The Dravidian family of languages includes approximately 85 languages, spoken by around 200 million people. They are mainly spoken in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and overseas in other countries such as Malaysia and Singapore. Among them Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam are the members with the most speakers. There are also small groups of Dravidian-speaking scheduled tribes, who live beyond the mainstream communities. It is often speculated that Dravidian languages are native to India. Epigraphically the Dravidian languages have been attested since the 6th century BCE. Only one Dravidian Language, the Brahui language, is exclusively spoken outside India.
Origins of the word Dravidian
The English word Dravidian was first employed by Robert Caldwell in his book of comparative Dravidian grammar based on the usage of the Sanskrit word drāviḍ in the work Tantravārttika by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa (Zvelebil 1990:xx). As for the origin of the Sanskrit word drāviḍa itself there have been various theories proposed. Basically the theories are about the direction of derivation between tamiẓ and drāviḍa.
There is no definite philological and linguistic basis for asserting unilaterally that the name Dravida also forms the origin of the word Tamil (Dravida -> Dramila -> Tamizha or Tamil). Zvelebil cites the forms such as dramila (in Daṇḍin's Sanskrit work Avanisundarīkathā) damiḷa (found in Ceylonese chronicle Mahavamsa) and then goes on to say (ibid. page xxi): "The forms damiḷa/damila almost certainly provide a connection of dr(a/ā)viḍa " and "... tamiḷ < tamiẓ ...whereby the further development might have been *tamiẓ > *damiḷ > damiḷa- / damila- and further, with the intrusive, 'hypercorrect' (or perhaps analogical) -r-, into dr(a/ā)viḍa. The -m-/-v- alternation is a common enough phenomenon in Dravidian phonology" (Zvelebil 1990:xxi) Zvelebil in his earlier treatise (Zvelebil 1975: p53) states: "It is obvious that the Sanskrit dr(a/ā)viḍa, Pali damila, damiḷo and Prakrit d(a/ā)viḍa are all etymologically connected with tamiẓ" and further remarks "The r in tamiẓ > dr(a/ā)viḍa is a hypercorrect insertion, cf. an analogical case of DED 1033 Ta. kamuku, Tu.kangu "areca nut": Skt. kramu(ka).".
Further, another Dravidian linguist Bhadriraju Krishnamurti in his book Dravidian Languages (Krishnamurti 2003: p. 2, footnote 2) states: "Joseph (1989: IJDL 18.2:134-42) gives extensive references to the use of the term draviḍa, dramila first as the name of a people, then of a country. Sinhala inscriptions of BCE cite dameḍa-, damela- denoting Tamil merchants. Early Buddhist and Jaina sources used damiḷa- to refer to a people of south India (presumably Tamil); damilaraṭṭha- was a southern non-Aryan country; dramiḷa-, dramiḍa, and draviḍa- were used as variants to designate a country in the south (Bṛhatsamhita-, Kādambarī, Daśakumāracarita-, fourth to seventh centuries CE) (1989: 134–138). It appears that damiḷa- was older than draviḍa- which could be its Sanskritization."
Based on what Krishnamurti states referring to a scholarly paper published in the International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, the Sanskrit word draviḍa itself is later than damiḷa since the dates for the forms with -r- are centuries later than the dates for the forms without -r- (damiḷa, dameḍa-, damela- etc.).
The Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary lists for the Sanskrit word draviḍa a meaning of "collective Name for 5 peoples, viz. the Āndhras, Karṇāṭakas, Gurjaras, Tailaṅgas, and Mahārāṣṭras".
The origins of the Dravidian languages, as well as their subsequent development and the period of their differentiation are unclear, partially due to the lack of comparative linguistic research into the Dravidian languages. The Dravidian languages have remained an isolated family to the present day and have defied all of the attempts to show a connection with the Indo-European tongues, Mitanni, Basque, Sumerian, or Korean. Rasmus K. Rask (1787–1832) considered Dravidian as belonging to the "Scythian" languages referring to Scythians as non-Semitic and non-Indo-European peoples and languages of Eastern Europe and Western Asia sometimes also termed "Hyperborean".
