The IPA for 不 in 2021 Mandarin is pʷu4, and in 2021 Cantonese is /pɐt5. These don't sound like *An.

  1. From what did An phonologically change?

  2. Can you please expound the steps of 不's phonological change?

I quote 不知 - Wiktionary.


The basic negating root of the Old Korean negatives is disputed. Because all conventional reconstructions begin with *ant-, many South Korean linguists, including Lee Seung-jae, have proposed that the base form was *anto-, producing 不冬 (*ANtol), 不只 (*ANTOk), and (via deletion of the minimal vowel ) 不知 (*ANti). Other scholars, including both Koreans and Alexander Vovin, have argued that the negative root is *an and that *tol, *tok, and *ti are as of yet poorly understood suffixes. Vovin notes that likely borrowings in Tungusic appear to suggest that the root was *an-. In the case of 不知, the orthographic variation, perhaps reflecting dialectal differences, may also be suggestive of an originally *an- root.

This was probably borrowed at some very ancient period into Proto-Northern Tungusic as *anti, producing forms such as Udege language anči and Even language āt.

1 Answer 1


There's a misunderstanding here - 「不」 is not the etymon of 「아」. Please carefully notice the reconstruction notes; reproduced below with some additions for emphasis:

The second character (冬) is a common Old Korean phonogram for the syllable *tol. The first syllable (不) is a logogram conventionally reconstructed as *AN because the sequence 不冬 is used in fourteenth-century Idu to write the Middle Korean negator 아니 (Yale: ani), and the Middle Korean Idu tradition preserves many elements of Old Korean orthography. There is also direct phonogramic evidence that the negating noun 不知 was read as *ANti, and the cross-linguistic unlikelihood of having entirely separate roots for verbal and nominal negation is another, if circumstantial, point of evidence for reconstructing the logogram as *AN.

  • 「不」 is used as a logogram, that is, for its semantic value (not phonetic value), to represent the Korean root *AN (meaning not).
  • 「冬」 is used as a phonogram, that is, for its phonetic value (not semantic value, which would be winter), to represent the Korean syllable *tol.

You can see this with the alternative spelling 「非冬」, which still represents the same word (*ANtol); 「不」 and 「非」 are synonyms, read in Korean using the same Korean root, not its Chinese-derived sound value.

These systems were pre- or alternative-to-Hangul ways of representing Korean using Chinese characters. See the following for more information:

  • Thanks. So where did the phoneme *AN hail from? Can you please respond in, by editing, your answer? Comment chains are cumbersome to read.
    – user3738
    Jul 26, 2021 at 0:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.