PST, Proto-Trans-Himalayan
Reconstruction ofSino-Tibetan languages
Lower-order reconstructions

Proto-Sino-Tibetan (PST) is the hypothetical linguistic reconstruction of the Sino-Tibetan proto-language and the common ancestor of all languages in it, including the Sinitic languages, the Tibetic languages, Yi, Bai, Burmese, Karen, Tangut, and Naga. Paul K. Benedict (1972) placed a particular emphasis on Old Chinese, Classical Tibetan, Jingpho, Written Burmese, Garo, and Mizo in his discussion of Proto-Sino-Tibetan.[1]

While Proto-Sino-Tibetan is commonly considered to have two direct descendants, Proto-Sinitic and Proto-Tibeto-Burman,[2] in recent years several scholars have argued that this was not well-substantiated,[3] and have taken to calling the group "Trans-Himalayan".[4] In this case, Proto-Tibeto-Burman may be considered as equivalent to Proto-Sino-Tibetan if Sinitic is indeed not the first branch to split from Proto-Sino-Tibetan.[5]


Reconstructed features include prefixes such as the causative s-, the intransitive m-, the miscellaneous b-, d-, g-, and r-, suffixes -s, -t, and -n, and a set of conditioning factors that resulted in the development of tone in most languages of the family.[6] The existence of such elaborate system of inflectional changes in Proto-Sino-Tibetan makes the language distinctive from some of its modern descendants, such as the Sinitic languages, which have mostly or completely become analytic.

Proto-Sino-Tibetan, like Old Chinese, also included numerous consonant clusters, and was not a tonal language.


Benedict (1972)

The table below shows consonant phonemes reconstructed by Benedict.[1][page needed]

Plosive Fricative Sonorant
Voiceless Voiced Voiceless Voiced Nasal Other
Labial p b m w
Dental t d s z n r
Palatal c ʒ y
Lateral l
Velar k g h ŋ

Peiros & Starostin (1996)

The reconstruction by Peiros & Starostin suggests a much more complex consonant inventory.[7] The phonemes in brackets are reconstructions that are considered dubious.

Plosive/Affricate Fricative Sonorant
Unaspirated Aspirated
Voiceless Voiced Voiceless Voiced Voiceless Voiced Voiceless Voiced
Labial p b (bʰ) m w
Dental t d (dʰ) n r
Alveolar c ʒ (ʒʰ) s
Palatal ć ʒ́ ćʰ ʒ́ʰ ś ń y
Lateral (ƛ) l
Velar k g (gʰ) x ɣ ŋ
Uvular (q) (ɢ) (qʰ) (ɢʰ) (χ)
Laryngeal ʔ

Hill (2019)

The following tables show the reconstruction of Proto-Sino-Tibetan phonemes by Nathan Hill (2019).[8]

Consonants Labial Coronal Palatal Velar Labiovelar Uvular Labiouvular Glottal
Nasal *m *n *ŋ *ŋʷ
Plosive voiced *b *d *g *ɢ *ɢʷ
voiceless *p *t *k * *q *ʔ
Affricate voiced *dz
voiceless *ts
Fricatives *(s)[a]
Approximant *l *j[b]
Rhotic *r[c]
  1. ^ The sibilant correspondences are simply presented according to their proto-Burmish outcomes, as no patterns could be found by Hill.[9]
  2. ^ This consonant can only exist as a coda.
  3. ^ This phonetic nature of this rhotic is unknown.

The consonants /p t k q ʔ m n ŋ l r j/ can take coda position, as well as the cluster /rl/. While Hill does not reconstruct /j/ as an initial consonant due to Baxter and Sagart's Old Chinese reconstruction lacking such a phoneme, he mentions that Jacques and Schuessler suggest a /j/ initial for some Old Chinese words due to potential Tibetan or Rgyalrongic cognates.[10]

Vowels Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ə o
Open a

Hill also claims that his reconstruction is incomplete, as it does not account for Tibetic palatalization, proto-Burmish preglottalization, Sinitic aspirates, and the Sinitic type A and B distinction of syllables.

