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Two notes on Proto-Ersuic

In: Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale
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Nathan W. HILL SOAS, University of London UK London
Trinity College Dublin Ireland Dublin

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Abstract

This paper looks at the history of Tosu using 'forward reconstruction'. It concludes that Proto-Ersuic changed *-im to *-am already before its breakup as a unity, but the ‘brightening’ of *-a- to -i- took place independently in Tosu and Lizu-Ersu. In Tosu this brightening did not target labial (or velar) initial words lacking an inherited medial *-j-. A number of changes in the history of Tosu probably preceded brightening, namely *-um, *-ak > -o and *-u, *-it, *-at, *-ra > -e. In contrast, the change *-e- > -i- in Tosu, of unclear conditioning, appears to be quite late. A dissimilation *CeCe > CeCa is potentially also a recent change.

1 Preliminary remarks

The Ersuic subbranch of Burmo-Qiangic consists of three languages, Ersu, Lizu, and Tosu.1 Tosu is recorded among the 華夷譯語 Huáyí yìyǔ vocabularies from the Qianlong (1735–1796) period (Chirkova 2014; Nishida 1973). Ersu was first recorded by Baber (1882). Sun Hongkai appears to have first worked on Lizu, with partial publication of his data in Nishida and Sun 1990. Yu (2012) surveys the work on the family and provides a preliminary reconstruction, based predominantly on Ersu and Lizu.

Since Yu’s initial study, more data on these three languages have become available. A deposit at the Endangered Languages Archive (MPI655457) contains material from all three languages. Zhang (2013) devoted a PhD dissertation to Ersu. Katia Chirkova published new data on Tosu (2014), including contributing to a grammar (Han et al. 2019), and also published studies on the phonology of all three languages (Lizu: Chirkova and Chen 2013, Ersu: Chirkova et al. 2015, Tosu: Chirkova 2015). In terms of reconstruction, Chirkova and Handel propose a series of voiceless nasals (2013), explore the role of inherited high vowels and glides in conditioning spirantization (2013), and compare the Tosu tone categories to those in Bradley’s (1979) Proto-Loloish reconstructions (2016).2 Yu (2019) offers a variety of modifications to his previous work on the basis of the newly available Tosu data, incorporating some of the proposals of Chirkova and Handel. Most recently, Chirkova and Handel (2019) argue that the change *-a > -i seen in these three languages (conventionally called ‘brightening’), occurred independently in their histories; I confirm this finding below.

My brief remarks here do not systematically revise the reconstructed system of Yu (2012), not least because the author himself is partway through such an enterprise (Yu 2019). Instead, I make use of only that data that Yu himself employs in his two studies and I confine myself primarily to the historical phonology of Tosu. I begin with a look at ‘son’ and ‘daughter’ and turn from there to the related questions of Yu’s reconstruction of *e and *i. I rely on ‘inverted reconstruction’ (Hockett 1958, 512–516, Anttila 1972, 346) also called ‘reconstructing forward in time’ (Watkins 1962, 97) and ‘reconstruction from the top down’ (Blust 1972, 1), a method known to Trans-Himalayan linguistics (Jacques and Michaud 2011), but still poorly known, as evinced by an anonymous referee’s admonition that reconstruction “proceeds from the bottom up”. In keeping with this method, I intentionally compare Tosu forms to cognates in distantly related languages.

2 The reconstruction of ‘son’ and ‘daughter’

Yu (2012, 96) reconstructs Proto-Ersuic *zi² ‘son’ (giving Kala Lizu-C ‘zɿ, Mianning Lizu ‘zɨ, and Kala Lizu-H zɿ⁵³) and for ‘daughter’ he reconstructs variation between *zijo² (giving Mianning Lizu ‘zɨjo and Kala Lizu-H zu̵³³ju⁵³ ~zu̵⁵³ju⁵³) and *zjeji (giving Zeluo Ersu zi³³ji⁵⁵ and Kala Lizu-C ‘ʑeje).3 This is an unsatisfactory solution; one should avoid positing competing similar forms in a proto-language with the same meaning (Fellner and Hill 2019). I regard *zijo² as innovative, analogically renewed on the basis of ‘son’ and the diminutive suffix seen in *ŋuijo ‘calf’ and *gojo¹ ‘mouse’, among other forms; only *zjeji requires explanation.

