linguistics blog

2019 > 03

European-looking farmers or traders in a Chinese tomb from 2nd c. BCE, Hunan province. From Hunan Provincial Museum. Photo: Gerd Carling European-looking farmers or traders in a Chinese tomb from 2nd c. BCE, Hunan province. From Hunan Provincial Museum. Photo: Gerd Carling

I was asked by my friend and colleague Victor Mair (University of Pennsylvania) to come up with my 'safe list' of loans from and into Tocharian. This is a very interesting and challenging topic, which I will continue working upon in a couple of coming posts. First, I will start with the most tricky one: Tocharian loan contacts with Chinese.
Establishing Tocharian loans from and into Chinese are particularly complex for two reasons: first, the reconstruction of Chinese phonology at various stages in the Chinese prehistory, which is connected to many uncertainties and a large amount of debate, and second, the reconstruction of Tocharian phonology, which is particularly tricky and complex. The fundamental question is: How can we be certain that a specific word was borrowed at a certain stage from one reconstructed language to another? The prehistory of both languages can be stratified into various stages, Pre-Proto and Proto-Chinese, Old Chinese (Early and Late) Middle Chinese, and Pre-Proto- and Proto-Tocharian, Common Tocharian, Pre-A and Pre-B, and Tocharian A and B. Beyond that, we have the proto-languages Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Sino-Tibetan, which can be further stratified into stages on their way to Proto-Chinese and Proto-Tocharian. 
How can we know that a word, that obviously looks as if it was borrowed from Indo-European, is borrowed from Tocharian? The answer is that we have to show that specific Tocharian sound changes have taken place in the specific borrowed lexeme. These changes also have to be identified in the target language from the corresponding period. The process is very tricky, and the result is very few certain loans, more uncertain loans, and a huge number of uncertain loans.

Tocharian loans from Old Chinese (before 2nd ct BCE)
Toch. AB klu ‘rice’ was borrowed from Old Chinese: Mod. Ch. dào, Mid. Ch. *dawX, Old Chin. *C-luu-? ‘rice, rice-paddy’ (GSR 1078). In Middle Chinese, the initial cluster OChin. *gl- was simplified to d-. 
Toch. B rapaññe ‘of the last month of the year’ (LP 12 a2 rapaññe meṃne ikäṃ-wine ‘on the second day of the month rapaññe’), an adjective formed on a noun *rāp, from Old Chinese: Mod. Ch. là, Mid. Ch. *lap, Old Ch. *raap (GSR 637j) ‘winter sacrifice’. It is likely that an earlier meaning of the Chinese word is reflected in Tocharian.
Toch. A ri B rīye 'town' < Common Toch. *riye matches the Old Chinese reconstruction of Mod. Ch. lĭ, Mid. Ch. *liX, Old Ch. *r̯ǝ-? (GSR 978a) ‘walled city’. The word may also be a Tocharian loan in Old Chinese.
Further loans include  Toch. A truṅk Toch. B troṅk 'cave' 

Tocharian loans from Early Middle Chinese (possibly 3-4th ct ACE)
TA ṣoṣtäṅk ‘tax collector, banker’ (Skt. śreṣṭhin-) corresponds to Niya ṣoṭhaṃga ‘tax collector’, Bactr. σωταγγο < *šoštaṅgV. A possible source is Mod. Ch. shōucáng, Mid. Ch. *syuw+dzang, Old. Ch. *xiw-N-s-(h)raŋ (GSR 1103a+727g´) ‘receive, accept, gather’ + ‘conceal, store’.
TA ṣukṣ ‘(smaller) village’, TB kwaṣo* ‘village’. Parallel Mod. Ch. sù, Mid. Ch. *sjuwk, Old Ch. *suk (GSR 1029a) ‘lodge, mansion’. Itō & Takashima (1996:401) reconstruct Old Ch. *sjәkw-s with a final *-s (that has a function of localisation and production of nomina actionis etc.).
Toch. A āṅk* ‘seal, stamp’, Mod. Ch. yìn, Mid. Ch. *ʔjinH, Old Ch. *ʔin-s (GSR 1251f), *ʔi̯əɳ (Takashima) ‘seal, stamp’.