Sound changes

Final consonant changes

In Gong Huangcheng's reconstruction of the Proto-Sino-Tibetan language, the finals *-p, *-t, *-k, *-m, *-n, and *-ŋ in Proto-Sino-Tibetan remained in Proto-Sinitic and Proto-Tibeto-Burman. However, in Old Chinese, the finals *-k and *-ŋ that came after the close vowel *-i- underwent an irregular change of *-k>*-t and *-ŋ >*-n. In Proto-Tibeto-Burman, *-kw and *-ŋw underwent a sound change to become *-k and *-ŋ respectively, while in Old Chinese those finals remained until Middle Chinese, where the finals underwent the same sound change.[11]

Furthermore, in Proto-Tibeto-Burman, the finals *-g, *-gw, and *-d underwent the following changes:

  1. *-d>*-y
  2. *-gw>*-w
  3. *-g>*-w when it follows the vowel *-u-
  4. *-g>*-∅ when it follows the vowel *a and *-a-.

Example of sound changes

Voiceless plosive finals

Proto-Sino-Tibetan Old Chinese (Li Fang-Kuei) Proto-Tibeto-Burman
*-p *-jəp 汲 *kjəp *ka·p
泣 *khrjəp *krap
立 *(g-)rjəp *g-ryap
*-jap 接 *tsjap *tsyap
*-jup 入 *njəp *nup~ *nip
*-t *-iat 八 *priat *b-r-gyat
殺 *r-siat *g-sat
*-uat 脫 *hluat *g-lwat
*-jit 一 *·jit *it
*-k *-ək 翼 *lək *lak
*-jək 織 *tjək *tak
息 *sjək *sak
食 *N-ljək *(m-)lyak
飼 *s-ljəks *(s-)lyak
*-ik 節 *tsik>*tsit *tsik
縊 *·iks, *·jiks *ik
*-jik 蝨 *srjik>*srjit *s-rik
*-juk 曲 *khjuk *guk~kuk
*-kw *-əkw 毒 *dəkw *duk~*tuk
*-jəkw 腹 *phjəkw, *bjəkw *pu·k~*buk
六 *drjəkw *d-ruk

Nasal finals

Proto-Sino-Tibetan Old Chinese (Li Fang-Kuei) Proto-Tibeto-Burman
*-m *-əm 含 *gəm *gam
頷 *gəm *gam
*-jəm 飲 *·jəmx *am
尋 *ljəm *la[·]m
*-jim 坅 *khjamx “pit” *kim
*-um 三 *səm *g-sum
*-jum 尋 *ljəm *lum
*-n *-an 乾 *kan *kan
*-jin 辛 *sjin *m-sin
*-ng *-jəng 夢 *mjəngs *mang
蒸 *tjəng *tang
*-jang 紡 *phjangx *pang
涼 *grjang *grang
迎 *ngrjang *ngang
*-ing 盈 *bling *bling~pling
*-jing 年 *ning>*nin *ning
名 *mjing *r-ming
甥 *srjing *sring
薪 *sjing>*sjin *sing
仁 *njing>*njin *s-ning
*-ngw *-jəngw 躬 *kjəngw *gung

Voiced plosive finals

Proto-Sino-Tibetan Old Chinese (Li Fang-Kuei) Proto-Tibeto-Burman
*-b *-əb 柔 *njəb>*njəgw *nəw
*-d *-əd 𤈦 *smjədx *məy
*-ad 簸 *padx/s *pwa·y
太  *tads *tay
蜾 *kwadx *kwa·y
我 *ngadx *ngay
移 *lad *lay
*-id 四 *sjids *b-liy
*-jid 妣 *pjidx *piy
畀 *sbjids *biy
几 *krjidx *kriy
屎 *skhljidx *kliy
死 *sjidx *siy
*-g *-əg        母 *məgx *ma
*-jəg      負 *bjəgx *ba, *bak
子 *tsjəgx *tsa
慈 *dzjəg *m-dza
孳 *dzjəgs *za
耳 *njəgx *r-na~*g-na
牛 *ngwjəg *ngwa
*-ag 補 *pagx *pa
苦 *khagx *ka
吾 *ngag *nga
五 *ngagx *l-nga~*b-nga
狐 *gwag *gwa
*-jag 斧 *pjagx *r-pwa
夫 *pjag *(p)wa
父 *bjagx *pa
無 *mjag *ma
魚 *ngjag *ngya
咀 *dzjag *dza
汝 *njagx *na
*-ug 口 *khugx *kuw
寇 *khugs *r-kuw
*-jug 霧 *m(r)jugs *(r-)muw
軀 *khjug *(s-)kuw
乳 *njugx *nuw
*-gw *-əgw 寶 *pəgwx *puw
抱 *bəgwx *buw
*-jəgw 鳩 *kjəgw *kuw
九 *kjəgwx *d-kuw
舅 *gjəgwx *kuw
*-agw 豪 *gagw *m/s-gaw
號 *gagws *gaw
熬 *ngagw *r-ngaw
臊 *sagw *sa·w
*-jagw 飄/漂 *phjagw *pyaw

