This paper attempts to reconstruct the history of Chinese words for “knee” by using the methodology of linguistic geography. Word forms are classified into five major types according to morphological features, and then their geographical distributions are observed. Observation suggests that dialect contact produces various types of “contaminated” forms (linguistic blends) in Chinese dialects.
Three types of blend formations are discernible: prefixed, infixed and suffixed types. As a rule, the dialects accept part of the new form, which is transmitted from the adjacent areas, as conforming to the morphology of the original form. The suffixed-type blending is currently distributed along the Changjiang basin. The infixed-type is typical of the Wu dialects, which is assumed to have accepted the northern form [kʰɑ] as the second component of a trisyllabic structure. The prefixed-type is currently observable in some northern dialects, and it is assumed that the same process might have once occurred in the northern area, where the unaspirated prefix [kɑk] changed to the aspirated one, i.e., [kʰɑk], due to contamination by the form [kʰɑ]. The etymology and historical formation of the newest type, “p-l-k” > “k-l-p”, is also discussed. Finally, historical changes of the “knee” forms are reconstructed.
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