Saturday, November 19, 2005

Was Malayalam branched off from Tamil?

I'm not a linguist. However, I find it difficult to believe some of the popular conceptions about origins of different languages. One of them is, Malayalam branched out of Tamil around 800-1000CE.

Weren't all Dravidian languages branched off from Proto-Dravidian language?
I don't understand the branching convention used for the languages. It's shown at some places that Kannada, Kodava and Malayalam were branched out of Tamil at different periods of history and in that order.

That would sound like, people residing in the present day, Karnataka , Kodagu district of Karnataka and Kerala were speaking dialects of Tamil before the emergence of their distinct Dravidian languages. Does that means Tamil is nothing but original Dravidian language?

I would like to think, as, linguistically Dravidian, Indians moved South, they first inhabited regions of present day Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh then Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Therefore, the first Southern regions to speak Dravidian language were Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Migration to the region of Kerala could be either simultaneous or before the migration to Tamil Nadu but never after that.

In my opinion, Dravidian language spoken in the region of Karnataka went on to become Kananda and so were the cases with Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.

Is Tamil closest to the proto-Dravidian language?
Tamil's literary history starts from 2nd century BCE. Therefore, it might have frozen the words used during that period thus could be considered closest to the original Dravidian language. But the question is which Dravidian language. Dravidian languages had a long journey from North-West of the sub-continent(or beyond) to Tamil Nadu. Therefore, Tamil is closest to the Dravidian language that reached the region of Tamil Nadu.

Malayalam and Tamil:
The political history of Kerala and Tamil Nadu were intertwined till 10-11th century CE. The kingdoms followed Tamil kingdoms in their outlook. Since Tamil was already a literary language, it most plausibly became the court language of Kerala kings too. These kings could be either Tamils or Malayalees.

However, the Dravidian language in the region of Kerala developed into a distinct language long back. This could be seen from its hallmark accent. None of the other Dravidian languages show that kind of nasal accent. Late literary tradition cannot be used as a proof for its recent origin.

Tamil could have become the language of the local population because of elite Tamil domination. However, considering the fact that South Indian Shaivite, Budhist and Jain elites had hardly any inclination to educate the general population it was never going to be the case. In the end, the Dravidian language spoken in that region developed into a separate Malayalam language.

Retroflex approximants:
Malayalam uses two letters for retroflex approximant(l,r), but Tamil has only one. However, interestingly, Kannada works before 12th century also used two letters for l,r that could be equated to Malayalam retroflex approximant.

Chillaksharam:
I really don't know the correct English term. It could be defined as a consonant or retroflex approximant without a vowel. Malayalam has five of them. I'm not sure about Tamil. But Kannada has one and that is 'n'.

I consider Retroflex approximant and Chillaksharams are typical to Dravidian languages in India(Of course, just as Ayya and Amma even Chinese languages might display them, at least it's true in the case of retroflex approximant). In those two cases, Malayalam doesn't look like a sub set of Tamil but a distant language with antiquity greater than ten centuries.

My argument is let's forget about letters in Malayalam because of Sanskrit influence(it could be other way round too, Sanskrit might have been influenced by some North Dravidian language and added few letters). But when it comes to letters unique to Dravidian languages, Malayalam is closer to another Dravidian language Kannada than Tamil. So my belief is that Malayalam wasn't branched from Tamil but developed into an independent language from some Southern proto-Dravidian language.

Update 1: 29-November-2005
There is a new paper(excerpts Via Quetzalcoatl discussion forum) on Indian Y-chromosomes that speculates that Dravidians are indigenous to India and originated in South-West of India. In my opinion that makes Tulu closest to the original Dravidian language followed by Kannada and Malayalam. Perhaps, South-West origin of Dravidian languages is a very interesting aspect. In Southen coastal Karnataka, there is no mainstream Kannada. However, there are three dialects of Kannada, viz. Havyaka, Kunda and Are bhashe. I wonder if these represent clinal variation of Dravidian languages. What does one mean by dialect? I don't agree that there are any dialects of a language. They are just clinal variations. They are standards by themselves. I suppose Kodava Thakk is the clinal language between Kannada, Tulu, Tamil and Malayalam. It's not an influenced language(I have read opinions like it's been influenced by Tulu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil) but a standard language which could remain so because of isolation. I suppose it's difficult to pinpoint clinal languages because of imposition of a certain standardized languages to the whole population.

Update 2:
Chillaksharam could be present in Tamil too without being explicitly mentioned in the grammar.

