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An introduction to Thai ethnonymy: examples from Shan and Northern Thai.


This article deals with Shan and Northern Thai ethnonymy. My approach consists in enumerating the various etymologies proposed, and in selecting the most likely ones by applying a method combining (1) a study of the (generally ancient) interethnic relations in Southeast Asia and (2) the data obtained by diachronic and areal linguistics.


One of the first problems a student of Southeast Asian languages and cultures has to face is the complexity of the ethnic terminology (both autonymic or endonymic, viz., the ethnonym given by the members of an ethnic group to themselves, and exonymic, viz., the ethnic name given by their neighbors); Southeast Asian ethnic composition is still a much debated topic among specialists. Breton (1981: 7-9) gives two definitions of the concept ethnic group: (a) the first one is grounded on a linguistic criterion: an ethnic group is a coherent group sharing the same language; (b) the second one bases itself on a cultural criterion and defines an ethnic group as a community tied by a common network of anthropological, politico-historical, and linguistic features that build a cultural system. To "exonym" and "autonym" we have to add "loconym," an ethnonym based on a toponym, and "paleonym" and "neonym," both referring to the fact that some ethnonyms can be analyzed in their diachronic dimension: some archaic ethnonyms ("paleonyms") can be replaced by new ones ("neonyms") (1).

The three terms "autonym," "exonym," and "loconym" are sufficient to classify most of the ethnonyms analyzed in this article. We should, however, add two other particular ethnonyms: judgment-based ethnonyms ("ethnocentriconyms") and (pseudo)history-based ethnonyms ("(pseudo)historiconyms"). An "ethnocentriconym" can be defined as an ethnonym based on a positive judgment about one's own ethnic group or on a negative judgment about neighboring groups; a "(pseudo)historiconym" is an ethnonym based on an important event in the (pseudo)history of a given ethnic group. It should be added that the borderline between some loconyms and historiconyms is far from being clear-cut.


The study of ethnonyms is made particularly intricate by factors such as (1) the lack of parallelism between the ethnic and the linguistic naming; (2) the multiplicity of ethnonyms for the same ethnic group; (3) the various etymologies proposed for the same ethnonym; (4) ethnonymic change during migrations; (5) the vagueness (purposely?) associated with ethnic cover terms; and (6) the discrepancy between an exonymic naming and the actual ethno-linguistic reality.

(1) One of the numerous problems ethnonyms raise is that there is no de facto parallelism between an ethnic and a linguistic naming. For example, the Tai Yo [taj.sup.A2] [[jc:].sup.C2] from the Nghe An province (Viet Nam) and the Tai Mene [taj.sup.A2][[m[epsilon]:].sup.A2] from the Khamkeut district (Laos) are both linguistically Tai Yo despite the fact the Tai Mene reject the ethnonym Tai Yo. (2)

(2) The multiplicity of ethnonyms used to name the same ethnic group also raises some problems, as shown in the name of the Tai Lit [[taj.sup.A2] [[li:].sup.C2], also named Tai Lue, Tai Sipsong-panna, or Paiyi. Some ethnic groups possess an autonym next to an official exonym: the Tai Ahom identify themselves by the autonym Tai Raw [[taj.sup.A2] [raw.sup.BI]] ('Our People'); the Tai Dehong name themselves Tai Le [[taj.sup.A2] [[le:].sup.A1] 'Upper/Northern Tai' or more rarely Tai Tai' [[taj.sup.A2][] ('Tai [from the] lower [course of the Nujiang River]').

(3) The same ethnonym can receive divergent etymological explanations: are the Tai Deng [[taj.sup.A2][[d[epsilon]:[eta]].sup.A1] 'Red Thai" ([[d[epsilon][??]].sup.A1] 'red' in their language) or are they the Thai 'from Muong Daeng (3) (Yen Khu'o'ng on the Upper Song Ma, Thanh Hoa, Viet Nam), the area from which they are supposed to have migrated?

(4) Many ethnic groups changed their autonym during their migrations to neighboring countries; e.g., the Tai Tac (Viet "Tay Tac") from So'n La province (Northwest Viet Nam), who are identified as White Tai but who speak a Tai Deng sub-dialect and use the Tai Deng writing.

(5) Some ethnonyms are used as generic terms covering a collection of languages and ethnic groups whose composition fluctuates over time and according to scholars' observations, a fact that increases the current ethnonymic complexity. The ethnonym "Shan" will serve as an example. A damaging vagueness directly derives from the generic and vague nature of this cover term; which "shan" are we talking about? According to which definition put forward by which author? Are they the Tai Ya'i [[taj.sup.A2] [jai.sup.B1] 'Great Tai' (autonym for the Shan in Burma)? Are they Tai Dehong [taj.sup.A2] [] [[xo[eta]].sup.A2] (exonym for the Shan in China)? Are we talking about the group of Shan languages, among which are Tai Yai, Tai Maw, Tai Aiton, and Tai Ahom? And it should be noted that given the diversity of scholarly opinions, there is no necessary unanimity on that particular linguistic classification.

(6) Thai ethnonymy is also complicated by the fact that some ethnic groups labeled under a single exonym do not use a unified system of autonyms to name their ethnic community and language. For example, the zhuang [??] (or [??], formerly [??], the largest ethnic minority in China, do not constitute an autonymic unity: in various areas in Guangxi they "auto-name" themselves [pow.sup.C2] [[cu:[eta]].sup.B2], [p.sup.h][o.sup.B2],[t.sup.h][aj.sup.A2], [pow.sup.C2] [[ma:[eta]].sup.A2], [pow.sup.c2] [[ba:[eta]]], or [pow.sup.C2] [law.sup.A2], while those in Yunnan use the following autonyms: [pu.sup.C2] [[no[eta]].sup.A2], [bu.sup.B2] [daj.sup.A2], or [bu.sup.C2] [jaj.sup.C1] (= Bouyei, buyi [??][??]). The Zhuang do not constitute a linguistic unity either, because Chinese authorities include within that minority group some distinct ethnic groups such as the Lachi speaking a Kadai language (and not a Thai-Yay one).

As with the Viet-Mu'o'ng (Ferlus 1996) and Tibeto-Burman areas (Matisoff 1986), Thai ethnonymy raises important problems for linguists and anthropologists. In order to structure the labyrinth of Thai ethnic denominations (mainly Shan and Northern Thai) I will adopt a methodology conjoining the analysis of data from the history of interethnic relationships in Peninsular Southeast Asia with the analysis of linguistic data from various Southeast Asian languages as well as from Sanskrit and Pali.


I will use the "French School" terminology, which means that:

(1) To the term "proto-thai-yay" in the French tradition corresponds the "Proto-Tai" from the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

(2) To the "proto-thai" (or "thai commun") corresponds the "Proto-Southwestern Tai."

(3) To the "tai" languages correspond the "Central Tai" languages.

(4) To the "yay" languages correspond the "Northern Tai" languages.

The Northern Thai (or "thai' du Nord") discussed in this paper has nothing to do with the Northern Tai of LT; Northern Thai belongs to the Southwestern Tai branch and comprises dialects such as Tai Yuan or Tai Khun. It is merely a geographical denomination for some Thai dialects spoken in Northern Thailand.

The three Proto-Thai tones will be noted ABC; the fourth type (tonally undifferentiated) in checked syllables will be noted DL (when the Proto-Thai [henceforth: PT] nuclear vowel is long) and DS (when the PT nuclear vowel is short). In this paper I will only make a distinction between low-series tones Al Bl C1/DL1 DS1 and high-series tones (4) A2 B2 [C2/DL2] DS2, even if one should posit at least four levels for initials (and not only two levels for voiced and voiceless consonants) ranking from the most tense to the most lax: (1) voiceless aspirated, (2) voiceless non-aspirated, (3) preglottalized, and (4) voiced consonants.

I will maintain the practice of putting an "ethnospecifier" after (exceptionally before) the ethnonym Thai/Tai, as in Tai Khamti, Tai Deng, Black Tai, or White Tai. The ethnonym Thai is a generic term covering the Thai populations and dialects located south of the Red River to Assam in northeastern India; the ethnic term used to name the people living in Thailand as well as their language is Siamese. The term Tai designates particular Thai peoples whose dialects have undergone the change of PT plosive [*d] to [t], as in "Tai Deng (society)," "Tai Mu'o'ng (dialect)," "the Tai Ahom (sovereigns)." The ethnonym used to name the Tai ethnic groups and languages north of the Red River is Tai (= Central Tai). I will keep the ethnic term Lao and will not add the ethnospecifier Tai before it because of the autonymic use of Lao; I will also maintain the simple name Shan, this exonym being a cover term.


