On Yàluòshān < rwxšn

History never ceases to make me marvel. It is only recently that I understood that Ān Lùshān 安祿山 was from Northeast, not Northwest China. According to Chinese books of history, his family name was originally Kāng 康, Samarkand, so his patrilinear ancestors travelled 4,444 km to Yíngzhōu 營州 in modern-day Liáoníng province, where he was born. (A way to visualize this: the same distance will take you from Samarkand to Venice.) In fact, as I later discovered, Táng-era Héběi hosted a large multiethnic population, mostly of Turkic and Sogdian origin. The Ān-Shǐ Rebellion was to find a large support in the Héběi region, both among the Barbarian and the Chinese, and secured de facto secession of Héběi as a series of generalships. In a recurrent pattern of post-Hàn
Chinese history, the political class of Héběi warlords was to gradually sinicize itself and take control of the whole of China, ushering in the Sòng period, where the dynasty affirms itself a Chinese origin, and erstwhile provincial Héběi norms, probably including the dialect, was elevated to the culture of the national élite.I haven’t really payed attention to the name Lùshān before, excepting knowing, as a matter of general culture, that it comes from the Sogdian rwxšn, meaning “light” or something of that sort (< *louk-sno-), and taunting a prehistorian friend of mine called Roxane (ultimately from the same Iranian source) with the connection.A recent minor internet controversy (where a prominent far-left intellectual declared Lùshān to come from Alexander, in a laudable attempt to prove that Chinese language abounds with foreign words) brought to my attention that his original given name was not Lùshān 祿山 “mountain of government salary”, which shows a thorough, if quite low-brow, integration into the gilded culture of Chinese officialdom. What gets recorded as his given name at birth was something much less sinicized: 軋犖山 Yàluòshān or 阿犖山 Āluòshān.軋犖山 is a remarkable form, because all its three syllables belong to Division II. Division II syllables come from Old Chinese pharyngealized syllables with *-rV-, and became a long, forceful a in Late Middle Chinese/Early Mandarin. The beginning and the end we know quite for sure, but what the exact value would be in, say, 6th or 9th century is unknowable.

犖 is an especially remarkable character. First, it is used essentially in one Chinese word: 卓犖 ʈæwk.læwk “outstanding, talented” (those with monstrrrualna erudycja are supposed to know also 犖犖 “great”). It is well known, for example, that the Western capital, Cháng’ān, 逴躒[= 卓犖]諸夏兼其所有 “stands out de Sinis, and includes everything from them”, or the poet 左思 Zuǒ Sī (fluoruit ~ 290) boasted himself as 卓犖觀群書  “outstanding in talent and well-read”. That the pre-sinicized name of a lowly Barbarian from Héběi is transcribed with a character only known to those who have read the Wénxuǎn is in itself quite suspicious. Second, it transcribes a syllable that should not exist in Middle Chinese by Neogrammarian evolution: it is a Division II syllable (with the rhyme 覺 æwk) with l- as initial. Initial l- comes from OC *r-, while Division II comes from OC *-r- in pharyngealized syllables, so 犖 could only come from something like *rˤruk. Luckily we don’t need to postulate such monstrosities, as the MC Division II of 犖 is clearly secondary. There are, in whole, about a dozen words that have both Division II and l-, of various post-OC origins.

The specificities of this remarkable character are both explained by the word 卓犖, which belongs to a series of rhyming ideophones with OC *l- or *r- as the initial of the second syllable. Other examples are 朦朧 ménglóng “dim, hazy, obscure” < OC *mˤoŋ.rˤoŋ; 逍遙 xiāoyáo “free and unfettered” < OC *seu.leu. Division II 卓 ʈæwk come from OC *tˤrawk with no difficulty: the -r- simultaneously left a trace in the retroflex initial and the Division II rhyme æwk. The OC form of 卓犖 must have been *tˤrawk.rawk, which gives hypothetical MC ʈæwk.lak (hence the variant orthography 躒). The Division-II rhyme æwk then contaminated the second syllable, creating the attested MC form ʈæwk.læwk, which is historically inaccurate but works better synchronically as a rhyming ideophone.

The fact that the character 犖 luò is used to transcribe the rwx in rwxšn is highly significant, as the motivation of choosing this difficult character can be nothing but an important phonetic match. Some trace of the original *-r- in Division-II syllables must have persisted to 703 AD, so that an l- in a Division-II syllable was perceived as more similar to a Sogdian r than in other environments. (Otherwise a simple lak, 洛 or 樂 will do as well, the rhymes 鐸 ak and 覺 æwk having been all but merged by then.)

This first syllable, 軋 ɛt (more like ær in the Chinese dialect by then) or 阿 a (ʌ by then), reflects the increasing turkicization of contemporary Sogdian language.

安禄山本姓康,名轧荦山或阿荦山,系译自粟特语rwxšn “光明”。这里的荦字非常古怪,因为一方面它是一个罕用字,主要出现在“卓荦”一个联绵字中,另一方面又是不应当存在的来母二等字。本文认为,荦字用于对译rwx,说明在安氏生时即武周间,二等韵仍然残留着某种上古*-r-的性质,以至于时人认为荦的声母比乐洛等字更接近西北语言中的r-辅音。




Cite this article as: Xun Gong, "On Yàluòshān < rwxšn," in Indo-Sinica, 29/11/2015, http://indosinica.hypotheses.org/36.

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8 réponses

  1. Zining Zheng dit :

    Talking about the character “冷”,another one of those 来 initial division II characters, the pronunciation was possibly an imitation of the noise a shivering person makes (i.e. repetitively biting teeth etc.). Thus the word might remain more r-ful in MC.

    BTW, an excellent blog, congratulations.

  2. 卓犖 must have been *tˤrawk.rawk > *tˤrawk.rˤawk

  3. Le seul caractère comme 犖 avec une initiale l- 来 et une rime de deuxième division que je connaisse est 冷 lěng qui a une lecture bizarre læŋX (la même rime que 打 tæŋX, un autre caractère à la lecture anormale, puisqu’une initiale dentale t- 端 est normalement incompatible avec la deuxième division). Connais-tu d’autres exemples de ce type? Comment interpréter phonétiquement ces combinaisons étranges?

    • Xun Gong dit :

      I have nothing in particular to say about 打 and 冷, except a note that their first attestations are very late and their intra-Chinese correspondence is strange.

      For 打, for example, Ōuyáng Xiū (1007 – 1072), pioneer of Chinese peevery, already complained that everyone (probably himself also) says tæX, in contrast to the dictionary-correct pronunciation tæŋX. Yet in modern day Northern Wú, where the original Wú vocabulary is Mandarinized to almost non-existence, the pronunciation of 打 remains proudly < tæŋX. In borrowings, Sino-Japanese has da (wrong initial), Sino-Vietnamese đả (but “to strike” is đánh in non-SV Vietnamese), Literary Southern Min (which usually patterns with Sino-Xenic, being borrowed from a late-Táng type koiné) even has táⁿ! It’s impossible to reconstruct anything from this mess. I think the word originated in some dialect as a “colloquial” verb – there are a lot of such verbs in every Chinese dialect, always of obscure, probably ideophonic/onomatopoeic, origin and limited geographical expanse, and was borrowed tel quel into other dialects.

  4. David Marjanović dit :


    I decide to believe that this is an on-topic pun. =8-)

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