12 comments:

Adithya said...

Malayalam closer to Kannada in comparison to Tamil? In terms of consonants I would agree but when it comes to words and sentence formation Malayalam seems much closer to Tamil. Since I manage to speak all these three languages (I am not an expert though), there are innumerable words that are common to both tamil and malayalam but I dont find the same in Kannada.

Manjunath said...

Adithya:

This is an old post. There are many points in this post that are incorrect (like Tamil had literary tradition way back in 2nd century BCE).

I try to correlate migration of the people with linguistic family trees.

I consider Dravidian tribes migration from north to south and not the other way round.

In that sense, Malayalam must have been closer to Tulu just north of it. While culturally there is a seamless transition from Tulu region to Malayali region (at least in the case of Malabar), linguistically there looks like a discontinuity.

That may be well due to the standardisation of the language. I believe it is southern dialect (Kottayam) that has been turned into standard Malayalam. And southern Kerala might have been inhabited Proto-Tamil tribes at a later time. I think spirit worship a tradition that north Kerala shares with Tulu region is not observed in south.

Anyway, I have written about all these things in later posts.

donraja03 said...

I am a Malayalee, and Kerala was originally Tamil land. Tamil was spoken, then Brahmins Sanskritized the language, and created a light-skin/Dark-skin manaankadi complexity, and an attitude towards Tamil. If somebody calls me a Thamizhan, I wouldn' take offense, because if you really boil it down, that is what Malayalees are.

Anonymous said...

Subramanian,

@donraja03,

I am coming across this type of lies( I am maleyali/kannadigha/teluguite) etc, but tamil is older, very often in the internet.

Manjun Teruvan said...

I am coming across this type of lies( I am maleyali/kannadigha/teluguite) etc, but tamil is older, very often in the internet.

Whatever donraja03's reasons but his observation about light-skin/dark-skin absurdities are indeed correct. He is not completely off the mark when he talked about Sanskritization of Tamil (should have been Malayalam). Of course, Tamil is related to Malayalam but not its parent.

However, I don't understand why people like donraja03 are picked on but not the people who claim Sanskrit is mother of all languages and Namboodiris created Malayalam out of Sanskrit 6000 years ago. Instead of sending these people to lunatic asylum, I have a feeling many temple going Malayalis in Kerala hold them in high esteem.

ra ju said...

@manjun teruvan: I really laughed out loud after seeing your comment. I am not against malayalam. But what you said is absolutely insane. Malayalam has a history of only 1000 or 1500 years. And it was originally originated from samskrit and tamil. And Tamil is a classical language which exists even before the birth of sanskrit. Please study the history instead of spreading fake informations

Manjun Teruvan said...

I am not against malayalam.
Firstly, as long as you discuss things objectively nobody is going to accuse of any bias.

Secondly, since you started it with this statement, it more or less sounds like white racists starting with "I've black friends" or Hindu communals saying "I've Muslim friends".

Thirdly, even if you are against Malayalam, I don't care. That's not my language. And if you are against my language, I still don't care.

But what you said is absolutely insane
I actually wondered which comment you were talking about.

Anyway,
Malayalam has a history of only 1000 or 1500 years.
There are many languages whose history haven't yet started or started only in the last century. Origin of written language has nothing to do with existence of spoken language.

And it was originally originated from samskrit and tamil.
Sanskrit is part of Indo-Aryan language family. Malayalam is part of Dravidian language family. Sanskrit can never be "originator" of a Dravidian family language. If anything there could be Sanskrit words in Malayalam like there are many Prakrit and Tamil words. If you check my other posts, I've mentioned that northern ballads of Malayalam (maybe 500-600 years old) have very little Sanskrit and Tamil influence in their vocabulary.

And Tamil is a classical language which exists even before the birth of sanskrit.

You are a good match for "Sanskrit is mother of all languages" crowd. You should spend your time arguing with them than wasting your time here.

Gunzo Gunzo said...

