On Yàluòshān < rwxšn
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 (fl
uoruit ~ 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.