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Baxter's Middle Chinese reconstruction has 拉 as *lop, which surprised me given that the Cantonese reflex is laai1.

Other characters with the rime -op such as 合, 答 and 雜 end up with the rime -ap or -aap in Cantonese, so what happened to 拉?

I imagine it's similar to what happened to 內 (MC *nop), but why didn't it happen with other syllables with the same rime?

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I would speculate that it's similar to the case of 内 as well. In the case of 内, there were two pronunciations and one prevailed in the end. As to 拉, even in today's mandarin, you can see two pronunciations, la1 and la4. The la4 pronunciation reflected the Middle Chinese *lop, but somehow in Cantonese, this pronunciation lost to the other one. –  user58955 Aug 9 '14 at 14:34
You should ask this on linguistics.se –  Semaphore Aug 9 '14 at 15:27
Great question... I was actually going to ask this myself too but you beat me to it. :) –  Claw Aug 11 '14 at 16:31

2 Answers 2

The qu4 去 tone class in Middle Chinese is generally understood to derive from an OC suffix –s. Sagart regards the whole class as deriving from this process (Roots of OC, p. 131). This results in word pairs of plain root and root + s that in Middle Chinese and later differ by tone.

If the –s is applied to a root that ends in a stop, it seems to efface that stop in later developments. Sagart, citing Baxter, gives these examples (p. 54):

nei4 內 *nups > nwojH ‘inside’, compare na4 納 *nup > nop ‘to put in’

dui4 對 *tups > twojH ‘to answer’, compare da2 答 *tup > top ‘to respond’

In Cantonese, in both these cases, the final stop has been retained in the second (unsuffixed) word, but has disappeared in the first. (In Mandarin you don’t see it anywhere, because all final stops are gone.)

The –s suffix seems to have had a variety of functions. Often it seems to form exoactive or causative verbs – as well as Sagart, Schuessler discusses this at length in the introduction to his etymological dictionary.

Could the Cantonese form of 拉 be the reflex of a word with this suffix, which caused the final stop to be lost?

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Are you proposing that 拉 originally had an *-s final, and that the expected form in Cantonese should have had the reflex of 去 tone, but (unpredictably) ended up in the first tone instead? –  jogloran Aug 10 '14 at 8:20
Yes, that's right. –  neubau Aug 10 '14 at 11:45
Or more likely, there was a pair of related words, one with *–s final and one without. Somehow in Cantonese it was the suffixed word that was generalized, while elsewhere the other was, so the final stop was retained. (Just a guess!) –  neubau Aug 10 '14 at 15:41
This is an interesting hypothesis, though if it were the case, we'd find some documentation for it. For example, both 內 and 對 are documented in 《康熙字典》 as 去 tones (內:奴對切,餒去聲;對:都內切,𠀤音碓), with the alternative 入 pronunciation being listed for 內 (奴荅切。同納。). The entry for 拉, however, only recognizes the 入 form (落合切,𠀤音菈。讀與臘近。). If the modern pronunciation came from the OC *-s final, you'd think the 去 form would have made an appearance by the time 《康熙字典》 was compiled. –  Claw Aug 11 '14 at 22:08
Right, which is why I'm reluctant to accept this answer even though it's a good guess. –  jogloran Aug 12 '14 at 2:38

The construction ignores the lanaguage changes on various places. It is for reference only. The entering tone tends to lose when vowel lenghtens. When 'a' lengthens to 'aa' the p is dropped. This happened when Old Chinese evolved into Middle Chinese. So do the evolution of Mandarin.

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I didn't downvote this, but this is obviously untrue: there are plenty of Cantonese syllables ending in -aap, one of which I included as an example... –  jogloran Aug 10 '14 at 5:52
No, you ought consider the initial as well. It is a pitfall without practising the actual pronunciation and just look at rhyme theortical value. Some combinatios of initial and final do not exist at all. –  OmniBus Aug 10 '14 at 7:27
Again I don't think that's true -- the combination laap exists in 蠟, 臘 and others. I do concede that I can't think of an example that appears in tone 1, but my question would then be whether this change is regular, and if so, what drives the change. –  jogloran Aug 10 '14 at 7:41
Again I have to point out that this is not true. The length 'a' in 蠟 is surely much shorter than 拉. It is better pronounce it and make comparison rather than just looking at these symbols. –  OmniBus Aug 10 '14 at 9:49
As I have written that "The construction ignores the lanaguage changes on various places." It is a pitfall to assume language change happened like strict formula. This is simply not true. In the old Kwangtung, articulation of words varied from village to village. Many people were illiterate and dissociation from written form. –  OmniBus Aug 10 '14 at 10:03

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