South Indian Languages podcast

We are hoping to record a podcast on this important topic this weekend. Please share any questions you may have in the comment thread.

Of course we won’t be limiting ourselves to this topic but it was the request of our guest commentator, who is looking to correct the “North India” bias in our discourse.

It is not lost on me that apart from our Bang-Pak commentariat, virtually all of our regular commentators either are South Indian or based in South India.

It seems Aryavarta has boycotted BP?

34 thoughts on “South Indian Languages podcast”

  1. Good idea Zack, count me in 4 a Tamil cast. Mother tongue podcasts are a good idea, perhaps father tongue- Sanskrit- one day ?

      1. ???. Our reputation precedes us

        On South Indian language I am not sure we have anyone in BP similar to slapstick is for Sanskrit and all. It’s a tough topic to really have a hour long thing.

        I would rather you have a podcast on recent Bangladesh election and address my pet peeve on why Bangladeshis are so aggressive in cricket forums.

        1. // South Indian language I am not sure we have anyone in BP similar to slapstick is for Sanskrit//
          How can you be so sure of not being sure. There are many people including me fluent in their mother tongues and well read – surprise, surprise.

  2. My questions relevant to Dravidian:

    (1) Do we have any more information on the Niraj Rai paper ‘Reconstructing the peopling of old world south Asia: From modern to ancient genomes.’

    The Rakhigarhi DNA results which were said to be closest to the Irula tribe. I am guessing they were implying that the AASI/Iranian farmer ratio was similar to the Irula samples they had, not necessarily direct descent of Rakhigarhi skeleton to Irula people.

    (2) Can we get a low down on the most up to date DNA history of the Brahui. There is a controversy which suggest that Brahui are migrants from central india rather than being a relic population. I personally feel this is highly unlikely and that the linguistic evidence that this hypothesis is based on is tenuous at best. Especially considering the fact that the Brahui are not enriched in AASI like the central Indian Dravidian speakers.

    Also how much steppes ancestry do they have compared to their Iranian farmer ancestry? I notice that the Narasimhan paper did not have this important population in their tables.

    (3) It is quite clear now that most South Indians migrated from the Indus Valley Civilisation circa 4000 to 3500 years ago, and that Dravidian is the prime candidate for the Harappan language.

    On November 26th 2018, the renowned Tamil and Indus script scholar Iravatham Mahadevan passed away. He was famous for deciphering the ancient Tamil Brahmi script. His background as a Tamil Brahmin helped him become proficient in both Old Tamil and Sanskrit.

    He published a paper in 2014 entitled ‘Dravidian Proof of the Indus Script via the Rig Veda: A Case Study’.

    Whereas I think his vedic and later Old Tamil derivations are highly tenuous. His possible decipherment of the ‘BACK OF WOLF-HOOK-CROSSROADS-JAR’ sequence as ‘Merchant of the City’ is plausible and highly congruent with the trading seals on which it was inscribed.

    A lot is resting on the first symbol being interpreted as a ‘back of a canine’. As the word for ‘showing’s one back’ is a homophone for ‘barter’ [māṟu (māṟi-)]āṟu%20(māṟi-)&searchhws=yes

    I would like to get an objective opinion from the commentators on this possible decipherment.
    Personally, I am 50-50 on it. Could it all be a coincidence?

    1. On November 26th 2018, the renowned Tamil and Indus script scholar Iravatham Mahadevan passed away.

      Didn’t know that, thanks for the information.

      RIP Mr. Mahadevan.

      1. It is such a great loss to South Asian history. His last paper posthumously released:

        In this paper he conclusively shows how the architecture of the Indus cities with the ‘high’ citadel in the ‘West’ and the ‘lower’ town in the ‘East’ is in conformity with the Dravidian rather than Indo-Aryan world view.

        e.g. Mel (high)/Melkku (west), Kila (low)/Kilakku (east)

        I think it is a statement of fact now to say that Proto-Dravidian was the dominant language of the IVC.

