Home WHITE OX 4.20


? uni ai ? sair juri nyair

'white ox year, four month twenty day'

1. Thanks to 戴忠沛 Tai Chung-pui for letting me know that my SEALS 2021 keynote talk "The Prehistory of Pyu" is up on YouTube along with many other talks.

2. Last night I was hesitant to commit to a Late Old Chinese reading of 吐谷渾 'Tuyuhun'.

Since the 90s I've belonged to the six-vowel school of (Early/Middle) Old Chinese:



But over the years I've changed my mind about how to bridge the gap between that system and the more complex vowel system of Middle Chinese. (There were, of course, no homogeneous 'Old Chinese' or 'Middle Chinese' languages; the ideas here are intended as approximations of features common to bodies of dialects in different periods.)

In late 2000, Axel Schuessler convinced me that the Late Old Chinese vowel system was the product of 'warping' or 'bending'.

In what Pulleyblank called type A syllables, what I call 'higher series' vowels bent into mid + high vowel diphthongs:

Early Old Chinese

Late Old Chinese type A syllables
Late Old Chinese type B syllables: no change


In what Pulleyblank called type B syllables, what I call 'lower series' vowels bent into high + nonhigh vowel diphthongs:

Early Old Chinese
Late Old Chinese type A syllables: no change *e
Late Old Chinese type B syllables
*ɨa *uo

But things get complicated after that.

The Early Old Chinese rhyme *-un in Middle Chinese became something like *-on, judging from Sino-Korean and Sino-Vietnamese [on]. (And probably Sino-Japanese [oɴ] < *-on as well, but the case for that is more complicated.)

Exactly how did that happen? The details may have varied from dialect to dialect. Here's a scenario that occurred to me yesterday:

Early Old Chinese *-on became Middle Chinese *-wan.

Phonetically, *-on might have been *[ɔˁn] if lower series vowels were like those of modern Khalkha. *[ɔˁn] broke to *[ɔˁɒˁn] and then shifted to *[wɑˁn], eventually losing its pharyngealization at some point: *[wɑn].

Perhaps *-un in type A syllables underwent a similar series of changes: *[ʊˁn] > *[ʊˁɔˁn] > *[wʌˁn] > *[wʌn] (corresponding to Schuessler's *-uən which I used yesterday).

Later, *[wʌn] became *[on], and later still, *[wɑn] similarly became *[ɔn] in Liao Chinese.

I considered the possibility that *-un in type A syllables became *-oun (phonetically *[ɔˁʊˁn]?).

Maybe I can combine my two proposed shifts of type A *-un (> *[ɔˁʊˁn] and > *[ʊˁɔˁn]) using metathesis:

*[ʊˁn] > *[ɔˁʊˁn] > *[ʊˁɔˁn] > *[wʌˁn] > *[wʌn]

If type A *-on underwent the same sorts of changes:

*[ɔˁn] > *[ɒˁɔˁn] > *[ɔˁɒˁn] > *[wɑˁn] > *[wɑn]

Type A *-in and *-en did not undergo similar changes:

*[iˁn] > *[eˁiˁn] > *[eˁn] > *[en] (not *[jɛn], at least not at the Late Old Chinese or Middle Chinese stage)

*[eˁn] > *[en] (not *[jæn], at least not at the Late Old Chinese or Middle Chinese stage)

See Svantesson (2003: 155) on the pharyngealization of the Khalkha lower series vowels /a u o/. I think two-series vowel systems are an areal feature of much of the 'Altaic' contact zone and Chinese and Tangut but not the rest of Sino-Tibetan. David Boxenhorn has called into question whether pharyngealization is necessary for Old Chinese as I once thought, but I'm reconstructing it here anyway to push the parallel with Khalkha to the limit.

3. Last night I saw a commercial for Srixon [ʹsɹɪksan].  I was surprised by initial [sɹ] in an English brand name. Tonight I learned that Sri- is from the acronym SRI for Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. It's Japanese/English and has nothing to do with Sanskrit śrī.

4. The Wikipedia article on Sanskrit śrī lists versions in many languages. One is Chế, the "Vietnamese transcription of honorific name prefix used among the Cham ethnic minority." That makes me wonder

5. What is the origin of the name Cantinflas? Is the resemblance to Fortinbras coincidental?

6. How old is the Korean expression 파이팅 phaithing / 화이팅 hwaithing from English fighting? I'm guessing it postdates the Korean War.

7. The Cantonese expression 加油 'add oil' is a lot newer than I would have thought.

8. I didn't know about Finnish sisu until today.

9. Tonight I learned the kanji spellings 越歴 and 越歴機 for Japanese エレキ ereki 'elekiter' < Dutch elektriciteit (which 平賀源内 Hiraga Gennai Japanized as ゐれきせゑりていと <wirekiseweriteito>, presumably [irekiseːriteito] - why [i] and [eː] for Dutch [eː] and [i]?) WHITE OX 4.19


? uni ai ? sair par is nyair

'white ox year, four month ten nine day'

1. Yesterday I realized that the Late Old Chinese transcription 吐谷渾 *tʰɔʔ juok ɣuən now pronounced Tǔyùhún in Mandarin might have represented an original [tʰɔjɔʁɔn] in Tuyuhun.

The Wikipedia article on the Tuyuhun says,

When the Chinese pilgrim monk, Songyun [宋雲 Song Yun], visited the region in 518, he noted that the people had a written language, which was more than a hundred years before Thonmi Sambhota is said to have returned from India after developing a script for writing the Tibetan language.

And yesterday I finally got to see that written language. But I would like to see the original quotation. Although an endnote cites Yeshe De Project Staff (1986), I can't find any mention of the Tuyuhun in the Google Books preview for that book, not even under their Tibetan name འ་ཞ་ Ha-zha [ɣaʑa] (which doesn't sound Para-Mongolic).

2. Tonight KGMB reran Rap's Hawaii (1981) almost forty years after it originally aired here. It was neat to see Pidgin in closed captions, though some of the dialogue was 'corrected' into standard English, mistranscribed, or simply left out.

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