One plausible hypothesis is that of a linguistic relationship with the Uralic (Hungarian, Finnish) and Altaic (Turkish, Mongol) language groups. The theory that the Dravidian languages display similarities with the Uralic language group, suggesting a prolonged period of contact in the past, is popular amongst Dravidian linguists and has been supported by a number of scholars, including Robert Caldwell, Thomas Burrow, Kamil Zvelebil, and Mikhail Andronov. This theory has, however, been rejected by some specialists in Uralic languages, and has in recent times also been criticised by other Dravidian linguists like Bhadriraju Krishnamurti.
Although in modern times speakers of the various Dravidian languages have mainly occupied the southern portion of India, nothing definite is known about the ancient domain of the Dravidian parent speech. It is, however, a well-established and well-supported hypothesis that Dravidian speakers must have been widespread throughout India, including the northwest region before the arrival of Indo-European speakers.
Proto-Dravidian is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian, Proto South-Central Dravidian and Proto-South Dravidian around 500 BCE, although some linguists have argued that the degree of differentiation between the sub-families points to an earlier split.
The existence of the Dravidian language family was first suggested in 1816 by Alexander D. Campbell in his Grammar of the Teloogoo Language, in which he and Francis W. Ellis argued that Tamil and Telugu were descended from a common, non-Indo-European ancestor. However, it was not until 1856 that Robert Caldwell published his Comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages, which considerably expanded the Dravidian umbrella and established it as one of the major language groups of the world. Caldwell coined the term "Dravidian" from the Sanskrit dravida, which was used in a 7th century text to refer to the Tamil language of the south of India. The publication of the Dravidian etymological dictionary by T. Burrow and M. B. Emeneau was a landmark event in Dravidian linguistics.
The Dravidian languages form a close-knit family - much more closely related than, say, the Indo-European languages. There is a fair degree of agreement on how they are related to each other. The following classification divides Dravidian into three branches. Other classifications use four: either dividing Central Dravidian into Central (Kolami-Parji) and South-Central (Telugu-Kui), or dividing Northern Dravidian into Northeast (Kurukh-Malto) and Northwest (Brahui). There are in addition as-yet unclassified Dravidian languages such as Allar.
The languages recognized as official languages of India appear here in boldface.
The Brahui, Kurukh and Malto have myths about external origins. The Kurukh have traditionally claimed to be from the Deccan Peninsula, more specifically Karnataka. The same tradition has existed of the Brahui. They call themselves immigrants. Many scholars hold this same view of the Brahui such as L. H. Horace Perera and M. Ratnasabapathy.
Relationship to other language families
The Dravidian languages have not been shown to be related to any other language family. Comparisons have been made not just with the other language families of the Indian Subcontinent (Indo-European, Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman, and Nihali), but with all typologically similar language families of the Old World. Dravidian is one of the primary linguistic groups in the proposed Nostratic proposal, which would link most languages in North Africa, Europe and Western Asia into a family with its origins in the Fertile Crescent sometime between the last Ice Age and the emergence of proto-Indo-European 4–6 thousand years BCE. However, the general consensus is that such deep connections are not, or not yet, demonstrable.
On a less ambitious scale, McAlpin (1975) proposed linking Dravidian languages with the ancient Elamite language of what is now southwestern Iran. However, despite decades of research, this Elamo-Dravidian language family has not been demonstrated to the satisfaction of other historical linguists.
