What Makes Chinese so Vietnamese?
An Introduction to Sinitic-Vietnamese Studies
(Ýthức mới về nguồngốc tiếngViệt)
Table of Contents
(Chapter Nine [IX] continued)
Overall, lexical correspondences in those basic words among other Mon-Khmer languages that have cognates in Vietnamese could point to ancient Viet-Muong as the root because, anthropologically, traces of the ancient Mon-Khmer inhabitants in the ancient North Vietnam immigrated from today's southwest region in Lower Laos. Loanwords of from some ancient languages could be very fundamentally basic and borrowed from either direction, though. Etymologically, many of them were descended from the same Taic and Yue ancestral language families that had existed in China-South prior to the emergence of the proto-Chinese when the sixteen Bak tribes from the Southwest Asia moved in there and their early mixed ancient language that is grouped in what is known as Sino-Tibetan linguistic family. The new rulers of the land advanced southwards and mixed with other indigenes in Cochin-China (Lacouperie. Ibid. 1967 ) who later on further infused again with the next waves of the Han-mixed Southern Yue who continued to emigrate from China-South; the fusion of all those people evolved into the ancient Annamese as discussed in the previous chapters. Linguistically, the mixture of all the languages spoken in China by the later northern resettlers with the local language spoken then gave birth to the earliest Annamese language that has evolved into modern Vietnamese over the time. Given the grouping of the Ancient Annamese language into the Austroasiatic family by modern Western linguistics, it might be considered as a sister – to be exact, 'cousin' – language of those Mon-Khmer ones as we know it. The fact that, on the one hand, Vietnamese is not a Sinitic language would not constitute it as a descendant of the Austroasiatic linguistic family as theorized by the "Mon-Khmerists". On the other hand, if Annam had not broken off from China in the 10th century and were a province like Canton, Annamese could have been now classed as a Chinesedialect. In the next sections, we are going to explore more of those Sino-Tibetan issues in a full chapter of its own.
For what "Mon-Khmerism" and its relationships with ancestral Taic-Yue sub-families were meant in this passage, I would like to paraphrase the lines set forth by Merritt Ruhlen (1994. Ibid. p. 92) by substituting certain nominal concepts and apply them to the cases being referred to in the theory below. Don't be dismayed if they sound similar to what Ruhlen spoke of Greenberg and the Amerind family that were criticized against by the "Bantuists" – where Greenberg's positions are adapted by myself and "the Amerind family" is to be substituted with the Taic-Yue family, plus the "Bantuisms" "the Austroasiatic Mon-Khmerism", so to speak, when Greenberg's classification of Native American languages appeared in 1987.
In support of the existence of earlier forms of the Taic-Yue family before what has been known about the Sinitic languages of the Sino-Tibetan family, I , the author of this paper, presented in this survey nearly 300 cognate words in all across Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer and Sino-Tibetan languages with those fundamental words found in Vietnamese in addition to grammatical elements such as prepositions and particles used in constructing composite sentences. I think I can borrow the written words by Ruhlen to mimick what was said that "the Mon-Khmerists" simply ignored regarding to those commonalities among Chinese dialects similar to those of Vietnamese that are on par with numerous fundamental core words – say, 'one', 'two', 'sky', 'heaven', 'father', 'mother', 'sister', 'head', 'eye', 'fire', 'water', 'eat', 'drink', etc., as listed in his multiple tables in Ruhlen's work The Origin of Language (1994) – that are concurrently cognate to some extant Mon-Khmer basic words as well. Surprisingly to the contrary, they are so commonplace in all southern Chinese dialects but absent in the Mon-Khmer languages spoken in the Indo-Chinese region. A myriad of explanations from Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer camp that suggested that those similarities in lexical and grammatical items – including the tonal system that matches on one-to-one basis among Chinese and Vietnamese languages – were due to "relationships of multilingualism and intense linguistic diffusions in Asia," before the various Taic-Yue groups migrated further southwards into Indo-China and to the west the present Thailand in the advance of the emreging Chinese in the upper northern region now known as China South throughout Chinese history. The "Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer" terminology for the root for the Vietnamese language is simply a euphemism to avoid admitting that there existed the Chinese connection with various Yue groups in China South that was identified by (De Lacouperie. Ibid.  1963). as "Bok" people (as in "百姓") and later "BaiYue" (百越) in Chinese history. In a similar vein – and towards the same end – those who proposed "Austro-Thai" hypothesis to explain the similarities between Tai-Kadai languages such as Siamese and Laotian. As the hypothesis of "Austro-Thai" did not catch on as well as that of the Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer family discussed in the Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer linguistic literature today, the latter has been discussed designating the Austroasiatic family has been the common origin for all the languages being spoken in China-South and the Indo-Chinese peninsula. The Mon-Khmerists' attack on the Taic-Yue theory of both Chinese and Vietnamese has been remarkably similar to that of Sino-Tibetan family eight decades earlier. At that time, the Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer pioneers would rather make a shortcut to initiate the new Austroasiatic family theory than devote time to study "China before the Chinese". They have done their best only to misunderstand and they acted with determination to miss the point – as if it was their business to act like the judges.