Yu (2019) revisits these reconstructions in light of the newly available Tosu data. The relevant Tosu forms are ʑi³² ‘son’ and za⁴⁴-mi⁴⁴ ‘daughter’. Although Tosu has the three distinct correspondences -a-, -i-, and -e- for his 2012 *-i- (see Table 1), Yu refrains from adding further reconstructions to account for these divergent correspondences. He etymologizes Tosu ʑi³² to Proto-Ersuic *zi². In contrast, on the basis of new Tosu data Yu “rather formulaically” updates his 2012 reconstructions of the rimes *je and *jẽ to *-an and *-am (see Table 2).4 Yu is not explicit in 2019 about how he proposes to handle the variation in the word for daughter that he posited in 2012. Presumably his new reconstruction *zan² is only meant to replace the first syllable of *zjeji, so we should reconstruct *zanji² as the form ancestral to Zeluo Ersu zi³³ji⁵⁵ and Kala Lizu-C ‘ʑeje. By implication, he regads this *-ji as unrelated to the -mi⁴⁴ of Tosu.

Table 1

Tosu correspondences to Yu’s 2012 Proto-Ersuic *-i-

Yu (2012)

Tosu

Gloss

Other Trans-Himalayan

*pimæ¹

pa⁴⁴ma⁴⁴

frog

Lashi ˀpɑH, Japhug qaɕpa, Tib. སྦལ་པ་ sbal-pa

*bi¹

ba³²

thin

Bur. ပါး pāḥ, Lashi ˀpɔ:H, Japhug mba

*dzi²

dʑi³²

eat

Bur. စား cāḥ, Lashi tsɔ:, Tib. ཟ་ za

*tsʰi²

tɕʰi⁴⁴

salt

Bur. ဆား chāḥ, Lashi tshoH, Tib. ཚྭ་ tshwa

*zi²

ʑi³²

son

Bur. သား sāḥ, Atsi tsɔ¹¹, Thangmi ca

*zikæ

ʑi⁴⁴ka⁵³

foolish/stupid

*ni¹

ɲi⁴⁴

gold

Bur. နီ ‘red’

*megi²

me³²-dʑi³²

thunder

*bi²

bi³²

bee

Bur. ပျား pyāḥ

*mi

mi³²

monkey

WBur. မျောက် myok < *myuk, Lashi mjukV

*mjidzi²

mi³²dzɿ⁴⁴

rabbit

*ji¹

ji⁴⁴

go

*pwEki/pwEtɕi

pe³²tɕi⁵³

send/dispatch

*bedi¹

be³²dʑi⁴⁴

insect

*hĩ²

mi⁴⁴

bamboo

Tib. སྨྱིག་ smyig

*tɕi (2019)

tɕi³²

put, place

*kri¹

ke³⁴

star

Bur. ကြယ် kray, Lashi ˀkji

*tʰegri¹

ge⁴⁴

hear

Bur. ကြား krāḥ

*rdi¹

ɕe³⁴

eight

OBur. ရျှတ် rhyat (Nishi 1999, 47)

