Pugu, boga, beg

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From Pamela Crossley:

Just read again Chao Wu’s perplexing post on An early fourth century AD historical puzzle involving a Caucasian people in North China. it mentions “pugu” as “a Hu title.”  This made me wonder about possible connection of “pugu” (however it was originally pronounced) and related series of titles boga / bojilie / beyile, beg / begler, boyar, etc., but can’t see this having been done on the site.  Not being a linguist, I can only express curiosity. but I wonder if “pugu” is an early citation of these medieval Eurasian titles.

Here's the word Pamela is talking about:

púgŭ 僕谷

    • Middle Sinitic /buk̚/, /buok̚/    /kuk̚/
    • Old Sinitic
(Zhengzhang): /*boːɡ/, /*buːɡ/    /*kloːɡ/

Wiktionary here and here

Cf. Russian "bog Бог" ("god")

Proto-Slavic bogъ

Privative adjectives *ubogъ (poor, miserable) and *nebogъ (poor, miserable), as well as the later derivation *bogatъ (rich) prove that *bogъ was originally also an adjective meaning "earthly wealth/well-being; fortune", with a semantic shift to "dispenser of wealth/fortune" and finally "god". Semantic parallel can be drawn to Indo-Iranian languages: compare Old Persian (BG /baga/, god), Avestan (baγa, god) (but also (bag, apportion)), as well as Sanskrit epithet often applied to gods भग (bhága, dispenser, gracious lord, patron), proving that Slavic noun had both abstract and concrete meanings, and therefore possibly from Proto-Iranian *bagáh, from Proto-Indo-Iranian *bʰagás. The same Iranian source, but via a Turkic language, also probably gave Proto-Slavic *banъ. Compare also Avar бакъ (baq̇̄, sun), which, however, is unrelated.

This convincing parallel has led some linguists (e.g. Roman Jakobson) to claim that *bogъ is an Iranian borrowing. Slavic-Iranian parallelism can be further extended to the expressions of Slavic mythology: Dažbog, Belobog and Chernobog, which suggest an existence of Iranian-type dualism in Proto-Slavic mythology.

On a more formal level, absence of Winter's law (if held to apply in open syllables) precludes derivation from hypothetical Proto-Indo-European *bʰeh₂gós, *bʰagós.

Some connect it to Ancient Greek ἔφαγον (éphagon, to eat, devour) via a semantic shift "I received a share" > "I consumed" > "I ate". This would in turn all derive from the Proto-Indo-European root *bʰeh₂g- (to distribute, divide).



Selected titles

The origin of the Tocharians and their relationship to the Yuezhi (月氏) have been debated for more than a century, since the discovery of the Tocharian language. This debate has led to progress on both the scope and depth of our knowledge about the origin of the Indo-European language family and of the Indo-Europeans. Archaeological evidence supporting these theories, however, has until now sadly been lacking.


  1. Jonathan Skaff said,

    August 11, 2020 @ 6:03 pm

    Like Pamela, I'm no linguist. However, I can provide some suggestive historical fodder: Pugu (僕骨 or 僕固) reappears around 600 as the name of one of the Tiele 鐵勒 (also transcribed as Dili 狄歷, Dingling 丁零, Chile 勑勒 or Tele 特勒) tribes that formed a confederation in Mongolia under the authority of the Türks until 630, then the Sir-Yantuo 薛延陀 to 646, and the Uighur thereafter. By the eighth century, the confederation became known as the Toghuz-Oghuz, “Nine Tribes.” The Pugu, comprising 30,000 tents and 10,000 warriors during the Tang Dynasty, apparently were one of the most influential of these tribes because their leaders are mentioned as holding the high-ranking Turkic titles of irkin and eltäbär.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    August 11, 2020 @ 9:51 pm

    From Sasha Vovin:

    Two brief notes, if I may. 僕谷 is a barbaric title of Liu Yao; it appears in Jin shu. It is a little earlier for EMC, and way too later for OC. I trust LHC *bok kok would be a closer approximation. The title is a Xiong-nu one, more exactly Jie, and to the best of my knowledge it has no etymology.

    The theory that OCS богъ has Iranian origin, is not a bad one, since Indo-Iranian *a < *PIE *o, but it runs, I think, into a chronological problem. This shift in Indo-Iranian is an old old one (attested in Rigvedic Sanskrit and Old Persian). Meanwhile the Slavic group is very shallow and much more recent than that (about 1,000 years later). So cognacy cannot be excluded, but direct loan might be much more difficult to explain. My two cents.

  3. Timothy Williams said,

    August 12, 2020 @ 4:01 am

    How does "Bey" which according to wikipedia is a Turkish title fit in?

  4. Christopher Atwood said,

    August 12, 2020 @ 10:58 pm

    Púgǔ 僕谷 is part of the famous "Jie" couplet, about which there was recently a big academic debate. Bazin anciently proposed a Turkic reading, Vovin proposed a Yeniseyan reading, Beckwith and several of his students revived the Turkic reading and then Vovin et al. replied.

