Gérard Diffloth

Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient (Siem Reap branch, Cambodia)




More on Dvaravati-Old-Mon


In Diffloth (1984) it was shown that the Nyah Kur language shared many features with the Old Mon language including that of the Dvaravati period. A reconstruction of Proto-Monic was then proposed including the phonology, some morphology, and more than 600 lexical items.

The linguistic, the epigraphic, and the geographic evidence converged in suggesting that this Proto-Monic was the vernacular language of the Dvaravati period. Since 1984, I have seen nothing that would contradict these claims. However, the linguistic argumentation given in the book at that time was incomplete.

Granted, Nyah Kur did not branch-off later than the Dvaravati period. But actually, this could be said of any other Mon-Khmer language. If all we provided was this kind of “ante quem” argument, separation could have taken place much earlier and even well into prehistory, at least in principle. What we needed in addition, and was lacking at the time, were arguments “post quem” for that separation.

Many of the lexical items reconstructed for Proto-Monic are lexical innovations diagnostic of Proto-Monic: they could be used as “post quem” arguments. But lexical evidence is unsystematic. It is essentially like historical anecdotes: they may be striking but not really convincing.

In this paper, I will propose innovations which are systematic in nature, and also uniquely shared by Nyah Kur and all forms of Mon. Two phonological innovations will be presented: lenition of medial *-p- and *-b-, and changing the South-Mon-Khmer diphthong *ua into a short *a, both taking place under specific conditions. These innovations are not shared in the rest of the Mon-Khmer family.

They are systematic historical events that must have taken place not only before the separation of Old Mon and Nyah Kur, but also fairly late in pre-historic times. They serve to complete the demonstration that the Proto-Monic language reconstructed in 1984, or something very close to it, was the vernacular language of the Dvaravati period.