Camara- , ɴbri.

The entry on the Facebook feed of Patrick Taylor (the LH house etymologist) was “I just read a little paper of the kind that make life worth living,” and of course I clicked through to Guillaume Jacques, “Sanskrit camara– ‘yak’ et tibétain ɴbri ‘yak femelle’“; it’s just three pages, and even if you don’t have any particular interest in Tibetan it’s a fun read and to my mind makes a convincing case (but what do I know?). As I commented on FB: “Worth it just for the phrase ‘les langues rgyalronguiques.'”


  1. Thanks for your interest! I am glad this paper is fun to read; I wrote it is for the new journal of Indo-European studies *Wékʷos.
    For those who are intrigued by the term “langues rgyalronguiques”:

  2. I googled for “Rgyalrongic languages”, but omitted the g, causing Dr. Google to inquire learnedly whether I wanted to know about hyaluronic acid.

  3. I read the sketch. Neat! Gotta love a language with “at least 404 consonant clusters, of which 58 appear only in ideophones”, and the idea of a “deexperiencer prefix”, which given a stative verb whose subject is an experiencer, gives another stative verb whose subject is a stimulus (thus ‘slip’ > ‘be slippery’). You couldn’t make this stuff up (though many have tried).

  4. Exactly!

  5. The yak paper for *Wékʷos is wonderful—within two pages, it displays in abundance all the distinguishing qualities of a beautiful etymology listed by Yakov Malkiel and repeated here in an article by Calvert Watkins. How cheering it is to see that new and convincing etymologies can be found even in a language like Sanskrit that has been worked on and worked over by comparative philologists for over 200 years now! And the progress springs, of course, from fieldwork done on the living languages of small communities of China and Tibet, and from the continuing advances that this fieldwork enables.

    I was hoping that I could just happily attach the new etymology to the end of the current etymology for the English word chowry, “fly-whisk made from a yak’s tail,” in the American Heritage Dictionary, in something like the following draft form:

    [From Hindi caũrī, from caũr, yak, from Middle Indic camara, from Sanskrit camaraḥ, male yak, masculine back-formation from feminine camarī, female yak, from a Himalayan source akin to Tibetan ɴbri, female yak, Japhug (Rgyalrongic Tibeto-Burman language of Sichuan) qambrɯ, male yak, and Old Chinese *mrˁə, yak (source of Mandarin máo).]

    But I discovered that the word is not even entered in the AHD, or in the Oxford Dictionary Online, or in Merriam-Webster online (it’s in the old MW 1913 edition, though). Chowry is in the OED of course (“A whisk or fly-flapper, made of hair or feathers (prop. the bushy tail of the Tibetan Yak”), and it was entered in the Century Dictionary. It’s in Collins, too.

    The entry for chowry in Hobson-Jobson is here, and the entry for camará-, “yak”, in Turner is here. Turner gives the Hindi etymon caũrī of the English word, but my favorite of the modern Indic reflexes listed is Oriya caãra, “yak’s tail, flywhisk, beard of maize”.

  6. I wonder if the rgy- in Rgyalrong (Tibetan “great valley”?) is the result of what Nathan Hill has named “Li Fang-Kuei’s Second Law” : Proto-Tibeto-Burman *ry- > Tibetan rgy-. Does anybody know the details?

  7. Your Calvert Watkins link didn’t work for me; this does, or one can do what I did and put Patrick’s search terms [“an inventive mind” “finesse” “erudition and delicacy” “flair”] into Google Books for oneself. (The passage is on p. 300 of Philip Baldi’s Linguistic Change and Reconstruction Methodology.)

  8. To answer Patrick’s question, ‘Rgyalrong’ is generally considered to be abreviated from Rgyal mo tsha ba rong pa ‘the warm valley of the queen’. The element rgyal mo ‘queen’ appears also in Rgyal mo rngul chu (the Tibetan name of the Daduhe 大渡河) and is related to Rgyal mo dmu rdo, the name of a sacred mountain. Thus, the syllable rgyal is from the verb ‘to be victorious’; I don’t know of reliable cognates for it in other languages, potentially it could be a case of Li Fang-kuei’s law, but it could also have other origins.

  9. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Does ɴbri represent a revised standard for Jacque’s transliteration of Tibetan? I would have expected ⁿbri per:

    For the unitiated, this is equivalent to ‘bri in the Wylie system; the preinitial is the so-called ɦa.tɕʰuŋ.

  10. You are right, Greg, it should be ⁿbri in my transcription and ‘bri in Wylie, sometimes I write ɴ- instead of ⁿ- because it is more convenient to type on my custom keyboard; I will change it to ⁿbri in the published version.

  11. and ‘bri in Wylie
    Please, please, turn off smart quotes 🙂

  12. David Marjanović says:

    I will change it to ⁿbri in the published version

    While you’re at it, also change the typo erklärkt to erklärt. 🙂

  13. Poor editing of Wikipedia has managed to suggest that Japhug is pronounced [kɯrɯ skɤt], rather than that that is what native speakers call the language. I imagine the second part is related to སྐད.

    Later it has [tɕɤpʰɯ], which looks more plausible.

  14. To David and Greg: thanks for pointing out the typos, I uploaded a corrected version.

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