The origin of implosive stops in Wambule Rai

Full text. By Jean Robert Opgenort, 2004. Appeared in Libju-Bhumju 25.

The Kiranti languages are members of the Tibeto-Burman language family. The name ‘Kiranti’ is an ethnolinguistic term which applies to the Limbu and Rai groups of eastern Nepal. The Limbu are the easternmost ethnic group. The name ‘Rai’ is an ethnonym which is used to denote different groups speaking closely related languages, e.g. Bahing, Bantawa, Chamling, Dumi, Hayu, Jero, Khaling, Kulung, Lohorung, Nachiring, Puma, Sampang, Sunwar, Thulung, Wambule and Yamphu.[1]

Implosive stops in Western Kiranti

Among the Kiranti languages, the Western languages Bahing, Sunwar and Wambule are characterised by the presence of implosive or preglottalised stops in their modern phoneme inventories. Since implosive or preglottalised stops are not found in other Kiranti languages, these peculiar sounds therefore seem to represent a Western Kiranti innovation.

It is possible to reconstruct a preglottalised bilabial phoneme at some stage in the development of Western Kiranti languages because of the correspondences between implosive or preglottalised bilabial stops in Bahing, Sunwar and Wambule. Michailovsky (1988, 1994) mentions the presence of preglottalised /ʔb-/ or /ʔw-/ in Sunwar and implosive /ɓ-/ or preglottalised /ʔb-/ in Bahing. Bieri and Schulze (1969, 1970, 1971a, 1971b, 1973a, 1973b) transcribe the Sunwar preglottalised bilabial phoneme as /bw-/ followed by /a/. The Bahing implosive or pre-glottalised bilabial consonant appears before other vowels as well.

Wambule occupies a special place among the Western Kiranti languages which have implosive stops because Wambule has two implosive stop phonemes instead of just one, viz. /ɓ/ and /ɗ/ (Toba VS 2052; Opgenort 2002, 2004). In Wambule, implosive stops are generally found in word-initial position, and they occur before each of the Wambule vowels and before the phonemic sequences /wa/ and /ya/.

The origin of implosive stops

Michailovsky (1988) suggests that the initial implosive or preglottalised Proto-Western Kiranti phoneme /*ʔb-/ represents a preglottalised manner-series or, another possibility, developed from labiovelar /kw-/. Wambule supports the idea of a labiovelar origin for Western Kiranti implosive or preglottalised bilabial stops and proposes a new source, i.e. modified nasal consonants. The correspondences of the modern Wambule (W) implosives and nasals in Proto-Kiranti (PK), Proto-Western Kiranti (PWK) and Proto-Wambule (PW) are presented here:

PK PWK PW W
/*kw-/ /*ʔw-/ /*ʔb-/ /ɓ-/
/*m-/ /*m-/ /*ʔm-/
/*m-/ /m-/
/*n-/ /*n-/ /*ʔn-/ /ɗ-/
/*n-/ /n-/

Since no obvious conditioning factors can be given, it is still rather unclear why the Proto-Wambule clusters /*ʔm-/ and /*ʔn-/ have split from Proto-Kiranti /*m-/ and /*n-/. Verbal morphology and internal reconstruction suggest that the Wambule implosive phonemes are partly innovations that can be traced back to clusters of stops, in particular post-final <t> of transitive verb stems, and nasals (Opgenort 2002, 2004).

A labiovelar origin of /ɓ-/

The first series of words with bilabial implosive stops might be traced back to Proto-Western Kiranti /*ʔb-/ or /*ʔw-/ corresponding to prior labiovelars /*kw-/ because the preglottalised Western Kiranti segments correspond to /kw-/ in closely related and more distantly related Tibeto-Burman languages.

  • Wambule ɓari ‘wound’, Bahing ɓar ‘wound’, (Sunwar-S gār ‘wound’); Thulung-M par ‘wound’; Khaling ˈkwaar ‘wound’, Dumi kar ‘wound’ [2]; Kham ˈkhxtera ‘wound’, Chepang khay ‘to wound’.
  • Wambule ɓala ‘shadow’, Bahing ɓala ‘shadow’; Thulung-M pel ‘shadow’, Chepang kwa.laŋʔ ‘shadow’.
  • Wambule ɓallu ‘fish-net’, Bahing ɓaːluŋ ‘fish-net’; Chepang kwəlh ‘fish trap’.
  • Wambule ɓacam ‘eat’; Bahing ʔba-, ʔbat- ‘eat’, Sunwar ˈbwa-, bwaw- ‘eat’; Thulung-M pet- ‘eat’, Khaling-M bət- ‘eat’; Kham kxya- ‘eat’.
  • Wambule ɓo ‘chicken’, Bahing ɓa ‘chicken’, Sunwar-M bwaː ‘chicken’; Thulung-M po ‘chicken’, Khaling phö ‘chicken’, Dumi pawœm ‘chicken’[3]; Magar-M gwā ‘chicken’, Kham baza ‘chicken’, Chepang waʔ ‘bird’.

