Origin of 什麼 and 啥

Shih-Wei

New Member
Chinese - Taiwan
The use of Chinese characters 什麼(甚麼) and 啥 in the interrogative sentence seems to be recent.
These words seem to have been used in the oral language for a certain amount of time before they are finally written down in the vernacular Chinese.

In the Mandarin, the character 什(甚) is pronounced /ʂən/ with the 2nd tone and 啥 is pronounced /ʂa/ with the 2nd tone. It is tentative to suppose that these two words (not the characters) have the same origin.

In other Chinese languages, it's 啥 which is commonly used in the interrogative sentence, which is pronouced with the 陰上 (Yin rising) tone. Another Chinese character used with similar value in different Chinese languages is: 孰 (陰上Yin rising)
Here is a map of these words in Chinese languages & dialects
Template:zh-dial-map/什麼 - Wiktionary

What seems intricating to me is that, the tone of character 什 is, according to《廣韻》(Guangyun), 陽入(Yang checked), whereas the tone of 舍(from which 啥 is formed) is 陰去(Yin falling), so their pronunciations used be quite different. According to reconstructions of the Middle Chinese, 什 was pronounced /d͡ʑip̚/, whose initial consonant was is voiced; the character 舍 (from which 啥 is formed) was /ɕja/, whose initial consonant was unvoiced.

These observations make me suppose that the words 什麼 / 啥 have a common origin and always have unvoiced initial; the choice of the character 什 in 什麼 is due to the devoicing of 全濁聲母(voiced obstruent initials) in Mandarin, the lost of 入聲/韻尾塞音(checked tone/final stop consonants) and its large modification of intonation (compared to other Chinese languages, it lost the Yin-Yang constrast), which makes 啥 and 什 sound similar in the Mandarin.

Is there any proof supporting or refuting this hypothesis?

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Edit.
Thanks skating-in-bc, who told me that 什麼 already appeared in 王定保《唐摭言》「且以拍板為什麼?」(五代, first half of 10th century). However, the devoicing of 全濁聲母 seems to begin with the late middle Chinese in Tang dynasty (specially in the north, 長安). It's unclear whether the character 什, such as it appeared in 《唐摭言》, is pronounced with voiced or unvoiced initial.
 
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