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.

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.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Origins of Indians: Version 2.2

Non-Vaidik Shaivism:
I have discussed about religious practices of South Indians before brahmanical Hinduism. Mostly, elites were Buddhist, Jain or non-Vaidik Shaivites. The common people might be worshipping all kinds of spirits. Among elite religions Shaivism was the religon of common people too.

We have already seen that Kashmiri Pundits and Konkani Saraswat brahmins were once considered pure Shaivites. Also, many South Indian brahmins were considered as Shaivites. I have already argued that most of these bramin castes were Dravidian priestly class basically and merged with Indo-Aryan and Semitic priestly class and established caste system. Sheer dominance of Dravidian religious deities in Hinduism is the direct result of this Shaivite Dravidian priestly class.

South Indian Shaivite priestly class:
The caste system was created in North-West of India, the meeting and melting point of Dravidians, Indo-Aryans and Semites. Though North India had a stable society with political entity before South India, the known South Indian kingdom of Pandyas was as back as 6-5th century BCE. That is almost a millennium before recorded Brahmin migration to South India. But it won't be surprising if there were brahmins in 6-5th century BCE.

So what happened to South Indian priestly class? Did they merge with brahmin priestly class as north Indians? Most plausibly many of them did. However, many continued to be Shaivites. That is non-Vaidik Shaivites.

Shaivites in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu:
There is a big group of Non-Vaidik Shaivites known as "VeeraShaivas" or "Lingayats" in Karnataka. This religious movement was started by Basavanna in 12th century CE, who was by birth a brahmin. The curious point about him is that he renounced brahmanical Hinduism denouncing all its practices including caste system and started a movement with total devotion to Shiva. This Veerashaivism converted many brahmanical Hindus to its fold. However, there still exists a section of Shaivites in Karnataka who consider themselves purer than these Veerashaivas since they were the oldest and natural Shaivites and not converted Shaivites. I have heard there is a section of Shaivites in Tamil Nadu also which considers itself as Non-Vaidik Shaivite. Most probably, these Shaivites(in Karnataka, they call themselves, before Basavanna) were dominant in South India before the rulers turned their back to non-Vaidik Shaivism. Similar is the case with Jains and Buddhists. But one hardly finds any Buddhist in South India indicating that they were not as numerous as Jains.

All these facts again prove that, a big chunk of Indo-European speaking people, from brahmins to non-brahmins and all Dravidian speaking people were assimilated ethnically and culturally after their migration to the subcontinent. All the so-called European admixture is due to the Western Eurasian females who form 10% of our population; since we have already seen that male Indo-Aryan genetic marker was already present in India. Anyway, admixture analysis using autosomes is still controversial.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

My ancestor didn't take that route, Dr. Wells.

My 35000 years and 7 months old deep ancestry is out. Just yesterday Genographic project team uploaded my results. I belong to Haplogroup R (M173) and I suppose that means I’m in fact R1.

However, Dr. Wells went completely wrong about my paternal ancestor’s journey over the period. Contrary to his video message that my ancestors went westward from Central Asia to Europe, they actually moved south and reached India. And now here I’m in South India. I suppose R1 is also found among Camerooneans, so he could have talked about the possibilities of descendents of M173 moving to Africa and South Asia. I suppose he can not talk only about the most common route taken by Haplogroup R1 people while giving personalized messages.

My close cousins:
Unsurprisingly, most of my matches are Indians including a Pakistani and a Parsi. However, there were couple of distant matches with Central Asians (an Uzbek and a Central Asian muslim from China). I suppose too obvious.

What next?
I can’t go for surname project since I don’t have a surname. I can’t go for gotra test since, I have inherited my gotra matrilineally and I suppose I have to go for an mtDNA testing to compare my maternal ancestry.

Does this journey correspond to my community's folk story?
My community has a folklore that we migrated (or driven) from South to North generations back. I suppose even few Scandinavians have that story and I think it has been compared with R1a1 migration to Scandinavian countries. However, not much luck in my case. The south to north distance is just 100kms. That is from Kannur to Kasaragod and Mangalore all in south-west coastal India.

Update: 10-November-2005
Am I really R1?
This discussion at Genealogy-DNA-L forum about R1b in India has left me wondering about the validity of my M173. My STR counts at DYS390-DYS391-DYS392 are 23-10-10. It looks like people who have those values generally found to be positive for M124 or Haplogroup R2, an Indian specific Haplogroup with high frequency in South India. And I'm South Indian.

Update: 11-November-2005
I'm not the only Indian unhappy with my genetic journey described by Spencer Wells.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Origins of Indians: Version 2.1

Brahmins in South India:
I had few thoughts about migration of Brahmin communities to South India. This was rekindled by my discussion with Srikanth of Srican regarding development of caste system in South India.

The popular notion is that Brahmins were imported from North-West of India by South Indian kings to perform religious duties[1]. This could be true for some Brahmin families. But in my opinion there were Brahmins in South India before that period.

South India's religious history:
It's tough to demarcate religious character of South Indian society over the period. The common population most probably worshipped phallus, goddesses, folk heroes and nature(trees, snakes etc...) without any Vaidik touch. However, common people were irrelevent(no democracy!) during those days. Therefore, we have to consider only the religion of the rulers and the elite classes.

The ruling and elite classes of South Indian society was either Buddhist or Jain or non-Vaidik Shaivite. Of course, Brahmins were there, but just as another religious group[2]. The ascendency of Brahmins was started mostly around 6-7th century CE and was complete over all of South India by 12th century CE. As it's obvious, this change in the religious character was brought about by the transition of South Indian kings and elite classes from Buddhism, Jainism and non-Vaidik Shaivism to Brahmanical Hinduism or the caste system. However, the general population was affected by this transition mainly because of the common base of both Brahmin religion and local religions[3] as I have discussed before.

1. I suppose the recorded history of Brahmins' migration to South India as priests of kings was around 5-6th century CE.
2. It seems Vaidik gods like Indra, Varuna, Semitic god Brahma were mentioned in old Tamil literature( 2nd century BCE -2nd century CE) along with non-Vaidik gods. Since we know Brahmin caste first created in North-West India before 5th century CE(Buddha's period), some of this caste people might have already migrated to various parts of India by that time(As far as I know, they were prohibited only from crossing the sea).
3. It should be noted here that Brahmins in South India used to claim they worship higher forms of Shiva and Devi(goddess) and the general population(shudras) worship the lower forms. No, these two groups didn't borrow anything from each other, just that Brahmins had literate touch to their religion(okay, that means lot). However, there were contradictions to this claim if you consider India in general. I suppose Kali is lower form and Vishnu is higher form in South India, whereas, in Bengal, Kali is traditionally worshipped by the upper castes and the lower castes are generally Vaishnavites(Note:Vishnu is just an abstraction of Dravidian folk heroes Rama and Krishna).