The various forms tay, tay, tai, thai, tdy, thai, thai, and tai in the scientific literature have always been a source of confusion for linguists and anthropologists. The ethnonym Thai/Tai and its derived forms come from the Proto-Thai etymon [*daj.sup.A]; they all attest a phonological change of the voiced plosive [*d-] into a voiceless plosive, aspirated [[t.sup.h]-] (in Lao and Siamese) or unaspirated [t-] (in all other Thai-Tai languages). The term Thai [[t.sup.h][aj.sup.A2]] with initial aspirated consonant should then be reserved only for Siamese and Lao, but it has been extended, in the ethnographical and linguistic literature, to ethnic groups who instead have Tai [taj.sup.A2], such as the White Tai, the Black Tai, and so on. This term identifies the language name as well as the ethnic community. The term [t.sup.h], [aj.sup.A2] is used as an autonym by the various Thai-Tai ethnic groups (except for the Lao who use [[la:w].sup.A2] as an autonym and call the Siamese [[t.sup.h][aj.sup.A2]]), whereas the Yay people use the autonym [jaj.sup.C1].

In Viet Nam the specialists use the term Thai for the ethnic groups speaking a Thai language south of the Red River and Tay for the ethnic groups north of that river, such as the Tay, Nung, and Tho. The Sino-Vietnamese ethnonym Tho [+ or -] (Mandarin Chinese tu < MC [t.sup.h][c.sup.?]) (5) means 'autochthonous' and is used as an exonym to name Viet-Mu'o'ng populations in Nghe An and Tai ethnic groups in Viet Bac. As noted by J. Donaldson and J. Edmondson (1997: 235 n. 1), the Vietnamese pronunciations of the rimes -ay and -ai are quite different: conventionally, the rime <-ay> is pronounced [??] whereas <-ai> is pronounced [-aj]; moreover, many educated T(h)ai feel reticent about the Romanized form tai, this word being almost homophonous with [[ta:j].sup.A1] 'death', except for the tone.

In China the Thai constitute one of the fifty-six minzu [??][??] "peoples, nationalities, ethnic communities." (6) The Chinese use the term tdiyuzhi [??] [??][??] to name the Thai-Yay linguistic family; daiyu [??][??] is the term used to designate the various Thai languages spoken in China, mainly in Yunnan province; as to taiyu [??], it refers to the Siamese language. In China the Thai ethnonymy is formed by adding the suffix -zu [??] 'filiation, descent from the same ancestor' to the generic term dai [??] used to label the Thai: the "Thai (of China)" are named daizu [??][??].

Let us now look at some "popular" etymologies proposed for the ethnonym. According to A. L.-M. Bonifacy (1919: 72), in Southern China and in Tonkin the ethnonym was written with the graph dai [??] meaning "bad, mean"; for C. M. Enriques (1933: 71) it might have come from Chinese tai [??] or da [??], meaning "great." Both suggestions belong among the numerous folk etymologies we encounter. Last but not least, Siamese patriotic pride has the ethnonym Thai derived from the last two syllables -daya of the name of their very first kingdom, Sukhodaya (7) (Sukhothay) 'Dawn of Felicity'; this prestigious etymology is quite accurately rendered in the script day (ai-d-ya) to designate the Siamese whereas dai (d-ai) is used only occasionally to name the Thai/Tai-speaking ethnic groups; Lao writes dai in either case (Ferlus 2006a).

In fact, the ethnonym T(h)ai is an ethnocentriconym meaning 'human being' in Proto-Thai. In translating the inscription on the famous Ramkhamhaeg's stone pillar (a.d. 1292) (8) G. Coedes (1924) identified the term [daj.sup.A] and glossed it 'people, human being', an archaic meaning that is still preserved in the lao [t.sup.h][aj.sup.A2] [[ba:n].sup.c1] 'villager'. The meaning "free man" is a later sense, doubtless connected with the old feudal structures developed by these hierarchical ethnic societies.

M. Ferlus (2006a) recently proposed two convergent etyma for some ethnonyms; his work is based on some simple rules of phonetic change observable in the Sinosphere and studied for the most part by W. Baxter (1992). These phonetic evolutions are (1) the vocalic shift [-i:] > [-aj]; (2) the sporadic change [r] > [1] through dialectal variation; (3) the regular change [r] > [I] from Old Chinese to Middle Chinese; (4) the regular changes affecting initial or medial [1] from OC to MC: (4.1.) in medial position of a sesquisyllabic word (tense syllable): OC [-1-] > MC [d-1, and (4.2.) in initial position of a monosyllabic word (lax syllable): OC [1-] > MC [j-]. (9) Eventually the presyllable was probably truncated.

According to Ferlus, the Tai-Kadai etymon *k(e)ri: 'human being' would have yielded the ethnonyms Thai/Tai, li [??] or li [??] ("hlai" [lai]), and yi [??] whereas the ethnonyms geldo [??], whereas the ethnonyms gelao [??], lao [[la:w].sup.A2], and keo [ks:w.sup.A1] would have emerged from the Austroasiatic [??]'human being'. So, the ethnonyms Thai/Tai (< PT *[daj.sup.A].) would have evolved from the etymon *k(a)ri: through the following chain: [??] <[??] ([-1-] > [-d-] shift in tense sesquisyllables and probable diphthongization of [-i:l > [-aj]). This in turn changed to di:/ daj (presyllabic truncation and probable diphthongization [-i:] > [-aj]). And then to *daj (A) (Proto-Thai) > [t sup h][aj sup A2] (in Siamese and Lao) or > [taj.sup.A2] (in the other Thai-Tai dialects [viz., Southwestern and Central Tai dialects by Li Fanggui]).


The term Siam has long been attested in Southeast Asian epigraphy under the Khmer and Cham form syam and the Burmese forms syam/syam. It would be dangerous, however, to interpret syam as the first ethnic attestation for the Siamese people because nothing is sure as to the ethnic group(s) behind those syam. They have been attested since the beginning of the seventh century a.d.; a ku syam (10) is attested as early as 611 in an inscription in Angkor Borei and also in inscriptions from 683 and 684. The expression ku syam is often interpreted by specialists as a slave name but this interpretation has to be considered with caution, because as Ferlus noted (2006c: 114 n. 13),
 Les steles de fondations etaient gravees pour durer et etre lues par
 tous. II est difficilement imaginable que leur contenu ait pu
 comporter des noms d'esclaves, parfois en liste tres longue. Ces soi-
 disant esclaves etaient des serviteurs de la divinite, assurant done
 une fonction valori-sunte. Les vrais esclaves etaient au bas de
 l'echelle sociale et n'avaient pas droit a la perernnite.

In the twelfth century the bas-reliefs of Angkor Vat referred to those syam and to a syam-kuk contingent in the vanguard of the Khmer army.'' Apart from these Khmer attestations, a Cham inscription from the middle of the eleventh century mentions syam slaves given as an offering by Paramesvaravarman I to Po Nagar pagodas. (12) Burmese epigraphy during the Pagan time (twelfth to thirteenth century) attests syam or syam (13) (the anusvara variant is not significant); these ethnonyms, attested for the first time in a Pagan inscription from 1120, are thought to designate Thai populations located in Eastern Burma.

When Kubilai Khan sent envoys to Xian [??] and to Luohu [??][??], we now know that these two Chinese names referred to Siam (the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai to be more accurate) and Lopbuii. (15) There are reasons to believe that xian (< MC siam) (16) is a sinicized form of Khmer syam; another name mentioned in Chinese annals and referring to Siam was xianluo [??] (MC [siam la]), which has nothing to do with the Cambodian town Siem Reap, as is sometimes wrongly claimed. It is quite obvious that the Chinese adapted the Khmer syam (Modern Khmer siem [??] 'Thai, Siamese') to the phonetic constraints of their own language. It is the Siamese (or Khmer?) term that the Portuguese reproduced at Siao when they first arrived in Siam in 1511.

