[Tibeto-burman-linguistics] Etymology of the ethnonym Hpyen and variants

David Bradley D.Bradley at latrobe.edu.au
Sun Dec 2 21:43:42 UTC 2018

Dear colleagues,

I have not yet seen this book, if anyone has a PDF copy I would be most interested.

The attachment is the Bisoid section of a forthcoming atlas.

The Burmese exonym Hpyin(g) and the Chinese exonym 老品 refer to the Bisu in Burmese and Chinese respectively. Some Burmese exonyms in this area were borrowed from Shan, like the former Burmese exonyms for the Lahu, Akha and (southern) Lisu.

The Bisu have visited back and forth over the last fifteen or so years between Thailand, Burma and China and can communicate in Bisu, despite many years of separation. The Bisu in Thailand think that they came (perhaps as war captives) from what is now the Eastern Shan State circa 1850; this is the area where the Bisu in Burma (and one village nearby in China) still live. A Bisu monk from Burma visited the Bisu in Thailand about 60 years ago, the Bisu and others in Thailand are helping the Bisu in Burma to develop an orthography, and the Bisu in Burma and China are now intermarrying. The Bisu have no military tradition that I know of; in this they may be unlike the Phunoi, who have served in a variety of armies over the last few hundred years.

As far as I know, there is no Shan word like [ph(j)in] for 'mercenary' or 'soldier'. The closest is Chinese 兵 which is of course unaspirated, unlike the Chinese and Burmese exonyms which are both aspirated. The aspirated/unaspirated contrast is stable in Bisoid languages.

Phunoi and Côông are apparently quite closely related. There is some linguistic data on the dialects of Phunoi collected by Sue Wright, and very limited Côông data in various Vietnamese sources.  More data on Phunoi dialects and Côông would be most welcome!

Bisu and Laomian (who live a bit further north) are fairly closely related, but not mutually intelligible; there is a lot of Bisu and Laomian linguistic data available. Sangkong is documented in one book in Chinese, and is distinct from the other two clusters.

All these languages have long been in contact with various Tai languages, and have many Tai loanwords: Tai Ly, Tai Khyn or Tai Neu, and more recently Kham Muang and Thai into Bisu in Thailand.


Prof David Bradley FASSA FAHA
La Trobe University VIC 3086
From: Tibeto-burman-linguistics <tibeto-burman-linguistics-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of Patrick McCormick <mccormick.yangon at gmail.com>
Sent: Sunday, 2 December 2018 3:35:07 PM
To: tibeto-burman-linguistics at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: [Tibeto-burman-linguistics] Etymology of the ethnonym Hpyen and variants

Dear Colleagues,

I've been reading Vanina Bouté's _Mirroring Power: Ethnogenesis among the Phunoy of Northern Laos_.

She claims (p 16) that the name Pyen is from Shan; then later (p41) talks about Hpyen meaning "mercenary" in Shan. That py- initial doesn't look native Shan to me (it seems common in loanwords, however). Cushing's Shan-English dictionary lists nothing like it.

My questions:
1) is "(H)pyen an exonym?
2) Does it have any recoverable meaning in Phunoi or Bisu?

Any leads would be appreciated. My interest is in the idea of some of these groups supposedly having their origins in Burma as mercenaries and where this idea came from.

Patrick McCormick
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