Another possible labial origin of /ɓ-/

Implosive /ɓ/ in the following Wambule words corresponds to various bilabial plosive phonemes in other Kiranti languages.[4] The implosive might also be traced back to Proto-West-ern Kiranti /*ʔb-/ or /*ʔw-/, but there is no evidence for the development from Proto-Kiranti-Magaric /*kw-/.

  • Wambule ɓarcam ‘throw out’, (Bahing ward- ‘throw’), Sunwar bwar- ‘sow’; Thulung-S par- ‘throw’, Khaling ˈwaan-nä ‘throw’, Dumi wərnɨ ‘throw’.
  • Wambule ɓambu ‘cheek’; Thulung-S phosü ‘cheek’, Khaling phosu ‘cheek’, Dumi busu ‘cheek’.
  • Wambule ɓwalcam ‘mix’; Thulung phol- ‘stir’, Khaling phwaal-nä ‘mix’.
  • Wambule ɓapcam ‘scratch’, (Sunwar-S bamsica ‘scratch’); Thulung-S bram- ‘scratch’, Khaling präm-nä ‘scratch’.
  • Wambule ɓasyam ‘shoulder’, (Sunwar-S balā ‘shoulder’); Thulung-S ˈbalam ‘shoulder blade’, Khaling ˈbhaataa ‘shoulder’, Dumi bokto ‘shoulder’.

A nasal origin of /ɓ-/

In the following series of words, there is a systematic correspondence between Wambule /ɓ-/ and the bilabial nasal /m-/ in related Kiranti languages.[5] This suggests that the bilabial implosive /ɓ-/ developed from the Proto-Wambule cluster /*ʔm-/.

  • Wambule ɓico ‘wife’, Bahing-H ming ‘wife’, Sunwar ˈmiish ‘wife’; Thulung-S mo-cü ‘woman’, Khaling mey ‘wife’ (archaic), Dumi meːʔe ‘wife’.
  • Wambule ɓimcam ‘remember’, Sunwar-S mim-ca ‘remember’; Thulung-S mim- ‘remember’, Khaling mam-nä ‘remember’, Dumi minnɨ ‘remembrance’.
  • Wambule ɓisi ‘eye’, Bahing-H míchi ‘eye’, Sunwar-S mīkci ‘eye’; Thulung-S miksi ‘eye’, Khaling mas ‘eye’, Dumi miksi ‘eye’.
  • Wambule ɓulum ‘tail’, Sunwar-S ˈmīlu ‘tail’; Thulung-S ˈmer ‘tail’, Khaling mer ‘tail’, Dumi miri ‘tail’.

The Wambule words with initial /ɓ-/ corresponding to /m-/ in related languages can be contrasted with Wambule words with initial /m-/ corresponding to /m-/ in related languages.

  • Wambule mama ‘mother’, Thulung-S mam ‘mother’, Khaling ˈmäm ‘mother’ and Dumi mama ‘mother’.
  • Wambule mi ‘fire’, Bahing-H mi ‘fire’, Sunwar-S ‘fire’, Thulung-S mu ‘fire’, Khaling mi ‘fire’ and Dumi mi ‘fire’.
  • Wambule muyo ‘person’, Bahing-H múri ‘man-kind’, Sunwar muru, mur ‘person’ and Dumi miːn ‘man, mankind’.

A nasal origin of /ɗ-/

In the following series of words, Wambule initial post-alveolar /ɗ-/ corresponds to the alveolar nasal /n-/ in related Kiranti languages.[6] This suggests that the post-alveolar implosive /ɗ-/ developed from the Proto-Wambule cluster /*ʔn-/.

