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A/B Type Segregation in Mixed-Onset Phonetic Series is the Key to Early Chinese Onset Complexity

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There is still little agreement regarding the most important evidence for Old Chinese (OC) onset complexity – Middle Chinese (MC) mixed-onset phonetic series. This study explores a remarkable feature of this evidence first noticed by Sagart (1999).
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  Author draft; for citation see published version in Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale  Vol. 47 No. 2 (2018), pp. 165 – 197, online at http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/19606028  1   A/B Type Segregation in Mixed-Onset Phonetic Series is the Key to Early Chinese Onset Complexity   Jonathan Smith Christopher Newport University There is still little agreement regarding the most important evidence for Old Chinese (OC) onset complexity  –   Middle Chinese (MC) mixed-onset phonetic series. This study explores a remarkable feature of this evidence first noticed by Sagart (1999). Within series such as those involving mixture of MC labials and velars with  l- ,  x-  with  m- , velars with  hj- (/y/), and   d-  with  y-  (/j/), MC onset and so-called A/B (syllable) Type fail to vary independently of one another. An unrecognized but inescapable implication of this association is that these MC onset results and A/B Type require a unified explanation in early Chinese. In light of the phonetic series material, I demonstrate that pre-OC Type involved two contrasting onset configurations. A number of phonetic specifications are conceivable; here, based on ideas of Ferlus (1998), I show how the data can be explained in terms of an early contrast between minor syllable forms **CǝR  - (“Type A”) and tautosyllabic clusters **CR  - (“Type B”) where R is a sonorant. 1 Introduction Complex onsets of one kind or another have been part of mainstream views of the structure of Old Chinese (OC) for nearly a century (Maspero 1920; Karlgren 1923). However, few consensus conclusions have been reached. The hypothesis that some OC words were sesquisyllabic, i.e., composed of a minor (phonologically reduced) syllable followed by a tonic syllable, represents a relatively recent shift in approach. This idea was first explicitly pursued by Handel (1998), with his suggestion anticipated by Schuessler’s (1987) *kǝr  - , etc., as well as Bodman’s (1980) and Baxter’s (1992) notational *g -r-. Among Sagart’s (1999) novel ideas was that OC minor syllables, understood by that author as prefixes, exhibited free allomorphic variation, with one form (*Cǝ -) loosely attached and another (*C-) tightly attached to the tonic syllable. Most recently, Baxter & Sagart (2014: 46  –  47, 84  –  93) turn to a phonological contrast along the same lines in an attempt to account for the onset categories of N orman’s (1973) Proto - Mǐn (PM). OC “loosely attached preinitials” are suggested to yield Norman’s PM “softened” stop onsets (e.g., OC *Cǝ.b - > PM softened *-b- and Middle Chinese  b- ), while “tightly attached preinitials” give PM voiced aspirates (*C.b- > PM *bh- and MC  b- ). These newest suggestions offer an opportunity to pause and assess our direction. One concern is that Baxter & Sagart’s (2014) *C ǝ .CV[C] vs. *C.CV[C]  –   a proposed contrast between minor syllables consisting of C- + minimal vowel and those composed of just a syllabic consonant  –   looks typologically dubious. The problem is especially pronounced where *-r- is involved, as the authors require a three-way contrast among *Cǝ.r  -, *C.r-, and (tautosyllabic cluster) *Cr-. The idea of sesquisyllabicity in OC might  benefit from reference to potential areal parallels, including to what has been termed contrastive  Author draft; for citation see published version in Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale  Vol. 47 No. 2 (2018), pp. 165 – 197, online at http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/19606028  2   sesquisyllabicity  (Pittayaporn 2015). 1  Pittayaporn has in mind the capacity for partially sesquisyllabic languages that allow in addition a limited number of onset clusters (such as Mon-Khmer Chrau, Mon, Jeh, Cua, Katu, and others) to feature a two- way contrast between, as Thomas (1992: 207) puts it, “the  presence (CǝC -) and the absence (CC- ) of a vocalic transition in certain environments.” Thomas (1992: 207  –  208) points by way of example to sesquisyllable  pǝlay   ‘unfortunately’ vs. cluster  -onset monosyllable  play   ‘fruit’ in Chrau (where the second element of clusters may be /r/, /l/,  /w/ or /j/), bala   ‘jest’ vs. bla   ‘answer’ in Cua (permitting /r/ or /l/), tǝrah   ‘squawk’ vs. trah   ‘chop out’ in Jeh (clusters /pr/, /tr/, /kl/, /kh/, and /th/), etc. 2  In this light, it seems that an OC featuring a range of disyllabic or sesquisyllabic word shapes, but with true clusters limited to *Cr-, *Cl-, and the like, would remain typologically unremarkable. In addition, it is unclear that the internal problems motivating Baxter & Sagart’s (2014) new complex forms are substantive ones. For instance, no other author appears to consider mixed lower register aspiration in Mǐn to preserve an OC contrast. 