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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: ?
    • Proto-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 (Lolo area) (Sagart, 1999). Alternatively, Qiu (2000) suggests that it was a semantic extension from the root *la, the name of a bitter plant (Sonchus oleraceus).

A similar-shaped etymon exists in Proto-Mon-Khmer: *slaʔ (leaf) (Modern Mon သၠ (hlaʔ, leaf), Khmer ស្លា (slaa, areca palm), ស្លឹក (slǝk, leaf, sheet), Vietnamese (leaf)).

More at Tea#The word "tea" on Wikipedia.



  1. leaf
  2. tea
  3. flat object


  • Old Chinese: /*rlaː, laː, ɦlja/ (ZS), /*lˁra, lˁa, l̥a/ (B-S; unlisted, theoretical) ("bitter taste vegetable; weed; white flower; poison, harm; tea")
  • Lolo-Burmese-Naxi

External links[edit]