial *-sq- > *-sχ- > *x-)

邀 Md yāo < LOC *ʔiew < EOC *Cɯ-qew

(medial *-q- > *ʔ-)

幺 Md yāo < LOC*ʔew < EOC *ʔew (or *Cʌ-qew?)

(a uvular cannot be safely reconstructed since the phonetic series of 幺 has no velars; velar-glottal alternation justifies reconstructing uvulars)

I'm not happy with any of the above EOC reconstructions. SIX STICKS (PART 2)

I realized tonight that I should have posted the Late Old Chinese forms for 六博/六簙 Liubo 'Six Sticks' in my last post:

*luk pɑk < Middle Old Chinese *(C)ruk pak

This would have been the name of the game by the end of the Han Dynasty. It would survive unchanged into Early Middle Chinese for a few centuries before *u broke to *iw:

*liwk pɑk (for *iw cf. Kan-on Sino-Japanese riku, Sino-Korean ryuk - but Sino-Vietnamese has lục and Cantonese has luk - are these simplifications of a southern *ljuk?)

These forms lost the following Middle Old Chinese features:

1. The pre-initial *C- (some sort of back consonant?; cf. Proto-Tai *xrok 'six')

2. *r- (which shifted to *l-)

3. Emphasis: pharyngealization was lost and its lowering and backing effects on vowels became phonemic:


Middle Old Chinese

Late Old Chinese







I use underlining to indicate phonemic emphasis. I consider all EOC syllables to be either [+emphasis] or [-emphasis]. In Early Old Chinese, monosyllables with *a automatically developed emphasis

*/pak/ *[pˁɑˁkˁ]

which only became phonemic

*/pak/ > */pak/

after presyllables conditioning emphasis in other syllables were lost.

I just noticed that Axel Schuessler's book on 'Minimal Old Chinese' and 'Later Han Chinese' (equivalent to my 'Late Old Chinese') is finally out. I ordered a copy from Amazon.com and hope to get it soon. I love his LOC reconstruction and use it with only minor changes.

Another name for the sticks in the game is

蔽 Mandarin bi [pi] < LOC *pieɕ < MOC *petɕ < Early OC *Cɯ-pets

(EOC *Cɯ- blocks the development of emphasis normally associated with nonhigh vowels)

This word still doesn't look like 博/簙 LOC *pɑk < MOC *pak 'stick' even in my new school reconstructions.

5.20.2:10: 博 'broad' and 蔽 '' don't normally mean 'stick'. 博 is the phonetic of 簙 without 竹 'bamboo' on top. SIX STICKS (PART 1)

I'm out of time, so I can only begin to comment on the Chinese reconstructions in Andrew West's "The Lost Game of Liubo". I don't know whose reconstructions he's using, but they look old school to me:

六博 or 六簙
*lĭə̆uk păk

Here's how I would reconstruct the name of the game:

*(C)ruk pak

New school reconstructions including mine

1. Have more clusters. Proto-Tai *xrok 'six', a loanword from Chinese, may or may not be evidence for an Old Chinese cluster in 'six' since it's not known whether the *x- is

a. a Proto-Tai prefix (but Li Fang-kuei didn't reconstruct any back in 1977 - are any PT prefixes reconstructible now?)

b. a post-Early Old Chinese innovation in the Late Old Chinese dialect that Proto-Tai borrowed the word from

c. a genuine Old Chinese initial

2. Have *r- instead of *l-; early loanword and transcriptive evidence point to a chain shift:

*r- > *l- > *j-

3. Lack of *-j- (which is how I'd rewrite -ĭ-); early loanword and transcriptive evidence does not support it (e.g., Proto-Tai *xrok has no *-j- and nor does Sino-Japanese roku). The -i- of forms like Mandarin liu is a a post-Old Chinese innovation less than 1,500 years old.

4. Simpler vowels: only six in most modern reconstructions: e.g., *u instead of *ə̆u

5. Emphasis (pharygealization), represented here with underlining: *pak = [pˁɑˁkˁ] THE WINE OF BASE INSECTS

Another Mandarin word for 'tick' is 蜱 pi, written as a combination of 虫 'bug' (semantic) and 卑 bei 'low; inferior; humble' (phonetic).

pi 'tick' is homophonous with the first syllable of 啤酒 pijiu 'beer', literally 'pi-wine'. 啤 pi combines 口 kou 'mouth' (semantic) with the same phonetic as 蜱 pi 'tick'.

pi is said to be a loan from beer even though the initials don't match. Why wasn't beer borrowed as bi with b-? I wonder if beer was first borrowed into a Chinese language (a variety of Wu? Shanghainese?*) with initial voiced obstruents such as [bi]. (Mandarin bi is actually [pi] with an unaspirated voiceless initial and Mandarin pi is actually [phi] with an aspiarted voiced initial.) A Wu syllable like bi would regularly correspond to Mandarin pi:

English beer > ?Shanghainese bi > Mandarin pi [phi]

*5.18.1:01: According to shanghaidialect.com, 啤酒 'beer' is [bi tɕiɤ] in Shanghainese. I suspect Shanghainese was the intermediary dialect because Shanghai has long been cosmopolitan. If a Mandarin word of foreign origin doesn't sound like its original, I would guess it was filtered through Cantonese in Hong Kong or Shanghainese: e.g., Mandarin shafa 'sofa' and Cantonese saafaat 'sofa' are those languages' readings of Shanghainese 沙發 ?sofə 'sofa'.

It's hard to easily find Shanghainese data. I've seen conflicting transcriptions of the language. Victor Mair writes:

I should note that I have never met a Shanghainese speaker who is confident about his or her phonetic transcription of his or her own language. All the Shanghainese speakers I know always express great ambivalence about how to transcribe what they say, and are especially uncertain of what it might be in IPA. In fact, one of my informants, who declined to be identified by her own name, was so unsure of how to write Shanghainese in roman letters — even though she is an expert in MSM pinyin [Modern Standard Mandarin romanization]! — that she opted to record each and every one of the items in the list for us, together with spoken definitions in English.

Native speakers' negative attitudes toward their own language don't help:

For example, my daughter's paternal grandparents refuse to speak Shanghainese with my daughter when they visited us here, even though they are native Shanghainese. They insisted on speaking Mandarin to her (even though their Mandarin is very, very poor). They seemed to hold the view that Mandarin is better for children and that Shanghainese is vulgar ...

I think the hardest part now for promoting Shanghainese is to let people understand that promoting a dialect is different from saying it (together with its culture and people) is superior than other dialects (and people and local cultures). Shanghainese and Shanghai people had such a bad reputation in the past (for which we only have ourselves to blame) that it is very difficult for people to distinguish these two separate issues.

Mair's post led to an entire blog about Shanghainese.

啤 'beer' has an unusual Cantonese reading [pɛɛ] instead of the [phei] that normally corresponds to Mandarin [phi]. There are no other [pɛɛ] syllables in Cantonese, not even with other tones, indicating probable foreign origin. Cantonese unaspirated [p] would be the only available match for foreign [b], but [ɛɛ] doesn't match the vowel of beer (or German Bier or Dutch beer). Could [pɛɛ] be based on a nonstandard British English dialect pronunciation of beer?

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