1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dravidian

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DRAVIDIAN (Sanskrit Draviḍa), the name given to a collection of Indian peoples, and their family of languages[1] comprising all the principal forms of speech of Southern India. Their territory, which also includes the northern half of Ceylon, extends northwards up to an irregular line drawn from a point on the Arabian Sea about 100 m. below Goa along the Western Ghats as far as Kolhapur, thence north-east through Hyderabad, and farther eastwards to the Bay of Bengal. Farther to the north we find Dravidian dialects spoken by small tribes in the Central Provinces and Chota Nagpur, and even up to the banks of the Ganges in the Rajmahal hills. A Dravidian dialect is, finally, spoken by the Brāhūīs of Baluchistan in the far north-west. The various Dravidian languages, with the number of speakers returned at the census of 1901, are as follows:—

Tamil 17,494,901
Malayālam 6,022,131
Kanarese 10,368,515
Tulu 535,210
Kodagu 39,191
Toda 805
Kōta 1,300
Kuruχ 609,721
Malto 60,777
Gōndī 1,125,479
Kui 494,099
Telugu 20,697,264
Brāhūī 48,589
  —————
Total 57,497,982

Of these Tamil and Malayālam can be considered as two dialects of one and the same language, which is, in its turn, closely related to Kanarese. Tulu, Kodagu, Toda and Kōta can be described as lying between Tamil-Malayālam and Kanarese, though they are more nearly related to the latter than to the former. The same is the case with Kuruχ and Malto, while Kui and Gōndī gradually approach Telugu, which latter language seems to have branched off from the common stock at an early date. Finally, the Brāhūī dialect of Baluchistan has been so much influenced by other languages that it is no longer a pure Dravidian form of speech.

The Dravidian languages have for ages been restricted to the territory they occupy at the present day. Moreover, they are gradually losing ground in the north, where they meet with Aryan forms of speech. If we compare the caste tables and the language tables in the Indian census of 1901 we find that only 1,125,479 out of the 2,286,913 Gōnds returned were stated to speak the Dravidian Gōndī. Similarly only 1505 out of 17,187 Kōlāms entered their language as Kōlāmī. Such tribes are gradually becoming Hinduized. Their language adopts an ever-increasing Aryan element till it is quite superseded by Aryan speech. In the north-eastern part of the Dravidian territory, to the east of Chanda and Bhandara, the usual state of affairs is that Dravidian dialects are spoken in the hills while Aryan forms of speech prevail in the plains. The Dravidian Kui thus stands out as an isolated island in the sea of Aryan speech.

This process has been going on from time immemorial. The Dravidians were already settled in India when the Aryans arrived from the north-west. The fair Aryans were at once struck by their dark hue, and named them accordingly kṛiṣṇa tvac, the black skin. In the course of time, however, the two races began to mix, and it is still possible to trace a Dravidian element in the Aryan languages of North India.

The teaching of anthropology is to the same effect. Most speakers of Dravidian languages belong to a distinct anthropological type which is known as the Dravidian. “The Dravidian race,” says Sir H. Risley, “the most primitive of the Indian types, occupies the oldest geological formation in India, the medley of forest-clad ranges, terraced plateaus, and undulating plains which stretches, roughly speaking, from the Vindhyas to Cape Comorin. On the east and west of the peninsular area the domain of the Dravidian is conterminous with the Ghats, while farther north it reaches on one side to the Aravallis and on the other to the Rajmahal hills.”

This territory is the proper home of the race. A strong Dravidian element can, however, also be traced in the population of northern India. In Kashmir and Punjab, where the Aryans had already settled in those prehistoric times when the Vedic hymns were composed, the prevailing type is the Aryan one. The same is the case in Rajputana. From the eastern frontier of the Punjab, on the other hand, and eastwards, a Dravidian element can be traced. This is the case in the valleys of the Ganges and the Jumna, where the Aryans only settled at a later period. Anthropologists also state that there is a Dravidian element in the population of western India, from Gujarat to Coorg.

It is thus probable that Dravidian languages have once been spoken in many tracts which are now occupied by Aryan forms of speech. The existence of a Dravidian dialect in Baluchistan seems to show that Dravidian settlers have once lived in those parts. The tribe in question, the Brāhūīs, are, however, now Eranians and not Dravidians by race, and it is not probable that there has ever been a numerous Dravidian population in Baluchistan. The Brāhūīs are most likely the descendants of settlers from the south.

