The uvularization of g-/d- in Tibetic languages
Jesse P. Gates (Nankai University, School of Literature, Tianjin, China;
Journal of Language Relationship, № 21/3-4, 2023 - p.245-258
Abstract: This study reviews four competing explanations for the origins of uvular preinitials in Tibetic lects, making a specific case study of modern uvular preinitial reflexes from Old Tibetan g-/d-. The first explanation is from Huang (2012), who claims that uvular preinitials were phonologically present in Pre-Tibetan, and thus at least some of the uvular preinitials in modern Tibetic lects descend from this Pre-Tibetan strata. Her argument is predicated on the hypothesis that Tibetic lects broke up into different languages before Old Tibetan was reduced to writing in the 7th century AD. The second explanation is from Hill (2010), who argues that all uvular preinitials are not inherited from Pre-Tibetan but are the result of language contact with Qiangic and/or Mongolic languages. Differing from Huang’s explanation, Hill’s explanation rests on the theory that all modern Tibetic lects descend from Old Tibetan. The third explanation assumes that Hill is correct in the claim that there were no uvular preinitials in Old Tibetan, and claims that there is a regular sound change from g-/d- to velar/postvelar/uvular fricatives (except before velar initials, where the change is to r-) in Amdo lects and to uvular fricatives in Gyalrongic lects. For WAT lects, g- regularly changes to velar/postvelar/uvular fricatives, but d- changes to velar/postvelar/uvular or ʂ-/r-. The fourth explanation is that in Old Tibetan ḫ and g-/d- were in velar and uvular free variation, and thus uvular preinitials do come from Old Tibetan, but originate from phones and not phonemes. The first three explanations are scientific hypotheses; i.e., they can be tested through evidence and are falsifiable. The final explanation (appealing to free variation) is not a falsifiable. After examining the evidence on the timing of the breakup of the Tibetic lects, Huang’s hypothesis is eliminated, leaving only Hill’s explanation and ‘Explanation 3’ standing. However, Explanation 3 is the only explanation that proposes a set of regular sound changes to summarize the uvularization of g-/d-.
Keywords: Sa-skya Paṇḍita’s Law, Pre-Tibetan language, Old Tibetan language, Gyalrongic languages, uvular reflexes of g-/d- in Tibetan