Daily Archives

One Article


A Tale of Two Tribes: the Sino-Tibetan origins recorded in historical texts

Posted on

To determine the common origins of languages and peoples, the most reliable methods include: the comparative reconstruction method and other numerical methods in linguistics, archaeological evidence, and population genetics, according to Wang (1998). When I was writing my book A History of the Chinese Language, I initially wanted to introduce arguments made by Yu Min (1980) for the common origins of the Sino-Tibetan languages and peoples, based on early historical texts. This argument was in chapter 2 of my original manuscript, and the title of chapter 2 was originally titled “A Tale of Two Tribes: Prehistory”, where the “two tribes” refers to the legendary Huangdi and Yandi tribes, as described in Yu Min’s (1980) article. But then based on the criticism from an anonymous reviewer, I agreed to remove that section from chapter 2 and the title was changed to “Where it all began: Prehistory”.

two tribes

The reviewer’s comments are very reasonable, since historical texts are not hard evidence, and any historical text could be distorted by people during the process of transmission. However, if taken with a large grain of salt, a study of such historical texts can actually add to the validity of both the independent findings in other disciplines such as historical linguistics, archaeology and population genetics, and the historical truthfulness of the text itself. Let me explain in a little more detail as to how this is possible.