A case of folk etymology

Godfrey K.F. Liu, William S.Y. Wang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


In this paper we argue (hat the name of the temple, Bai Ma Si, 0 ,% comes from the Sanskrit word padma, which means 'lotus'. The white horse was all but unknown as a symbol in ancient India, from whence Buddhism came to China; but it was a potent topic in Chinese thought at least since the famous philosophical discussion of Gongsun Longzi. To support this argument we note that the endings -t and -k were already merging or varying at least as early as Shijing times, thereby explaining why the pad- in Sanskrit was transcribed with the Old Chinese syllable brok, which eventually evolved into Putonghua bai. We further speculate that the -d sound in pad- indicated a low pitch first syllable in the Sanskrit word. The fact this syllable was transcribed with a b- in Chinese, rather than directly with a p-, shows the greater saliency of pitch over the segmental feature of voicing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-137
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Chinese Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language


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