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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
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The Austronesian hypothesis for the origin of Min Nan bah (as quoted on English Wiktionary, as of June 2020), comes from Deng Xiaohua's 1994 paper 〈南方漢語中的古南島語成分〉 ("Proto-Austronesian in Southern Chinese Languages"). I have attached an image here from a secondary source:

enter image description here

I see that the 16/17th century (Zhangzhou / Philippine) Hokkien-Spanish dictionaries are reported to have already had 肉 pronounced as bah (in their romanisation, bâ'). Hence this orthographic convention has had a relatively long time-depth compared to the other characters used for it.

What makes the connection harder is the lack of available cognates in other Min branches like Min Dong, Min Bei. If we believe Schuessler's link with 脢, which according to the 說文解字 means "back meat", that wouldn't necessarily rule out an Austronesian connection.

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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:

enter image description here

has the following entry:

enter image description here

and also a bunch of related words starting with bah:

enter image description here

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:

enter image description here


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.

enter image description here

It mentions that it is "本字不明或缺乏."

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  • 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. – Mo. Apr 23 at 13:19

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