*(ri)ni¹

wa⁴⁴-ɲe³²

near

Bur. နီး nīḥ, Tib. ཉེ་ ñe

*ʃi²

ʃe⁴⁴

meat

Bur. သား sāḥ, Lashi śɔH, Tib. ཤ་ śa

*si¹

se³²

hit/kill

Bur. သတ် sat, Lashi ˀsa:tH

*ɬjeki¹

tɕe⁴⁴le⁴⁴

ladder

*mi¹

mje⁴⁴

name

OTib. མྱིང་ myiṅ, Bur. မည် maññ < *miṅ

*nemi¹

mie²¹ko⁴⁴

swallow

WBur. မျို myui

*mpʰi²

pʰje³⁴ ‘vomit’

spit

Japhug Rgy. mɯjphɤt

To account for the difference between ʑi³² ‘son’ (< *zi²) and za⁴⁴-mi⁴⁴ (< *zan²) ‘daughter’, Yu invokes the so-called ‘allofams’ *za and *za-n ‘child’ in James Matisoff’s reconstruction of Proto-Tibeto-Burman (2019, 28 n. 24). Characteristic of accounts that take recourse to allofamic variation, this explanation merely borrows from Peter to pay Paul. The similarity between Tosu za⁴⁴-mi⁴⁴ and cognates such as Burmese သမီး sa-mīḥ and Thangmi camăi speak against the reconstruction of the Tosu form as *zan². Yu’s current reconstruction suggests that Burmo-Qiangic *tsa-mi (vel. sim.) became Proto-Ersuic *zan-mi², which then partially reverted, giving the attested za⁴⁴-mi⁴⁴. A continuity between Burmo-Qiangic and Tosu on the relevant details is a more parsimonious explanation.

If we instead permit ourselves to rewrite Yu’s (2019) *-an and *am (his 2012 *-je and *jẽ) mechanically as *-am and *-Am, the solution to ‘daughter’ falls into place.5 Before ‘brightening’ we had *za² ‘son’ and *zami² ‘daughter’. The conditioning environment for brightening, whatever it may have been, pertained only to the former. I propose that in Ersu and Lizu the *am in *zami² developed exactly as it did in monosyllabic words. Compare Zeluo Ersu zi³³ji⁵⁵, Kala Lizu-C ‘ʑeje, and za⁴⁴-mi⁴⁴ ‘daughter’ with Zeluo Ersu tsi⁵⁵, Kala Lizu-H tɕe³¹, Tosu tsa³⁴ ‘hair’ (< *tsam¹). With an analogous explanation, Tosu na⁴⁴ma⁴⁴ ‘sister’ derives from *hnAmæ¹, with no need for the second -m- posited by Yu; this revised reconstruction has the merit of bringing the word closer to Tibetan ཉ་མ་ ña-ma ‘young lady’.6

In sum, Proto-Ersuic ‘daughter’ should be reconstructed *zami² and Proto-Ersuic ‘sister’ should be reconstructed *hnAmæ¹. We may also note in passing that both ‘cloud’ and ‘house’ (respectively Tosu tɕa³⁴ < *tɕam¹, Bur. တိမ် tim, and Tosu ja⁴⁴ < *jAm¹, Bur. အိမ် im, my reconstructions) point to a change *-im > *-am, unambiguously shared by the three Ersuic languages and therefore an isogloss for this family (see Table 2).

Table 2

Tosu correspondences to Yu’s 2012 Proto-Ersuic *-je- and *-jẽ-

Yu (2012)

Yu (2019)

Tosu

Gloss

Other Trans-Himalayan

*ʃje¹

*ʃan¹

ʃa⁴⁴

iron

Bur. သံ saṃ

*zjeji/zijo²

*zan²

za⁴⁴-mi⁴⁴

daughter

Bur. သမီး sa-mīḥ, Thangmi camăi

*mbje¹

*mban¹

(m)ba⁴⁴

mountain

Bola pam⁵⁵

*tɕe¹

*tɕan¹

tɕa³⁴

cloud

Bur. တိမ် tim

*jẽ¹

ja⁴⁴

house

Bur. အိမ် im

*tɕʰe¹

*tɕʰan¹

tʃʰa³⁴

drink

*tsjẽ¹

*tsam¹

tsa³⁴

hair

Bur. ဆံ chaṃ-, Lashi tsham

*dzjẽ¹

*dzam¹

dza⁴⁴

bridge

Japhug Rgy. ndzom, Tib. ཟམ་ zam

*zjẽ¹

*zam¹

za³²

use

*hjẽmæ¹

*hnammæ¹

na⁴⁴ma⁴⁴

sister

Tib. ཉ་མ་ ña-ma ‘young lady’

*bjẽbjẽ¹

*bjam

dʑa⁴⁴-dʑa⁴⁴

fly (v.)