3  Indeed, in reexamining the internal evidence, it will be essential to take seriously the scholarly voices skeptical of claims for consonant clusters or minor syllables of any kind in the OC of the mid-to- late Zhōu and early imperial periods (e.g., Sūn Yùw én 2015; Lǐ Jiànqiáng 2015). One of these authors’ key observations is that MC  P/K-  ~  l-  interchange, to take the central example, finds only scarce reflection in philological phenomena like orthographical alternation (  yìwén   異文 ) and phonetic loaning ( tōngjiǎ    通假 ). However, because such interchange is   systematically reflected in (the earliest layers of) the phonetic series, Sūn, Lǐ and others allow that complex onset configurations may have existed at a remote period which Sūn (2015) terms  shǐ xié shēng shí    始諧聲時   “the time of the earliest sound -  based character coinages”. Reconciliation of more exploratory with more conservative views of this aspect of OC word form will require both more cautious periodization and renewed attention to the phonetic series, above all to their formative constituents. Guided by these observations, the present study offers some new reflections on the probable nature of Sinitic onset complexity at the earliest recoverable stages. I begin from a brief discussion of past approaches to complex onsets via the mixed-onset phonetic series, with primary reference to MC  K-  ~  l-  mixture (§2). The core of the study turns to consider so-called A/B (syllable) Type as it patterns across  particular kinds of mixed-onset series (§3). Remarkably, Sagart (1999) has shown that within series combining MC  P/K-  and   l- , MC onset and A/B Type look like statistically confounded variables. 1 Both Thomas (1992) and Pittayaporn (2015) are useful general examinations of sesquisyllabicity with focus on Mon  –  Khmer. I am grateful to Alexis Michaud and to Michel Ferlus for direction on this topic in personal communications of March and April of 2017. While we lack a focused typological treatment, contrastive sesquisyllabicity is also a concern in Tibeto-Burman: Jacques (2004: 275) reconstructs contrasts like *p ə -r- vs. *pr- for Proto-Rgyalrongic, for instance. For an introduction to the study of onset complexity in Old Chinese, see Gong & Lai (2017). 2 Parallel contrasts are of course common in languages (like English) with onset clusters and large numbers of disyllabic words, but are especially noteworthy given the compression of the word canon characteristic of the Mainland Southeast Asia linguistic area. 3 See the arguments of Handel (2010) and of Sagart (1999: 24  –  25), concerns which to my knowledge are not addressed in Baxter & Sagart (2014).  Author draft; for citation see published version in Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale  Vol. 47 No. 2 (2018), pp. 165 – 197, online at http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/19606028  3   Unrecognized by Sagart was that this linkage recurs across a variety of phonetic series in which MC obstruents mix with resonants  –   including  x-  ~  m- ,  K-  ~  hj-  (/y/), and   d-  ~  y-  (/j/)  –   and has unavoidable implications for the reconstruction of both early onset complexity and A/B Type: the two require a unified explanation by reference to onset configuration. I conclude with a phonetic interpretation of these facts in terms of pre-OC contrasts between a subset of the language’s minor syllable configurations and the small number of typical-looking onset clusters directly suggested by MC onset results; that is, in terms of contrastive sesquisyllabicity (§4). While other, closely related approaches are conceivable, this  particular solution deserves first attention as it can easily be brought into alignment with Ferlus’s (1998; 2009) suggestion, from different evidence, of a broad distinction between disyllabic (Type A) and monosyllabic (Type B) words in early Sinitic. 