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  • Too Much to Swallow:On Terms Meaning 'Swallow' in Oceanic Languages
  • John Lynch

At least seven terms with the meaning 'to swallow' can be reconstructed for Proto-Oceanic, and four more for lower-level protolanguages. All of these bear some phonological resemblance to each other, and also to forms reconstructed for Proto-Austronesian and Proto-Malayo-Polynesian (some of which have the meaning 'to sink, drown, disappear under water'). Only two, however, directly continue earlier terms. The remainder involve change in a single consonant, metathesis, or a process of blending in which the initial syllable of one earlier form combines with the second syllable of another form. Semantic change and Austronesian root theory are included in the discussion.

1. Introduction.

Blust (1988, n.d.) reconstructs the following terms for the verb 'swallow' in high-level Austronesian protolanguages, which incorporate the root *-len:1

(1) PMP *telen, *tilen (doublets, both meaning 'to swallow')
PCMP *belen 'to swallow'

He also reconstructs (i) PWMP *tuñen 'to swallow', and (ii) the following terms meaning variously 'sink', 'disappear under water', 'drown' (which I will represent in this paper by the shorthand gloss 'sink+'), some of which seem to have a possible connection with one or more of the 'swallow' forms:

(2) PMP *telem 'sink, disappear under water'
PWMP *benem 'sink, drown', *taR-benem 'sink'
PWMP *teleŋ 'sink, disappear under water'

It is possible that the following term is also related:

(3) PWMP *inem 'drink' (doublet of PMP *inum)

In looking at possibly cognate forms in Oceanic languages, it is clear that there is a connection between forms reconstructed with the meaning 'sink+' and forms [End Page 336] meaning 'swallow'. It is also clear that there is a considerable number of possible POC reconstructions with the meaning 'swallow', some of which involve minor permutations on higher-level terms; and there are other forms in certain restricted subgroups that exhibit other permutations.

2. Proto-Oceanic Reconstructions.

In what follows, a form is labeled "POC" if it either regularly reflects a higher-order term or if there are cognates in widely separated branches of Oceanic; the label "POC?" means that the form continues a higher-level term but with a phonological modification that is found with a more restricted distribution.

2.1 POC *P-Initial Form.

POC may have had one *p-initial form meaning 'swallow' (noting that POC *p continues PMP *b):

(4) POC? *polo(m), *polom-i 'to swallow'.

Blust lists as reflexes of *belen 'swallow' Samoan folo and Rennellese hogo, and proposes a POC form *polon.2 Biggs (2000) reconstructs Proto-Polynesian *folo 'swallow, ingest', with exemplary reflexes in 27 Polynesian languages-that is, all languages reflect medial *l and also *o in each syllable. However, the suffixed forms of these verbs (where such exist) contain the consonant m rather than the expected n: for example, Mae, Ifira-Mele, Māori foro-mia, Pileni folo-mia, Tahitian horo-mi'i, etc. These suggest an earlier form *polo(m) rather than *polo(n). I reconstruct this in the form *polo(m), *polom-i (following the conventions established in Ross, Pawley, and Osmond 1998:25, 27-28), with final *(m) indicating that no reflex has been found with word-final m, and final *m-i indicating that this m is found in suffixed forms.

Yapese fuul' is cognate with the Polynesian roots, but it is not clear whether it derived from a POC root with final *m or final *n. Ross (1996:160) suggests that it may be a Polynesian loan, but later (pers. comm.) comments that it may be directly inherited. If it is directly inherited, initial f suggests that the POC form is more likely to have had initial *pw.

This reconstruction does not derive regularly from either PCMP *belen 'swallow' or from PWMP *benem 'sink+', but appears to be a kind of "blend" of them both, with the medial *l of the former and the final *m of the latter. I will return to this issue of blending below but, in discussing the next set of terms, I will assume that blending has also taken place in at least some of them...


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