        1. Hello Karan,

          I again don’t know what this does to the contents of that paper but I just want to note that the ‘east’, ‘west’ senses belonging to the etymons you have given are limited to Tamil, Malayalam, Kota and at most Kodagu and all these are descendants of the well-established Proto-Tamil-Malayalam-Irula-Kodagu-Kurumba-Toda-Kota proto-stage. Personally I believe that the development of the ‘east’, ‘west’ senses in some of the languages belonging to the above-mentioned South Dravidian-I sub-cluster for the etymons fundamentally associated with ‘low’ and ‘high’ respectively in all the other languages has something to do with the original geographical location of the above lengthy-name proto-language in relation to the Nilgiri hills.

          1. Hi Santhosh

            There is evidence of this dichotomy in other Dravidian languages outside of this southern family including Kolami, Gondi and Kui. However, it could just be a coincidence as they use unrelated words.

            See page 20 for full list of words in Dravidian languages:


            I agree that the common words Mel/Kil for west/east are restricted to that South Dravidian sub cluster and can be easily explained by the Nilgiri hills. The IVC architecture may just be a coincidence.

        2. Thanks for the link Karan. I did not know that someone, however, studied toponyms and the names of tribes, including some (Indo)Aryans. Mr. Mahadevan has very scientific approach and studies interactions of the local language with newly arrived – Aryans’ language. It seems, that he has no doubt (I haven’t seen this) that new people came to SA and brought their language. From these interactions researchers should continue their work without endlessly chasing their tails. I found his explanation about ‘3 hills’, I wrote about this symbolic (including mythological) from Serbian perspective not knowing about his work. I know the names of many Serbian tribes in SA, for some their original and newly localized names and I will try to find the link. It could be very useful if I knew for this before, I could offer him thousands toponyms as a starting point for his studies. Well, it seems that I need to wait for young guys who are still at uni to continue his research…

          …Btw, did you know that ‘karan’ is also a Serbian word, i.e. the title, meaning something as a military commander of certain region. Alexander’s father was a karan and the surname of Alexander the Great was Karanovic (actually in full – Lesander Karanovic). It is a pretty common surname in Serbia today including its shorter form – Karan.

    2. Hello Karan,

      I am not much interested in looking into and evaluating the Indus script aspect of the business but I want to make a short comment on the *mA(t)- thing (t enclosed in brackets refers to the Proto-Dravidian alveolar stop for the purpose of this comments). This etymon indeed is the golden treasure for many Dravidian languages satisfying their needs beginning from ‘barter’, ‘exchange’ senses ranging to ‘word’, ‘quarrel’ senses and a lot others and the specific meaning ‘retreat (as showing one’s back)’ does not seem to be so out of place for this etymon too and thus perhaps not a homophone originally belonging to an altogether different etymon. What I am saying is that this ‘retreat (as showing one’s back)’ meaning is probably just a semantic extension of the same etymon but here comes another very important part. This ‘retreat (as showing one’s back)’ meaning is present only in Tamil. So while it is possible that Proto-Dravidian already had all these high number of meanings and Tamil and Tamil alone preserved all of them exhaustively including the ‘retreat (showing one’s back)’ meaning, it is also quite possible in my view that many of these meanings were results of later-day semantic innovations in the individual Dravidian languages. So the ascription of a very high antiquity to that meaning is just a little bit suspect to me. (But then, ‘retreat (as showing one’s back)’ is not such a technologically/ other kind of advanced sense that takes millennia to obtain out of a word for ‘barter’, ‘exchange’, etc. so who knows!)

      But then also, there is this other etymon at DEDR 4761 which can probably be reconstructed as involving *ma(t)- that has a sense of ‘to turn back’, ‘to retreat’ among others and in quite a few languages. But this is *ma(t)- and not *mA(t)- and also the ‘retreat’ here is not in the sense of ‘showing one’s back’ so I don’t think they are referring to this (I have not yet clicked on the link you provided and plan to do it later on to clarify this).

      And also, very importantly, one has to be very cautious about what I say here because I have no knowledge, basic even, of the subject of semantics and I have so far not had the chance to be able to try and become a functional amateur semantician (though I have felt the need take the subject up a few times).

      1. Thanks Santhosh for the input. Interestingly the use of this term for retreat (showing one’s back) is not in common parlance among Tamils. I for one did not know of it. It is already fading out of vogue and may be an archaic term from literature. There are other much more popular words to use for that term (e.g. Thirumbu).

        1. There is a clear etymological relationship between ma(t)- and mA(t).

          It is likely that the later terms for ‘turn around’ based on ma(t) are derived from the longer original word for ‘change’ mA(t).

