Sino-Tibetan, Indo-European, and the word for ‘wheel’

The latest rerelease from Sino-Platonic Papers is “Sino-Tibetan *kolo ‘Wheel‘” (800 KB PDF), by Robert S. Bauer. Those of you who like historical linguistics should be sure to read this one.


That the horse-drawn chariot appeared suddenly in China in the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1500-1066 BC) has led some Western scholars to believe that it was not independently invented by the Chinese but was introduced there by Western invaders. This paper is based on the premise that there is a connection between the transmission of the horse-drawn chariot from the West into China and the origin of some words meaning “wheel” and “wheeled-vehicle” in Sino-Tibetan languages. In particular, the paper proposes that words for “wheel” in some northern Chinese dialects and Bodic (Tibetan) languages are ultimately derived from an Indo-European source. On the basis of the comparison of words for “wheel” from various Sinitic and Bodic languages, the author has reconstructed the Proto-Sino-Tibetan root *kolo “wheel” which is itself an Indo-European contact loanword.

This was first published in August 1994 as issue no. 47 of Sino-Platonic Papers.

all 325 ‘words that form the Chinese language’

The New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery offers a glimpse inside a book published in the 1770s: The Chinese traveller. Containing a geographical, commercial, and political history of China..

The book provides a chart of 325 syllables identified as being “A LIST of all the WORDS that form the CHINESE LANGUAGE.” I’ll skip the obvious and not address why that’s ridiculous.

The chart is apparently in the first volume of the work. But since the NYPL doesn’t provide many images and Google Books provides only the second volume (scanned from the one in the NYPL collection), I wasn’t able to find any explanatory text about the chart or the authors’ views of Sinitic languages.

Here’s one column:

mouen, moui, moum, mouon, na, nai, nam, nan, nao, nem, ngai, ngan, ngao, ngue, nguen, ngeo, ngo, ni, niam, niau, niao, nie, nien, nieou, nio

Which Sinitic language these are supposed to represent isn’t clear. But, no, it doesn’t appear to be Cantonese, which tends to be the default first guess when it comes to Sinitic languages — at least until recently. My guess is that it’s some form of Mandarin that’s been written in a bastardized way, obscuring differences between what are represented in Pinyin by b and p, d and t, g and k, etc. But then there are those -m finals. What do the rest of y’all think?