Proto-Hlai language

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The Proto-Hlai language is the reconstructed ancestor of the Hlai languages. Proto-Hlai reconstructions include those of Matisoff (1988), Thurgood (1991), Ostapirat (2004), and Norquest (2007).


Peter K. Norquest reconstructs a total of 32 Proto-Hlai consonants (Norquest 2007:135), although Weera Ostapirat reconstructs only 19 proto-consonants (Ostapirat 2007:145).

Proto-Hlai Consonants
(Norquest 2007)
Labial Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Glottal or Implosive ɓ ɗ k (Ci/u)ʔ
Unvoiced Aspirated tʃʰ(w) tɕʰ
Unvoiced Fricative f(j) s
Voiced Fricative C-β (Ci/u)ɦ
Unvoiced Nasal ʰm ʰn ʰɲ ʰŋ(w)
Voiced Nasal C-m C-n C-ɲ C(u)ŋ
Unvoiced Lateral ʰl
Voiced Lateral p-l C-l
Tap or Trill (Cu)ɾ, (Cu)r
Liquid or Glide lj, ɾj
Unvoiced Approximant ʰw ʰj
Voiced Approximant ʋ

In Ostapirat's (2004) reconstruction, Proto-Hlai forms can be both monosyllabic and disyllabic. Some disyllabic forms have medial consonants beginning with three penultimate vowels (*u-, *i-, *a-; the last of which is default). Vowels can also combine with *-i or *-u to form diphthongs. Tones (*A, *B, *C, *D) are also reconstructed.

In the table below, proto-Hlai consonants marked as green can occur at the end of syllables.

Proto-Hlai Consonants
(Ostapirat 2004)
Labial Labiodental Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal or
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Unvoiced Stop p t c k ʔ
Voiced Stop b d ɟ ɡ
Unvoiced Fricative s
Approximant w ʋ l j
Trill r ʀ

There is a total of 4-5 Proto-Hlai vowels in Norquest's reconstruction (Norquest 2007:238). Ostapirat (2004) reconstructs 5 vowels, which are /a, ə, i, ɨ, u/.

Proto-Hlai Vowels
(Norquest 2007)
Height Front Central Back
Close /iː/ /ɯː/ /uː/
Mid (/eː/)
Open /aː/

There are 7 possible closed rimes in Norquest's reconstruction of Proto-Hlai, not counting vowel length (Norquest 2007:330).

  • *i(:)C
  • *ɯ(:)C
  • *u(:)C
  • *e:C
  • *ə:C
  • *a:C
  • *oC

Sound changes[edit]

For further information about the Pre-Hlai language as reconstructed by Norquest (2007), Proto-Tai language#Proto-Southern Kradai.

The transition from Pre-Hlai (the predecessor of the Proto-Hlai language ancestral to both Hlai and Jiamao) to Proto-Hlai involved the following series of sound changes (Norquest 2007:308). (Order follows that of the table of contents – not intended to be sequential)

  1. Elimation of Uvulars – loss of Pre-Hlai uvulars *q, *C-q, *C-ɢ
  2. Intervocalic Lenition – -p- > -ʋ-, -t- > -ɾ-, -k- > -ɦ-, etc.
  3. Initial Devoicing – loss of voiced fricatives, etc.
  4. Vocalic Transfer – vowel in penultimate syllable moved to last syllable
  5. Initial Aspiration
  6. Monosyllabification – Pre-Hlai, which was sesquisyllabic, was reduced to monosyllabic forms in Proto-Hlai.
  7. Stop and Fricative Affrication – ʈʰ > tʃʰ, cʰ > tɕʰ, etc.
  8. Peripheral Vowel Raising – e(:C) > i(:C), o(:C) > u(:C), ɛ:(C) > e:(C), ɔC > oC
  9. Monophthongization – *ɯa(C) > *ɯə(C) > *ɯ:(C), *o:y > *wi: > *i:

Or, in the sequential order given in Norquest (2007:416-417), which excludes monophthongization:

  1. Intervocalic lenition
  2. Elimation of uvulars
  3. Peripheral vowel raising
  4. Initial devoicing
  5. Vocalic Transfer
  6. Initial aspiration
  7. Monosyllabification
  8. Stop and fricative affrication

After evolving from Pre-Hlai, Proto-Hlai initials went through 4 main types of sound changes (Norquest 2007:66).

  1. Temporal compression – reduction of constituents in the syllable; most common
  2. Gesture reduction
  3. Onset fortition – change to initial aspiration, etc.
  4. Systemic realignment – mergers, etc.

After the breakup of Proto-Hlai, the following sound changes occurred in various Hlai branches.

  1. Devoicing
  2. Registrogenesis – creation of tone registers (i.e., register splits); most likely influenced by Hainanese Min Chinese

References and further reading[edit]

  • Norquest, Peter K. 2007. A Phonological Reconstruction of Proto-Hlai. Ph.D. dissertation. Tucson: Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.
  • Ostapirat, Weera. 2004. "Proto-Hlai Sound System and Lexicons." In Studies on Sino-Tibetan Languages: Papers in Honor of Professor Hwang-cherng Gong on His Seventieth Birthday. Edited by Ying-chin Lin, Fang-min Hsu, Chun-chih Lee, Jackson T.-S. Sun, Hsiu-fang Yang, and Dah-an Ho. Institute of Linguistics. Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan: 121-175.
  • Matisoff, James. 1988. "Proto-Hlai initials and tones: a first approximation." In Comparative Kadai: Linguistic studies beyond Tai. Edited by Jerold A. Edmondson and David B. Solnit. Summer Institute of Linguistics and The University of Texas at Arlington Publications in Linguistics No. 86: 289-321.
  • Thurgood, Graham. 1991. "Proto-Hlai (Li): a look at the initials, tones, and finals." In Kadai: Discussions in Kadai and SE Asian Linguistics III: 1-49.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]