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This Proto-Sino-Tibetan entry contains reconstructed words and roots. As such, the term(s) in this entry are not directly attested, but are hypothesized to have existed based on comparative evidence.



Camellia sinensis, the species from which tea is nowadays usually extracted.
Sonchus oleraceus, one of the bitter taste plants that referred to.
  • Proto-Sino-Tibetan: ?
    • Tibeto-Burman: *s-la (Matisoff, STEDT)

Cognate with *lap (leaf), *lep ~ ljap (flat, thin, flat object); see there for more cognates.

This root is the eventual source of the words for "tea" in most non-Sino-Tibetan languages of the world, mostly borrowed from Chinese . Two Chinese sources of borrowing are usually distinguished:

  1. the affricativised varieties (e.g. Beijing Mandarin, Guangzhou Cantonese): which pronounce with an affricate initial /t͡sʰ, ʈ͡ʂʰ/.

       English:  chai
          Korean:   (cha, “cha”)
          Japanese:   (ちゃ, cha)
          Vietnamese:  trà, chè

  2. the plosive varieties (e.g. Min Nan) /t/.

       English:  tea
          Korean:   (da, “da”)
          Japanese:   (, da; ta)

The Chinese word might have originally been a loan from Loloish (Tibeto-Burman) *la ("leaf, tea"), as tea may have originated in Sichuan (historically Lolo-speaking area) (Sagart, 1999). Alternatively, Qiu (2000) suggests that it was a semantic extension from the root *la, which yielded (OC *rlaː, *ɦlja, *l'aː), the name of a bitter plant (Sonchus oleraceus).

Additionally, Schuessler (2007) also proposed an Austroasiatic origin for the Proto-Loloish word; as a similar-shaped etymon exists in Austroasiatic: *sla (ibid.) or *slaʔ (Sidwell & Rau, 2015); compare also Proto-Mon-Khmer *slaʔ (leaf) (Shorto, 2006: #230), (Modern Mon သၠ (hlaʔ, leaf), Khmer ស្លា (slaa, areca palm), ស្លឹក (slǝk, leaf, sheet), Vietnamese (leaf).

More at etymology of tea on Wikipedia.



  1. leaf
  2. tea
  3. flat object


  • Old Chinese: /*rlaː, laː, ɦlja/ (ZS), /*lˤra, lˤa, l̥a/ (B-S; unlisted, theoretical) (“bitter taste vegetable; weed; white flower; poison, harm; tea”)
    • Middle Chinese: /ɖɣa, ʑia, duo/, /ɖɣa/
      • Chinese:
        Beijing: /ʈ͡ʂʰa³⁵/
        Central Plains: /t͡sʰa²⁴/, /ʈ͡ʂʰa⁴²/
        Dungan: ца (ca) /t͡sʰaː²⁴/
        Jiaoliao: /ʈ͡ʂʰa⁴²/
        Jilu: /ʈ͡ʂʰa⁴²/, /t͡sʰɑ⁴⁵/
        Lanyin: /ʈ͡ʂʰa⁵³/, /t͡sʰa⁵¹/
        Lower Yangtze: /ʈ͡ʂʰa⁵⁵/, /ʈ͡ʂʰɑ²⁴/
        Northeastern: /ʈ͡ʂʰa²⁴/
        Chengdu: /t͡sʰa³¹/
        Guiyang: /t͡sʰa²¹/
        Kunming: /ʈ͡ʂʰa̠³¹/
        Wuhan: /t͡sʰa²¹³/
        Sichuanese: (ca2, /t͡sʰa²¹/)
        Standard: (chá, /ʈ͡ʂʰa³⁵/)
        Guangzhou: (caa4, /t͡sʰɑː²¹/)
        Hong Kong: /t͡sʰa²¹/
        Nanning: /t͡sʰa²¹/
        Taishanese: (ca3, /t͡sʰa²²/)
        Nanchang: /t͡sʰɑ²⁴/
        Sixian: (chhà, /t͡sʰa¹¹/)
        Taoyuan: /t͡sʰɑ¹¹/
        Huizhou: /t͡sʰa⁴⁴/, /t͡sɔ⁴⁴/
        Jin: /t͡sʰa¹¹/, /t͡sɑ¹³/, /t͡sʰa³¹/
        Min Bei:
        Jian'ou: (dâ, /ta³³/)
        Min Dong:
        Fuzhounese: (dà, /ta⁵³/)
        Min Nan:
        Hainanese: /ʔdɛ³¹/
        Amoy: (tê, /te²⁴/)
        Taiwanese: (tê, /te²⁴/)
        Zhuangzhou: (têe, /tɛ¹³/)
        Teochew: (5, /te⁵⁵/)
        Hangzhounese: /d͡zɑ²¹³/
        Shanghainese: (zo3, /z̻o²³/)
        Suzhounese: /zo¹³/
        Wenzhounese: /d͡zo³¹/
        Changsha: /t͡sa¹³/
        Xiangtan: /d͡zɒ¹²/
      • Japanese: (cha, [t͡ɕʲa̠])
      • Korean: (cha, [t͡ɕʰa])
      • Tibetan: (ja, tea)
  • Lolo-Burmese:

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