There is no indication that the Dravidians have entered India from outside or superseded an older population. For all practical purposes they can accordingly be considered as the aborigines of the Deccan, whence they appear to have spread over part of northern India. Their languages form an isolated group, and it has not been possible to prove a connexion with any other family of languages. Such attempts have been made with reference to the Munda family, the Tibeto-Burman languages, and the dialects spoken by the aborigines of the Australian continent. The arguments adduced have not, however, proved to be sufficient, and only the Australian hypothesis can still lay claim to some probability. Till it has been more closely tested we must therefore consider the Dravidian family as an isolated group of languages, with several characteristic features of its own.

The pronunciation is described as soft and mellifluous. Abruptness and hard combinations of sounds are avoided. There is, for example, a distinct tendency to avoid pronouncing a short consonant at the end of a word, a very short vowel being often added after it. Thus the pronoun of the third person singular, which is avan, “he,” in Tamil, is pronounced avanu in Kanarese; the Sanskrit word vāk, “speech,” is borrowed in the form vāku in Tamil; the word gurram, “horse,” is commonly pronounced gurramu in Telugu, and so on. Combinations of consonants are further avoided in many cases where speakers of other languages do not experience any difficulty in pronouncing them. This tendency is well illustrated by the changes undergone by some borrowed words. Thus the Sanskrit word brāhmaṇa, “a Brahmin,” becomes barāmaṇa in Kanarese and pirāmaṇa in Tamil; the Sanskrit Dramiḍa, “Dravidian,” is borrowed by Tamil under the form Tirāmiḍa. Dramiḍa, which also occurs as Draviḍa, is in its turn developed from an older Damiḷa, which is identical with the word Tamiṛ, Tamil.

The forms pirāmaṇa and Tirāmiḍa in Tamil illustrate another feature of Dravidian enunciation. There is a tendency in all of them, and in Tamil and Malayālam it has become a law, against any word being permitted to begin with a stopped voiced consonant (g, j, , d, b), the corresponding voiceless sounds (k, c, , t, p, respectively) being substituted. In the middle of a word or compound, on the other hand, every consonant must be voiced. Thus the Sanskrit word danta, “tooth,” has been borrowed by Tamil in the form tandam, and the Telugu anna, “elder brother,” tammulu, “younger brother,” become when compounded annadammulu, “elder and younger brothers.”

There is no strongly marked accent on any one syllable, though there is a slight stress upon the first one. In some dialects this equilibrium between the different parts of a word is accompanied by a tendency to approach to each other the sound of vowels in consecutive syllables. This tendency, which has been called the “law of harmonic sequence,” is most apparent in Telugu, where the short u of certain suffixes is replaced by i when the preceding syllable contains one of the vowels i (short and long) and ei. Compare the dative suffix ku, ki, in gurramu-ku, “to a horse”; but tammuni-ki, “to a younger brother.” This tendency does not, however, play a prominent rôle in the Dravidian languages.

Words are formed from roots and bases by means of suffixed formative additions. The root itself generally remains unchanged throughout. Thus from the Tamil base per, “great,” we can form adjectives such as per-iya and per-um, “great”; verbs such as per-u-gu, “to become increased”; per-u-kku, “to cause to increase,” and so on.

Many bases can be used at will as nouns, as adjectives, and as verbs. Thus the Tamil kaḍu can mean “sharpness,” “sharp,” and “to be sharp.” Other bases are of course more restricted in their respective spheres.

The inflection of words is effected by agglutination, i.e. various additions are suffixed to the base in order to form what we would call cases and tenses. Such additions have probably once been separate words. Most of them are, however, now only used as suffixes. Thus from the Tamil base kōn, “king,” we can form an accusative kōn-ei, a verb kōn-en, “I am king,” and so on.

Dravidian nouns are divided into two classes, which Tamil grammarians called high-caste and casteless respectively. The former includes those nouns which denote beings endowed with reason, the latter all others. Gender is only distinguished in the former class, while all casteless nouns are neuter. The gender of animals (which are irrational) must accordingly be distinguished by using different words for the male and the female, or else by adding words meaning male, female, respectively, to the name of the animal—processes which do not, strictly speaking, fall under the head of grammar.