2 Past approaches to OC onset complexity via the phonetic series Though notoriously difficult to interpret, the most important evidence for early onset complexity in Chinese remains mixed-onset phonetic series. The numerous series containing both velar- and lateral-onset MC words are especially significant and usefully illustrative. For certain of these words, Maspero (1920) and Karlgren (1923) provided Old Chinese cluster onsets like *kl-. The basic idea, at least, was simple:  xiéshēng   linkages suggest that the starkly different phonological forms of member words in MC and later languages belie an srcinal close resemblance. The reconstruction of complex onsets in such cases was advanced by considering OC *l to be the source both of MC  l-  (from onset *l-) and of the characteristic onsets and vocalisms of medieval Div. II words (from medial *-l-: Yakhontov 1960; Pulleyblank 1962). Following partial (Li Fang-Kuei 1971) and then complete adjustment of this liquid segment to *r-/*-r- (Schuessler 1974), most OC reconstructions of MC  K-  ~  l-  phonetic series words came to use clusters *Kr- and “preinitial” configurations *K  -r-, at times alongside *Kl-. Table 1 presents some specific suggestions in this post-Li (1971) tradition, focusing on the OC-era contrast between what were to become MC  k-  onset Div. II words and MC  l-  onset Div. I/IV words. Most authors see the former as from the OC cluster *kr-, while co-series lateral-onset words are considered to have featured and subsequently lost some “preinitial” velar element. For this second  purpose, Baxter (1992) (following Bodma n 1980) and Zhèngzhāng (2003) employ phonetically noncommittal *g-r- and *g·r- (> MC  l- , as opposed to *g/kr- > MC Div. II/Div. III chóngniǔ K  - ). Baxter & Sagart’s (2014) *kə .r- , like Handel’s (1998: 303) earlier *Cǝr  -, is a parallel suggestion which expli citly shows the “lost” OC element to have been an independent syllable (followed by srcinally intervocalic *-r-). Note also that Schuessler (1987:xii  –  xiii) took an opposite but not necessarily less reasonable position, guessing OC disyllables to have led to retention of the old onset, while *gr- clusters occasioned its loss. 4   4 In Table 1 and throughout, GSC = Schuessler’s (2009) Companion to Grammata Serica recensa. I generally adhere to Baxter’s (1992) ca tegory-transcriptional representation of MC, with exceptions noted. For my own OC forms, in general I follow Schuessler (2007; 2009), whose system is in turn based on Baxter (1992).  Author draft; for citation see published version in Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale  Vol. 47 No. 2 (2018), pp. 165 – 197, online at http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/19606028  4   TABLE 1  Old Chinese reconstructions of key members of three MC velar ~ lateral mixed-onset phonetic series Middle Chinese (see GSC 2-1, 36-5 & 23-7) Baxter (1992) Zhèngzhāng (2003) Schuessler (1987) Schuessler (2007) Baxter & Sagart (2014) (1) a. kæk    各   ‘go down to’  *krak *kraag *k  ə rak *krâk *kˤrak    b. lak    落   ‘fall down’  *g-rak *g·raa ɡ  *grak *râk *k  ə.rˤak   (2) a. kæm   監   ‘look into’  *kram *kraam *k  ə ram *krâm * kˤram   b. lamX    覽   ‘look into’  *g-ram ʔ  *g·raam ʔ  (*gram) *g-râm ʔ  *k  ə.rˤamʔ  (3) a. k  ɛ nX    柬  ~ 揀   ‘select’  *kren ʔ  *kreen ʔ  *k  ə rians *krên ʔ   *kˤranʔ   b. lenH    煉  ~ 練   ‘refine’  *g-rens *g·reens *grians *rêns *rˤen -s In the interest of focusing on the developmental core of these phonetic series, I show in Table 1 the three MC  k-  words associated with the series-defining graphic forms (  zhǔxiézì   主諧字   or “phonetic”). The relevant characters are 各   (at first showing “foot descending to place”), 監   (showing “person looking into basin”) and 柬   (showing “selecting branches”). For instance, in (1a), 各  of GSC 2-1 writes the word ‘go down to’ beginning in the Or  acle Bone Inscriptions (OBI) of the Shang period, with the glyph designed for this word. In each case, the MC  l-  word given is an apparent relative of the  k-  word  –    perhaps an etymological doublet, as Schuessler (2007: 306) explicitly suggests in the case of (2b)  –   written with a character belonging to the same phonetic series: in (1b) is 落 , writing ‘fall down (as leaves)’.  