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I've noticed that the Mongolian word for "new" is "шинэ" (or in traditional script, "ᠰᠢᠨ᠎ᠠ"). Since final vowels are not pronouned it's spoken as "shin".

The Han character for "new", "新" is also pronounced pretty much as "shin" in Mandarin, Korean, and Japanese.

Is the Mongolian word also derived from Chinese? It seems like it ought to be core vocabulary but as its been borrowed into Korean and Japanese it seems quite possible though those other languages facilitated a greater degree of borrowing due to using the Chinese writing system.

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    I see in (Russian) Buryat new is "шэнэ" and Kalmyk it is "шин", so it does seem to be part of Mongolic core vocabulary which makes me lean more toward coincidence. Dec 11, 2013 at 14:22
  • Mongolia is not ᠮᠣᠨᠭᠭᠣᠯ, It should be like ᠮᠣᠩᠭᠣᠯ in traditional Mongolian.
    – user2913
    Dec 21, 2013 at 12:43

3 Answers 3

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It is indeed possible for Khalkha Mongolian шинэ šine to be related in some way to Chinese 新 xīn “new”, but it is hard to say for sure. The term might be a borrowing the Middle Chinese (c. from 4th to 9th century): notice that the reconstructed pronunciation of 新 xīn is sin in Middle Chinese.

As Janus Bahs Jacquet has pointed out, this Chinese word can be connected to PTB *siŋ ~ *sik “tree, wood” (STEDT #2658), an equivalence also recognized by Schuessler (2007: 538). However, the Mongolian form can only come from Middle Chinese, in light of the pronunciation of the final alveolar nasal. As you have noticed yourself, there are cognates in other Mongolic languages, such as Buryat шэнэ šene, Kalmyk шин šin, but also Eastern Yugur šənə, Mongghul śinə, Mangghuer ʂïni, Kangjia šini, Dongxiang ʂïni, etc. To these, we could also add Kalmyk senr and Written Mongolian sener “new, fresh” (Ramstedt 1935: 324). According to Nugteren (2011: 496-97), the reconstruction of this word in Proto-Mongolic could be *šini or *šine. The former (with final *i) seems suggested by the languages of the Qinghai-Gansu region, while the latter (with final *e) appears to be more common in Central Mongolic. Apart from this, we find the same doublet in Middle Mongolian, which has شيني šyny (= šini), شينه šynh (= šine) in the Muqaddimat al-Adab (Muq 9v, 360r), šini in the Secret History of the Mongols (SH 265, 1r), and 失你 šini in the Hua-Yi yiyu (see HY). Finally, Written Mongolian has both sine and sini as well (Lessing 1960: 711, 713). Because the variant with *i is widely spread, we cannot conclude if the proto-form ended in *i or in *e.

Khitan <ś.ên> “new” (Kane 2009: 38) is rather divergent from the phonetic point of view, but I don’t think anyone would object to its inclusion in the family of words. It is true that such form lacks the final vowel, however this kind of phonetic erosion at the end of the word appears to be common in Khitan, cf. e.g. <g.úr> “state, country” (Kane 2009: 89), which corresponds to Khalkha Mongolian гүрэн güren “country” (< *güren), and is also very similar to Jurchen gurun and Manchu gurun “country”, or <ci.is> “blood relation” (Kane 2009: 39), akin to Written Mongolian čisu “blood” (< *cïsu/n). So, at least in theory, the possibility that a lemma such as Khitan <ś.ên> is related to Mongolic *sine or *sini should not be ruled out. Whether or not there was a final vowel in this word, once we go back to the most ancient stages of the development of Khitan, cannot be demonstrated conclusively, but this fact does not make the contribution we get from this language less interesting or valuable. Khitan was a Para-Mongolic language (see Janhunen 2003, 2012, 2023) spoken since at least (but most likely even before) the 10th century, so it is attested earlier than Middle Mongolian (fl. 13th century) in terms of written records.

In conclusion, taking into account the data from Medieval and Modern Mongolic languages together with Khitan, we can assume that, if Proto-Mongolic *sine/i was borrowed from Chinese 新 xīn, then it must have happened very early in the pre-history of Mongolic languages, possibly during the Pre-Proto-Mongolic period. On one hand, there are no glaring obstacles to this hypothesis from the point of view of the phonology and the semantics, while, on the other, historical written sources are per se unable to confirm or reject it. Is it possible that Mongolian шинэ šine “new” is related to Chinese 新 xīn “new”? Yes, absolutely. Is it plausible? Yes, it is! But we cannot prove it.