Nonetheless, while there are no readily detectable genealogical connections, there are strong areal features linking Dravidian with the Indo-Aryan languages. Dravidian languages show extensive lexical (vocabulary) borrowing, but only a few traits of structural (either phonological or grammatical) borrowing, from Indo-Aryan, whereas the Indo-Aryan shows more structural features than lexical borrowings from the Dravidian languages. The Dravidian impact on the syntax of Indo-Aryan languages is considered far greater than the Indo-Aryan impact on Dravidian grammar. Some linguists explain this asymmetry by arguing that Middle Indo-Aryan languages were built on a Dravidian substratum.
The most characteristic features of Dravidian languages are:
* Dravidian languages are agglutinative.
Dravidian languages are noted for the lack of distinction between aspirated and unaspirated stops. While some Dravidian languages (especially Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu) have accepted large numbers of loan words from Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages in addition to their already vast vocabulary, in which the orthography shows distinctions in voice and aspiration, the words are pronounced in Dravidian according to different rules of phonology and phonotactics: aspiration of plosives is generally absent, regardless of the spelling of the word. This is not a universal phenomenon and is generally avoided in formal or careful speech, especially when reciting.
For instance, Tamil, like Finnish, Korean, Ainu, and most indigenous Australian languages, does not distinguish between voiced and unvoiced stops. In fact, the Tamil alphabet lacks symbols for voiced and aspirated stops.
Dravidian languages are also characterized by a three-way distinction between dental, alveolar, and retroflex places of articulation as well as large numbers of liquids.
Vowels: Proto-Dravidian had ten vowels: a, ā, e, ē, u, ū, i, ī, o, ō. There was contrast between short and long vowels. There were no diphthongs. ai and au are treated as *ay and *av (or *aw) (Subrahmanyam 1983, Zvelebil 1990, Krishnamurti 2003).
Consonants: Proto-Dravidian is reconstructible with the following consonantal phonemes (Subrahmanyam 1983:p40, Zvelebil 1990, Krishnamurti 2003):
Words starting with vowels
A substantial number of words also begin and end with vowels, which helps the languages' agglutinative property.
karanu (cry), elumbu (bone), athu (that), avide (there), ithu (this), illai (no, absent)
adu-idil-illai (adu = that, idu = this, il= suffix form of "in", so => that-this-in-absent => that-in this-absent => that is absent in this)
The numerals from 1 to 10 in various Dravidian languages.
1. This is the same as the word for another form of the number one in Tamil and Malayalam. This is used as an indefinite article meaning "a" and also when the number is an adjective followed by a noun (as in "one person") as opposed to when it is a noun (as in "How many are there?" "One").
2. This is still found in compound words, and has taken on a meaning of "double" in Tamil and Malayalam. For example, irupatu (20, literally meaning "double-ten"), iravai (20 in Telugu), or "iraṭṭi" ("double") or Iruvar (meaning two people).
3. Words indicated (II) are borrowings from Indo-Iranian languages.
Stability and Continuity of Dravidian
The Dravidian language family has been considered remarkably stable. Some aspects of its stability are:
* Relative stability of root vowels seems to have been the rule (Zvelebil)
Dravidian substratum influence on Sanskrit
Dravidian and Sanskrit have influenced each other in various ways from very early times, hence it is an interesting field for linguistic research.
Well-known Indologist and linguist (Zvelebil 1975: pp50–51): "... the period of the high water mark of Tamil classical literature was one in which the two great Sanskrit epics were already completed, but the Sanskrit classical poetry was barely emerging with Aśvaghoṣa." More importantly he continues: "No stylistic feature or convention could have been borrowed by the Tamils (though of course there are borrowings of purāṇic stories" (emphasis added).
"Though the dominance of Sanskrit was exaggerated in some Brahmanic circles of Tamilnadu, and Tamil was given unduly underestimated by a few Sanskrit-oriented scholars, the Tamil and Sanskrit cultures were not generally in rivalry".
However more recent research has shown that Sanskrit has been influenced in certain more fundamental ways than Dravidian languages have been by it: It is by way of phonology and even more significantly here via grammatical constructs. This has been the case from the earliest language available (ca. 1200 B.C.) of Sanskrit: the Ṛg Vedic speech.
