Review of Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman: System and Philosophy of Sino- Tibetan Reconstruction. Article (PDF Available) in Language and Linguistics. System and philosophy of Sino-Tibeto-Burman Reconstruction. } Review: James A. Matisoff () Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman. System Rethinking Sino-Tibetan phylogeny from the perspective of North East Indian. Review of Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman: System and Philosophy of Sino-Tibetan Reconstruction. By James A.

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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. System and philosophy of Sino-Tibeto-Burman reconstruction. Matisoff Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman. System and philosophy of Sino-Tibeto-Burman Reconstruction. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press. Written aroundthe manuscript was published inedited by Matisoff, updated with a thick layer of footnotes which presented Benedict’s, and in some cases, Matisoff’s ideas at the time the manuscript was being prepared for publication.

Although his TB reconstructions were often cited, Benedict’s system was shstem sufficiently explicit on sound correspondences and no one else save Matisoff seems ever to have used it productively.

Lack of explicitness also preempted attempts at evaluating the system’s internal consistency, and more generally, critical discussion.

There have been expectations that Matisoff’s new book would finally provide an explicit and testable system of TB reconstruction in the Benedictian tradition, as well as integrate the results of 30 years of post-STC research into Sino-Tibetan. Matisoff’s page book deals with the reconstruction of the phonology, morphology and lexicon of Proto-Tibeto-Burman, conceived as ancestral to all of ST -this time including Karen- less Chinese.

The book is meant to be a companion to the Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictionary and Thesaurus volumes where the full cognate sets will eventually appear, but the first fascicle of the first volume, said p.

Handbook of Proto-Tibeto-Burman: System and Philosophy of Sino-Tibetan Reconstruction

After a general introductory chapter, the Handbook describes the PTB syllable canon. The rest of the book is organized into chapters, each dealing with a piece of the PTB syllable: Another chapter deals with ‘allofamic’ variation in rhymes. There is an imposing critical apparatus, including a copious amount of front reconstructioh, two appendices on OC by Z. Cooksix indexes, and a reference list.

The style is readable, somewhat chatty.

Matisoff presents a genetic tree for ST p. Sino-Tibetan at “perhaps years BP”, p.

Benedict appears to have regarded TB as a subgroup partly because he had himself inherited this view and partly on the basis of cognate counts Benedict This view, though not implausible in itself, needs to be buttressed by evidence of unique TB innovations. Such evidence however, is still missing.

In Matisoff’s phylogeny, TB itself has a star- shaped structure, with eight branches the Tujia 2 branch as defined on p. He does not hamdbook, or discuss, Burling’s innovation-based Sal group Burling Recently van Driem has argued again without presenting evidence of uniquely shared innovations that Chinese and Tibetan belong in the same primary branch of the family. Matisoff replies in typical fashion, deriding van Driem’s proposal fn.

In a footnote fn. Claims made in the book can only be verified by checking the cognate sets, but finding the cognate sets is not straightforward.

One must check all the index references for a particular reconstruction: These problems discourage verification. After discovering the first elements of evidence of a genetic relationship between Chinese and Austronesian, where TB elements were not prominent, I claimed in a conference paper Sagart that Chinese stood closer genetically to Austronesian than to Tibeto-Burman.


That was an error. I now fully recognize that Sino-Tibetan is a valid grouping: I consider that ST as a whole, not just Chinese, forms a genetic unit with Austronesian. The vast majority of ethnic Tujias speak Mandarin Chinese. My use of that term should not imply philsophy I am presently convinced that it is a valid grouping. As for data, M. Yet Written Tibetan, the oldest TB literary reconstruxtion, with its abundant literature and convenient lexicography, is under-represented.

Because many TB languages are not well documented, the handnook correspondences for all of them cannot be known, as Matisoff acknowledges elsewhere Unfortunately, when sino-tihetan gives cognate sets, he does not say which forms obey known sound correspondences, and which are included on the basis of educated guesses.

Because the boundary between sound correspondences and guess-work is not marked in the cognate set, the reasoning which led M. This is a very widespread problem with Matisoff’s book, just as it was with Benedict’s. Matisoff forgets puilosophy for Popper falsifiability goes on a par with explicitness.

Only explicit theories can be tested, and revonstruction falsified. I cannot speak for Jones and Starostin but I can assure Matisoff that my Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian theory Sagart is very explicit on sound correspondences and makes predictions that can be tested linguisticallyin a number of ways.

It is in fact with Sino-tjbetan work that lack of explicitness gets in the way of falsification. TB sound system of PTB Overall, the reconstructed system is inherited from Benedict; changes are in the direction of replacing phonological or morphological problems with untestable variation hypotheses: In the next section, a suggestion wll be made that the velar vs.

