Elamo-Dravidian languages

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South Asia, West Asia
Linguistic classification Proposed language family
Glottolog None

The Elamo-Dravidian language family is a hypothesised language family that links the Dravidian languages of India to the extinct Elamite language of ancient Elam (present-day southwestern Iran). Linguist David McAlpin has been a chief proponent of the Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis.[1] According to McAlpin, the long-extinct Harappan language (the language or languages of the Indus Valley Civilization) might also have been part of this family. However, this hypothesis is not accepted in academic circles, and has been subject to criticism by other linguists. Elamite is generally accepted by scholars to be a language isolate, unrelated to any other language.

Linguistic arguments[edit]

McAlpin (1975) in his study identified some similarities between Elamite and Dravidian. He proposed that 20% of Dravidian and Elamite vocabulary are cognates while 12% are probable cognates. He further claimed that Elamite and Dravidian possess similar second-person pronouns and parallel case endings. For example the term for mother in the Elamite language and in different Dravidian languages like Tamil is amma.[2] They have identical derivatives, abstract nouns, and the same verb stem+tense marker+personal ending structure. Both have two positive tenses, a "past" and a "non-past".[3]

Critics of these findings include Kamil Zvelebil and Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, among others.[4] Georgiy Starostin criticized McAlpin's proposed morphological correspondences between Elamite and Dravidian as no closer than correspondences with other nearby language families,[5] while Krishnamurti regarded them to be ad hoc, and found them to be lacking phonological motivation.[4]

Proposed cultural links[edit]

Apart from the linguistic similarities, the Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis rests on the claim that agriculture spread from the Near East to the Indus Valley region via Elam. This would suggest that agriculturalists brought a new language as well as farming from Elam. Supporting ethno-botanical data include the Near Eastern origin and name of wheat (D. Fuller). Later evidence of extensive trade between Elam and the Indus Valley Civilization suggests ongoing links between the two regions.

The distribution of living Dravidian languages, concentrated mostly in southern India but with isolated pockets in southern Afghanistan and Pakistan (Brahui) and in Central and East India (Kurukh, Malto), suggests to some a wider past distribution of the Dravidian languages. However, there are varied opinions about the origin of northern Dravidian languages like Brahui, Kurukh and Malto.[6] The Kurukh have traditionally claimed to be from the Deccan Peninsula,[7] more specifically Karnataka. The same tradition has existed of the Brahui.[8][9] They call themselves immigrants.[10] Many scholars hold this same view of the Brahui[11] such as L. H. Horace Perera and M. Ratnasabapathy.[12] Moreover, it has now been demonstrated that the Brahui only migrated to Balochistan from central India after 1000 CE. The absence of any older Iranian loanwords in Brahui supports the connection. The main Iranian contributor to Brahui vocabulary, Balochi, is a Western Iranian language like Kurdish.[13]


According to genetic studies, the Brahui population has high prevalence (55%) of western Eurasian mtDNAs and the lowest frequency in the region (21%) of haplogroup M* but it is common (∼60%) among the Dravidian-speaking Indians. So the possibility of the Dravidian presence in Baluchistan originating from recent entry of Dravidians of India should be excluded. It also shows their maternal gene pool is similar to Indo-Iranian speakers. The present Brahui population may have originated from ancient Indian Dravidian-speakers who may have relocated to Baluchistan and admixed with locals; however, no historical record supports this. So it is suggested that they are last northern survivors of a larger Dravidian-speaking region before Indo-Iranian arrived. This would, if true, reinforce the proto-Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis.[14]


  1. ^ Southworth, Franklin. "Rice in Dravidian". Springer. Retrieved 22 March 2014. 
  2. ^ The Cambridge History of Iran 2 by I. Gershevitch p.13
  3. ^ David McAlpin, "Toward Proto-Elamo-Dravidian", Language vol. 50 no. 1 (1974); David McAlpin: "Elamite and Dravidian, Further Evidence of Relationships", Current Anthropology vol. 16 no. 1 (1975); David McAlpin: "Linguistic prehistory: the Dravidian situation", in Madhav M. Deshpande and Peter Edwin Hook: Aryan and Non-Aryan in India, Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1979); David McAlpin, "Proto-Elamo-Dravidian: The Evidence and its Implications", Transactions of the American Philosophical Society vol. 71 pt. 3, (1981)
  4. ^ a b Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju. The Dravidian Languages. Cambridge University. p. 44. 
  5. ^ Starostin, George (2002). "On the genetic affiliation of the Elamite language" (PDF). Mother Tongue. 7: 147–170. 
  6. ^ P. 83 The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate by Edwin Bryant
  7. ^ P. 18 The Orāons of Chōtā Nāgpur: their history, economic life, and social organization by Sarat Chandra Roy, Rai Bahadur; Alfred C Haddon
  8. ^ P. 12 Origin and Spread of the Tamils By V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar
  9. ^ P. 32 Ideology and status of Sanskrit : contributions to the history of the Sanskrit language by Jan E M Houben
  10. ^ P. 45 The Brahui language, an old Dravidian language spoken in parts of Baluchistan and Sind by Sir Denys Bray
  11. ^ Ancient India; Culture and Thought By M. L. Bhagi
  12. ^ P. 23 Ceylon & Indian History from Early Times to 1505 A. D. By L. H. Horace Perera, M. Ratnasabapathy
  13. ^ J. H. Elfenbein, A periplous of the ‘Brahui problem’, Studia Iranica vol. 16 (1987), pp. 215–233.
  14. ^ Quintana-Murci, Lluís; Chaix, Raphaëlle; Wells, R. Spencer; Behar, Doron M.; Sayar, Hamid; Scozzari, Rosaria; Rengo, Chiara; Al-Zahery, Nadia; Semino, Ornella (2004). "Where West Meets East: The Complex mtDNA Landscape of the Southwest and Central Asian Corridor". The American Journal of Human Genetics. 74 (5): 827–845. PMC 1181978Freely accessible. PMID 15077202. doi:10.1086/383236. 

Further reading[edit]