Liquid finals

Proto-Sino-Tibetan Old Chinese (Li Fang-Kuei) Proto-Tibeto-Burman
*-l *-al 肝 *kan *m-kal
*-ul 本 *pən *bul~*pul
*-jul 銀 *ngjən *(d)-ngul
閩 *mjən *s-brul
*-jal 疲 *brjal *bal
*-il 洒 *silx *(m-)s(y)il
*-r *-ar 播 *s-bars *bwar
皤 *bar, *par *pwa:r
*-jar 販 *pjans *par
鮮 *sjan *sar
*-uar 酸 *suan *swa·r
*-jur 飛 *pjər *pur~*pir


Words which do not have reliable Sinitic parallels are accompanied by a (TB).

Social terms

English Reconstruction by Old Chinese (Baxter-Sagart)[a][12]
I. Peiros & S. Starostin J. Matisoff
Person (in general) *mĭ *mi 民 *mi[ŋ]
Male *pă *pʷa 父 *p(r)aʔ
Female *mǝw *mow 母 *mˤoʔ (or məʔ)
Name (of a person) *miǝŋ *miŋ 名 *C.meŋ

Natural phenomena

English Reconstruction by Old Chinese (Baxter-Sagart)[a]
I. Peiros & S. Starostin J. Matisoff
Earth *ƛăy *ley ~ *lǝy 地 *[l]ˤej-s
Stone *ƛɨāŋ ~ *ƛɨāk *luŋ ~ *luk 琭 *[r]ˤok
Sand *srāy *sa 沙 *sˤraj
Fire *mēyH *mey 火 *[qʷʰ]ˤəjʔ [i]
Smoke *gʰiw *kǝw 熏 *qʰu[n]
Water *tujʔ *t(w)i(y) 水 *s.turʔ
Rain *(r-)qʰʷăH *rwa ~ *wa 雨 *C.ɢʷ(r)aʔ
Sun *nĭy *nǝy 日 *C.nik
Moon (TB) *(s-)lăH *la N/A[ii]
Star *(s-)q(ʰ)ār *kar 扈 *m-qˤaʔ [iii]
Night *yăH *ya 夜 *[ɢ]Ak-s
Tree *sĭŋ *siŋ ~ *sik 薪 *[s]i[n]
Leaf *lăp *lap 葉 *l[a]p
Plant root *bʰūl *bul ~ *pul 本 *C.pˤə[n]ʔ
  1. ^ See also the dialectal 𤈦 /*m̥əjʔ/ and 燬 /*m̥ajʔ/.
  2. ^ Chinese 月 /*[ŋ]ʷat/ is a descendant of another PST word, *s-ŋʷ(j)a-t.
  3. ^ Unclear. The more common word is 星 /*s-tsʰˤeŋ/, which is possibly related to 清 /*tsʰeŋ/, in turn from PST *(t)s(j)aŋ.

Qualitative features of an object

English Reconstruction by Old Chinese (Baxter-Sagart)[a]
I. Peiros & S. Starostin J. Matisoff
Black, dark (TB) *nǝk *nak 黑 *m̥ˤək[i]
White wār *hwār 皤 *[b]ˤar[ii]
Big *tayH *tay 大 *lˤa[t]-s
Cold *(k-)răŋ ~ *(k-)răk *glak ~ *glaŋ ~ *graŋ 涼 *C.raŋ
Warm *lɨm *lim ~ *lum 融 *luŋ
Long (TB) *rĭŋ *riŋ N/A
New *cʰăr *sar 鮮 *s[a]r
  1. ^ It is possible that *s-nak is a descendant of *s-maŋ ~ s-mak (whence OC /*m̥ˤək/).
  2. ^ The more commonly used 白 /*bˤrak/ might be a derivation of it.

