Proto-Dravidian language

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Proto-South-Central Dravidian
This tree diagram depicts the genealogy of the primary Dravidian languages spoken
in South India.

Proto-Dravidian is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Dravidian languages.[1] It is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian, and Proto-South Dravidian,[2] although the date of divergence is still debated.

As a proto-language, Proto-Dravidian has been reconstructed and is not itself attested in the historical record. Due to a dearth of comparative linguistic research in Dravidian studies,[dubious ] not many details as to the grammar, epoch, or location of Proto-Dravidian are known.[3][not in citation given]

Reconstructed language[edit]

Historical phonology[edit]

Vowels: Proto-Dravidian contrasted between five short and long vowels: *a, , *i, , *u, , *e, , *o, . The sequences *ai and *au are treated as *ay and *av (or *aw)[4]

Consonants: Proto-Dravidian is reconstructible with the following consonant phonemes (Subrahmanyam 1983:p40, Zvelebil 1990, Krishnamurthi 2003):

Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal *m *n *ṉ *ṇ (*ṅ)
Plosive *p *t *ṯ *ṭ *c *k
Fricative *ḻ (*ṛ, *r̤) (*h)
Flap *r
Approximant *v *l *ḷ *y

The alveolar stop *ṯ in many daughter languages developed into an alveolar trill /r/. The stop sound is retained in Kota and Toda (Subrahmanyam 1983). Malayalam still retains the original (alveolar) stop sound in gemination. (ibid). In Old Tamil it took the enunciative vowel like the other stops. In other words, *ṯ (or *ṟ) did not occur word-finally without the enunciative vowel (ibid).

Velar nasal *ṅ occurred only before *k in Proto-Dravidian (as in many of its daughter languages). Therefore, it is not considered a separate phoneme in Proto-Dravidian. However, it attained phonemic status in languages like Malayalam, Gondi, Konda and Pengo due to the simplification of the original sequence *ṅk to *ṅ. (Subrahmanyam 1983)

The glottal fricative *h has been proposed by Bh. Krishnamurthi to account for the Old Tamil Aytam (Āytam) and other Dravidian comparative phonological phenomena (Krishnamurthi 2003).

The Northern Dravidian languages Kurukh, Malto and Brahui are not easily derivable from the traditional Proto-Dravidian phonological system. McAlpin (2003)[5] proposes that they have branched off from an earlier stage of Proto-Dravidian than the conventional reconstruction, which would only apply to the other languages. He suggests reconstructing a richer system of dorsal stop consonants:

Early Proto-Dravidian Late Proto-Dravidian
(Proto-Non-North Dravidian)
Proto-Kurukh-Malto Brahui
*c *c *c
*kʲ *c *k k
*k *k *k k
*q *k *q x
k / _i(ː)


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Facts about Dravidian languages". The Hindu (Chennai, India). , review of The Dravidian Languages by Bhadriraju Krishnamurti; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (South Asian edition), 2003.
  4. ^ Baldi, Philip (1990). Linguistic Change and Reconstruction Methodology. Walter de Gruyter. p. 342. ISBN 3-11-011908-0. 
  5. ^ McAlpin, David W. (2003). "Velars, Uvulars and the Northern Dravidian hypothesis". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 123:3: 521–546. 

See also[edit]


  • Krishnamurti, B., The Dravidian Languages, Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-521-77111-0 [1]
  • Subrahmanyam, P.S., Dravidian Comparative Phonology, Annamalai University, 1983.
  • Zvelebil, Kamil., Dravidian Linguistics: An Introduction", PILC (Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture), 1990

External links[edit]

T. Burrow (1984). Dravidian Etymological Dictionary, 2nd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-864326-5. Retrieved 2008-10-26.