Further loans include
Toch. B cāk, tau  '(dry measures)', Toch. B cāne 'money'. Toch. B śakuse 'brandy', Toch. B ṣaṅk '(measure of volume)', TA yāmutsi TB yāmuttsi 'waterfowl' < 'parrot', Toch. B ṣitsok 'millet alcohol', Toch. B ṣipāṅkiñc 'abacus', Toch. A Toch B cok 'lamp', Toch. A lyäk Toch. B lyak 'thief', Toch. A < Toch. B tseṃ 'blue, Toch. A nkiñc Toch. B ñkante 'silver'.

These words give important indications of the impact of the Chinese culture on Tocharian. The track will be continued further on.

Sources/References
Carling, Gerd. Proto-Tocharian, Common Tocharian, and Tocharian – on the value of linguistic connections in a reconstructed language. In: Jones-Bley, Karlene, Huld, Martin E., Volpe, Angela Vella,  Dexter, Miriam Robbins Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference. Journal of Indo-European Studies. Monograph Series (Institute for the Study of Man) 50, 47-70.
Kim, Ronald. (1999). Observations on the absolute and relative chronology of Tocharian loanwords and sound changes. Tocharian and Indo-European studies, 8, p. 111–138.
Lubotsky, Alexander, & Starostin, Sergei. (2003). Turkic and Chinese loan words in Tocharian.
Židek, Jan. (2017). Tocharian Loanwords in Chinese [Dissertation]. Praha: Univerzita Karlova.

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What is the relation between universal patterns, frequency of words and forms, and language evolution and change? This is a question that is very little researched. What is the relation between universal patterns, frequency of words and forms, and language evolution and change? This is a question that is very little researched.
I have decided to move the updating of this blog to even weekends instead of Thursdays. Thursday is very often an extremely busy day, with no time left to update or complete blogposts for publication.

In this blogpost I will continue the previous topic of principles of language change. In historical linguistics, the pricinple of the particular status of the most frequent words and grammatical forms of language is well known. The most frequent lexemes and grammatical categories are more resistant to change. Lexemes, such as kinship words, body parts, numerals, fire, water, liver, and so forth, typically preserve more archaic paradigms, that may resist change for millenia. The most frequent adverbials and particles even resist phonological erosion and change. The most frequent verbs, such as 'to be' or 'to become', are typically irregular, and archaic inflection patterns and archaic categories, such as tenses, modalities, and aspectual categories, survive in these verbal stems. On the other hand, less frequent words, such as various verbs, nouns, and adjectives, are much more frequently impacted by analogy and other types of changes that harmonize and simplify language structures, making them more easy to memorize.

However, few studies investigate this from an evolutionary perspective, using phylogenetic methods. As shown by Pagel et al (2007) there is a correlation between lexical substitution and frequency in basic vocabulary. The most frequent words have generally lower substitution rates.

Frequency is very important in explaining cross-linguistic universal patterns, among others in morphological marking hierarchies in languages. More frequent categories, such as singular (in relation to plural), agent (in relation to object), present (in relation to past), are unmarked in relation to the categories, which are marked. This theory, known as the markedness theory (which has a lot of exceptions in languages) can to a large degree be explained by frequency (Greenberg 1966, Croft 1993, 2003).

In a current study I wanted to investigate the correlation between frequency and change rates of grammar, focusing on the Indo-European family. I compiled a sample of grammatical categories of word order, nominal morphology, verbal morphology and tense and organised the properties into hierarchical pairs according to the properties of present < past, pronoun < noun, agent < object, and masculine/feminine < neuter, which are well-known, universal, hierarchial relations, observed from a large number of languages. By means of an evolutionary model (performed by Chundra Cathcart), where transititions rates between property states over a tree were were reconstructed, we extracted the average number of transitions (per 1000 years) between each grammatical property in our data. 
When the results were split up into pairs of marking hierarchy, as mentioned above, it turned out that the rates of change in the lower categories (i.e., the less frequent ones from a universal perspective), was higher. The rates of the higher categories (i.e., more frequent ones from a universal perspectives), was lower. The difference was statistically significant (p=>0.005). Even if this study is based on one family (Indo-European), 149 languages and about 100 properties only, it seems likely that frequency impacts language change also in the grammar. This explains why more frequent grammatical categories preserve more archaic patterns over time.

Text has been updated 2019-03-11
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