There are two numbers, the singular and the plural. The latter is formed by adding suffixes. It, however, often remains unmarked in the case of casteless nouns.

Cases are formed by adding postpositions and suffixes, usually to a modified form of the noun which is commonly called the oblique base. Thus we have the Tamil maram, “tree”; maratt-āl, “from a tree”; maratt-u-kku, “to a tree”; vīḍu, “a house”; vīṭṭ-āl, “from a house.” The case terminations are the same in the singular and in the plural. The genitive, which precedes the governing noun, is often identical with the oblique base, or else it is formed by adding suffixes.

The numeral system is decimal and higher numbers are counted in tens; thus Tamil pattu, “ten”; iru-badu, “two tens,” “twenty.”

The personal pronoun of the first person in most dialects has a double form in the plural, one including and the other excluding the person addressed. Thus, Tamil nām, “we,” i.e. I and you; nāṅgal, “we,” i.e. I and they.

There is no relative pronoun. Relative clauses are effected by using relative participles. Thus in Telugu the sentence “the book which you gave to me” must be translated mīru nāku iccina pus-takamu, i.e. “you me-to given book.” There are several such participles in use. Thus from the Telugu verb koṭṭa, “to strike,” are formed koṭṭ-ut-unna, “that strikes,” koṭṭ-i-na, “that struck,” koṭṭē, “that would strike,” “that usually strikes.” By adding pronouns, or the terminations of pronouns, to such forms, nouns are derived which denote the person who performs the action. Thus from Telugu koṭṭē and vāḍu, “he,” is formed koṭṭē-vāḍu, “one who usually strikes.” Such forms are used as ordinary verbs, and the usual verbal forms of Dravidian languages can broadly be described as such nouns of agency. Thus, the Telugu, koṭṭināḍu, “he struck,” can be translated literally “a striker in the past.”

Verbal tenses distinguish the person and number of the subject by adding abbreviated forms of the personal pronouns. Thus in Kanarese we have māḍid-enu, “I did”; māḍid-i, “thou didst”; māḍid-evu, “we did”; māḍid-aru, “they did.”

One of the most characteristic features of the Dravidian verb is the existence of a separate negative conjugation. It usually has only one tense and is formed by adding the personal terminations to a negative base. Thus, Kanarese māḍ-enu, “I did not”; māḍ-evu, “we did not”; māḍ-aru, “they did not.”

The vocabulary has adopted numerous Aryan loan-words. This was a necessary consequence of the early connexion with the superior Aryan civilization.

The oldest Dravidian literature is largely indebted to the Aryans though it goes back to a very early date. Tamil, Malayālam, Kanarese and Telugu are the principal literary languages. The language of literature in all of them differs considerably from the colloquial. The oldest known specimen of a Dravidian language occurs in a Greek play which is preserved in a papyrus of the 2nd century A.D. The exact period to which the indigenous literature can be traced back, on the other hand, has not been fixed with certainty.

Bibliography.—Bishop R. Caldwell, A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages (London, 1856; 2nd edition, 1875); Dr Friedrich Müller, Reise der österreichischen Fregatte Novara um die Erde in den Jahren 1857, 1858, 1859, unter den Befehlen des Commodore B. von Wüllerstorff-Urbair: Linguistischer Theil. (Wien, 1867, pp. 73 and ff.); Dr Friedrich Müller, Grundriss der Sprachwissenschaft, vol. iii. (Wien, 1884), pp. 106 and ff.; G. A. Grierson, Linguistic Survey of India, vol. iv. “Munda and Dravidian Languages” (Calcutta, 1906), pp. 277 and ff. by Sten Konow.

(S. K.)


  1. In Dravidian words a line above a vowel shows that it is long. The dotted consonants ṭ, ḍ, and ṇ are pronounced by striking the tip of the tongue against the centre of the hard palate. The dotted ḷ is distinguished from l in a similar way. Its sound, however, differs in the different districts. A Greek χ marks the sound of ch in “loch”; is the English sh; c the ch in “church”; and ṛi is an r which is used as a vowel. In the list of Dravidian languages the names are spelt fully, with all the necessary diacritical marks. In the rest of the article dots under consonants have been omitted in these words.