Basically, Dravidian languages show extensive lexical (vocabulary) borrowing, but only a few traits of structural (either phonological or grammatical) borrowing, from the Indo-Aryan tongues. On the other hand, Indo-Aryan shows rather large-scale structural borrowing from Dravidian, but relatively few loanwords.
The Ṛg Vedic language has retroflex consonants even though it is well known that the Indo European family and the Indo-Iranian subfamily to which Sanskrit belongs lack retroflex consonants (ṭ/ḍ, ṇ) with about 88 words in the Ṛg Veda having unconditioned retroflexes (Kuiper 1991, Witzel 1999). Some sample words are: (Iṭanta, Kaṇva,śakaṭī, kevaṭa, puṇya, maṇḍūka) This is cited as a serious evidence of substrate influence from close contact of the Vedic speakers with speakers of a foreign language family rich in retroflex phonemes (Kuiper 1991, Witzel 1999). Obviously the Dravidian family would be a serious candidate here (ibid as well as Krishnamurti 2003: p36) since it is rich in retroflex phonemes reconstructible back to the Proto-Dravidian stage[See Subrahmanyam 1983:p40, Zvelebil 1990, Krishnamurti 2003].
A more serious influence on Vedic Sanskrit is the extensive grammatical influence attested by the usage of the quotative marker iti and the occurrence of gerunds of verbs, a grammatical feature not found even in the Avestan language, a sister language of the Vedic Sanskrit. As Krishnamurti states: "Besides, the Ṛg Veda has used the gerund, not found in Avestan, with the same grammatical function as in Dravidian, as a non-finite verb for 'incomplete' action. Ṛg Vedic language also attests the use of iti as a quotative clause complementizer. All these features are not a consequence of simple borrowing but they indicate substratum influence (Kuiper 1991: ch 2)".
The Brahui population of Balochistan has been taken by some as the linguistic equivalent of a relict population, perhaps indicating that Dravidian languages were formerly much more widespread and were supplanted by the incoming Indo-Aryan languages. However it has now been demonstrated that the Brahui could only have migrated to Balochistan from central India after 1000 CE. The absence of any older Iranian (Avestan) loanwords in Brahui supports this hypothesis. The main Iranian contributor to Brahui vocabulary, Balochi, is a western Iranian language like Kurdish, and moved to the area from the west only around 1000 CE.
Thomason & Kaufman (1988) state that there is strong evidence that Dravidian influenced Indic through "shift", that is, native Dravidian speakers learning and adopting Indic languages. Elst (1999) claims that the presence of the Brahui language, similarities between Elamite and Harappan script as well as similarities between Indo-Aryan and Dravidian indicate that these languages may have interacted prior to the spread of Indo-Aryans southwards and the resultant intermixing of languages. Erdosy (1995:18) states that the most plausible explanation for the presence of Dravidian structural features in Old Indo-Aryan is that the majority of early Old Indo-Aryan speakers had a Dravidian mother tongue which they gradually abandoned. Even though the innovative traits in Indic could be explained by multiple internal explanations, early Dravidian influence is the only explanation that can account for all of the innovations at once – it becomes a question of explanatory parsimony; moreover, early Dravidian influence accounts for the several of the innovative traits in Indic better than any internal explanation that has been proposed.
The noted Indologist Zvelebil remarks: "Several scholars have demonstrated that pre-Indo-Aryan and pre-Dravidian bilingualism in India provided conditions for the far-reaching influence of Dravidian on the Indo-Aryan tongues in the spheres of phonology (e.g., the retroflex consonants, made with the tongue curled upward toward the palate), syntax (e.g., the frequent use of gerunds, which are nonfinite verb forms of nominal character, as in “by the falling of the rain”), and vocabulary (a number of Dravidian loanwords apparently appearing in the Rigveda itself)"
Published - March 2011
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