Primary sources

Muq = Muqaddimat al-Adab (c. XII-XIV century AD)
SH = Secret History of the Mongols (c. 1227 AD)
YH = 华夷译语 Huá-Yí yìyǔ (1382 AD)

References

  • Janhunen, Juha A. 2003. Para-Mongolic. In Janhunen, Juha A. (Ed.) The Mongolic Languages, 391-402. London: Routledge.
  • Janhunen, Juha A. 2012. Khitan: Understanding the Language Behind the Scripts. Scripta 4: 107-132.
  • Janhunen, Juha A. 2023. The Unity and Diversity of Altaic. Annual Review of Linguistics 9: 135-154.
  • Kane, Daniel. 2009. The Khitan Language and Script. Leiden & Boston: Brill.
  • Lessing, Ferdinand D. 1960. Mongolian-English Dictionary. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  • Nugteren, Hans. 2011. Mongolic Phonology and the Qinghai-Gansu Languages. Utrecht: LOT.
  • Ramstedt, Gustaf J. 1935. Kalmückisches Wörterbuch. Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura.
  • Schuessler, Axel. 2007. ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
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To begin with, the Chinese phoneme is not exactly sh but it sounds more like k in Swedish käften.

Contrary to the information provided by YS, more exact spelling of the other language is Khitan (with H) or Liao and its relation to Mongolian is at least disputable.

The Khitan word does not prove anything, because this is a distant language of a disputed and not widely recognised branch, but these are the minor inaccuracies.

What really matters is that the final vowel used to be pronounced in older Mongolian only, but not in Khitan (which is clear even from the poor and insufficient evidence provided by YS).

And it is far more important that the proto Sino-Tibetan word for 'new' has been reconstructed as ¤saR; that is, as a monosyllablic word with a final consonant R (see Paul K. Benedict, p. 163).

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    To begin with, there's no agreement on whether there is one Chinese phoneme, or two allophones of a single phoneme. [ʂ] and [ɕ] are in complementary distribution so various analyses either group or split them. And I'm sure it/they has/have changed since the time the various languages borrowed it anyway, which is why I didn't go off on that tangent d-; Dec 11, 2013 at 14:04
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    And I have no idea why you're talking about Khitan. I didn't mention this at all... Ah you should mention YS's answer if you reference it. There's no guarantee of the order answers will be presented or read in. Dec 11, 2013 at 14:06
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    Yes, you're right about the [ʂ] and [ɕ], but they are rendered as *s- in most of reconstructions. The rest is more about YS's answers.
    – Manjusri
    Dec 11, 2013 at 14:45
  • I have to admit to not being very good at Proto-Sinitic, Proto-Sino-Tibetan, or protolanguage reconstructions at all actually. I find etymological dictionaries frustratingly difficult to use. If we had a blog we could have an article on that topic! (= Dec 11, 2013 at 14:49
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    ...and other historical forms are *sienz or *sieny, but, again, I am not sure about the timelines of these two (proto)languages (the *ser is definately proto Sino-Tibetan, but I am not sure about its cognates *sieny and *sienz).
    – Manjusri
    Dec 11, 2013 at 15:04
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This word can well be connected with its Chinese counterpart. The Old Mongolian for it is sine, the Kitan (Super Old Mongolian) is *shen.

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    It seems that Classical Mongolian did not (at least usually) have final consonants. Often in the Cyrillic spelling the final vowels are not written, but when they are they are not pronounced. In the traditional script spellings there are a lot more written final vowels which are silent but. The traditional script preserves the Classical Mongolian whereas the Cyrillic is more "reformed". Not that any of that directly affects this word but it's interesting to know. Dec 11, 2013 at 14:09
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    Even the Classical Mongolian word monggol has a final consonant, and there are tons of other words with a final consonant, here are some of them, the ones that I could remember first: han (khan), hoyar (2), arban (10), bičig (script, writing), on (year), etc. And I have something special for you, it's my scan of a 1989 Mongolian book that teaches how to write Mongolian in the traditional Mongolian script, for those who are used to writing in Cyrillic. Just tell me where it's better for you that I post the link to download it.
    – Yellow Sky
    Dec 12, 2013 at 13:56
  • Yes sorry I'm far too new at Mongolian to have commented on this stuff. I don't know the current phonotactics or what has changed over the centuries in the phonotactics since Classical Mongolian. I just know that there are various quirks. Монгол = ᠮᠣᠨᠭᠭᠣᠯ has a final consonant in both traditional and Cyrillic, but хэл has a final consonant in Cyrillic but ended with a vowel (e) in traditional ᠬᠡᠯᠡ. Dec 12, 2013 at 14:22

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