A Note on the Etymology of the Tangut Name Ngwemi

By Jacques, Guillaume | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, April-June 2010 | Go to article overview

A Note on the Etymology of the Tangut Name Ngwemi


Jacques, Guillaume, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Many Tangut family names are attested in both Chinese and Tangut sources. However, the etymology of those names has not yet been thoroughly investigated. In this note, I will present evidence for explaining the origin of the most famous of all Tangut names, that of the imperial family, transcribed in Chinese as Weiming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and in original Tangut [eta]w[e.sup.2]mj[i.sup.1][TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (1)

Stoddard (1997: 90 n. 73) proposed equating Tangut [eta]w[e.sup.2]mj[i.sup.1] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] with the name of the Tangut emperor as it appears in a Tibetan myth attested in several fourteenth-century Tangut texts. (2) According to these texts the First Tangut emperor, when he was a child, was abandoned and nourished by a cow. (3) His name Ngo.snu'i is explained in the following way (quoting the version of this story found in the Deb.ther dmar-po):

rus.pa  ngo.snu'i  zhes-pa    Bod-skad-du         bsgyur-na ||
bone    Ngosnu'i   call-NMLZ  Tibet-language-ALL  translate.PST-if

ba-la    'o.ma  'thung-ba   zhes  zer
cow-DAT  milk   drink-NMLZ  call  say

His clan name was Ngo.snu'i, which can be translated into Tibetan as
"he who drinks milk from the cow."

However, in Jacques 2008 I showed that this name Ngo.snu'i was not a transcription of the actual Tangut imperial family name [eta]w[e.sup.2]mj[i.sup.1] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], but instead a rendition in Tibetan orthography of the Tangut form *[eta]w[e.sup.2]nj[u.sup.2][TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] which can be translated as "the cow ([eta]w[e.sup.2] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) gives milk (nj[u.sup.2] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])," or rather, in the context of a personal name, "the one who was fed milk by the cow."

It can hardly be a coincidence that the first syllable of the name [eta]w[e.sup.2]mj[i.sup.1] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] itself, though written differently, is homophonous with [eta]w[e.sup.2] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'cow', and the second syllable is homophonous with mj[i.sup.1] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 'feed', mj[i.sup.1] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is an irregular verb whose first and second singular form is mj[o.sup.2] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (4) It can be used with a human object:

[TEXT NOT               [TEXT NOT               [TEXT NOT
REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]  REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]  REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

[tchji.sup.2]           [tchji.sup.1]           lw[[partial
[rjar.sup.2]                                    derivative].sup.2]

immediately             meat                    buy

[TEXT NOT               [TEXT NOT               [TEXT NOT
REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]  REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]  REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

[miej.sup.2]            [.jij.sup.1]            [dja.sup.2]-[mji.sup.1]
ts[[partial
derivative].sup.1]

Mengzi                  GEN                     PFT-feed[A]

She (Mengzi's mother) immediately bought meat and gave it to Mengzi. (Leilin, 03.02A.6-7, Kepping 1983) A sentence such as *[eta]w[e.sup.2]mj[i.sup.1] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], though not actually attested in the known Tangut corpus, would mean "the cow feeds someone" or "fed by the cow." It is highly probable that the etymology of the name [eta]w[e.sup.2]mj[i.sup.1] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] otherwise entirely opaque, (5) can be explained in this way.

We assume that the myth concerning the origin of the First Tangut emperor mentioned in the Deb.ther dmar-po, the Rgyal.rubs gsal-ba'i me.long, and the Yar.lung jo.bo'i chos. 'byung at least partially reflects a genuine Tangut myth. The name Ngo.snu'i attested in those Tibetan texts, as we said before, is not a transcription of [eta]w[e.sup.2]mj[i.sup.1] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Rather, it is the transcription in Tibetan script of an explanation in the Tangut language (*[eta]w[e.sup.2] nj[u.sup.2] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of the meaning of the name [eta]w[e. …

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