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The character 輸 was originally pronounced yu (indicated by the right side phonetic) and meant to transport. How did it come to be pronounced shu (Mandarin) and take on the meaning of to lose?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

You are correct in thinking that is 俞 the phonetic for 輸, but even "originally", they had distinct pronunciations:

In Baxter's Middle Chinese reconstructions:

yu2 俞 MC yu

shu1 輸 MC syu

In Baxter-Sagart Old Chinese reconstructions:

yú 俞 OC *lo

shū 輸 OC *l̥o

That is, "originally", one of them had a devoiced initial, and the other didn't. This is, of course, a reconstruction, but you can read about the evidence Baxter offers for the l/l̥ reconstructions and decide for yourself. In any event, devoiced l -> s (or some silibant) is quite plausible.

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Pronunciation of 輸

Stumpy's answer is correct, 輸 hasn't been pronounced as 俞 before. I add some Chinese materials to state this:

  • 郭錫良《漢字古音手冊》

    (上古音)書侯 ɕǐwo (廣韻)式朱切,書虞合三平遇 ɕǐu

    where ɕ in international phonetic system sounds [舌上音]書.

  • 《廣韻》


    where AB切 means initial consonant is from A and the vowel is from B.

  • 《集韻》《韻會》


  • 《正韻》


Meaning of "to lose"

Ming Dynasty 《正韻》:


And Qing Dynasty, 段玉裁's 《說文解字注》


So, 輸 just extended its meaning from 傾瀉(pour, flow out) to 不足(lack) and then to 負(to lose).

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How did you go about researching the changes in meaning? I had a hard time and didn't get far. – Stumpy Joe Pete Jul 23 '13 at 2:06
@StumpyJoePete: looking up 康熙字典, 說文解字, 說文解字注 would be a good start. If still you can't find it, Google scholar some linguistic journals to see if there's any paper discussing it. – Stan Jul 23 '13 at 2:33
Thanks for the tips! – Stumpy Joe Pete Jul 23 '13 at 2:37
Nice interpretation! The last line is especially useful. – 杨以轩 Jul 23 '13 at 2:45

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