Well, I think people can definitely object if somebody says “Malayalam Branched off from Tamil”. This is because the name “Tamil” is being used here very loosely to refer to Tamil as it is today. To truly say the sense, one should say “Malayalam and Tamil branched off from Old Tamil around 7th to 10th centuries AD”. Malayalam has preserved plenty of words which occur in Old Tamil literature of those days but not in use in Tamil of current day. Even 2000 years ago, literary Tamil was different from that colloquial Tamil. If you read Silappathikaram which was sung by a supposedly Chera prince, the language has leanings towards Malayalam sans Sanskrit words. So whatever “Branching” happened, happened a long time ago. But probably the precipitation happened after the kingdoms of Tamil country collapsed in their old character. ManiParavalam style and script had taken shape in that part of the country and became Malayalam and though ManiParavalam style was in general vogue in all of Tamil country, it seems it was backed out and the language retained its character and distinctiveness. I am not kidding, even 2000 years ago it appears that poets effectively and consciously avoided Sanskrit words in Tamil works and were adopted only after some twists to suit the phonetic ease of the locals.
I also find that similarities in modern Tamil and Kannada (spoken) are very great and Telugu seems to be more separated but still strikingly similar.
In short, the word Tamil is used to refer to “Proto South Indian” only because of a successful avoidance of Sanskritization of the language. As I said above, many literary words are preserved in Malayalam and ardent Tamils must be thanking Malayalees!

Gunzo Gunzo said...

Well, I think people can definitely object if somebody says “Malayalam Branched off from Tamil”. This is because the name “Tamil” is being used here very loosely to refer to Tamil as it is today. To truly say the sense, one should say “Malayalam and Tamil branched off from Old Tamil around 7th to 10th centuries AD”. Malayalam has preserved plenty of words which occur in Old Tamil literature of those days but not in use in Tamil of current day. Even 2000 years ago, literary Tamil was different from that colloquial Tamil. If you read Silappathikaram which was sung by a supposedly Chera prince, the language has leanings towards Malayalam sans Sanskrit words. So whatever “Branching” happened, happened a long time ago. But probably the precipitation happened after the kingdoms of Tamil country collapsed in their old character. ManiParavalam style and script had taken shape in that part of the country and became Malayalam and though ManiParavalam style was in general vogue in all of Tamil country, it seems it was backed out and the language retained its character and distinctiveness. I am not kidding, even 2000 years ago it appears that poets effectively and consciously avoided Sanskrit words in Tamil works and were adopted only after some twists to suit the phonetic ease of the locals.
I also find that similarities in modern Tamil and Kannada (spoken) are very great and Telugu seems to be more separated but still strikingly similar.
In short, the word Tamil is used to refer to “Proto South Indian” only because of a successful avoidance of Sanskritization of the language. As I said above, many literary words are preserved in Malayalam and ardent Tamils must be thanking Malayalees!

Manjun Edangan said...

Constructing linguistic branches using literary works sounds dubious to me. There are folk Malayalam works in Malabar region (northern Kerala) which were supposedly devoid of Tamil and Sanskrit influences (Vadakkan Pattugal) and were supposedly written post 14th century. Now how does Manipravalam fit in this scenario?

Also, I'm not clear what does one mean by Manipravalam turning into Malayalam? Did it absorb Sanskrit words and some Sanskritic grammatical structure mixing it with core Tamil vocabulary and Tamil grammatical structure? My understanding is that the Dravidian grammatical structure of Malayalam itself is different from Tamil in many cases. So, it's a natural branching off two languages from a proto-language that reached the lands of present day Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And Kerala and Tamil Nadu should be the last regions colonized by the Dravidians.

The so-called Manipravalam (a Dravidian language overwhelmed by Sanskrit words and sentences) isn't specific to Tamil and Malayalam regions. Even the oldest Kannada stone scriptures show this type of construction. However, the later literary Kannada has typical Dravidian structure but large borrowings from Prakrit and Sanskrit languages. Word borrowings don't change a language.

The proto-language can still be called Proto-Tamil than Proto-South Indian if you consider the political identity of the region at that age. However, linguistically it doesn't make sense because it could be Proto-Malayalam as well.

But then again, the movement of people matters. If the Kerala region was inhabited by people from the Tamil region first then it could be Proto-Tamil. But if the region was occupied from Karnataka (or the Tulu region) simultaneously along with the Tamil region, it could be Proto-Kannada or Proto-Tulu.
If the Tamil region was colonized by people from the Malayalam region then it could be Proto-Malayalam. But if the Malayalam region was occupied by the Proto-Tulu people but the language lost out to Tamil because of the ruling classes then it could be Proto or Old-Tamil.

Retaining the old words need not be unique to Malayalam. You may be able to find the same words in Kannada, Tulu or Telugu (with slight modifications). In this I was reminded of a Tamilian who claimed that the Malayalam term for look, nokku, was there in old Tamil. But this word in the present day Kannada is, nodu.

Priyesh dass said...

Great great post!

Priyesh dass said...

Manjun Edangan I go with your opinion!