Verb stems

English Reconstruction by Old Chinese (Baxter-Sagart)[a]
I. Peiros & S. Starostin J. Matisoff
To eat *ʒʰa *dzya 咀 *dzaɁ
To drink *dʰɨn ~ *dʰɨŋ *daŋ ~ *doŋ
To bite/chew *wā *wa
To die *sĭy(H) *sǝy 死 *sijʔ
To know, to think *siǝH *syey 悉 *[s]i[t]
To hear (TB) *tʰa(s) *ta N/A
To sleep *mĭyH *mwǝy 寐 *mi[t]-s
To stand *ryǝp *r(y)ap 立 *k.rәp
To sit *tūŋ ~ *tūk *duŋ ~ *duk ~ *tuŋ ~ *tuk 住 *dro(ʔ)-s
Give *pĭy *bǝy 畀 *pi[k]‑s


English Reconstruction by Old Chinese (Baxter-Sagart)[a]
I. Peiros & S. Starostin J. Matisoff
1 *dyiǝk *dik ~ *t(y)ik ~ *t(y)ak 一 *ʔi[t]
2 *nĭy *ni 二 *ni[j]-s
3 *sɨm *sum 三 *s.rum
4 *lĭy *lǝy 四 *[j]-s
5 *ŋāH *ŋa 五 *C.ŋˤaʔ
6 *rŭk *ruk 六 *k.ruk
7 *(s-)nĭt *ni 七 *[tsʰ]i[t]
8 *ryēt *gyat ~ *ryat ~ *rit 八 *pˤret
9 *kwɨH *gǝw ~ *kǝw 九 *[k]uʔ
10 *k(ʰ)ĭp *g(y)ip 十 *t.[g]әp
100 *(p-)ryā *gya 百 *pˤrak
  1. ^ a b c d e For Old Chinese notations in the Baxter–Sagart system:
    • Parentheses "()" indicate uncertain presence;
    • Square brackets "[]" indicate uncertain identity, e.g. *[t] as coda may in fact be *-t or *-p;
    • Angle brackets "<>" indicate infix;
    • Hyphen "-" indicates morpheme boundary;
    • Period "." indicates syllable boundary.

See also


  1. ^ a b Benedict, Paul K. (1972), Sino-Tibetan: A Conspectus (PDF), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-08175-7.
  2. ^ Sagart, Laurent; Jacques, Guillaume; Lai, Yunfan; Ryder, Robin J.; Thouzeau, Valentin; Greenhill, Simon J.; List, Johann-Mattis (6 May 2019). "Dated language phylogenies shed light on the ancestry of Sino-Tibetan". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 116 (21): 10317–10322. Bibcode:2019PNAS..11610317S. doi:10.1073/pnas.1817972116. PMC 6534992. PMID 31061123.
  3. ^ Orlandi, Georg (2021). "Once again on the history and validity of the Sino-Tibetan bifurcate model". Journal of Language Relationship. 19 (4): 263–292.
  4. ^ Hill 2019.
  5. ^ van Driem, George (2007). "The diversity of the Tibeto-Burman language family and the linguistic ancestry of Chinese". Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics. 1 (2): 211–270. doi:10.1163/2405478X-90000023.
  6. ^ Egerod, Søren Christian. "Sino-Tibetan languages - Linguistic characteristics". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  7. ^ Peiros, Ilia; Starostin, S.A. (1996). A comparative vocabulary of five Sino-Tibetan languages. Parkville, VIC: Univ. of Melbourne, Dept. of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics. ISBN 9780732513504.
  8. ^ Hill 2019, p. 211.
  9. ^ Hill 2019, p. 234-235.
  10. ^ Hill 2019, p. 216.
  11. ^ Gong Huangcheng (龔煌城) (2003). 從原始漢藏語到上古漢語以及原始藏緬語的韻母演變 [Final changes from Proto-Sino-Tibetan to Old Chinese and Proto-Tibeto-Burman] (PDF). 古今通塞:漢語的歷史與發展. 第㆔屆國際漢學會議論文集語言組 (in Chinese). pp. 187–223. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-11-03. Retrieved 22 October 2023.
  12. ^ Baxter, William H.; Sagart, Laurent. "The Baxter-Sagart reconstruction of Old Chinese". The Baxter-Sagart reconstruction of Old Chinese. Retrieved 10 August 2022.

Further reading