As a Thai kingdom emerged around Sukhothai during the thirteenth century, it is not unlikely to assume that the Chinese xian and the syamadesa attested in the Pali chronicles as far back as 1339 were the ancestors of the present-day Siamese. But what can be said about the syam of the seventh-century Angkorian texts engraved in the bas-reliefs of Angkor Vat? And what about the syam mentioned in a Cham inscription dated from 1050? Or the syam found in a Pagan text from 1120? Could they be considered as the ancestors of the Siamese ethnic group? E. Aymonier (1891), G. Coedes (1948), and their followers, including M. Ferlus (2006c), were persuaded of this. B.-Ph. Groslier (1981), however, was not eager to identify the syam-kuk of Angkor Vat with the Siamese. His doubts are rooted in the chronology of the Siamese expansion as well as in the great Khmer aptitude for accurately rendering the physical features of the subjects represented in their artistic works. When it is claimed on the inscriptions of Indravarman I (877-889), Yas'ovarman I (889-[+ or -]910), and Jayavarman VII (1181-?1218) that the Khmer empire extended as far as China to the north, this is, according to Groslier, nothing but an effet de style. The Angkorian empire only credited the Middle Kingdom with real political power in the north and used to disregard the Mon kingdom of Dvaravati in the west, the Lawa kingdom of Lopburi in the northwest, and the Cham kingdom of Indrapura in the northeast.

It seems to me that Groslier, whose merits as a khmerologist are undeniable, disregards the Khmer influence on art in faraway cities such as Mong Yong on the Sino-Burmese border and devalues the importance of Chinese annals, in particular the mdnshu written in the eleventh century a.d., which confirm the claims made by some Khmer kings concerning the extension of the Angkorian empire (the Lu Zhenla [??], or Land Zhenla) as far as the Zhennan [??][??][??] i.e., the southernmost outpost of the Nanzhao [??] I will come back to this point later on.

Still according to Groslier (1981), the term Siam would originate in Sanskrit syama 'black, dark' and would have been applied as an ethnocentriconym by the Khmer to the dark-skinned populations of Central Indochina, the Souei. And S. Pou (1992) considers it to be a deprecatory term for strangers, barbarian. However, as noted in Ferlus (2006c), such a deprecatory connotation would be surprising, as Sanskrit syama is glossed 'noir, de couleur foncee; brun de teint (considere comme une marque de beaute)' in the Dictionnaire sanskrit-francais of Stchoupak, Nitti, and Renou (1932: 741). An appreciative connotation is also to be found in an Old Mon inscription from the beginning of the twelfth century, which attests syam identified as "the Bodhisatta in the Sama-Jataka" by H. Shorto (1971: 395). Furthermore, Cham manuscripts from the nineteenth century (all are doubtless copies of earlier versions) attest siam 'beautiful, precious, good', as in siam likei 'handsome man, handsome boy', whereas they designate Siam and Siamese with the term siem (Po Dharma 1999: 344). The exonym Shan is used by the Burmese to name the Thai populations inhabiting the Shan States in North Burma; the Shan are represented there by the Tai Maw in Mushei, the Tai Khamti in the Kachin State, and the Tai Long, Tai Yai', or Great Tai in the Shan States. The exonym Ahom, a Shan ethnic group that ruled over Upper Assam, also derives from Shan-Siam. As E. Gait (1933: 31) write,
 the Assamese term "Asama" is a fair equivalent of the Ahom term
 "Tai"; the softening of the "s" to "h" (the change from Asam to Ahom)
 has its counterpart in the change from "Gosain" to "Gohain."

The ethnonym Shan is nothing but the Burmese reflex of siam. The Burmese can be transliterated hram: and is pronounced [Ja], the complex hr being pronounced [[integaral][~.a]'] and the rimes -am and -an as [~.a]. Such a link between siam and shan was already posited by authors like Grierson (1904) and Enriques (1933: 70), for whom the word Siam is only another form of Shan.

Many folk etymologies have been proposed for the ethnonym Shan. We shall now review some of these. First of all, the one proposed by A. E. Terrien de Lacouperie (1885: 1), who connected the ethnonym Shan with the Shang [??] dynasty in China (? 1766-71112 B.C.), on the following grounds:
 As to the racial name which underlies the cognate appellatives of
 Shan and Siam, we have no hesitation whatever in dismissing, as
 inadequate to the exigencies of the case, the proposed etymology of
 Syam from the Sanskrit cyama, 'brown, or dark'. The name is certainly
 older than this supposed origin would permit; and from its various
 appearances in the earlier seats of the race, where Sanscrit
 influences were not in activity, we cannot resist the conclusion that
 it is contemporaneous with the race itself. I am not indisposed to
 say that the Shang [dynasty] (i.e., traders), who overthrew the Hia
 [Xia] dynasty and give their name to the following one, were
 connected with the Shan race, and that their very name (or a form of
 it) is perhaps the antecedent of that of Shan or Siam. (17)

Another etymology, proposed in Klein and Pfannmuller (1982: 126), (18) is that Shan would originate in the Chinese shan [??] and would mean '(people living in the) mountains'; this etymology is to be rejected, because the graph representing the Shan ethnic group is written [??], read shan in Mandarin Chinese (< MC dzen? < OC *dan?).

As already noted by J. Rispaud (1966: 218-20), the etymology of the ethnonym Shan is obscured by the fact that the Burmese from awa [??][??] borrowed the toponym kosambi from Indian classical geography (the capital of the kausambi country where the Buddha preached) and gave that name to nine small Yunnanese Shan states in the north and east of Bhamo; the Burmese would have interpreted kosambi as [ko [integaral] [~.a]" pje] (kui:-hram:-pran), the 'Nine Shan states/chiefdoms', in their language. (19) It was, indeed, a widespread tradition among the indianized Southeast Asian peoples to copy Indian geographical terms closely by "sanskrit-izing" local toponyms or imposing Indian ones; so, e.g., as noted by Pelliot (1904: 157), Yunnan was named gandhara because just as Gandhara is situated in the north of India, so Yunnan is situated in the north of Indochina; moreover, mountains must be overcome in order to get to Gandhara from India and to China from Indochina.

M. Ferlus (2006c: 107-17) goes a step further in assuming that the terms Siam, Assam/ Ahom, Shan originate in a phonological truncation of Sanskrit (ko)sam(bi) > syam/syam in Old Burmese and syam in Angkorian Khmer and Old Cham. The Burmese would have been the first to have used the term kosambi to name the Thai ethnic groups from northeast Burma (the Shan). It seems clear that syam/syam come from the Sanskrit kosambi and not from its Pali reflex kosambi because the Southeast Asian speakers (Burmese, Khmer, and Cham), whose languages do not contain the Sanskrit sound <s> [??] in their consonant system, interpreted that phoneme as <sy > [sj]. If we realize that the Pali language was introduced with Theravada Buddhism in Burma by king Anoratha (1044-1077), we may conclude that the ethnonyms derived from Sanskrit kosambi date from before the eleventh century A.D. If we rely on Chinese transcriptions from the thirteenth century, -sam- must have been read [sja:m] in the local languages before diverging into rham: [[integral]] in Burmese, sayam/syam [saja:m] in Siamese, siem [sj[epsilon]m] in Cham, and stem [siam] in Khmer. In Burmese the initial phoneme [infinity] written <rh> instead of <sy> can be explained by the fact that the graph (20) <sy> [infinity] (syam/syam) was extremely rare and was not preserved, unlike < rh > [infinity] (rham:), which was much more frequent.

If a Burmese elite imbued with Sanskrit culture adopted the Indian geographical term kosambi to name the Thai in Burma, the reduction from kosambi to -sam- by phonological truncation evidences a popular process aiming at adapting a polysyllabic word to the monosyllabic structure of the Thai or the Burmese languages. (21)

Thus, according to Ferlus, (1) the pre-Angkorian term syam 'black, brown' never referred to the Thai, who had not yet begun their migration from Mong Maw, contrary to the (2) Angkorian syam and syam kuk engraved in the bas-reliefs of Angkor Vat (eleventh century), which are a clear reference to the Thai; and (3) The modern terms Shan, Ahom/Assam, and Siam come, via a phonological truncation, from Sanskrit kosambi, through Angkorian Khmer and Old Cham syam as well as through Old Burmese syam/syam. The confusion between the terms derived from kosambi and those derived from syam 'black, brown' arises from misinterpretations by recent authors; in ancient times there is no reason to believe there was such a confusion, although these terms might have been homophonous.


From the linguistic point of view, the Tai Yuan, Tai Khun, and Tai Lu languages all belong to the so-called Northern Thai (22) branch of the Southwestern Tai languages. They are different enough from the Shan dialects to form a distinct sub-branch.

