[Tibeto-burman-linguistics] Citrus

Mark W. Post markwpost at gmail.com
Mon Nov 3 00:03:18 UTC 2014

Hi there,

Awhile back Nathan Straub posted a query about oranges that mentioned 
Apatani. I thought I should point out that the cited form /*komla/// is 
not an indigenous Apatani word, but a loan from Assamese (I'm not sure 
what the * represents, as Sun certainly didn't reconstruct a form like 
this). I realize that the Skt and Hin words /naranga /and /santara///are 
quite different, but Bengali and Oriya also have /ko/amala/, and similar 
forms are also found in Dravidian (so maybe that's the origin of the E. 
I-A forms, I'm not sure). Whatever the ultimate source of the Assamese 
form, the fact that it's the source of Apatani /komla/ (and I suspect in 
all other TB langs of the area) is clear. The native Tani root for 
'citrus' is /*ɕɨŋ/, which actually indicates a fairly rare wild citrus - 
poss. a variety of /Cit. indica/, but I'm not sure, as I've never seen 
the fully-formed fruits and I can't tell just by looking at the tree. 
Some people extend this for 'mandarin orange', which is a 
recently-introduced fruit on the order of a handful of decades - for 
example, Lower Adi /tasiŋ/ - while other people prefer to borrow the 
Indic terms - or rather, Indo-European, as in the more recent Siang-area 
loan /balen-siya/!

None of this has anything to do with the Rawang source, of course, but 
since I've also been interested in the diffusion of crop names in the 
area, I thought I'd mention it.


*Nathan Straub 曹內森* nstraub at gmail.com 
/Fri Oct 24 13:59:32 UTC 2014/

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Here's a little puzzle for you...

Where did the word for 'orange' or 'tangerine' in Rawang come from?
According to my understanding, the first major cultivation of citrus trees
in the Putao area of northern Burma was introduced by J. Russell Morse in
the 1950s. (Although, come to think of it, he did a lot of grafting of
imported orange shoots onto wild tree stock, so there may have been a word
for 'orange' in Rawang before the Morses arrived.)

The Mvtwang dialect of Rawang has [gɯm³¹ziʔ] 'tangerine', and the Rvmøn
dialect has [kʰa.lɨm.gəm.tziʔ (si)] 'orange (fruit)', from [kʰa] 'chicken',
[lɨm] 'egg', [gəm.tziʔ] 'tangerine (?)', and [si] 'fruit'. (I guess it
means an orange the size of a chicken egg?)

The STEDT database shows the following similar forms, falling into three

*kom-la 'orange' (Apatani)
ko-ma-la à-ji 'orange' (Apatani)
komla 'orange' (Rongmei/Nruanghmei)
komola 'orange' (Tangkhul)
komla 'orange' (Meithei)
nareŋ komla 'orange' (Bodo) (nareŋ < Sanskrit नारिङ्ग nāriŋka)
ko-mil-a 'orange' (Garo (Bangladesh))
róʔkhyɯsɨ́ 'tangerine' (Sak)

kōpeng shei 'orange' (Darang [Taraon])
sohosi-kemupfü 'orange' (Angami (Khonoma))
sühi-küngu 'orange' (Chokri)

jemben 'orange' (Ao (Chungli))
champen 'orange (Ao (Mongsen: Longchang))
auko-champan 'orange' (Chang)

On top of this, I'm spending the night with a family in Yunnan, and the
father calls oranges  *chéngzi* [tɕʰəŋ³⁵tzɿ³¹] (Mandarin Chinese) (tzɿ
'son, seed, individualizer').

My first suspicion was that the Rawang root [kɯmziʔ] (Mvtwang) or [kəmtziʔ]
(Rvmøn) is derived from the Chinese word *chéngzi*, because otherwise I
have no gloss for [ziʔ], which doesn't appear in the other Tibeto-Burman
ostensible cognates. The problem is that [kom] appears in so many other TB
languages, and is phonetically closer to the Rawang root than the Chinese
form is.

Another possibility is that [ziʔ] is derived from PTB *sey
FRUIT/ROSE/ROUND.OBJECT, like [ji] in the second Apatani form shown above.
If this is the case, then it is fossilized, with [si] 'fruit' is appended
on top of it, both of them deriving from the PTB *sey at different times. I
don't really think this is likely, though, because [ziʔ] doesn't appear at
the end of any other fruit names in Rawang that I know of. ([si] 'fruit' at
the end of the Rvmøn form is optional.)

Any ideas on this etymology, or the spread of orange cultivation
historically in the Tibeto-Burman area?


We are sent into this world for some end.  It is our duty to discover by
close study what this end is & when we once discover it to pursue it with
unconquerable perseverance.
JQA at age 12 to his brother Charles (June 1778)
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