Is the Chinese Tian derived from the Turkic Tengri?

Feb 2017
425
Latin America
Reading some scholarship on the subject, there appears to be a lively debate about whether Tian is a loanword of the Turkic Tengri. Some agree this is the case, while others have said it's not. Could the loanword also be the other way?
 
Nov 2019
53
Solar System
Hard to say, I heard that the reconstructed Old Chinese form of "Tian" was "Hliin", which makes it very different from "Tengri", but more like French "Ciel" or Spanish "Cielo", or maybe Korean "Hanul".
 
Sep 2016
611
天下
Around 200CE 天 had two pronounciations recorded in Shiming (釋名)
豫司兗冀以舌腹言之。天,顯也
In provinces of Yu, Si[li], Kun, Ji it is pronounced with the back of the tounge. Like 顯.
青徐以舌頭言之。天,垣也,垣然高而遠也
In provinces of Qing and Yu it is pronounced with the tip of the tongue. Like 坦*.

Per Alex Scheussler's reconstruction of Late Han Chinese, was pronounced /hen/, while 坦 was /tʰɑn/.
If you look at the map of administrative divisions of Later Han, Yu, Sili, Kun and Ji are provinces in modern southern Shanxi, southern Shaanxi, southern Hebei, and Henan. The capital area also belongs to this part of China.
Provinces of Qing and Yu are in Shandong and Jiangsu.

It seems unlikely that the latter reading is a borrowing from Turkic, because why would t- form be present in provinces which are far from Xiongnu and Xianbei territories and not in the provinces close to the border? Instead of direct borrowing it could be just influence from the times when Xiongnu and Xianbei settled and ruled in Nothern China, from the analogy with Tengri the t- pronunciation could become the dominant one. But direct borrowing is unlikely in both directions.

*Some editions, like this one digitialised by ctext has 垣 instead. I follow Coblin in the reading.
 
Last edited:

heavenlykaghan

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
4,513
Tengri is most likely not Turkic in origin either. It was a Xiongnu word as attested in the Shiji and probably later borrowed by Turkic speakers (the Dingling/Tiele/Oghuz).
In contrast to what most older scholars think, newer linguistic studies are now pointing to the fact that Turkic speakers are a much later comer to Inner Mongolia and China and none of the Five Hu in the Age of Fragmentation were Turkic speaking.
 
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