          D. 4761:
          Ta. maṟi ‘to turn back, turn about’.
          Ma. maṟi ‘turning around’.
          Ka. maṟaḷ ‘the face to be turned or averted, turn back or backward’.
          Tu. marakaṇe ‘on the back’.
          Te. maṟalu ‘to turn back’.

          D. 4834:
          Ta. māṟu ‘to become changed, exchanged, retreat (as showing one’s back)’.
          Ma. māṟuka ‘to be changed, altered’.
          Ka. māṟu ‘to be opposite, state of being changed or altered’.
          Tu. mādāvuni ‘to turn about, to turn the face to another quarter’.
          Te. māṟu ‘changed, altered, turned, averted’.

          D. 4760:
          Ta. maṟai ‘to hide, conceal, concealment, secret’.
          Ma. maṟekka ‘to hide, conceal’; maṟa ‘secret’.
          Ka. maṟagu ‘hiding, secrecy’; maṟapu ‘to hide, conceal’.
          Tu. madepuni ‘to hide’.
          Te. maṟugu ‘to be concealed, hidden’.

          D. 4836:
          Ta. māṟṟu ‘to conceal, hide’.
          Te. māṭu ‘to conceal, concealment’.

          1. Hello Karan, on the formal side, the types of vowel alternations that would be implied if these two items are considered related are quite common in Indo-European but are seemingly a bit invisible in Dravidian but then they seem, somewhat strongly, to exist. One example is the Telugu vinu, ‘to hear’ appear to be having vInu, ‘ear’ as a relative belonging to the same etymon. Another interesting example is the rather intriguing possibility of a connection between *key- ‘to do’ and *kay, ‘hand’.

            So anyway, what you suggest might be true depending on the amount of plausibility of the semantic connection between these items. I am personally not competent enough to evaluate that.

  3. 1. Please talk about all the 4 major languages (as opposed to a rather understandable and inevitable natural pull towards Tamil) and if possible talk about/dwell for a little bit on Tulu, Kodava, Konkani, Saurashtri, (edit: oh Lord! I totally forgot about Dakkhani!), Lambadi, Tanjavur Marathi, Adilabad Gondi, Konda, etc. also.

    2. Please don’t talk just about Tamil – consciously or subconsciously, directly or indirectly.

    3. Please talk about more contemporary issues rather than historical ones – such as diglossia (not of the traditional kinds such as regional variations, olden literary variations, etc. but more of differences in contemporary speech forms – urban vs. rural, etc.), various sociolinguistic types of responses to the phenomenon of increasing Anglicisation of lexis, at least of the spoken registers, and also the different genres and formal phases and the rates of production and consumption of existing literature (science literature is quite limited anyhow probably except native-language-medium school textbooks and minor branches of science like Telugu/Dravidian linguistics), about any influence of the cinema industries on the languages. The differences among individual languages pertaining to these – for example, how the literature scene in Malayalam compares to that of the other languages.

    4. Historically, you may probably consider early and ongoing efforts at digitisation of scripts, overall computerisation, etc. and then about the dEshi-mArgi formalism of classical literatures in the past, early Kerala bhasha – Chola bhasha conflict probably.

    5. The nature and prevalence of urban-Hindi/Hinglish- in what areas is it present majorly – places such as IITM, IISc Bangalore, Bengaluru, Chennai, etc. overall probably, etc. etc.

    6. Please don’t allot a near-100% time to Classical Tamil literature or something.

    1. Lol even the non tamilians South Indians are concerned that tamil might corner all the discussion

      Reminds me of a incident which I read some days back where Tagore used to insist that Oriya and Assamese are not different language but just dialect of bengali

      1. Hello Saurav,

        (I am extremely in awe of you generally. I think it’s quite incredible that I am getting to speak with you. So please forgive me for any mistakes that I am gonna commit here.)

        The non-Tamil south Indians (going by the somewhat standard definition of “south India”) are indeed non-non-entities but it is perfectly okay for them (us) if people planning any discussion declare at the get-go if they are going to discuss only Tamil and Tamils and then proceed to do so. It is also okay if they use a definition of “south India” to majorly refer to either the ancient territory of Tamilakam or even just the modern Tamil Nadu but it is expected that they discuss their terms, usages and definitions at the beginnings of discussions. Other than this type of consistency, nothing more is desired – people don’t typically crave too much attention of any kind at all.