The Tai Yuan represent the major ethnic group of the ancient Lanna ([[la:n].sup.C2] [[na:].sup.A2]] '[land of] a million rice fields'), (23) a conglomerate of Thai cities grouped principally under the leadership of Chiang Mai, and roughly comprising the eight provinces of modern Thailand (Chiang Mai, Lamphun, Lampang, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Phrae, Nan, and Mae Hong Song). (24) The historical importance of Lanna covered a period stretching from the end of the thirteenth century to the first half of the sixteenth century. (25)

The Thai of Lanna received the exonym Tai Yuan from their neighbors; according to a widespread explanation, the appellation Yuan would originate from Sanskrit yavana or from yonaka (Siamese yonok) in the Pali texts.

What origin and meaning can be associated with Sanskrit yavana, Pali yona? According to Jacques (2005: 26), yavana is a Sanskrit transcription of the Greek name "[??] ([??]) 'Ionians', a remembrance of Alexander the Great's third century B.C. campaigns in Northwest India. However, there is not a one-to-one phonological correspondence between yavana and tones; yavana was not borrowed directly from Greek, but came to Indo-Aryan via Old Persian (Mayrhofer 1999: 420), with the Sanskrit yavana most likely later than and hyper-sanskritized from Middle Indic yona. The original sense "Ionian, Greek" was broadened to "foreigner" and ultimately perhaps "invader from the northwest."

To which people(s) were the yavana associated in Southeast Asia? A study of Southeast Asian epigraphs can inform us about the ethnic tribes concerned. In Cham epigraphy yavana always and unambiguously represents the Viet (Jacques 2005: 25). This term is attested in the steles C.30 (in Po Nagar), and C. 100 and C. 101 (in My So'n), which all mention a war led by king Jaya-Harivarman I (r. 1145-1170 A.D.) against the "troupes ennemies, a savoir les Kambuja, les Yavana et les Vijaya" satruvargga makapun kamvuja yavana vijaya. (26) The yavana are also mentioned in the stele C.4 (Phan Rang), dating from Jaya-Paramesvaravarman II's reign and mentioning the date 1148 saka (1226 A.D.) under the form yvan, which is still used today (now pronounced [ju[epsilon]n]).

Khmer epigraphy seldom mentions these yavana and the ethnic signification associated with these yavana is not clear; we can find yavana in the stele K.908 in Prah Khan and in the stele K.287 in Prasat Crun, contemporaneous with that of Prah Khan. The stanza CLXXVII 90 of the stele in Prah Khan can shed light on one of the ethnic meanings associated with these yavana:
 atra stripurusas sacampayavanas
 raksyantan trisata iha triniyuta
 sastir dvadasa cayutan tu ganitas
 gramah kin ca devakaryyakaranam
 sarddham pukarvvanjanair
 ste sat sahasra api
 sarddham sahasratrayam
 kasthopalady aksatam

 Que dans ces fondations, les hommes et les femmes y compris les Campa
 et les Yavana avec les Pukam et les Rvan, au nombre de 306.372, que
 les villages au nombre de 13.500, que tout ce qui, fait de pierre ou
 de bois, sert au service divin, que tout cela soit conserve
 absolument intact. (27)

Besides the Chams, with whom the Khmer maintained a longstanding and controversial relationship, this text also mentions pukam (people from Pagan), rvan (perhaps a doublet for rmann 'Mon', perhaps from Haripunjaya), and yavana. The first two ethnic groups point to the north of the Khmer Empire; it is then not unreasonable to think that the yavana were a people living in the north(-west) of the Khmer Empire. The Cham and Khmer attestations seem to associate these yavana with an invader from the north or the northwest. We thus cannot exclude the meaning "invaders from the northwest" for these yavana.

With G. Coedes (1925), we would see in the Yuan a khmerized form of Sanskrit yavana; during their migration to Lamphun soon after the cholera epidemic of 1050, those Thai met the Khmer settled in Lamphun (Hariphunchai) from the period of the annexation by the Khmer king Suryavarman I (r. 1002-1049/50); the Khmer would have named them yavana, "Yuan," or "invaders from the northwest."

This phenomenon is quite frequent in Southeast Asia: the Khmer use yuon [??] to name pejoratively (28) the Viet (perhaps an ethnonymic borrowing from Cham yuen [[??]] 'Viet'), whereas the Siamese use the term yuan [juan] in the sense 'Annamese, Greeks, people in the Payap Circle of Thailand; Cochinchinese' (McFarland 1960: 629). Although Hariphunchai was a Mon kingdom, the ethnonym Yuan is probably a reflex of the Khmer yuon because Old Mon does not attest this term; (29) the Mon later borrowed the Khmer form as well as its later meaning under its Modern Mon form yon [jon] 'Viet').

According to V. Grabowsky (2004: 21) among many others, the ethnonym Yuan would be a direct siamization of Sanskrit yavana. I feel this assertion should be qualified: yuan is a siamization of yuon, the khmerized form of yavana. The ethnonym Yuan could also originate in a late-learned Khmer pronunciation <-va-> [ua] of yavana (Ferlus 1992: 75). Why would the Siamese have named the Tai Yuan 'invaders from northwest', even though the latter are supposed to represent a Thai sub-branch only slightly differentiated? The confusion might have its origin in the fact that yuan is attested twice in Khmer inscriptions from the tenth century, where it is glossed 'Annamite, stranger' by G. Coedes and his followers; however, this gloss is contested by T. Hoshino (1986: 57), who reconstructs the meaning 'Yuan, Northern Thai'.

Adopting a suggestion made by M. Ferlus (p.c), I believe that the Cham must have named the Viet yuen because they arrived from the northwest (the first meaning of their name would be 'invaders from northwest'). Afterwards the Khmer must have borrowed this yuen under its khmerized form yuon with the same meaning. In the second half of the first millennium, the Khmer Empire was far more widespread and organized than the "Mon nebula" and was therefore better placed to witness the first Thai migration to what was to become the future Lanna kingdom.

As for the yon variant of the ethnonym Yuan, we could interpret it as a reflex of the Pali term yona, the meaning of which is identical to Sanskrit yavana. We could think that this Pali yona is more recent than its Sanskrit counterpart yavana (> yuen, yuon, yuan). This might seem logical since we know that Sanskrit preceded Pali in the region; the latter only made an impact after the introduction of Theravada Buddhism there. However, as noted above, Mayrhofer (1999: 420) suggests that the Pali form is older than its Sanskrit counterpart, which would be the result of a hypersanskritization process (older *yona- > sanskritized -ava- for *-o- > y-ava-na).

The link between the yonaka and the yavana remains uncertain. G. Coedes (1925: 30), commenting on the Sasanavamsa, a work written in 1861 by Pannasami, identifies the yona-karattha ('Kingdom of the Yuen', West Laos) with the "Country of the Yonakas," which he connects with the "Yavanas," referring to the "Indo-Greeks from northwest India," this assertion is doubtful, as the chapter of the Sasanavamsa dealing with yonakarattha (translated by the same author [1925: 182-85]) does not seem to associate yonaka with yavana. From the linguistic point of view, yonakarattha is nothing but a Pali compound, the first element of which is yonaka, a suffixed form of yona, (30) and the second element rattham 'kingdom'. We can then translate the compound as "kingdom of the Yona." The Pali ethnic denomination Yona was often applied to the Greeks, as in the case of the Yona of Milindapanha, or when mention is made of yonanagaralasanda yonamahadhammarakkhito, the "Yona" priest Mahadhammarakkhita (doubtless a Greek), who came to Sri Lanka in 157 B.C., from the "Yona (= Greek) city Alasanda (= Alexandria)."

The Tai Khun [[taj.sup.A2] [k.sup.h] [in.sup.A1] are strongly connected with the Tai Yuan. Historically they represent Tai Yuan who, following king Mangrai, settled in the Kengtung area, snatched from the Austroasiatic Lawa and occupied in 1243. Linguistically Tai Khun and Tai Yuan are two dialects of the same language, although the Tai Khun dialect shows influences from the Shan dialects spoken in Burma. According to tradition, the ethnonym Tai Khun was given to the Tai Yuan of Kengtung by Phraya Sao Nam Turn, king of Khemarata Tungaburi (Kengtung) and Mangrai's son, around 1264, after consulting the samgha and the oracles.