Matisoff offers little discussion of the evolution of manner contrasts: Surely sixty years of research should have led to the chart being modified, improved, enlarged, but disappointingly Matisoff’s book does not approach the issue.

Benedict thought two manner types for stops voiced vs. His chart of correspondences makes testable predictions on the manner of articulation of Tibetan and Burmese and, to some extent, Lushei stops, but basically excludes no stop reflexes at a given point of articulation in Garo and Jingpo. Matisoff maintains the same range of assumptions, but treats root alternation, not mentioned by name, simply as lexical variation at the PTB level.

In SagartI have argued that the transitivity-related voicing alternation, at least, is better explained as induced by a prefix intransitive m- see below than as lexical variation in PTB, and even in PST. Benedict’s ‘root alternation’ and Matisoff’s lexical variation are over-powerful, make the theory less parsimonious, and reduce its empirical content.

Every effort should be made to replace them with explicit prefixation hypotheses. Matisoff earlier produced such a hypothesis for Anr. It would have been interesting to know how similar proposals fare in other TB languages or branches. Matisoff gives a proto-system of 23 initial consonants. Discussion is speedy and not quite to the point. The reader is invited to admire e. The reader who wishes to find what the reflex of a particular initial is in, say, Tibetan, must to turn to the index of reconstructed roots, look up each root beginning with a particular initial, and check the text for occurrences of that root in Tibetan.

There is a blanket statement on p. Here Matisoff has missed a sound correspondence Table 1. WB w- corresponding to WT g. The forms in bold type are not cited by Matisoff.

University of California Press

Unexpected alternation between labial stops and w- widespread in TB languages e. WT phag, WB wakwas first treated by Benedict Matisoff proposes a third interpretation: In Matisoff’s view, then, alternation between labial stops and w- is due to “extrusion”, a process randomly changing Pwa- initials to wa-: This is presumably because he cannot state the conditions under which the glide arises.


This is not felicitous. Benedict’s first philosophhy, which is also that supposed by Haudricourt and Ferlus see Ferlus to explain Vietnamese spirantization of voiceless stop initials, should be preferred. Another problem with M’s inventory of consonants is the alternation, already mentioned, between initial velars and zero. Matisoff treats it as just variation, but another prossibility, adopted in Peiros and Starostinis that this alternation reflects earlier uvular initials.

In support of this, Gyarong Jacques has contrastive velars and uvulars, and some of the words which in Burmese and Lushai have zero initial have uvulars in Gyarong ‘needle’; ‘jaw’. In Old Chinese too evidence for uvular consonants may be derived from phonetic series mixing Middle Chinese velar and laryngeal initials: This part is much more detailed and explicit than with initial consonants, a proto-tibeto-burmna welcome advance philosopny the STC. Here reflexes of the posited proto-rimes in some important languages usually Tibetan, Burmese, Jingpo, Lahu, Lushai, and a representative of the Bodo-Garo group, sometimes also Mikir, Nung are tabulated and examples are given.

The majority of the rime philoxophy presented in the book appear credible at first sight, but the uncertainty on initial consonants and on tones below weighs on the comparisons. Tibetan, again, is under-studied thus four out of thirteen diphthongal TB rimes in Table 14 p. The origin of Vietnamese and Chinese tones has been successfully explained by Haudricourt a,b as resulting from the loss of final laryngeal segments around years ago.

It is highly likely that tonal TB languages acquired their tones in similar ways. It increasingly seems that the contrast observed by Benedict is real, though phonetically it was probably proto-tibeto-burmna contrast between sonorant protk-tibeto-burman followed by a glottal stop and and sonorants not followed by a glottal stop.

Matisoff’s PTB sino-tjbetan neither tones nor rreconstruction out of which tones can arise. He is aware of the problem p. Vowel length Especially on the basis of Lushai, Benedict reconstructed a PTB vowel length contrast, with marked long vowels. He reconstructed few words with long vowels, however.

Matisoff reconstructs many more. This will be of particular interests to students of Chinese, because it has been claimed by Zhengzhang and Starostin that the TB length contrast correlates with the Chinese distinction between type A and B syllables type B syllables are those in which a medial yod appeared in Middle Chinese.

At first sight, the TB length distinction as reconstructed proto-tibet-burman Matisoff does not correlate particularly well with the Chinese distinction: I have not conducted a full investigation of the correlation between the two features, however.

An intransitive wino-tibetan prefix m- was reconstructed for TB by Wolfendenand this is maintained by later writers, including Matisoff. Sagartreconstructiin,identified the corresponding prefix in Chinese: N- preserved as prenasalization in early loans to Hmong-Mien. Matisoff appears unaware of Sagart’s work on this prefix, as well as on Old Chinese morphology Sagart This prefix was first reconstructed for Old Chinese by Sagart but the reconstruction appears to hold good for the whole of ST.