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Dravidian languages

The Dravidian family of languages includes approximately 26 languages that are mainly spoken in southern India and Sri Lanka with significant areas in Pakistan (Brahui), Nepal(Kurukh) and eastern (Kurukh, Malto) and central (Gondi) India. Dravidian languages are spoken by more than 200 million people, and they appear to be unrelated to languages of other known families.

Table of contents
1 History
2 List of Dravidian Languages
3 Phonology
4 Theories on the derivation of Dravidian languages
5 References
6 External links


The existence of the Dravidian language family was first suggested in 1816 by Alexandar 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 Comparitive 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 drāvida, meaning "south".

List of Dravidian Languages

(National languages of India are listed in boldface.)






Dravidian languages are noted for the lack of distinction between voiced and unvoiced stops, like
Finnish. While Dravidian languages (especially Kannada and Telugu) have large numbers of loan words from Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages which do make distinctions in voice and aspiration, the words are often misprounced by monolingual Dravidian speakers. 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.

Reversal property

Words in Dravidian languages have the property where by reversing the consonants and applying a well defined set of transformations of the vowels, another word with a similar meaning is obtained. Over time, one form may represent the general case and the other end up representing a special case.

For example:


A substantial number of the reversals result in the same word. In other words, the words are like consonant palindromes.

Eg. amma, appa, aNNa, akka, anna (rice), keNaku (tease, irritate)

Words starting with vowels

A substantial number of words also begin and end with vowels, which helps the languages' agglutinative property.

aLu (cry), elu (bone), adu (that), alli (there), idu (this), illa (no, absent)

ad-idar-al-illa (absent in this and that)

Sanskrit Influence

Kannada and Telugu have been the most influenced by Sanskrit and have borrowed the aspirated consonants. Sanskrit words and derivatives are very common in Kannada and Telugu. Tamil seems to be the least influenced in terms of Phonology or otherwise and is believed to retain the closest form of the Proto-Dravidian language.

Theories on the derivation of Dravidian languages

The vast majority of linguists believe that the Dravidian language family is completely unrelated to any other language families. However, there exist several fringe views on the origin of Dravidian languages.

Some people claim a relationship between Dravidian and the Indo-European language family: either that both descended from a common ancestor, or that Dravidian is the common ancestor of Indo-European languages. Proponents of the latter theory often use wordlists showing superficial similarities between the modern representatives of these two families. For instance:

Linguists generally dismiss such analysis as flawed, in that comparisons should be made between the earliest known examples of languages in the groups being compared, and should exhibit regular sound change (see: Comparative method). Applying such reasoning to the above list, for example, shows:

The former claim that Dravidian and Indo-European share a common ancestor is generally based on more rigorous methods comparing Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Dravidian, and is generally held in higher regard by the mainstream linguistic community.

Relationships between the Dravidian languages and Etruscan (an ancient non-Indo-European language spoken before Roman times in modern-day Tuscany) and the Finno-Ugric languages have also been proposed. Recently, it has also been claimed that the language of the Guanches, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands have a Dravidian origin.


External links