The work is quite interesting. It involves the internal history of the Tibetan language, internal history of Tibeto-Burman, etc. Some of these areas have been covered by James Matisoff, and others are terra incognita. My young colleague Jackson Sun at Academia Sinica has been working on comparative Tibetan dialects as well as Proto-rGyalrong 嘉戎。 I am making up the phonological history as I go along. The final product will be 100 cognate sets, supported both by philological evidence and by evidence from living Tibeto-Burman languages. […]
Why am I doing this? While there are many books on Sino-Tibetan comparative linguistics, there is no succinct account of the reasons why we believe Sino-Tibetan-Burman are genetically related. The answer is quite simple. (1) There are between 140 to 300 cognate sets involving Old Chinese and Tibeto-Burman languages. (2) Sino-Tibetan has a causative *s- and a nominalizing *-s. Both (1) and (2) have been in the literature since 2000, but nobody took the trouble to give a short, easy-to-understand account. This is what I am doing and I am writing in Chinese.
I have always thought that in Chinese lexicography there should be a section which tells the reader which Chinese words have Tibeto-Burman cognates and which do not. The American Heritage Dictionary does that for English; for every English word, the Dictionary gives its Indo-European root, if any. We should be able to do that for Chinese.
That’s exciting stuff to me, and I presume to anyone interested in historical linguistics. (We discussed Rgyalrongic languages here a bit last year.)
For anyone who reads Russian, by the way, Sashura has a very interesting interview in Ogonyok with Dmitry Bobyshev on the occasion of Bobyshev’s eightieth birthday; I translated a poem of his five years ago.