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When would have Proto-Minnan been spoken?


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The Hokkien and Teochew dialects are both classified as part of the Minnan subgroup of Min languages. Puxian, Leizhou, and Hainanese are often grouped outside of the Minnan group due to very limited mutual intelligbility if any from Hokkien and Teochew, but they appeared to be descended from tongues brought through migration from Minnan-speaking regions. I was wondering if there are any resources concerning the development of Minnan dialects from their common ancestor, when this ancestral tongue was spoken, and if there are any reconstructions of proto-Minnan. Thanks beforehand!

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Jerry Norman (羅傑瑞) was the premier authority on the Proto-Min reconstruction in international linguistic literature. The English Wikipedia article is not a bad summary. Much of the historical context is outlined in the 1991 work The Mǐn Dialects in Historical Perspective which put forward four major influences on Min varieties of Chinese, and defines the base of proto-Min to be what was spoken in Fujian. In that work, he defines what characterises the Min dialects from a phonological point of view (evidence of a second type of development of voiced initials in Proto-Min) as well as what splits what he calls Northeastern Min (and what I'd call Eastern Min or 闽东语) from Southern Min. Some of the phonological points are:

  • Proto-Min *dz > (Northeastern/)Eastern Min s- but Southern Min ts- e.g. 坐 "sit" Proto-Min *dzoi-B > 福安 soi-[阳去], 福州 soi-[阳去]; 厦门 tse-[阳去], 揭阳 tso-[阳上]; 莆田 hlo-[阳去] (assumed to follow Eastern Min through an s- intermediate)
  • Proto-Min voiceless nasals > (Northeastern/)Eastern Min and Xinghua/Puxian upper register tone but Southern Min lower register tone
  • (Northeastern/)Eastern Min lacks nasalised vowels; Southern Min has nasalised vowels; Xinghua/Puxian and Hainan no longer have nasalised vowels, but a lot of the lexemes have completely lost their nasal endings. E.g. 三 "three" Proto-Min *sam > 福州 sang, 厦门 sã, 莆田 hlɔ, 海南 ta
  • Proto-Min nasal initials before oral finals (with no nasals at all) > (Northeastern/)Eastern Min (keep as) nasals, Southern Min has got denasalised voiced consonants, Xinghua shows denasalised voiceless initials, Hainanese has non-nasal voiced fricatives or stops. E.g. 尾 "tail" Proto-Min *mi-N  > 福州 muoi, 厦门 bue/bi, 莆田 pi, 海南 vi


Nicholas Bodman has further analysis on the initial nasals (point 4 above). He has Xinghua grouped with Southern Min. Some reconstructed forms are given, mainly based on combining 厦门话 and 潮州话, then reconstructing a Proto-Southern Min Hinghua (PSMHH) by adding 兴化话. The separation of Proto-Eastern Min and PSMHH is meant to date back to the Tang dynasty, and the further splits of Hainanese and Teochew are further along in time..

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