    1) Alexander Vovin, "Did the Xiong-nu Speak a Yeniseyan Language?" Central Asiatic Journal 44(1): 87-104.

    2) Andrew Shimunek, Christopher I. Beckwith, Jonathan North Washington, Nicholas Kontovas, and Kurban Niyaz, "The Earliest Attested Turkic Language: the Chieh 羯 (*Kir) Language of the Fourth Century A.D." Journal Asiatique 303.1 (2015): 143-151.

    3) Alexander Vovin, Edward Vajda, and Etienne de la Vaissiere, "Who Were the *Kjet (羯) and What Language Did They Speak." Journal Asiatique 304.1 (2016): 125-144.

    The disputers all quote in the "Jie" couplet from the Jinshu text, but the original is actually in the Gaoseng zhuan biography of "Fotudeng", that was translated by Arthur Wright.

    4) Arthur Frederick Wright, "Fo-t'u-têng: A Biography." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 11.3/4 (1948): 321-371; see pp. 343-44.

    In it, you'll see that Púgǔ (2 syllables) is glossed as the whole title, a binome whose reading at the time was bok-kok (following Coblin's Old Northwest Chinese reading, which is chronologically and regionally appropriate). Bazin and his old Turkic school which Beckwith and his students tried to revive, however, took off the gǔ/kok to make it match beg etc. Vovin etc. follow the actual text in taking it as bok-kok without offering any new reading. But of course if the gǔ/kok is not part of the title, then it has to be part of the following verb, which resulted in all sorts of knock-on effects.

    The issue has been settled, I think, by the fact that the word is actually attested in Runiform Turkic as buqugh found in line W8 of the Tariat (Terkhin) Inscription of the Uyghur period.

    5) Talat Tekin, "The Tariat (Terkhin) Inscription." Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 37. 1/3 (1983): 43-68.

    He finds buqugh as part of the name or title buqugh bïŋa ("Boqugh-Thousand + DL"?). The existence of this term shows that beg etc is not found anywhere in the "Jie" couplet and confirms what should never have been in doubt, that the word divisions in the glosses are accurate and to be trusted. This in turn renders the Turkic readings untenable, and makes the Yeniseyan reading the favored one. However, Beckwith et al are correct that this couplet is a "Jie" couplet, and hence tells us nothing about the Xiongnu language which is very unlikely to be a Yeniseyan language for a number of reasons.

    One of the biggest problems in Inner Asian philology is the absence of “weeding.” As a result, good plants get choked by the rampant growth of amateurism and etymology in the Voltaire school. (In which, as he said, “consonants mean little and vowels mean nothing at all.”) Regardless of what position one takes between the Beckwith and Vovin parties on this question, they are all serious scholars who are responding to the existing scholarship. Chau Wu, on the other hand, is contributing nothing to the conversation except confusion over what should be, by now, a settled question. Bazin said bok-kok should be cut up into bok and then turned into bek—bad enough and disproven by the Tariat inscription. Chau Wu wants to turn it into procurator—infinitely worse. Creating a high-profile forum to give a voice to amateurish dreck like that does not help the field, it hurts the field.

  5. pkc@mac.com said,

    August 14, 2020 @ 7:44 am


  6. Chris Button said,

    August 15, 2020 @ 8:18 am

    @ Christopher Atwood

    “consonants mean little and vowels mean nothing at all.”

    I'm afraid it's even messier than that famous quip lets on. The entire notion of "consonant" and "vowel" should really be restricted to the domain of surface phonetics. Unfortunately, "serious scholars" and "amateurs" alike continue to apply it to underlying phonology.

    Sure, "amateurs" still end up making many more outlandish claims than "serious scholars", but at least they bring the discussion out of obscure academic papers to a wider audience. And when both parties are thinking along the wrong lines (just some more outlandishly wrong than others), whose contribution is more beneficial as a whole?

    hence tells us nothing about the Xiongnu language

    On the earlier thread, I followed Prof. Mair's proposal of a possible Celtic link to very speculatively suggest that something in between OC *ɬə̀ws.kàj giving EMC *suwʰ.tɕiă for 秀支 might somehow be connected with Gaulish *slugi "army".

    (支 EMC *tɕiă has Pulleyblank's pharyngeal off-glide distinguishing it from 脂 EMC *tɕi with which it had merged by the time of LMC)

  7. Pamela said,

    August 15, 2020 @ 4:49 pm

    Victor, I'm still a bit confused about what Russian bog "god" has to do with it. I had just assumed that was an unrelated word, and that boyar came from some kind of Turkic title. Do we have to associate bog and boyar?

  8. Victor Mair said,

    August 15, 2020 @ 9:27 pm

    Pamela, Since the etymology of Turkic boyar is uncertain, and since Indo-Iranian has been raised as a possible source for Slavic bog, I proffered it for discussion out of my own curiosity.