Bur. ပျံ pyaṃ

*tsjẽpʰrje¹

*pʰran (?)

pʰe³⁴

braid / plait

*bædʐje¹

*bædʐan¹ (?)

ba⁴⁴dʒe⁴⁴ ‘copper coin’

money

*ɬjeki¹

tɕe⁴⁴le⁴⁴

ladder

*kʰje¹

kʰo⁵³

give

Japhug Rgy. khɤm

*sjẽ²

so⁴⁴

three

Bur. သုံး suṃḥ, Tib. གསུམ་ gsum

3 Reconstructing *i and *e

In our discussion of ‘daughter’ we saw that Yu’s (2012) reconstruction of Proto-Ersuic *-i- corresponds to -a-, -i-, and -e- in Tosu. Yu notes that “[p]eeking at the PTB roots, we notice that many in the -i set have open syllables, whereas a number in the -e set have closed syllables” and considers reconstructing distinct origins in Proto-Ersuic, but decides to “leave this as an exercise for the future” (2019, 32). Instead, he derives the Tosu from the Proto-Ersuic forms, for example proposing the change *ri > e- to account for ‘star’ and ‘hear’. The conditioning environments necessary to explain these data are more complex that the open versus closed syllable that Yu toys with. On the one hand, ‘bamboo’ with inherited *-i- is a closed syllable (if it is not a Wanderwort); on the other hand ‘meat’ and ‘hear’ inherited open syllables but have *e.

My suggestion, agreeing with Chirkova and Handel (2019), is that brightening had not yet occurred at the Proto-Ersuic level and that when it did occur it affected Tosu differently than Ersu and Lizu. The words ‘frog’ and ‘thin’, which Yu refers to as “somewhat aberrant” (2019, 32), have impeccable Trans-Himalayan etymologies (see Table 1). Yu’s current reconstruction suggests that Burmo-Qiangic *a became Proto-Ersuic *i, which then reverted to Tosu *a, with the most recent change lexically conditioned. To propose that Tosu maintains the inherited vowel is a much simpler explanation. But, if Tosu generally changes inherited *a to -i, then either the two words ‘frog’ and ‘thin’ inherited a vowel, call it *a₂, that was distinct from the vowel inherited in ‘eat’, ‘salt’, etc. (in which case Japhug, Burmese, etc. merged *a₁ and *a₂) or the differing results are due to different phonetic environments. To suggest that in the proto-language ‘frog’ and ‘thin’ had distinct vowels from ‘eat’, ‘salt’, etc. is less parsimonious than to propose that Tosu brightening did not target labial initial words. Those labial initial words with the vowel -i- in Tosu that might appear to be exceptions (‘bee’ and ‘monkey’) inherited medial *-j- (Bur. ပျား pyāḥ and မျောက် myok), which is what triggered the brightening.

The sound changes affecting Tosu appear to include *at > e for ‘kill’ and ‘eight’, and *ra > e for ‘star’ and ‘hear’ (as suggested after a manner by Yu). The -i- in ‘bamboo’ and the -e- in ‘near’ and ‘name’ are likely inherited. As for brightening, it can now be stated more precisely as *-a- > -i- after coronals or medial *-j-. The most problematic forms are ‘gold’ and ‘meat’. In the case of ‘gold’, it is quite possible that the Burmese comparandum is simply incorrect. The most obvious analysis of ‘meat’ is that the inherited rime should be treated as *-ja- rather than *-a-, but even so, there is a problem because we then expect -i- as we see in ‘bee’. The treatment of *-ju- is problematic, with -i- as expected in ‘monkey’ but -e- for ‘swallow’; I have no solution to offer.