The Tai Khun would then be Tai Yuan who settled along the river Nam Khun [nam.sup.C2] [k.sup.h] [in.sup.A1], the Thai name for the Loi which flows not far from Kengtung. This hypothesis is strengthened by a number of convergent cases, among which is the autonym for the Tai Mu'o'ng, Tai Pao [[taj.sup.A2] [[pa:w].sup. C1]] 'people (from the banks) of the Nam Pao', stemming from the Thai name for the Song Ca river (Nghe An province, Viet Nam). We shall analyze a few more examples later on.


From the strictly linguistic point of view, the Tai Dehong, Tai Nua, Tai Maw, and Tai Pong languages are all dialects of the same language. They belong to the so-called Chinese Shan, a synonymous term.

The exonym Tai Dehong [[taj.sup.A2] [tai.sup.C1] [xorj.sup.A2]] is the sinicized Thai loconym (dehong daizu [??][??][??][??]) given by the Chinese to the Thai inhabiting the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan province. The Chinese indiscriminately classify all the Thai ethnic groups under the cover-term daizu [??][??] 'Thai nationality'. Dehong is simply the sinicization of Thai [[tai.sup.C1] [[xo[eta]].sup.A2]] 'the lower part [[tai.sup.A2]] of the river Hong [xorj.sup.A2]', Hong being the Thai name for the Nujiang [??] (the name given to the Salween in China).

The Tai Nua [[taj.sup.A2] [nia.sup.AI]] 'Upper Tai, Northern Tai' represent a Tai Le branch in Laos and Thailand. Here it is important to point out that Le and Nua are in fact the same eth-nonyms respectively adapted to Tai Le and Lao/Siamese phonetics; PT [[.sup.*h][nia.sup.A]] 'upper, northern' regularly changes to [[le:].sup.Al] inTai Le: the PT initial [[.sup.*h]n-][[.sup.*]n-] > [l-] and the PT rime [[.sup.*]-ia] [-e:]. It could be asserted then that Tai Nua is the pronunciation of the ethnonym Upper Tai, Northern Tai in a dialect in which the PT rime [*-ia] was preserved, as in Lao or Siamese. The Tai Nua's autonym is [[taj.sup.A2] [[ne:].sup.A1]], their dialect having witnessed the vocalic shift PT [.sup.*][*ia] > [-eI], as in the other Shan dialects. (31) Moreover, the pronunciation [[ne[??]].sup.A1]] is quite accurately rendered in the Chinese term used to name the Tai Nua: daina [??][??]


The ethnonym [[pc:[eta]].sup.C2], which the White Tai use to name the Burmese (Dieu and Donaldson 1970), appears to have its origin in a generic term referring to the Shan principalities. We also recognize this ethnonym in the Lao [p.sup.h][[c:[eta]].sup.C2], used to name the Kenieng/ Keneng (Khmuic) inhabiting Sam Neua province. The ethnonym Palaung given by the Burmese to the Ta-ang (Palaungic) from Upper Burma is also linked to this root. It should be remembered that, in the past, the term Pong might have referred to the Thai principalities (in which the Shan peoples originate) from Upper Burma because, as noted in Ferlus (1996: 20),
 il y a plusieurs siecles, Muong Pong designait la Haute Birmanie chez
 les populations voisincs et c'est encore aujourd' hui par cette
 expression que les Tay Blancs et les Tay Noirs du Vietnam nomment la

The etymology and the origin of the term Pong are accounted for in various ways. Some scholars see its origin in the PT [[*bc:[eta]].sup.C] 'group, kinship', which we can find in the Lao [p.sup.h]c:[eta]].sup.C2] or in the Black Tai [[pc:[??]].sup.C2]; others extend the reconstruction to Mon-Khmer [*[blc:[eta]].sup.?]. The word, however, does not really originate in a Proto-Thai etymon and could derive from Old Chinese [??] [*[pro[??]](> MC [p.sup.[gamma]] ae [??] >bang 'state, country' (Ferlus, pc.).Ethnonyms regularly cross linguistic borders, an important fact to be kept in mind when looking for the etymology of an ethnic name.

In the Shan area the kingdom of Pong is a cover-term referring to any Shan principality, in Burma or in Yunnan (Rispaud 1966: 218). This appellation must be very old, given the fact that the kingdom of Pong was already listed among the conquests of the Burmee king Anoratha (r. 1044-1077).

One of the capitals of the Kingdom of Pong was undoubtedly situated in Mong [Maw [[me[eta]].sup.[A2]] [[ma:w].sup.2]] for a while, the Surrendered Mian [??][??] during the Ming, the present-day Ruili municipality [??][??][??] on the Sino-Burmese border.

The loconym Tai Maw derives from the Shan name [nam.sup.C2][[ma:w].sup.A2] given to the Schweli river. [??]. The Tai Maw are thus Thai having come from the Ruili municipality, from the Chinese banks of the Schweli river. As to the exonym Tai Pong [??], daibeng [??] in its sinicized form, it is used to name a Shan community living along the Sino-Burmese border and speaking a Tai Nua dialect; it would be a remnant of the generic appellation used to refer to any Shan principality.


The Tai Lu [[taj.sup.A2][[li:].sup.C2]] represent the major Thai ethnic group of the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, where they are named with the Chinese exonym dai xishuangbanna [??][??][??][??][??], the sinicized term for Sipsongpanna or the "twelve [sip.sup.DS1][[sc[eta]]].sup.A1] principalities or districts [pan.sup.A2][[na:].sup.A2], (32) a designation originating in the name of the federation of Thai city-states. The panna 'thousand rice-fields' is one of the divisions constituting the Thai administrative mandala (Penth 2000: 53): the first division is that of the ban [[ba:].sup.C1] 'village, hamlet', mostly a group of houses belonging to the same family, the leader of which is the oldest relative. A cluster of ban formed a panna 'district'. A fortified ban was called a wiang [[wia[??]].sup.A2] 'town'. A wiang inhabited by a senior member of the royal family was called chiang [[c.sup.h][ia[??].sup.A2] 'city'. A group of ban with a wiang or a chiang formed a miang [[mia[??]].sup.A2] 'country, city-state'.

The Tai Lu arrived in Viet-nam through Laos; there they form a community of approximately 3,700 souls mainly in Phong Tho and Sin Ho districts (Lai Chau province). The Viet name them Lu'/Lu' or Nhuon, Duon (Lu'u et al. 2000: 160).

The ethnonym Tai Lu [taj.sup.A2][[li:].sup.C2] could mean the "upriver Thai." The word [[li:].sup.C2] 'upriver, upstream' is not attested in Thai; Lao attests it as "nom ethnique du groupe thai, habitant les regions frontalieres et notamment dans la province laotienne du Haut-Mekong" (Reinhorn 1970: 1744) and Siamese as "tribe of hill people, of Lao-Thai origin living in the northeastern part of Thailand and to the east and north of the Mekong" (McFarland 1940: 748). It appears that "upper Mekong" is a classificatory feature in both definitions. We can tentatively translate Tai Lu as "people from the upstream (Mekong)." Though none of the Thai languages attests [[li:].sup.C2] 'upriver, upstream', Khmer attests [??] 'upstream'; I tentatively put forward the hypothesis (33) that the Khmer used the ethnonym Lu to name the Thai ethnic groups living along the upper course of the Mekong river in the Sipsongpanna.

Khmer loe 'upriver, upstream' has been attested since the pre-Angkorian period. This term is now used in the compound ethnonym [[k.sup.h]mae le:] dating from the second half of the twentieth century and used administratively to name the Austronesian hill tribes in Cambodia; it is frequently used as a pejorative appellation by the Khmer of Cambodia to name the Phnong [[p.sup.h][nc:[eta]]] ethnic group. Moreover, this appellation is used as an ethnonym by the Khmer of the Mekong Delta, the [[k.sup.h][m[epsilon]:r] [krc:m]] 'Khmer from downstream (Mekong)', to name the Khmer from Cambodia.

The may tho tone (i.e., the falling tone) in Siamese and Lao Lu could find an explanation in the presence of a laryngeal stop in the older stages of the Khmer language, which was lost at the end of the pre-Angkorian Khmer period, while leaving its trace in the vocalic lengthening [le?] > [le:]: the may tho tone is supposed to be a phonological compensation for the loss of the laryngeal stop [?] (Gedney 1986: 144-52).