    2. “for example, how the literature scene in Malayalam compares to that of the other languages.”

      Not sure what the brief of the podcast is being new here, i.e. is it only restricted to historical evolution of languages or if it will also dwell into more contemporary cultural issues?

      I would also be interested in the above quoted part, and in how the Malayalam politico-cultural scene in general seems distinctive from the rest of south India (as well as north). Besides literature, this applies also to cinema, for example, where Malayalam “commercial” cinema over the decades has been at complete variance to Tamil cinema and I presume Telugu and Kannada cinema. They have won, for e.g., almost 20% of the Indian national awards since its conception, for a small state with very little national “pull” in elite Delhi circles (11/65, versus 2 for Tamil and Telugu; overshadowed by Bengali obviously, with its Satyajit Rays and Mrinal Sens).

      1. Hello Parallel Universe,

        The topic of the culture of Kerala is indeed quite fascinating, though I don’t know much about it in any depth and only bare superficialities like some of the things you noted such as the national film awards and stuff. I personally tend to sense that Kerala in general tends to be left-oriented of all types, at least in literary cultures and stuff. That and the absolute lack of intense regionalism that characterises its eastern neighbour and to some extent the Telugu-speaking regions too. In addition to the above is the curious mix of a high degree of cosmopolitanism and native traditionalism. Modern Kerala is really one of its kind, however it is made and whatever of. And if I were you, I’d tend to think Kerala is in fact quite well-known in north India compared to, say, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (and this might stem from the high cultural participation of immigrant Malayalis in all local cultures within India). Malayali leaders occupied key positions in the early independent India if I’m not wrong and I also tend to feel that Malayalis were very significant in the old Mumbai and Delhi cultures.

  4. South India is the living breathing heart of Aryavarsha, Bharat and Sanathana Dharma. One of my all time favorite places.

    I think this needs to broken into several podcasts:
    1) Tamil
    2) Telegu
    3) Kannada
    4) Malayalam
    (I think Marathi is more northern.)
    5) The rest (of which I know so little)

    Much of the spiritual literature of eastern philosophy is in each of the above four languages (or in Sanskrit composed by people from these language families). Many of the great spiritual masters, artists, composers and artists or from each of these streams.

    The richness of Tamil, Telegu, Kannada, Malayalam each need multiple Encyclopedia series to do them justice.

  5. Not much of a podcast person personally, but I’ll have to check this one out. Anything South-India/Tamil/Kerala related I’m interested. Looking forward to it.

  6. Contribution to this topic – MED is a Serbian word for ‘honey’ and a root for many international words – medical, medication, medal, medovina, etc. Medovina is ancient Serbian alcoholic drink made from honey. Med is identical or very similar in about 50 languages (including the alternative for honey in English).
    In SA, Med is identical (or very similar) in Gujarati, Malayalam, Bangla (madhu), Kannada, Marathi (meda), Punjabi, Nepali, Uzbek, Mongolian, Kurdish, Azerbaijani, Armenian, etc…

    It is different in Tamil and Telugu.

  7. It is quite endearing for me to witness these occasional lighthearted exchanges between the two great individuals originally belonging to the two great ethnicities along the one mighty river (am very sorry if the user Saurav in fact does not belong along the Ganges but some other different place altogether.)

  8. Questions for the podcast :

    1. What is the current status of Elamo-Dravidian Language Family Hypothesis ? Linguists said it was a dead end. Narasimhan et al 2018 reveals migration of Zagrossian (Early Iranian) Farmers into North West of our Subcontinent. Any information on Proto Dravidian Language reconstructions will be very interesting.

    2. I hope that some time is spent on writing systems (derived from Phoenician Alphabets) used in South India that were highly influential for rest of South East Asia : Pre-Ashokan Tamizhi, post-Ashokan scripts like Pallava Grantha.

    3. Structural and Functional features of Dravidian Languages : Agglutination, Subject-Object-Verb order, Clusivity that could shed some light on the ancient lifestyle. Vocabulary that could suggest trade and contact with distant neighbors.

    Wishlist :
    Archaeogenetic data from ASHG 2018 : Niraj Rai’s poster did mention genomic data from 4-5 thousand years before present including ones from South India

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