Reconstruction ofHlai languages

Proto-Hlai is the reconstructed ancestor of the Hlai languages. Proto-Hlai reconstructions include those of Matisoff (1988), Thurgood (1991), Wu (2000), Ostapirat (2004), and Norquest (2007).


Peter K. Norquest (2007) reconstructs 29 basic Proto-Hlai consonants (Norquest 2007:135), while 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 ʔ
Unvoiced Aspirated tʃʰ tɕʰ
Unvoiced Fricative f s
Voiced Fricative C-β ɦ
Unvoiced Nasal ɲ̊ ŋ̊
Voiced Nasal C-m C-n C-ɲ C-ŋ
Unvoiced Lateral ʰl
Voiced Lateral C-l
Tap ɾ
Trill r
Unvoiced Approximant ʍ ȷ̊
Voiced Approximant ʋ

Norquest additionally reconstructs six onsets suggesting consonant clusters: *pl, *fj, *lj, *ɾj, *tʃʰw, *ŋ̊w. Whether these were actual consonant clusters is not clear. The clusters with a glide as a second member may have been coarticulated consonants: palatalized *fʲ, *lʲ, *ɾʲ, labialized *tʃʰʷ, *ŋ̊ʷ, while *pl may have arisen from a sesquisyllable *p-l.

Norquest also reconstructs six bisyllabic root shapes:

Pretonic syllables are later lost in all Hlai languages, but in these six combinations, they trigger in some languages conditional developments of the tonic syllable's onset consonant, allowing them to be distinguished in reconstruction.

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

Ostapirat (2004) reconstructs 5 vowels, which are /a, ə, i, ɨ, u/. Norquest reconstructs seven vowel qualities (Norquest 2007:238, 330).

Proto-Hlai Vowels
(Norquest 2007)
Height Front Central Back
Close *i *iː *ɯː *u *uː
Mid *eː *əː *o
Open *aː

The short vowels *i, , *u, , *o and long *əː only appear in roots with a final consonant (Norquest 2007:330).

Sound changes

For further information about the Pre-Hlai language as reconstructed by Norquest (2007), see Proto-Tai language § Proto-Southern Kra-Dai.

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. Elimination 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(ːC) > i(ːC), o(ːC) > u(ːC), ɛː(C) > eː(C), ɔC > oC
  9. Monophthongization – *ɯa(C) > *ɯə(C) > *ɯː(C), *oːy > *wiː > *iː

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

  1. Intervocalic lenition
  2. Elimination 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

The following table gives the reflexes of the onset consonants in the Hlai languages, as well as Norquest and Ostapirat's reconstructions:

Norquest Ostapirat Bouhin Ha Em Lauhut Qi group Cunhua Nadouhua Meifu group Run group Notes
Tongzha Zandui Baoting Changjiang Moyfaw Baisha Yuanmen
*b ɓ ɓ ɓ ɓ ɓ ɓ ɓ ɓ
*d ɗ ɗ ɗ ɗ ɗ, ts ɗ ɗ ɗ
*tɕ ts ts ts ts ts ts ts ts t
*k *g k k k k k k k k
*pʰ *p
*tʰ *t tʰ, tsʰ
*kʰ *k
*tɕʰ *c tsʰ tsʰ tsʰ tsʰ tsʰ s tsʰ tsʰ
*tʃʰ *C-t h h
*tʃʰw *Cut f f f f f pfʰ
*f *C-p f f
*fj *Cip f s s A very rare correspondence set, with only one word ('tooth', *fjən) being reflected in both key languages, Cunhua and Changjiang.
*C-β *Cup p f f f ɣ f
*s *s t t t t f s tsʰ *s > t is a late areal change, shared also by the only distantly related Be language.
*C-k h h h h h h h h
*m̥ *C-m m p p p ↓ pʰ ↓ p ↓ ɓ ↓ p ↓ p ↓ p p p ↓ In these correspondence sets, nasality is retained only in Bouhin. Norquest reconstructs prenasalized stops *mb, *nd, *ɲɟ, *ŋg as the proto-non-Bouhin intermediate stage.
*n̥ *C-n n t t t ↓ tʰ ↓ t ↓ ts ↓ t ↓ t ↓ t t t ↓
*ɲ̊ *C-ɲ ɲ ts ts ts ↓ tsʰ ↓ ts ↓ ts ↓ ts ↓ ts ↓ ts ts ts ↓
*ŋ̊ *C-ŋ ŋ k k k ↓ kʰ ↓ k ↓ k ↓ k ↓ k ↓ k k k ↓
*C-m *m m m m m m ↓ m m m m m m ↓
*C-n *n n n n n n ↓ n n n n n n ↓
*C-ɲ ɲ ɲ ɲ ɲ n ↓ ɲ ɲ ŋʲ ɲ ɲ ɲ ↓
*Ciɦ *Cik h h z z With rhinoglottophilia in Cunhua through Run: *Ciɦ > *(Ci)ɦj > *ʔɲ.
*C-ŋ ŋ ŋ ŋ ŋ ŋ ↓ ŋ ŋ ŋ ŋ ŋ ŋ ↓
*Cuŋ *ŋw ŋʷ ŋʷ ŋ, ŋʷ ŋʷ ɱ ↓
*Cuɦ *Cuk h h v ŋ, ŋʷ Rhinoglottophilia in Cunhua through Run: *Cuɦ > *(Cu)ɦw > *ʔŋʷ.
*l̥ *C-l ɗ ɬ ɬ ɬ l ɬ ɬ
*C-l *l l l l l l ↓ l l l l l l ↓
*p-l *p-l pl pl p pl ɓ ↓, l ↓ pʲ ↓ p ↓ pl pl
*C-r r r r r ↓ l ↓ l ↓ l ↓ l ↓ l ↓ r r r ↓
*r *C-ʀ r g g g ↓ h ↓ h ↓ h ↓ ŋ ↓ g ↓ x x
ʔ ʔ ʔ ʔ ʔ ʔ ʔ ʔ
*Ciʔ *Ciʔ ʔʲ z z ʔʲ z ʔʲ z z These onsets (as well as *Ciɦ-, *Cuɦ- above) showing characteristic cheshirization outside of Bouhin and Ha Em.
*Cuʔ *Cuʔ ʔʷ v ʔʷ v ʔʷ ɣ v
*Cur *Cuʀ r g gʷ ↓ v ↓ hʷ ↓ v ↓ ŋ ↓, v ↓ ɣ v
*Cuɾ *Cur r r v f ↓ v ↓ v ↓ f f ↓
*C-ʋ v v f ↓ v ↓ v v ↓ v v v ↓
*Vw v ↓ v
*ŋ̊w h ↓ ŋ ↓, v ↓
*ȷ̊ *Vj z z z z ↓ z ↓ z z z ↓ z ↓ z z z ↓
*lj *il ɬ ↓ l ↓ ts ↓ With *lj > *lʑ > *ɮ > ɬ in Qi (lowered tone still indicating earlier voicing).
*ɾj *Cir z z r t ↓ tʰ ↓ t ↓ z ↓ l ↓ t ↓ t t, ts t, ts ↓

The symbol ↓ indicates here a lowered tone on the following vowel in those Hlai languages where tone split has taken place; this normally occurs following earlier voiced consonants.

See also


Further reading