The various proposals for early complex onset configurations in both members of the Table 1 pairs do not seem unreasonable. In particular, the possibility that these and similar pairs may be old relatives (doublets?) is significant, as they might then constitute internal evidence for the lost “preinitial” elements so often proposed for the OC antecedents of MC  l-  items. In addition, Sagart (1999: 99) suggests that there is modern dialect evidence for (among others) early disyllabic ‘fall down’: Jìn 晉  (Píngyáo 平遙 ) kǝʔ  - lǝʔ    ‘to fall in small quantities’ and Mǐn (Xiàmén 廈門 ) ka-lau ʔ    ‘to fall, to drop’ (see also Baxter & Sagart 2014: 185). These colloquial forms might instead be products of more recent derivational morphological processes, but Sagart’s view that they support OC “preinitial” or minor syllable reconstructions of particular words, including ‘fall down’ of Table 1, should not be  ruled out. However, the question of which specific OC-era contrast or contrasts to reconstruct for pairs like these has remained, since Maspero and Karlgren, entirely unclear. For MC  l- , should we prefer Schuessler’s (1987) OC *gr-, or rather *g-r- or the like, or indeed plain *r- , as in two of Schuessler’s (2007) suggestions in Table 1? Might different solutions apply in different cases? When the choice is *g-r-, *k  ə .r-, or some equivalent, what historical phonological explanation are we to give for the disappearance of the “preinitial” material? Why is *g - so often preferred for this lost “preinitial”; i.e., is a claim being made about voicing with respect to the hypothesized elision? If so, what of MC  h-   (≈ [ɣ ]) in MC Div. II, where the standard OC solution is cluster *gr- (in contrast to notational *g-r-)? And so forth. This lack of a principled diachronic account of the divergent development of these pairs of words has led some to doubt that proposals for early complex onsets in MC  K-  ~  l-  phonetic series words are,  Author draft; for citation see published version in Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale  Vol. 47 No. 2 (2018), pp. 165 – 197, online at http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/journals/19606028  5   after all, much more descriptively powerful than simply projecting MC  K-  and   l-  back to OC *K- and *r-/*l-. A new point of entry into this longstanding problem, preferably from internal evidence, is desperately needed. In §3 below, I show that attention to A/B Type gives such an opportunity. 3 A/B Type in mixed-onset phonetic series There is a well-known systematic bifurcation between those Chinese syllables belonging to Divs. I, II and IV of philological Middle Chinese taken together and those belonging to Div. III (see, e.g., Schuessler 2009: 12  –  17), with these two opposing groups designated by Pulleyblank (1973) Type A  and Type B . Since Karlgren, a common approach to the MC-era A/B distinction has been to provide the medial -j-  in Type B syllables. The deeper issue is the phonetic nature of the distinction at the OC stage. Baxter (1992) and others projected -j-  of MC Type B to OC B syllables, the Karlgrenian approach, while newer studies have come instead to mark OC Type A for the generally sound reasons enumerated by  Norman (1994). For instance, Zhèngzhāng (1987, 2003) prefers long vowels *VV in OC A, while Schuessler (2007) employs the phonetically noncommittal circumflex diacritic *ˆ over A main vowels and Baxter & Sagart (2014), following Norman (1994), suggest pharyngealized onsets *Cˤ - in A. All such approaches are fundamentally notational (Schuessler’s by design) as they are able to provide at best sporadic links between proposed OC forms and the contrasting vowel qualities of later periods (on this issue see especially Schuessler 2006.) The question of OC-era A vs. B is thus very much an open one. Ahead of an examination of A/B Type within the phonetic series, critically important groupings  because they relate directly to the Old Chinese era, we might observe that all of the words shown in Table 1 belong to Type A. This is natural, as they have been selected from medieval Divs. II and I/IV. However, if we suppose that the Table 1 pairs might be cognates or doublets, and seek out additional candidate pairs with one member featuring an MC velar and the other an MC lateral onset, we find that  both items consistently belong to Type A, a fact that does not follow naturally from any past suggestion regarding the nature of OC-era A/B Type. This observation is due to Schuessler (2007: 80  –  81), who collects a list of such MC  k/h-  ~  l-  alternants which I present here in terms of his own reconstructions and glosses; added is Baxter’s (1992) MC . Note that Schuessler’s (2007) early -stage OC *g-r- in MC  l-  members, as opposed to plain *r-, attends the assumption that members of these pairs are etymological relatives (compare his special treatment of example 2b in Table 1.) (4) a. *grên (> MC h ɛ n ) 閑   ‘barrier, bar’   b. *g-ran > *rân (> MC lan ) 闌   ‘barrier, to protect’  (5) a. *krân (> k  ɛ n ) 蕑   ‘orchid’   b. *g-ran > *rân (> lan ) 蘭   ‘orchid’ (6) a. *grân (> h ɛ n ) 閑   ‘to restrain, train’   b. *g-rens > *rêns (> lenH  ) 練   ‘to train’

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Dec 12, 2018
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