Categorically, on the whole, "it is possible to classify languages into language families on the basis of similarities in words, the assumption being that over time a single original word can change in various ways, through both phonetic and semantic shifts, in various daughter languages" (Ruhlen. 1994. Ibid. p. 29) as seen in the comparative Mon-Khmer Vietnamese tables below. To identify the relationship and changes in languages, the practice of mechanic tabulation has been commonly followed as a linguistic norm set off probably by a school initiated by Bloomfield. Ruhlen believed that in the 20th century there was a shift in focus from historical explanation to structural explanation, a change that essentially bequeathed historical linguistics to Indo-Europeanists and let them do it as they wished. The focus of theoretical linguistics became equated with Indo-European linguistics. (Ruhlen. Ibid. 1994. p. 80) Here is a word of caution for those newcomers who will rely heavily on such methodology to come up with something new for the Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer camp, that "language-specific problems can only be solved by considering that language in a larger context" (Ruhlen. Ibid. 1994. p. 99), and that such an approach needs to be proceeded with some reservation and adjustment herewith because related Mon-Khmer ~ Vietnamese basic correspondents under scrutiny have been found to be scattered widely among those Mon-Khmer languages and proved NOT uniformly to belong to specifically similar lexical classes nor even under the same realm of more broadly general categories in different languages of the same sub-family. For example, for the two numbers, especially, 'one' and 'two', between languages statistically being the most borrowed words, while Khmer numbers are based on 1 to 5, speakers in several other Mon-Khmer languages count 1 to 10 with ten-digit based numbers.
Etymologically, for those similarities in basic realm, such as vocables /ba/ and /pa/, /mama/, /mig/, /mwei/, /mua/, /mjəkw/, /myak/, /mat/... being equivalent to mean the concept 'eye' (VS 'mắt'), or even 'fly' (VS 'bay') in world's languages, they being similar to /bej/, /fej/, /par/, pere/, /puaRR/, /p'er/, /parV/, /phur/, /apir/, /paru/, etc., could be a mere coincidental factor that is oftentimes associated with monosyllabic words and their reduplicative ones, especially those starting with certain sounds such as b-, p-, m-, n-, etc.., and such phenomenon of cognacy seems to exist in almost all Austroasiatic, Austronesian, and Sino-Tibetan languages. Some authors account that as lexical residues from ancestral mother language of all world's languages today (see Roland Breton, J.-L. 1991; Merritt Ruhlen, 1994). However, with Chinese and Vietnamese samples such as 'cha' and 'tía' for the Chinese 爹 diè (father), 'mẹ' and 'mợ' for 母 mǔ (mother), 'bay' 飛 fei (fly), 'uống' 飲 yǐn (drink), 'xơi' 食 shí (eat), etc., all actually "belong to the basic vocabulary and are thus highly resistant to borrowings. In addition to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever proposed any sound-symbolic connection beetween these particular meanings and any particular sequence of sounds. So if we find that one meaning is consistently represented by the same phonetic shape in many different languages families, the only reasonale explanation is that all these forms have evolved from a common source." (Ruhlen. Ibid. 1994. p. 106) Besides, we normally have to sift loanwords as such from vocabularies under examination as opposed to those of true genetic affiliation from the same root.
In Vietnamese, historically, dialectal variants of the same words have been re-introduced – such as 'cha' vs. 'tía' and 'mẹ' vs. 'mợ' as cited above – partly due to migratory resettlements in a series of separately advancing southward movement that used the same original words that earlier emigrants had spoken when they left their homestead in addition to what was new they had brought to unrelated languages, which made them closer within their geographical peripheries, say, from a zero tone language to a new tonal language with 2 or more tones. Such migratory patterns mirrored the early advances that had not only caused the split-up of aboriginal Chamic speakers between today's Vietnam's central region and their cousin descendants of China's Hainan's Li ethnic tribes whose languages have evolved into distinct dialects in the Austronesian linguistic family but also recurred once again as the early Chinese colonialization broke up the linguistic unity of the ancient Viet-Muong group.
Methodologically, linguists of Vietnamese usually started out with a premise and followed some common approaches – such as techniques of comparative linguistics – set forth by many precedessors in the field to discover, establish, classify, and enforce novel theorization of language families, yet new theories always take the seat of the previous ones. There is no surprise that such an analytic methodology has been widely employed by most Vietnamese specialists in their surveys based on glossarial interchanges in Vietnamese with other Mon-Khmer languages because that is the safe way to start one's career in Vietnamese historical linguistics, unfortunately. Newcomers in the field would come up with some similar tabulation like the case of Danaw, a Tiberto-Burmic language sharing many of Mon languages, including those of Mon-Khmer, as previously cited in the wordlist provided by Luce, G. H. (ibid.) From the onset such Mon-Khmer basic words made widely available by predecessors in the Austroasiatic Mon-Khmer camp were extensively quoted. So what was their methodology then? They normally examined and compared only those scattered basic words in Vietnamese to identify cognates in those existing in neighboring languages of Mon-Khmer origin, on the one hand, but they have actually left out the Chinese correspondences, on the other hand, due to their lack of conversance in the latter.
To conduct a comparative analysis, the following table is set up in a similarly imitated arrangement after the table loaded with well established basic words as substantiated by Merritt Ruhlen (ibid. 1994. p. 44). Basic words are grouped together with regional neighboring languages to illustrate how one of the techniques of comparative linguistics has been employed in identifying a linguistic family that a language would supposedly belong to. Our particular words has been picked arbitrarily so as to avoid personal bias – i.e., not selectively chosen in favor of more lexical cognacy that is abundant in Chinese and Vietnamese correspondences as to appear in the tables of word lists below; hence, for what follows, that is why "snow" being included, instead of "cold", "rain", "wind", etc., that are mostly Chinese ~ Vietnamese cognates – and the words are tabulated in such as way that as they are as reliable as Ruhlen's original table. And for all the listings, I shall just post the data without elaboration saving it as an exercise worksheet later on so that readers to identify what language that listed items supposedly belong to (hint: the abbreviation by a single alphabet may give some).