  9. Peter B. Golden said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 11:04 am

    The etymology of Boyar (Old Rus. бояринъ, Church Slavonic болꙖринъ remains in dispute.The most likely source is the Oğuric Turkic language of the Danubian Bulghars, but what was the source form?. Byzantine sources and Danubian Bulghar inscriptions in Greek script note the Danubian Bulghar title Βοϊλᾶς, ΗΤΖΙΡΓΟΥ ΒΟΙΛΑΝ (ičergü boyla "Inner Boyla) and a metathesized Βουλίας etc. pointing to the title boyla- discussed in Talat Tekin, "Tuna Bulgarları ve Dilleri: (Ankara, 1987):44-5 with a variety of forms given there. Marquart, in his "Über das Volkstum der Kumanen" (1914): 26 , proposed a derivation from the Turkic title boyla + äri, but this does not seem likely. Others have suggested a corruption of boylalar (plural of boyla) – again not without problems. Yet others have put forward Turkic "bay" ("rich") + är ("man, person"), also highly problematic. Boyla is noted in the Old Türk inscriptions, but the function of the boyla is not spelled out. Tezcan (Tezcan S. "Eski türkçe buyla ve baγa sanları üzerine" Türk dili araştırmaları yıllığı. – Ankara, 1977. – S. 55‚ 63. ) suggested that it was an official in charge of the orderly movement of troops within the state. Among the Danubian Bulghars it was a high rank, see comments of Clauson, "Etymological Dictionary" (1972): 385. Hatice Şirin User, "Köktürk ve Ötüken Uygur Kağanlığı Yazıtları" (Konya, 2010): 257 reads it as "buyla, bïla ." It appears in a Sogdian inscription of Terek-Saya as xwt pwyl‟ x‟twn (qut boyla-qatun) a title joined with the title of Qatun, see A.V. Kubatin, "Sistema titulov v tiurkskom kaganate: genezis i preemstvennost' (Tashkent, 2016): 147) It is also attached to boyla-tarxan, and boyla bağa tarqan (a title associated with Tonyuquq, a major figure in the revival of the Türk Qaghanate), cf. also Danubian Bulghar βοσλίας ταρϰάνος (Kubatin: 148). The title/rank was important, but is never quite spelled out in our sources. To the best of my knowledge it is not recorded in the Chinese sources, but I may be mistaken.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 2:54 pm

    Peter B. Golden:

    I should have added that almost all of the Old Turkic titles are of foreign, often unknown, origin.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 3:01 pm

    @Peter B. Golden:

    In terms of the ethnogenesis and early history of the Turkic peoples, that would seem to be of great importance.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 12:42 pm

    From Mehmet Olmez:

    After my teacher T. Tekin, Á. Berta has also published on yälmä and bïŋa (from Tatiat – Terkhin inscription). I am not sure if the etymology of bïŋa is related with "thousand":

    Berta, Árpád, “Yälmä und bïña”, Laut- und Wortgeschichte der Türkspra­chen, Herausgegeben von B. Kellner-Heinkele und M. Stachowski, Wiesbaden 1995, s. 9-16.

    About pugu, Yong-Sŏng LI has an article and it will be published at the end of the year in Journal Asiatique.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 4:01 pm

    From Peter Golden:

    What are we to make of the buquġ* in the Taryat/Terkhin Inscription, W-8: …toquz yüz er bašï tuyqun uluġ tarqan buquġ bïŋa? A name? Title?

    *VHM: Can't reproduce the name in its original orthography here.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 4:20 pm

    From Mehmet Olmez:

    For bwkug please s. p. 16 at YÄLMÄ (and also footnote).

    Ten years later Berta also published a book about inscriptions (as you know); see pp. 253, 264.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 7:32 pm

    From Peter Golden:

    Berta’s edition of the Türk and Uyğur runiform texts is my constant companion. I should have checked Bilge Qağan, E-10 which has bwqwγ twtwq. However, it is still unclear (at least to me) if this is a name – and if so, meaning what? Or part of a title?

  16. Victor Mair said,

    August 18, 2020 @ 5:42 am

    From Mehmet Olmez:

    Peter Hocam,

    Yong-Sŏng Li worked exactly on the same line (Bilge Qaghan East 10): "On a Damaged Part in the 10th Line of the South Side of the Bilgä Kagan Inscription".

    Soon his article will be published.

  17. Pamela said,

    August 18, 2020 @ 7:41 am

    more on mysteries of boy[la, yar, etc): The Jurchen term has been reconstructed as bogilie, and assumed to be ancestral to Manchu beile and boga. since Manchu has a slight tendency, when short of political terms, to use the plural as an additional term (but in reference to a singular, for instance beise), I had assumed that bogilie was derived from a Turkic plural, though used as a singular in Jurchen.

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