The Brahui, total genetic replacement?

An Ethnolinguistic and Genetic Perspective on the Origins of the Dravidian-Speaking Brahui in Pakistan:

In this report we reexamine the genetic origins of the Brahuis, and compare them with diverse populations from India, including several Dravidian-speaking groups, and present a genetic perspective on ethnolinguistic groups in present-day Pakistan. Given the high affinity of Brahui to the other Indo-European Pakistani populations and the absence of population admixture with any of the examined Indian Dravidian groups, we conclude that Brahui are an example of cultural (linguistic) retention following a major population replacement.

It was clear 10 years ago when I looked at the HGDP Brahui that they are no different from the HGDP Baloch. This is important because there is as a hypothesis that these Dravidian speakers are migrants from peninsular India. If so, there is no genetic evidence. Admixture must have resulted in total homogenization with the Baloch. This is frankly not plausible for a South Asian group, which tends toward structure.

The second option is that the Brahui Dravidian language is indigenous to the region, and the genetic similar to the Baloch is due to the latter’s reciprocal admixture with the Brahui

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59 Replies to “The Brahui, total genetic replacement?”

  1. Would you compare Brahui to Basque ? which remained intact despite overwhelming demographic turn over especially in case of Basque speaking europeans (less so for Brahui i would presume).

    The historic reasons for this seem very interesting and need to be speculated.
    EG: perhaps some out migration into Balochistan after leaving undisturbed in NWFP ?

    1. Would you compare Brahui to Basque ? which remained intact despite overwhelming demographic turn over especially in case of Basque speaking europeans (less so for Brahui i would presume).

      the basque are clearly genetically distinct. the brahui are not. the basque show elevated drift sharing with sardinians, who were indo-europeanized only historically. you didn’t know this?

      1. Naah… Would have read sometime but not in detail. Just knew Basques are an linguistic different from other IE speakers in Europe.

  2. This raises lot of questions.
    If linguistic retention can occur even through complete genetic replacements for Brahui , how come over much larger Northern south Asia , linguistic retention of IVC languages including possibly Dravidian , did not occur with part genetic replacement / mixture i.e. Steppe derived populations with pre-Steppe IVC populations and languages.

    1. Thats a very good question!! I was hoping somebody would ask it, rather everyone latched on to the IVC-must-be-Dravidian bandwagon.
      This actually proves that the –
      1. Bellwood theory (language spread = movement of people) does not apply to IVC and South Asia during 5000 yBP.
      2. South Asia might be the cradle of language (!!) and was already in a sufficiently advanced stage of development during the peak of IVC.
      3. If linguistic retention did occur, then its also quite clear what was that language….

  3. So Dravidian languages are most likely from IHG and not from AASI. If this is the case then Dravidian letters should be found in the ruins of Indus.

    It may also indicate that an Aryan-style invasion by IHG happened in the entire South Asia.
    An IHG invasion can explain why AASI haplogroups are so rare.

  4. It is seriously a mystery. Linguistically, it does not make sense for Brahui to be present in Baluchistan before 1000 A.D: It mainly borrows from Balochi, a Northwestern Iranian language. If it was there since IVC time, there should have been some Avestan loanwords present in it. [1, 2, 3] Are there any alternate interpretations that can account for this?

    Speculation: Was it some cultural or trade relations that made Brahui appear in Balochistan?

    [1] http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~witzel/IndusLang.pdf
    [2] https://talageri.blogspot.com/2019/10/dravidian-connections-with-harappan.html
    [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahui_language

  5. This lends credence to the IVC potentially having Dravidian language speakers (or proto-Dravidian). Interesting, but raises many questions, too.

    1. \credence to the IVC potentially having Dravidian language speakers\
      I see it as opposite i.e. less probability of D in IVC. If linguistic continuity can override genetic admixture/changes/replacement , how come it did not happen over N India . Indo-aryan continuity could also have outlived genetic admixture or changes . We are not even talking about genetic replacement by Steppe genes a la Western Europe , but only admixture with pre-existing IVC Iranian farmer/AASI perhaps to the tune of 25% overall.
      In south India Dravidian has not only survived Steppe admixture but jolly well thrived

      How to explain radically different fortunes of lang gorups?

    2. “This lends credence to the IVC potentially having Dravidian language speakers (or proto-Dravidian)”

      Hail Periyar !

      I think IVC people themselves migrated from Kumari Kandam

  6. @Razib – the Mahabharata and Puranas state that the Chola, Chera and Pandya kings of the South were descendants of Turvasu.

    In another place, it states some of these Turvasus became Mlecchas in the Northwest (Balkh).

