Pai-lang language

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Native to China
Era 3rd century
Language codes
ISO 639-3 None (mis)
Linguist list

Pai-lang (Chinese: 白狼; pinyin: Bái láng) is the earliest recorded Tibeto-Burman language, known from three short songs recorded in the "Treatise on the Southern Barbarians" chapter of the Book of the Later Han, totalling 44 four-syllable lines.[1] The language is clearly either Lolo–Burmese or closely related, but as of the 1970s it presented "formidable problems of interpretation, which have been only partially solved".[2]

According to the Book of the Later Han, the songs were recorded in western Sichuan and a Chinese translation presented to Emperor Ming of Han (58–75 AD). A Bailang version, transcribed elsewhere in Chinese characters, was interpolated when the book was compiled in the 5th century. Thus in addition to the distortion inherent in transcription, interpretation is complicated by the transmission history of the text and uncertainty about the pronunciation of Eastern Han Chinese.[3]

Several features of the text have led scholars to doubt the traditional view that the songs were translated from Bailang to Chinese: the songs reflect a Chinese world-view, contain many Chinese words and phrases (in addition to apparent loans) and generally follow Chinese word order. In addition, the Chinese versions rhyme while the Bailang versions generally do not. Most modern authors hold that the songs were composed in Chinese and their words translated (where possible) into equivalent Bailang words or phrases, retaining the metrical structure of the Chinese original.[4]

A vocabulary of some 134 words and phrases has been extracted from the text, of which some 80 words have been compared, with varying levels of confidence, to possible Tibeto-Burman cognates.[5] Most authors conclude that Bailang is Lolo-Burmese. However, Coblin argues that some Bailang words appear to be more conservative than reconstructed proto-Lolo–Burmese, and that it is therefore likely that it was a close relative rather than an actual member of the family. For example, the word for gorge, gljung, retains the consonant cluster of proto-Sino-Tibetan *klu·ŋ, which has been lost in proto-Lolo-Burmese *loŋ³.[6]


  1. ^ Coblin, W. South (1979) "A New Study of the Pai-lang Songs", Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies 12: 179–216.
  2. ^ Benedict, Paul K. (1972), Sino-Tibetan: A Conspectus, p. 9.
  3. ^ Coblin (1979), pp. 180–181, 184.
  4. ^ Coblin (1979), pp. 195–197.
  5. ^ Coblin (1979), pp. 198–203, 212–213.
  6. ^ Coblin (1979), pp. 203–204.

Further reading[edit]

  • Beckwith, Christopher (2008). "The Pai-lang songs: The earliest texts in a Tibeto-Burman language and their Late Old Chinese transcriptions." Medieval Tibeto-Burman Languages III. Christopher Beckwith, ed. (Proceedings of the 11th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies.) Halle: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies GmbH: 87–110.
  • Wu Anqi 吴安其.《白狼歌》解读 [An Explanation on the Bailang Song]. Minzu Yuwen 2007.6: 12–22.

External links[edit]