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0567 Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1
Notes on Marco Polo : vol.1 / Page 567 (Grayscale High Resolution Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000246
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184. COWRIES   551

us to reach a final solution, but, as will be seen further on, Polo's information finds curious counterparts in other sources. As to so, it means « rope », « cord », «string », and would be a fitting designation for a «string» of cowries; but it may also, in principle, be a transcription, with a semantic adaptation in the choice of the transcribing character. It has been understood by Chinese scholars as meaning « string » : so the «Pal-shin lei pien» says that, if twenty shou (= 80 cowries) made a so, it was « because, when reaching that number, [the cowries] could be strung (kuan) », and the Yung-ch'uang hsiao-p'in, that «pei were made into a so as cash is made into a

min » (min is one of the terms used for a « string» of cash). On the other hand, so is *sâk, and passed through a *sa' stage c. A. D. 1000-1100, before becoming the modern so c. 1100-1200; in such a case so could be a purely Chinese name, borrowed as sa' by one of the native languages c. A. D. 1000-1100, and from that native language retranscribed in Ming times as sa in Chinese. A somewhat similar case occurred with the Lolo word for « cotton », sa-la, which I take to represent Chinese so-lo (*sâ-ld; see CorroN, p. 479). If this be right, the fact that the native word for a «string» of cowries was borrowed from the Chinese of c. A. D. 1000-1100 would support the deduction, suggested by the text of the Man shu, that in the second half of the ninth century there was not yet a cowry currency in Yün-nan.

The modern lolo language of Yün-nan is of no direct help, since it has taken over, in a modified form, the Chinese names of weights and measures. So in the Ni dialect the ounce or tael is 16 < Ch. Jiang; 0.1 of a tael is ts'ö < Ch. ch'ien; and 0.01 of a tael is fd < Ch. fên. On the other hand, starting from the old Chinese system of the « string » of 1000 cash which was equivalent to one tael of silver (in fact, it has varied in modern times between 700 and 800 cash), the Lolo use the same words ld, ts'ö, and fii for a « string » of cash, and 0.1, and 0.01 of a « string », respectively (cf. VIAL, p. [10] ). As a consequence, ts'ô (< Ch. ch'ien) is not only 0.1 tad, i. e. one « mace », but also 100 cash theoretically (in fact 70 to 80). Now the Hsü Yunnan t'ung-chih kao (ch. 166) contains a comparative vocabulary of the native languages, in which the Loh) words are quoted from the 4 311 Tsuan ya, evidently a Lolo-Chinese Vocabulary; I do not know its date, nor do I think that it has ever been published independently; it is probably not earlier than the nineteenth century, but the words are often quite different from those given in VIAL'S Dictionnaire français-lolo. In this chapter 166, 27-28, we read that, in Loh), «pound » ( 3 chin) is e chi (VIAL : ce), «ounce « or «tael» ((A Jiang) is 3R lai (VIAL : lo), «0.1 ounce » or

«mace « (   ch'ien) is   sa (VIAL : ts'ö), «0.01 ounce » or « candareen » (, R. fin) is ' 3. t'a fên
(VIAL : fâi; t'a is in fact « one », VIAL : t'i; cf. ta, «one », in Burmese). All these words are clearly borrowed from the Chinese, mostly in denasalized forms, with one exception : sa cannot represent ch'ien. But if we remember that, in modern Lolo, the Chinese copper cash has taken over the name zè-ma of the cowry, it will appear quite natural that for 100 cash (in fact 70 or 80), the Lolo should have retained the well known name sa of the « string» of 80 cowries. In this one case, and owing to the wide diffusion of the word sa, the Lolo was spared, at least for a time, from borrowing yet another Chinese term. Incidentally, it must be more than a fortuitous coincidence when Polo makes 80 cowries, i. e. one so, equal to one saggio of silver, i. e. one ch'ien, and in modern Lolo sd (= so) is used with the same sense of ch'ien. If I am right in my contention, the word sa, used instead of so for a «string» of cowries in Ming times, probably represents the