This etymology leads us to reconsider the extension of the Khmer empire in the Upper Mekong area. According to J. Rispaud (1966: 220-22), it is not unfounded to claim that the influence of the Angkorian empire could have extended as far as the southwestern borders of China. The first reason is that we observe Khmer influence on the Buddhist architecture in Mong Yong, a Thai center. Second, two Khmer inscriptions tell us that the country of the cina (in the present case the Nanzhao [??][??]) (34) represented the northernmost border of the outposts of Angkor. Would this be a hyperbolic assertion of the Khmer sovereigns? Nothing could be less certain because chapter 10 of the Manshu [??][??] (35) cited in Rispaud (1966: 221) confirms such a claim in alleging that the Lu Zhenla [??] (Land Zhenla, Cambodia) was confined to the Zhennan [??][??] of the Man [??], the southernmost outpost of the Nanzhao, the center of which is supposed to be in the Sipsongpanna. (36)

The influence of the Angkorian empire on the region must have preceded Suryavarman I's reign (r. 1002-1049/50) and is doubtless posterior to the end of the eighth century (Rispaud 1966: 221); as a matter of fact, the son of the king of Wendan [??][??] (= the Land Zhenla) participated with the Chinese armies in the expedition of 754 against the Nanzhao in order to sustain claims on the territories comprised between the Land Zhenla and the Nanshao. (37)

The Chinese also use the exonyms Shuidai [??][??] or Baiyi [??][??] to name the Tai Lu. These ethnonyms, however, are rarely used because of a possible confusion with the Kam-Sui Shuizu [??][??] ("Shui nationality") and the Tibeto-Burman Yizu [??][??] ("Yi nationality") respectively.

Let us go back to the ethnonym Baiyi. This ethnic appellation, written [??][??], was first mentioned in the Hou Han shu [??][??][??], the official history of the Later Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220) compiled by Fan Ye [??][??] (398-445), in reference to "eastern barbarians," i.e., non-Chinese people of southeastern part of China. (38) We also find Baiyi in the geographical section of the Yuanshi [??][??], the official history of the Yuan Dynasty compiled in the years 1369-70, with the following graphs: baiyi [??][??] "White Barbarians" (in chapter 14 of the Yuan shi under the twenty-fourth year of Zhiyuan [??] or baiyi [??][??] "White Clothes" (in chapter 10 under the fifteenth year of Zhiyuan). The Baiyi in the Yudnshi seem to refer to Thai ethnic tribes, which was not the case for the Baiyi mentioned in the Hou Han shu. A third variant, baiyi [??][??] "Hundred Barbarians," appeared in 1397 in the "Baiyi zhuan" [??][??], "Comments on the Baiyi" (quoted in chapter 97 of the Ming shi [??][??]), (39) the first description of the Northern Shan polity Mong Maw, written by Qian Quxum [??][??][??]. (40) Later on, in the "Zhuyi" [??], chapter 37 of the Dianxi [??] ('A Collection of Works on Yunnan'), (41) written in 1807 by Shuai Fan [??] (1751-1811), the subprefect of Wangjiang xian [??], they are mentioned under the label boyi [??][??], (42) and with the ethnonyms baiyi [??], baiyi [??], or baiyi [??][??]/[??][??]. In the same chapter mention is made of the bairen [??], who are doubtless the same ethnic group coming from the Baiguo [??] "White Kingdom," the location of which remains obscure, but which I propose to assimilate to the Baiyidian [??][??] of the Yuan shi, dian [??] being a local administrative division below the county level during the Yuan; (43) if we may rely on chapter 16 of the Yuan shi, the Baiyidian submitted to China in 1290.

According to the description given in chapter 37 of the Dianxi mentioned above, the Baiyi must have been a Thai people (or the dominant population must have been Thai); the administrative title lead us to this conclusion. We can easily recognize PT [[*.caw.sup.C]] 'master, lord'in the zhaolou [??] (zhao [??] < MC tcaw) 'he who leads more than ten thousand men' or in the zhaogang [??][??] 'he who leads between ten and one thousand men'; we can also recognize PT [[*mia[eta]].sup.A]] 'country, federation of city-states' in the taomeng [??][??] (44) 'he who heads governmental affairs and leads the army (several thousand men)'.

Let us finally look at a Tai Lu branch, the Tai Yong whose autonym is Caw Yong [[ca:w].sup.A2][[jc:][eta]].sup.A1] 'Yong people', mainly living in the Lamphun area, north Thailand. In 1805 their descendants were moved to Thailand from Mong Yong (Burma, not far from the Chinese border), the region from which their autonym originates. They were among the victims of the policy of the kings of Siam, of resettlement of captives from the Shan States (Burma), from Laos, and from the Sipsongpanna in North Thailand. Their dialect remains very close to the Tai Lu dialect still used in Mong Yong area.


The Shan from Upper Assam represent the westernmost extension of the Tai-Kadai peoples; those Shan are The Tai Ahom, Tai Phake, Tai Aiton, Tai Khamti, Tai Khamyang, Tai Turung, and Tai Nora. Though the Tai Ahom appeared as early as the thirteenth century in Upper Assam, the others arrived much later, around the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries.

If we may rely on the Buranji (Tai Ahom annals), a Tai Maw prince named Sukapha would have left his homeland around 1215 A.D. with some ten thousand followers, crossed the Patkai Hills, reached the Brahmaputra Valley, and founded a kingdom he named mung-dun-sun-kham 'Country full of Golden Gardens' (Barua 1985: 25). This "fact" is supposed to date back to 1228 A.D. The Tai Ahom language died out but its memory persists in the reading of ritual texts by Tai Ahom priest-officiants, the deodhai, in a Tai Ahom language spoken with features of Assamese phonetics.

Around the eighteenth century, (45) while the Tai Ahom were declining, other Thai ethnic groups arrived In Assam from Burma. Mention is made of a Tai Nora chief's rebellion near Sadiya in 1779, and around 1794 the Tai Khamti from the Upper Irrawaddy (the so-called Bor-Khamti) took control of Sadiya; in 1800 allusion is made to Tai Nora and Tai Phake contingents which, together with the Tai Ahom, fought the Tai Khamti. The Tai Aiton, Tai Khamyang, and Tai Turung from Upper Burma are thought to have immigrated to Assam in the early nineteenth century. G. Grierson (1904: 64, 193) thought that the Tai Turung had been slaves of the Kashin and were released by the British in 1825, and subsequently settled near Jorhat; as to the Tai Aiton, they are thought to have been Thai from Mong Kang who would have escaped from Burma, where their young boys were castrated and sent off to be eunuchs in the Burmese court.

It should be noted that it is very probable that contacts never really stopped between the Tai Ahom and the other Shan ethnic groups from Southeast Asia. The Thai area formed a geo-linguistic continuum before Burmese political influence cut the Tai Ahom from their cousins. Their writing system is likely to have arrived quite late through Shan texts or, I think, through regular contacts maintained with the Tai Aiton or Tai Phake, even if the Tai Ahom annals affirm that Sukapha introduced the writing to Assam in his "seeking fortune."

The term Tai Ahom like Assam, the name of the province in Northeast India, is probably an exonym, the origin of which would be the term Shan/Siam, discussed above. The present-day pronunciation Ahom [?ahcm] can be explained through the diachronic phonetics of the ahamiya [Dxcmiya] or Assamese; the change of the sibilant [s] to the voiceless fricative [x] explains the change from [asam] to [axcm], from Assam to Ahom. The name given to the northeast Indian province, Assam in its English form, would be posterior to the ethnonym Ahom, or in Grierson's words (1904: 61),
 Many different derivations of the name of the province have been
 suggested and some of these ignore the undoubted fact [ ... ] that
 the country derived its name from the Ahoms and not the Ahoms from
 the country.

As noted by S. Morey (2005: 26), the autonym for the Tai Ahom as found in old manuscripts is simply Tai [[taj.sup.A2]] 'the people' or Tai Raw [[taj.sup.A2] [raw.sup.B1]] 'our people'. There is no trace whatsoever of Ahom in old Tai Ahom manuscripts in reference to themselves.

A. Diller (1992: 6-7) assigns to the ethnic term Ahom two distinct senses. First, Ahom is an ethnic reference to the Thai people who ruled over the Brahmaputra Valley as early as the thirteenth century A.D. but who were assimilated to the neighboring Assamese-speaking Indo-Aryans; the assimilation must have come to an end by the nineteenth century and, on the basis of linguistic data, we can suppose that the ethno-assimilation process began quite early. Second, the same term can refer to the present-day Assamese-speaking Tai Ahom who claim to be the descendants of Sukapha's followers.

