Sunday, December 16, 2012

Original Place of the Tais Probably Wasn't next to a Sea

Image by: Bob Andres

Looking at vocabulary of a language can tell us a lot about the migration of its speakers in the past. Many scholars have proposed that Tai speaking peoples are probably from what is now Yunnan, China. This place is landlocked though it has many rivers. Thus, it is no surprise that many Tai languages do not have native words for sea creatures and other words related to sea. Moreover, present day Thailand is located next to large body of water. This suggests that Tai people(s) who founded present day Thailand had to learn new words related to sea from the locals. Indeed from examining words in Southwestern Tai languages, I have found a lot of loanwords. Here are some:

First, Tai languages do not seem to have a native word for "sea". The Thai and Lao words for sea are ทะเล tha.le: and ທະເລ (ทะเล) tha.lé: respectively, which are borrowed from Khmer tʊənlee meaning "river." The Shan word for "sea" is ပၢင်ႇလၢႆႇ (ป่างหล่าย) pàang.làai which is borrowed from Burmese ပင်လယ် pin.le (written pang.lai). And the Tai Dam word for "sea" is nɔ̌ng.lǔang (หนองหลวง), which literally means "great lake or great pond."

Next, it does not seem like Tai languages have a native word for "shark". The Thai and Lao words for shark are ฉลาม cha.lǎam and ສະຫຼາມ (สลาม) sa.lǎam respectively, which are borrowed from Khmer claam. The Shan word for "shark" is ပႃငမၢၼ်း (ปลาง้ามาน) pǎa.ngâ.máan which is borrowed from Burmese ငါးမန်း ngaman:.

Finally, Tai languages do not seem to have a common word for "porpoise". The Thai and Lao word for "porpoise" or "dolphin" is โลมา lo:.maa and ໂລມາ (โลมา) ló:.máa respectively, which seem to be from a Malay language, cf. Malay lumba-lumba. Lao also has other words for "dolphin": ໝູທະເລ (หมูทะเล) mǔu.tha.lé: "sea pig" (cf. Chinese), ປາເດິນຟິນ (ปลาเดินฟิน) pàa.də̀n.fín possibly from English, and ປາຂ່າ (ปลาข่า) pàa.khaa. I do not know where the last one is from. In Shan, the word for "dolphin" is လမ်းၽႅင်ႇ (ลำแผ่ง) lám.phɛ̀ng  and ပႃၶႃး (ปลาฅา) pǎa.kháa. The former is borrowed from Burmese လင်းပိုင် lin:pain (spelled lang:paing), and the latter might be from the same source as that of Lao.

Thus, the fact that these SW languages lack native words related to sea may suggest that Tai people's original homeland was not near a sea.

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