Volume 25, Issue 3
  • ISSN 0176-4225
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9714
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Based on the large amount of Chinese-related basic vocabulary in Bai, scholars like Benedict, Starostin and Zhengzhang have claimed a special phylogenetic proximity between Bai and Chinese. In this paper we show that the Chinese vocabulary in Bai is stratified, forming successive layers of borrowings. We identify three such layers, describing the sound correspondences which characterize each of them: two Mandarin layers, one local, one regional for modern words; and an early Chinese layer, acquired during a long and complex period of intimate contact between Bai and Chinese, beginning in Han times and terminating in Late Tang, altogether a millennium or so. This last layer is subdivided into several sub-layers. The remaining part of the vocabulary forms the Bai indigenous layer, whose affiliation is clearly Sino-Tibetan, without having any particular proximity to Chinese. In particular, the numerals “1” and “2” have etymological connections among non-Chinese Sino-Tibetan languages such as Jingpo, Sulung and Tangut. The numerals above “2” are Chinese loanwords and even the numerals “1” and “2” have less colloquial variants of Chinese origin. Bai is of interest to comparative linguistics for the extraordinary amount of basic vocabulary it has borrowed from Chinese, all of it during the early period: 47% of the 100-word Swadesh list.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): Bai; Chinese; contact; numerals; Sino-Tibetan; stratification; subgrouping
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