The Jin Dialect of Chinese, which is spoken in Shanxi and the adjacent areas in Hebei and Inner Mongolia, is a very unique dialect in the northern group. Some scholars believe that the Jin Dialect could be separated from the other northern dialects and form a single dialect group.
One of the interesting morphological devices in the Jin Dialect is some kind of -l- infixing. In such words, there is an alternative form with an -l- between the initial and the rime, and this is generally in addition to the usual form which can also be found in other northern dialects. For example:
巷 hàng (IPA: xaŋ) ~ xəlaŋ 擺 bǎi (IPA: paɪ) ~ pəlaɪ
These -l- infixing words are also used to support the existence of consonant clusters in Old Chinese, or Proto-Chinese, although the -l- infixing is not conclusive or even convincing evidence for consonant clusters. The origin of these -l- infixing words are still not clear. Were they a result of the purported consonant clusters, or something else. Let’s not go into much detail of the debate here. What I want to discuss in this article is the word [xəla] in some area of the Jin Dialect, e.g. the variety spoken in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. I overheard this word a few days ago, and found it to be interesting. There are many -l- infixing words in the Jin Dialect, and besides the often-cited ones like the two mentioned above, there should be more, and this new word should be another example. This word means “crevice, gap”. For example, the gap between furniture pieces would be referred to as [xəla]. This word is usually appended with the noun suffix [tsɿ] to be [xəlatsɿ], or the second syllable is reduplicated, i.e. [xəlala]. Now the question is what character can be used to write this word, i.e. what is the equivalent word in other northern dialects. We can use the general form of -l- infixing as a formula and reverse the process. We can deduce the other form would be [xa]. Judging by its meaning and this pronuniciation of [xa], it could be related to the word 罅 xià (IPA: ɕia) in Modern Standard Chinese. In the Guangyun, the character 罅 has the pronunciation of 呼訝. It belongs to the rime 禡, and the initial 曉. The reconstructed pronunciation in Wang Li’s system of 罅 in Middle Chinese is [xa]. Now it seems pretty reasonable to say that the word [xəla] is just 罅. So now we have another word in the same pattern.
PS: The other day I thought about another example of the -l- infixing. This is the word 摸 (to caress, to touch), which is alternatively pronounced as [məlau], although the Mandarin pronunciation is [mo].