Date: Sat, 29 Jul 95 14:51:27 +0200
To: Multiple recipients of list <>
Subject: Re: Pronounce "Siam"?
(re-editted to eliminate typos)

A for that time remarkably comprehensive treatment on the etymology of Siam can be found in:

    Yule, Henry, & Arthur Coke Burnell, 1903, Hobson-Jobson, new ed., ed. by William Crooke, London: Murray
on pp. 83-84 under Siam

     Abstract the English perhaps from the Malay; earliest Potuguese had Sião (Barros, Couto), sometimes Siam (Correa), also Sião "Siam, the country" beside as Siames "the Siamese, the people" (Barros, Pinto); van Linschoten, probably basing on a Portuguese source, had Sian. Term is "identical" with Shan and Chinese Sien(-lo), See also pp. 821-823 under Shan      

for Chinese Sienlo (Pinyin: xinluó)

    Pulleyblank, Edwin G., 1991, Lexicon of Reconstructed Pronunciation in Early Middle Chinese, Late Middle Chinese, and Early Mandarin, Vancouver: Univ. of British Columbia Press
gives for Early & Late Middle Chinese siam (for xin, p. 325), la (for luó, p. 203).

Beside Shan, there still are Assam and Ahom, which are apparently cognate to Siam as well (I can't remember what reference I got the Ahom alignement from, perhaps Grierson's Linguistic Survey?).

Cognates in Chinese, Vietnamese (perhaps loan from Chinese?), Khmer, Mon, Burmese, Malay, Javanese, all point to an original sya:m or sia:m (":" indicates long vowel) rather than the present Thai Saya:m. I'm therefore inclined to place the derivation of Common European Siam from "English-spelled" Saya:m in the vincinity of folk etymology.

Also from the realm of folk etymology is probably the derivation from Thai saya:m "reddish brown" in allusion to the skin-colour of the Thais (which many other peoples in SE Asia would hardly see as a feature distinguishing Thais from themselves, least of all such favourite enemies of the past as the Burmese and Malays).


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