Dravidian languages

The Dravidian family of languages includes approximately 26 languages that are mainly spoken in southern India and Sri Lanka, as well as certain areas in Pakistan, Nepal, and eastern and central India. Dravidian languages are spoken by more than 200 million people, and they appear to be unrelated to languages of other known families. A few scholars include the Dravidian languages in a larger Elamo-Dravidian language family, which includes the ancient Elamite language of what is now southwestern Iran; but this is not accepted by most of the Dravidianists.



The origins of the Dravidian languages, as well as their subsequent development and the period of their differentiation, are unclear, and the situation is not helped by the lack of comparative linguistic research into the Dravidian languages. There are striking similarities between the Dravidian and Uralic and Altaic language groups, which suggest prolonged contact between the language families at some stage although a common origin appears unlikely. Inconclusive attempts have also been made to link the family with the Japonic languages, Basque, Korean, Sumerian, the Australian Aboriginal languages and the unknown language of the Indus valley civilisation.

Legends common to many Dravidian-speaking groups speak of their origin in a vast, now-sunken continent far to the south. Many linguists, however, tend to favour the theory that speakers of Dravidian languages spread southwards and eastwards through the Indian subcontinent, based on the fact that the southern Dravidian languages show some signs of contact with linguistic groups which the northern Dravidian languages do not. Proto-Dravidian is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian and Proto-South Dravidian around 1500 BC, 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 drāvida, which was used in a 7th century text to refer to the languages 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.

List of Dravidian languages

National languages of India are strongly emphasized:


South Central



  • Brahui (the only Dravidian language not spoken in India; it is spoken in Baluchistan in Pakistan)
  • Kurukh

ref;g.devaneyan-tamil the primary classical language of the world


Dravidian languages are noted for the lack of distinction between voiced and unvoiced stops, like Finnish. While Dravidian languages (especially Malayalam, 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 mispronounced 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:

  • Erasu (gather) and sEru (join)
  • kaNu (look) and iNuku (peep)
  • atta (attic) reverses to itself.


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 (brother), keNaku (tease, irritate)

Note: The above is true only when the words are written in the Latin alphabet. In the original script or language, they are not palindromes.

Words starting with vowels

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

aLu (cry), elumbu (bone), adu (that), alli (there), idu (this), illai (no, absent)

adu-idil-illai (that-this-in-absent = that is absent in this)

Sanskrit Influence

Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu have been relatively more influenced by Sanskrit and have borrowed the aspirated consonants. Sanskrit words and derivatives are common in Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu. Tamil is the least influenced and retains 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. These views are largely politically motivated. Proponents of the latter theory often use wordlists showing superficial similarities between the modern representatives of these two families. For instance:

  • one'du = one
  • kare = vocare (cry out) [Latin]
  • ba're = scribere (write) [Latin]
  • atta = attic
  • hala[di] = yellow

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:

  • Applying the principle of regular sound change, the reconstructed proto-Dravidian word for "one" is *oru. English "one" on the other hand can be traced back to Old Germanic *ainaz and Proto-Indo-European *oynos.
  • The final -are/-ere on vocare and scribere is the Latin infinitive ending, and not a part of the word root proper. "Kare" and "voc" bear significantly less mutual resemblance.
  • English "attic" comes from Greek Αττική (Attiki), the name of a region of Greece (see: Attica, Greece), which many scholars believe to have been taken into the Greek language from the non-Indo-European peoples (Pelasgians) who lived there before the Greeks arrived. In addition, it has changed meaning over the years, and it is thus pure coincidence that its present meaning and pronunciation bears resemblances to the Tamil form.
  • Yellow is derived from Old English geolu, which bears little resemblance to Kannada haladi.

Based on a few typological similarities relationships between the Dravidian languages and the Finno-Ugric languages have also been proposed. But these have not been well received either.


  • The Dravidian Languages / by Bhadriraju Krishnamurti / Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521771110
  • A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages / by Robert Caldwell. 3rd ed. rev. and edited / by J.L. Wyatt, T. Ramakrishna Pillai. New Delhi : Asian Educational Services, 1998. ISBN 8120601173
  • A grammar of the Teloogoo language, commonly termed the Gentoo, peculiar to the Hindoos inhabiting the northeastern provinces of the Indian peninsula / by A.D. Campbell. 3d ed. Madras, Printed at the Hindu Press, 1849

External links

de:Dravidische Sprachen es:Lenguas drvidas fr:Langue dravidienne id:Bahasa Dravida hu:Dravida nyelvcsald nl:Dravidische talen nn:Dravidiske sprk pl:Języki drawidyjskie fi:Dravidakielet sv:Dravidiska sprk zh:德拉维达语系


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