Having looked at the Tosu correspondences to Yu’s (2012) Proto-Ersuic *-i-, we turn to the Tosu correspondences to his 2012 Proto-Ersuic *-e- (Table 3). Yu sees the -o- vowel of the Tosu forms for ‘hand’, ‘deep’, ‘breath’, and ‘three’ as unexplained; the fact that Burmese has the rime -ak for three out of four of these words points to a change *-ak > -o, as Chirkova and Handel (2016, p. 30) propose.7 The change *-um > -o is warranted on the basis of ‘three’ and ‘give’. Some examples of Tosu -i- are probably inherited (‘two’, both syllable of ‘eye’). The changes *-at > -e, and *-u > -e, already proposed above, account for ‘root’, ‘who’, ‘nine’, ‘sky’, ‘insect’ and the first syllable of ‘phlegm/spittle’. Both ‘goat’ and ‘seven’ point to a change *-it > -e. If *-i- is indeed inherited, it is surprising to see -e- in ‘wind’. The etymon ‘fire’ appears with -i- as an independent lexical item, but with the vowel -e- in compound with ‘smoke’. However, when we note that the first syllable for ‘this year’ optionally appears with either -e- or -i-, it seems likely that we are not seeing here a phenomenon of any great age. The -a- seen in ‘spittle’ and ‘smoke’ suggests a change *-u- > -a- after velars, but if so, ‘nine’ somehow escaped this change. Perhaps ‘spittle’ and ‘smoke’ instead point to a dissimulation of *CeCe to *CeCa.8

If Proto-Ersuic *-a > -i occurred independently in Tosu and Lizu-Ersu, two questions arise, namely (1) how to now reconstruct in Proto-Ersuic those words that Yu (2012) reconstructs with *-i and (2) how to now reconstruct in Proto-Ersuic those words that he reconstructed with *-a. Since all proposals made here relate to Tosu, these questions we can safely kick into the long grass if we understand Yu’s (2012) reconstructions as pertaining to Proto-Ersu-Lizu rather than proto-Ersuic.

4 Conclusions

Proto-Ersuic changed *-im to *-am already before its breakup as a unity, but the ‘brightening’ of *-a- to -i- took place independently in Tosu and Lizu-Ersu. In Tosu this brightening did not target labial (or velar) initial words lacking an inherited medial *-j-. A number of changes in the history of Tosu probably preceded brightening, namely *-um, *-ak > -o and *-u, *-it, *-at, *-ra > -e. In contrast, the change *-e- > -i- in Tosu, of unclear conditioning, appears to be quite late. A dissimilation *CeCe > CeCa is potentially also a recent change.

Table 3

Tosu correspondences to Yu’s 2012 Proto-Ersuic *-e-

Yu (2012)

Tosu

Gloss

Other Trans-Himalayan

*le-

lo³²-ko⁵³

hand

Bur. လက် lak, Tib. ལག་ lag

*nene

no³⁴

deep

Bur. နက် nak

*sẽ¹

so³²

breath

Bur. သက် sak

*sjẽ²

so⁴⁴

three

Bur. သုံး suṃḥ

*kʰje¹

kʰo⁵³

give

Japhug Rgy. khɤm

*mja¹(se)

mi⁵³sɿ³²

eye

Bur. မျက်စိ myak-ci, OTib. དམིག་ dmyig

*tsʰe²

tsʰɿ⁴⁴

wash

OBur. ဆိယ်း chiyḥ, Atsi čhi¹¹

*tse²

tsɿ⁴⁴

hemp

*ndze¹

dzɿ³²

ride (horse)