To summarize, the ethnonym Ahom is nothing but an "assamization" of the exonym Siam, or Shan in its Burmese pronunciation, a widespread exonym among the peoples of Peninsular Southeast Asia. It refers to the Thai ethnic group who ruled over Upper Assam as early as the thirteenth century as well as to the present-day Assamese-speaking people who claim to be the descendants of Sukapha's followers.

Several etymological accounts have been proposed for the ethnonym Tai Aiton [[taj.sup.A2][?a:][j.sup.Cl][tcn.sup.A1]]. The first one, which is not corroborated or even mentioned in the Tai Aiton oral tradition, seeks the origin of the word in the custom of castrating the Tai Aiton boys before sending them to the Burmese court; this custom would have been the reason why they fled to Upper Assam. The first element [[?a:j].sup.Cl] means "first son" and the second [[tcn.sup.A1]] "to castrate"; we can also find these terms in Tai Yai' (Burmese Shan): [[[?a:j].sup.Cl]] means "male child; inferior" and [[ton.sup.A1]] "to castrate." The custom of castrating was noted by Grierson (1904: 65), (46) who stated that the Tai Aiton,
 also called Sham Doaniyas, or Shan interpreters, are said to have
 been a section of the Shans at Mung Kang which supplied eunuchs to
 the royal seraglio, and to have emigrated to Assam to avoid the
 punishment to which, for some reason, they have been condemned.

Popular tradition rejects this etymology. The etymology of the ethnonym could be explained by the fact that the king of the Tai Aiton was once called [caw.sup.C1] [p.sup.h][[a:].sup.BI][[?a:j].sup.Cl] [tun.sup.C2]] 'master-Respect Marker [= ruling prince (47)]--first son--origin'; this royal title would stem from the pseudo-historical tradition asserting that Tawlulu, the eldest of Khunlung's five sons (Barua 1985: 24), the first Thai mythical king, is the Tai Aiton's ancestor ('origin' [tun.sup.C2]); the pronunciation [ton.sup.A1] of [tun.sup.C2] would be due to Kachari influence. (48)

Although the explanation offers some syntactic problems, (49) it has become traditional to see in the ethnonym Tai Khamtl [[taj.sup.A2] [k.sup.h] [am.sup.A2] [ti:.sup.B2]] the 'Thai (coming from) the golden place', a reminiscence of the place where prosperity and wealth (symbolized by gold) ruled. The word khamti is frequently attested in Pagan inscriptions; in ancient times many toponyms were composed with the word 'gold', kham [[k.sup.h][am.sup.A2]] as in "Country full of Golden Gardens" mung-dun-sun-kham mentioned above. According to our epigraphical data, khamti was a place abounding in rice fields and irrigation, which can be located in Burma in the present-day Minbu district on the west bank of the Irrawady, 120 km south of Pagan (Sai 2004: 6-8). The first inscription attesting khanti dates back to 1232; it is followed by several epigraphical traces from 1242, with one inscription telling us that fifty fields from khanti were donated to the pagoda; still in 1242 a man named mang khati 'Mang from Khamti' is mentioned in an inscription. Identifying the ethnonym Khamti as a loconym is thus a viable hypothesis.

Relying on Sa Cham Thoumoung's History of the Tai, S, Morey (2005: 28-29) interprets the ethnonym Khamti as the people coming from a place called the "River of Gold." As the text states:
 [k.sup.h][aw.sup.A1] [naj.sup.C1] [?u:.sup.A2][[ma:].sup.A2]
 [[ti:].sup.B2] [nam.sup.C2] [k.sup.h] [am.sup.A2][[wa:].sup.B1]
 [[sa:].sup.A2] They lived at the place called the River of Gold, it is

 [laj.sup.A1] [[ca[??]].sup.A2] [[wa:].sup.B1] [k.sup.h][am.sup.A2]
 [ti:.sup.B2] So they are called Khamti.

J. G. Harris (1976: 113) adds an etymological account based on a legend telling us that a Tai Khamti king from Upper Burma stopped a Tibetan army in a mountain pass, preventing them from entering the country; khamti [[k.sup.h] [am.sup.A1] [[ti:].sup.B2]] would then be that 'place' [[ti:].sup.B2] where the Tibetans were 'stopped' [k.sup.h] [am.sup.A2] (= 'to get stuck').

Concluding remarks

As shown by this examination of ethnonyms taken from the Shan and Northern Thai branches, the study of ethnonyms cannot restrict itself to a strictly linguistic approach. It involves a multidisciplinary analysis conjoining the study of inter-ethnic and linguistic contacts, an analysis of the power relations among various socio-political entities assuming a hegemony over one another and sometimes inversely. It must also take into consideration the "vision" (hyperbolic, historical, or even geographic) that ethnic groups have about their neighbors and about themselves.


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 Loconyms Other

Thai~Tai Ethnocentriconym <
[[[[taj.sup.A2]]/ PT [.sup.*]
[[t.sup.h][aj.sup.A2]]]] [daj.sup.A] <
 TK [*.sup.]k(e)ri:
 'People, Human

Siam [saja:m]

Shan [[intagral]a]

(Tai) Ahom [axem]

(Tai) Yuan [juan]

(Tai) Khun 'Tai from the Nam Khun'
[[k.sup.h][in.sup.Al]] [[nam.sup.c2]
 Tai name of the River
 Loi flowing not far
 from Kengtung

(Tai) Dehong

(Tai) Nua [nia.sup.A1]

(Tai) Le [[le:].sup.A1] '(the) Upper, Northern
 Tai' < Tai Le reflex of
 [[[*.sup]h] >
 > [[le:.sup.A1]] '(the)
 Upper Northern Tai'

(Tai) Maw 'Tai from the Nam Maw'
[[marw.sup.A2]] [[nam.sup.C2]
 ma:[w.sup.A2]], Tai
 name of the Schweli

(Tai) Pong < (Tai) from the
[[??].sup.C2] Kingdom of Pong' [=
 generic term to refer
 to any Shan

(Tai) Lu [[li:.sup.C2]]

dai xishuangbanna

bai-yi [??]

(Tai) Yong 'Tai from Mong Yong
[[??].sup.A1] [??](Burma, near
 the Chinese frontier)

(Tai) Aiton [??] Pseudohistoriconym
[[??].sup.C1] 'eldest son
[tun.sup.C2]/ [[?a:j.sup.C1]]
[?a:j].sup.C1] origin
[ton.sup.A1]] [[tun.sup.C2]]' <
 the Tai Aiton
 claimed themselves
 as descendants of
 the eldest son of
 the King Khunlung

(Tai) Khamti [[k.sup.h] 'Tai (from) the Golden Historiconym 'Tai
[am.sup.A2] [[k.sup.h] [am.sup.A2]] from the place
[tiI.sup.B2]] Place [[tiI.sup.B2]]' [[tiI.sup.B2]] <
 where the Tibetans
 > were stopped


 Loconyms Other


Siam [saja:m] Siamese phonetic
 interpretation of
 (ko)sam(bi) (<
 kausambi) 'The country
 where Buddha preached'
 Ferlus [2006c] > Siam

Shan [[intagral]a] Burmese ph. int. of
 (ko)sam(bi) (<
 kausambi) > Shan []

(Tai) Ahom [axem] Assamese ph. int. of
 (ko)sam(bi) (<
 kausambi) > Assam
 [asam] > Ahom [axcm]

(Tai) Yuan [juan] Ethnocentriconym <
 yavana 'Ionian [=
 invader from

(Tai) Khun

(Tai) Dehong Sinicization of the Tai
[[tai.sup.A2] loconym Tai Tai Khong
[xo[eta].sup.A2]] [[taj.sup.A2]
 [xo[??].sup.A2]] 'Tai
 from the lower part of
 the River Hong [=

(Tai) Nua [[nia.sup.A1]] '(the) Upper, Northern
 Tai' < Siamese and Lao
 reflex of PT
 > [[nia.sup.A1]]
 'upper, northern'

(Tai) Le [[le:].sup.A1]]

(Tai) Maw

(Tai) Pong

(Tai) Lu [[li:.sup.C2]] 'Tai from the upstream
 Mekong' < Khmer loe

dai xishuangbanna 'Tai from the Twelve
 Sinicized form of Tai

bai-yi Ethnocentriconym
 'The Hundred Yi/
 Chinese cover
 term to name the
 numerous ethnic
 groups around

(Tai) Yong

(Tai) Aiton Historiconym
[[??].sup.C1] 'male child
[tun.sup.C2]/ [[?aIj.sup.C1]]
[?a:j.sup.C1] castrate
[ton.sup.A1]] [[ten.sup.A1]]' <
 the Tai Aiton
 furnished eunuchs
 to the royal
 Burmese court

(Tai) Khamti [[k.sup.h]



I would like to dedicate this article to Michel Ferlus (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris), for his help and support. I would also like to thank Alexis Michaud (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris), Pierre Swiggers (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium), Stephanie W. Jamison (University of California, Los Angeles), and Paul W. Kroll (University of Colorado) for their helpful advice.

