Volume 18, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1606-822X
  • E-ISSN: 2309-5067



The word ‘maternal grandmother’ presents irregular modern forms in Tai languages. It is in most Northern Tai (NT) varieties, in most Central Tai (CT) varieties, in most Southwestern Tai (SWT) varieties, and in Standard Thai. Li (1971) reconstructs the proto-form of this word as * , positing that the later forms changed by analogy with semantically similar words. This paper discusses two alternative hypotheses * and *, and argues that the proto-form was . The analysis indicates that the sound changes of this word in Tai languages are caused by the “contamination” in kinship terms with paired semantic contents in CT/SWT, and by dissimilation from the otherwise homophonous word ‘to die’ in SWT. As a result, the proto-form of ‘maternal grandmother’ is preserved in the vast majority of NT and a cluster of CT. In most CT/SWT the original tone changed to tone, and then in SWT the initial - underwent further change to - in order to avoid homophony with the taboo word ‘to die’. This issue of homophony arose only in this branch due to the merger of - and - (or -). This proto-form is supported by historical evidence and other non-Tai languages in the Daic family. Other exceptional irregularities in some CT languages are also discussed as they are crucial to the determination of the * hypothesis. Analogous examples from several Tai varieties also support the occurrence of aberrant development due to taboo avoidance.

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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): analogy; phonological contamination; Proto‑Tai; reconstruction; taboo avoidance
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