Bur. စီး cīḥ, Atsi či¹¹

*tɕʰetɕʰe¹

tɕʰi⁴⁴

ten

Bur. ဆယ် chay

*tsʰehĩ¹

tsʰe³²-ɲe⁴⁴, tɕʰi³²-ɲe⁴⁴

this year

*te¹

tɕi⁴⁴

one

Tib. གཅིག་ gčig, Bur. တစ် tac < *dik

*ne¹

ɲi⁵³

two

Tib. གཉིས་ gñis

*tsʰekʰɑ¹

tsʰe³²-kʰa⁵³

phlegm/spittle

Tib. མཆུ་ mchu ‘lip’, Tib. ཁུ་ khu ‘juice’

*se²

se⁴⁴-ɡu⁴⁴

who

Bur. သူ ‘he’, Tib. སུ་ su ‘who?’

*mende

me³²-dje⁴⁴

clear (weather)

*tʰe¹

tʰe⁵⁵

s/he

*meli/mele²

me³²-le⁴⁴

wind

WBur. လေ le < *liy

*mbre¹

me³²-tsu⁵³

root

OBur. mryat

*ɣeniu/ɣoniu

ve⁵³-ɲi³²

intestine

*ŋge²

ŋɡe³²

nine

WBur. ကိုး kuiḥ, Tib. དགུ་ dgu

*gre¹ (2019)

ge³²

grind

*bebe¹

be⁴⁴be⁴⁴

crawl, climb

*pʰekʰwæ¹

pʰe⁴⁴kʰa⁵⁴

expensive (= price+big)

*me/mo

me³²

sky

OBur. မိုဝ်း muiwh

*bedi¹

be³²dʑi⁴⁴

insect

OBur. ပိုဝ်း puiwḥ, Tib. འབུ་ ḫbu

*me¹

mi³²

fire

Bur. မီး mīḥ, OTib. མྱེ་ mye

*sẽpu¹

ɕe⁵³-pu³²

tree

Bur. သစ် sac < *sik, Tib. ཤིང་ śiṅ

*snẽ² (2019)

ɲe³⁴

seven

Chi. 七 tshit

*tsʰẽ¹

tɕʰe⁵³

goat

Bur. ဆိတ် chit

*kʰre (2019)

kʰu⁵³

year

*nebre¹

ba⁵³

tired

*meŋkʰe²

me³²-kʰa⁴⁴

smoke

OBur. မီးခိုဝ်း mīḥ-khuiwḥ

*jẽ¹

ja⁴⁴

house

Bur. အိမ် im

1

This Lizu language is not to be confused with the similarly named Lisu of the Loloish subbranch.

2

A fraught undertaking given the failings of Bradley’s reconstructions (see Hill 2019, 54).

3

I use ‘Kala Lizu-C’ for the doculect reflected in Chirkova (2008) and ‘Kala Lizu-H’ for the doculect reflected in Huáng (1992). Note that the raised 1 and 2 in Proto-Ersuic forms index tonal categories and do not indicates phonetic pitch values.

4

The 2012 distinction between *-je- and *-jẽ-, seems to have something to do with distinct outcomes in Mianning Lizu, but I am unable to locate a clear statement of its motivation in Yu’s works.

5

A draft version of this article followed Yu’s (2002) notational convention by writing *-am and *-ãm, but a referee mistook this as a positive proposal, so I now go with this more explicitly arbitrary solution. The difference between *-am and *-Am is in any event here irrelevant (see note 4).

6

Also compare Japhug Rgy. tɤ-snom ‘sister of a man’.

7

The 18th century data has ‘hand’ loɡ koɡ, 锣锅, *´lo. –ko, ‘deep’ na, 那, *‘na, ‘breath’ soɡ, 率, *‘shai, and ‘three’ ɡsum, 梭, *–so (see Chirkova 2014)

8

I thank Mikhail Zhivlov for pointing out a serious error in an earlier version of this discussion.

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