In both the teoswa and hokkien, the common word for meat is pronounced something like /baʔ/. I.e., it has a voiced initial stop (not like pinyin "b") and a glottal final.

This doesn't seem like the expected Southern Min reflex of 肉 from Middle Chinese (where it was pronounced like /ȵiuk̚/). I would at the very least expect the pronunciation to end in a final /k/ (since these dialects preserve final /k/). The initial could be an /n/ or something else, but it should follow from some systematic set of sound changes.

For instance, wiktionary gives the following (presumably colloquial = 白) readings for 肉 in Southern Min:

Xiamen: /liɔk̚⁵/ and /hik̚⁵/

Shantou: /nek̚⁵/

These all seem plausible as being regular derivations of the Middle Chinese. The final /k/ is present in all of them. The /ȵ/ initial either turned to /n/ (which in some dialects is merged with /l/) or it turns to h before front vowels. The latter is a rule Norman claims to hold for some dialects, and it seems to hold in Xiamen dialect for 耳 (/hi/).

So where does /baʔ/ come from, if not the Middle Chinese word 肉 = /ȵiuk̚/?

  • The loss of sesquisyllables in OC makes it very difficult to trace these kinds of morphemes if they don't have phonetic components. Maybe the "Etymology 2" section for 肉 (Schuessler 2007: 脢 and various SEA words for the word meaning fat) are the best we can do. (gee, an association with 肥 looks tempting) – dROOOze Apr 22 at 5:29

This is not really an answer - just some notes. Temporary answer: it's 訓讀 and 本字不明或缺乏.

《閩南方言大詞典(補頁)》on page 648:

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has the following entry:

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and also a bunch of related words starting with bah:

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There are no other words with this pronunciation in the dictionary.

《臺灣閩南語推薦用字700字表》doesn't have any bah related entries.

《台灣閩南語常用詞辭典》 also only has one entry related to bah. 肉 is used to represent the pronunciation but they do note that it is:

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Wiktionary says it's 訓讀:

台灣閩南語:jio̍k/lio̍k(文), hi̍k(白), bah(訓讀)

Wikipedia has a page entitled: 閩南語漢字訓讀.

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It mentions that it is "本字不明或缺乏."

| improve this answer | |
  • Now that I look into this more, I see that there are theories it's from {some other language, but no one can agree on which one}. If you were to add a bit about those theories (including noting that no one of them is totally accepted), I would accept this answer, since the truth seems to be "we don't know, but it's not 肉". – Stumpy Joe Pete Apr 22 at 23:17
  • Wiktionary claims that 脈 is an alternative way of representing "bah" (looks like a plausible phonetic loan to me). Any of your topolect resources say this as well? – dROOOze Apr 23 at 1:12
  • @StumpyJoePete Yeah, I was hoping to find some papers or something, but no luck as of yet. I'll keep looking. – user3306356 Apr 23 at 13:19

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