(1.) The terms autonyms, exonyms, loconyms, etc. were coined by Matisoff 1986.

(2.) On the Tai of Nghe An, see Ferlus 1999.

(3.) Robert 1941: 8.

4. The Proto-Thai three-way tonal system [A B C] underwent important changes in each t(h)ai dialect conditioned by the phonetic evolution of the Proto-Thai original initial: the devoicing of the voiced obstruents [b- d- g-J- ... [p- t- k- c- ... ] and the revoicing of the nasals and sonorants [[.sup.h]m- [.sup.h]n- [.sup.h]1- ...] > fm- n- 1- ...] caused a tonal split: (1) the vowel of words with original voiced initial was affected by a low-series tone and (2) the vowel of words with original voiceless initial was affected by a high-series tone.

(5.) MC = Middle Chinese; OC = Old Chinese.

(6.) As noticed by Alles (2000: 10), the concept minzu, a neologism borrowed from Japanese at the end of the nineteenth century, is hard to translate. For more information on the history and the use of this word in China at the beginning of the twentieth century, see Thoravel 1991).

(7.) It is interesting to note that this etymology has been a source of hypercorrection; for example, the Pali chronicle of Ayutthaya (a.d. 1789) named the rajapadesa (kingdom) syama-daiya (in linear transcription: ai-d-ya) with a hypercorrect ya which was added to dai because the Siamese thought their autonym originated in sukhodaya.

(8.) The Siamese conventionally assigned the date a.d. 1292 because it is mentioned on the inscription, but there are reasons to believe it was engraved a decade later. According to some authors the Ramkhamhaeng stone pillar could be a fake. There are linguistic reasons to believe, however, that the stone pillar is not a fake: the velar fricatives (Haudricourt's uvulars) are adequately represented in the inscription; it is quite doubtful that a fake stone pillar could have been engraved by a linguist who would have read Haudricourt's 1952 article on the uvulars in Thai.

(9.) For the tense vs. lax feature of Middle Chinese syllables, see Ferlus 1998; 2006b.

(10.) Cf. Groslier 1981: 115; ku seems to designate a girl old enough to give birth. We also find a syam bhara in a seventh-eighth century text, translated as 'l'esclave Syam (du) bharu" by Groslier (ibid.). As Ferlus (2006c: 108) noted. pre-Angkorian epigraphy from the sixth to the eighth century attests a dozen syam and only one syam, most often in the form ku syam, which he prefers to translate as "la nominee syam."

(11.) Coedes 1948 and Groslier 1981.

(12.) Luce 1958: 124.

(13.) Luce 1958; 1959. It is not clear whether it is a geographical or an ethnic designation.

(14.) Xian is first recorded in the thirteenth century.

(15.) As reported by Pelliot (1904: 236), the Chinese annals mention envoys from the Xian country to the Yuan court in 1282.

(16.) This is a reconstructed form from Pulleyblank 1991: 335.

(17.) Quoted in Edmondson and Solnil 1997: 6-7.

(18.) Cf. Edmondson and Solnit 1997: 6.

(19.) According to Rispaud (1966: 219), kosambi would have generically referred to confederations of Shan states. However, the transliteration kui:-hram:-pran renders the Old Burmese pronunciation of the twelfth-thirteenth centuries and shows that the Old Burmese pronunciation was in no way homophonous with kosambi. It should be noted that Old Burmese pran and OC [??][*pron]'state' are cognates (Ferlus, p.c.).

(20.) This is attested only in sya 'scarce, few' and syan 'lord, monk' (Luce [1981: 6 n. 97; 76 n. 110] quoted in Ferlus 2006c).

(21.) Thai and Burmese are basically monosyllabic, although both languages have many sesquisyllables as well.

(22.) Northern Thai should not be confused with Northern Tai. The first belongs to the Southwestern Tai dialects of Li Fanggui.

(23.) On the names of Thai principalities built with numeral elements, see Rispaud 1937: 77-122.

(24.) The original designation of Northern Thailand in the provincial system after 1929 included sixteen provinces.

(25.) On Lanna, see Penth 2000 and Grabowsky 2004.

(26.) On stele C.30, translated by Aymonier (1891: 41-44) and quoted in Jacques (ibid.), vijaya must be the Cham kingdom of Vijaya, from which the king Jaya-Harivarman I and his father Rudravarman Brahmaloka were thrown out.

(27.) Coedes 1941: 283, 301 quoted in Jacques 2005: 27.

(28.) Khmer pejorative use of "yuon" dates from the 1980s.

(29.) Christian Bauer, personal communication.

(30.) The affix -ka- is a widespread suffix in Middle Indo-Aryan, the grammatical signification of which is fairly meaningless; it gives a stronger phonetic body to the base to which it is added. I owe this information to Stephanie Jamison.

(31.) It should be noted that in the Shan dialects PT [*-ia] > [[-e:]] when syllable final; in closed syllables PT [*-ia-] > [[-e-]].

(32.) The final syllable [[na:].sup.A2] of pan-na 'thousand fields' and lan-nd 'million fields' are the same morphemes meaning 'paddy field'.

(33.) This etymology was suggested to me by Michel Ferlus.

(34.) As far as Nanzhao is concerned. Backus (1981) should be consulted.

(35.) The Manshu was written and completed in A.D. 863 by Fan Chuo [??], an officer member of the Chinese military commander's staff in Tongking. The text exists under various titles. One of which is Yunnan zhi [??] (The Record of Yunnan). The author supplemented his own information with that of officials in Nanzhao [??]. The Manshu, as we have it now, is in a very imperfect state and seems to have vanished as a separate work during the Ming period. It was only in 1773 that the Qing emperor Qianlong ordered it reconstituted. For further information, see Blackmore (1960: 48), Luce (1961), and Sun (1997: 15).

(36.) See the translation by Luce 1961: 93.

(37.) As far as the Wendan/Wen Tan is concerned, see Hoshino 2003: 25-72.

(38.) Paul W. Kroll (p.c.), citing Hou Han shu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1965), 85.2807.

(39.) The Ming shi was presented to the emperor by Zhang Tingyu [??] (1672-1755) et al. in 1739.

(40.) The "Baiyi zhuan" was written in 1397 by Qian Guxun and is based on the personal observations of Qian and LI Sicong [??] who were sent to Burma by the Ming Court in 1396 to mediate conflicts between the kingdoms of Awa [??] and Luchuan [??]. The Baiyi zhuan describes (geographically, ethnologically and socio economically) many ethnic groups living in southwestern Yunnan and northern Burma. A preface by Yang Zhi [??] describing the cause and successful completion of the two envoys' mission is also included. This work is considered highly reliable. See Sun (1997: 21) and Wade (1996).

(41.) The Dianxi includes various works on Yunnan from the earliest times, some of which seem original and are preserved only here. See Soulie (1908: 333-79) and Sun (1997: 41).

(42.) Bo [??] refers to 'southwestern peoples in early times' (Pulleyblank 1991: 40).

(43.) Paul W. Kroll (p.c.) and Lishi Han zidian [??] (1999: 1859).

(44.) These are reconstructed forms given by Pulleyblank (1991).

(45.) See Diller (1992: 8-9) on this topic.

(46.) Quoted in Morey 2005: 19.

(47.) This is an approximate gloss.

(48.) Morey, loc. cit. As noted in Jacquesson (1999: 195 n. 9), Kachari is a vague term comprising Boro and Dimasa, two very similar Tibeto-Burman languages. The term Kachari is not in use anymore.

(49.) Tai Khamti syntax would rather suggest [[ti:].sup.B2] [k.sup.h] [am.sup.A2]] for 'golden place'.
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Geographic Code:9THAI
Date:Oct 1, 2008
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