num "water"

Waruno Mahdi mahdi at FHI-Berlin.MPG.DE
Sat Nov 20 18:07:32 UTC 1999

>  *num "(drinking) water"  (as opposed to "brine", a crucial problem for
> navigators) is proof of protohistoric contacts between Austronesian and
> Japanese people.
> Tagalog _i[num] > umi[num] / inu[min]_ "to drink"
> Ilokano _da[num]_ "water"
> Japanese _[no]mu_ "to drink"

The two Austronesian items reflect *i[nN]um and *daNum respectively.
The later is Proto-Austronesian, but the former is not represented
in Taiwan (where the only languages that reflect *n and *N differently
are located), so it was perhaps not a feature of Proto-Austronesian,
but only formed after departure from Taiwan. This does not however
contradict the assumption of a *Num (or perhaps even *num) as monosyllabic
root. What could perhaps be problematic is the assumption of an
opposition to "brine", because I'm not aware of a Proto-Austronesian
form for that. There are however two protoforms for "salt/salty":
*qasiRaq and *qasiN (perhaps the former meant "salt", the latter
"salty", but this is only a speculation).

I'm not sufficiently versed in Japanese historical phonology to
form an opinion on whether the *u > _o_ shift is regular. But I'd
be very careful about assuming the loan of a Proto-Austronesian
monosyllabic root into Japanese (or any other language).

Nevertheless, the proposition that such a monosyllabic protoform
existed, and that it meant "drink" is indeed very likely. One could
even speculate that *daNum developed out of a *dak "water" + *num
"drink", because some evidence from Austroasiatic (and if my memory
isn't playing tricks on me, also Tai-Kadai) languages could be
brought forward in support of the *dak "water" part.
Furthermore, Proto-Austronesian has a different protoform meaning "water"
in general (*uaSieR, alternatively reconstructed by other authors
as *waSiR). And this is the form that also shows up in the meaning
"river" and other natural bodies of water.

> 2) A contact during early historical times seems to be evidenced by the
> Tagalog word _[hi]bi_ "dried shrimps/prawns", that looks very much like
> Japanese _e[bi]_ "lobster, prawn, shrimp".

Indonesian Malay has _ebi_ "dried shrimps". I'm not sure how old the
term is, could be a relatively recent (say - last half millennium)
loan from Japanese. There is a well-established Proto-Austronesian
form for "shrimp/prawn", and that is *quDang. As the Philppine
and Idonesian meaning of the hibi/ebi item is rather specialized
and indicates something that is likely to be transported as trade
item (DRIED shrimps), whereas the meaning in Japanese refers more
generally to the "raw material" (living shrimps that one still has to
catch and dry) as well as to the product, I think it likelier that the
loan took place from Japanese to Philippines and Indonesia.
But you correctly note that this indeed testifies to some contact,
but in this case, Japanese might have brought the word to the Philippines
and Indonesia, or Malay-speakers or so-called "Manila-men" serving as
sailors on European or American ships could have acquired it in Japan.....

Regards,   Waruno

Waruno Mahdi                  tel:   +49 30 8413-5411
Faradayweg 4-6                fax:   +49 30 8413-3155
14195 Berlin                  email: mahdi at
Germany                       WWW:

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