  • Wambule ɗi ‘name’, Bahing-H ning ‘name’, Sunwar-S ne ‘name’; Thulung-S nəŋ ‘name’, Khaling nang ‘name’, Dumi ‘name’.
  • Wambule ɗiwa ‘knowledge’; Khaling ˈnu ‘mind’, Dumi ‘mind’.
  • Wambule ɗucam ‘be well’, Bahing-H nyú-ba ‘good’; Thulung-S nü- ‘be well’, Khaling ‘all right’, Dumi nɨnɨ ‘be good, be alright’.
  • Wambule ɗusum ‘nose’, Sunwar-S nẽ ‘nose’; Thulung-S nö ‘nose’, Khaling ‘nose’, Dumi nu ‘nose’.
  • Wambule ɗwam ‘sun’, Sunwar naan ‘sun’; Thulung-S ˈnem ‘day’, Khaling nwaam ‘sun’, Dumi naːm ‘daylight, sun, sunshine’.
  • Wambule ɗwabu ‘ear’, Bahing-H -nyéú in sámá-nyéú ‘ear’, Sunwar-S ˈnophā; Thulung-S nokphla, nəphla, nophla ‘ear’, Khaling ngeco ‘ear’, Dumi ŋitso ‘ear’.

The Wambule words with initial /ɗ-/ corresponding to /n-/ in related Kiranti languages can be contrasted with Wambule words with initial /n-/ corresponding to /n-/ in related Kiranti languages.

  • Wambule nakso ‘family priest’, Thulung-S nokcho ‘ritual officiant’, Khaling ˈnokco ‘priest, shaman’ and Dumi naksœ in naksœ-kɨbɨ ‘kind of shaman’
  • Wambule nyam ‘brain’, Sunwar-S ˈnipsi ‘brain’, Thulung-S nepci, nöpci ‘brain’ and Khaling nes ‘brain’

Conclusion

Wambule, Sunwar and Bahing are characterised by the presence of implosive or preglottalised stops in their modern phoneme inventories. These phonemes have not been attested in other Kiranti languages and seem to represent a Western Kiranti innovation. Comparative evidence shows that Wambule occupies a special place among its closest relatives because the bilabial implosive stop /ɓ-/ can be traced back not only to Proto-Western Kiranti /*ʔb-/ or /*ʔw-/, but also to Proto-Wambule /*ʔm-/, and because the main source of the post-alveolar implosive stop /ɗ-/ is Proto-Wambule /*ʔn-/.



[1] Abbreviations: - morpheme boundary; * reconstructed form; / / phonological transcription; ˈ high tone; AD Anno Domini; -H Hodgson; -M Michailovsky; -S Starostin; VS Vikram Saṃvat era.

[2] Cognates with initial velar plosives are also found in Bantawa, Kulung and Limbu.

[3] Cognates with initial bilabial /w/ are also found in Bantawa, Chamling, Kulung and Limbu.

[4] Cognates with initial bilabial plosives are also found in Bantawa, Chamling, Kulung, Yamphu and Limbu.

[5] Cognates with initial /m/ are also found in Bantawa, Chamling, Kulung, Yamphu and Limbu.

[6] Cognates with initial /n/ are also found in Bantawa, Chamling, Kulung, Yamphu and Limbu.

Primary sources. Bahing by Michailovsky (1988, 1994), based on his own field notes; Bahing-H by Hodgson (1857); Chepang by Caughley (2000); Dumi by van Driem (1993); Hayu-H by Hodgson (1857); Khaling by Toba and Toba (1975); Kham by Watters and Watters (1973), who represent the phoneme /ə/ as orthographic x; Sunwar by Bieri and Schulze (1973a, 1973b); Wambule by Opgenort (2004). Bahing and Hayu words culled from Hodgson (1857) are preceded by ( -H ).

Secondary sources. Magar-M by Michailovsky (1988, 1994) based on Shepherd and Shepherd (1971); Sunwar-S by Starostin (1994) based on Hale (1973), and Sunwar-M by Michailovsky (1988, 1994) based on Bieri and Schulze (1969, 1970, 1971a, 1971b) and Genetti (1988, personal communication); Thulung-S by Starostin (1994) and Thulung-M by Michailovsky (1988, 1994) based on Allen (1975). Forms culled by Michailovsky (1988, 1994) are preceded by ( -M ). Data used by Starostin (2000) are preceded by ( -S ) and rendered in Starostin’s Starling format.

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Bieri, Dora, and Marlene Schulze
1969. ‘Sunwar phonemic summary’, 31-page typescript in Vol. II of Bodic Languages by the Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Bieri, Dora, and Marlene Schulze
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Bieri, Dora, and Marlene Schulze
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Bieri, Dora, and Marlene Schulze
1971b. A vocabulary of the Sunwar language. Kathmandu: Summer Institute of Linguistics [38-page typescript].

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Michailovsky, Boyd
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Opgenort, Jean Robert
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