    It is a long shot but Iran originally called their Northeastern parts as Turan. So do Turvasu and Turan spring from the same historical source?

    http://grandpoohbah.blogspot.com/2011/01/afrasiab.html?m=1

    A musing from someone who I read recently….

  7. Are the Brahui mostly Iranian hunter-gatherer/mesolithic in ancestry with some AASI and significant steppe? If yes, they are just descendants of the IVC population who also happened to retain their former language. The Rakhigari woman was over 85-90% Iranian hunter-gatherer and 10-15% ASI.

    1. Are the Brahui mostly Iranian hunter-gatherer/mesolithic in ancestry with some AASI and significant steppe? If yes, they are just descendants of the IVC population who also happened to retain their former language. The Rakhigari woman was over 85-90% Iranian hunter-gatherer and 10-15% ASI.

      they are off-cline, so harder to estimate. they have lots of SW asian, way more than pathan, and like baloch. their AASI is really low. their steppe is not super high.

    2. The Rakhigarhi woman was actually 40% AASI, but Shinde, Rai and overestimated the Iranian related % in their paper. Comparing that sample with others on public domain and on the plot makes this clear.

  8. I had always thought this to be the case. And I think this is another nail in the coffin for OIT. IVC having spoken a Dravidian language means Dravidian is an Early South Asian Farmer and not an AASI language. I think over time we’ll find that the caste system likely has origins in Dravidian culture – wonder how the left will deal with that. They’ll probably just ignore it and pretend it never happened.

    Also can we get these terms right? Given the cell paper and what we now know, these people should be called Early South Asian Farmer, not
    Iran farmer. I don’t see Europeans saying Turkish Farmer – they use Early European Farmer and then mention their arrival from Anatolia. I don’t see why the naming conventions can’t be the same for South Asia.

    1. No, this doesn’t affect OIT in any way. Rather it proves that language is a form of memetics that can persist far longer than biological markers.

      A historical parallel is the Saurashtra speakers in Madurai, Thanjavur, Tirunelveli, Vellore and Salem districts. The total population of this IE speaking cohort is 300,000 in the deep south.

      They migrated from Gujarat at least 1500 years ago. Some odd characteristics are they don’t use the Devanagari script but an invented abugida. They retain a very formal way of speaking their language. Culturally they have fully assimilated – methods of worship, food, marriage ceremonies, festivals observed – but for the language.

      They have left similar cohorts of people (150K) all across the geographic corridor they used to migrate – Mandsaur in MP, Konkan in Karnataka, South AP and finally South TN – almost a splatter trail of isolated IE speakers.

      If IVC was fully Dravidian speaking or at least the elites were Dravidian speaking and then migrated to the South, there should be a similar trail of isolated Dravidian speakers from NW Pakistan to Kanyakumari. Where are they?

      1. Ugra, we have seen IA languages skip large parts of peninsular India and become dominant in SL and Maldives. I too doubt that dravidian was the language of the entire IVC, but can imagine it having taken hold in the southern periphery. The movement to the Deccan might have been a colonization, not a slow diffusion from source.

        1. Yes, sea routes can create isolated linguistic communities like Sinhala.

          I actually think the Tamil language is an intrusive import via the sea.

          1. Ugra, can you expand on your sea hypothesis? My hunch is that seafaring/fishing is a deep part of tamil culture and not just an adaptation of recent millenia. So I could see that perhaps a type of AASI people were coast dwellers, boat builders, and navigators. I don’t know if they were tamil/dravidian speakers to begin with though. Whoever these AASI people were, they are common ancestors to SL and Maldivians too. By parsing out the cultural substrate differences between these various groups, we can hypothesise what are dravidian cultural memes vs AASI ones, assuming they are not the same.

    2. “I think over time we’ll find that the caste system likely has origins in Dravidian culture – wonder how the left will deal with that. They’ll probably just ignore it and pretend it never happened.”

      U make it seem as if Left/Dravidian-ism genuinely wanted to annihilate caste. LOL

      1. I still find it a bit odd just how radically anti-caste Hindutva is.

        I keep subconsciously expect them to parallel paleo-right wing people on race (except with caste). But they are different.

    3. “I think over time we’ll find that the caste system likely has origins in Dravidian culture”

      Unlikely. There are already enough reasons to think that caste system has Aryan origins.

      “Early South Asian Farmer, not
      Iran farmer.”

      “Early Indus Farmer” would be a much better term

      “I don’t see Europeans saying Turkish Farmer – they use Early European Farmer and then mention their arrival from Anatolia.”

      Modern Turks are European no matter what the popular media say. Considering phenotype,they are usually indistinguishable from Greeks.

      Geographically speaking, Europe is not really a separate continent. Even if they use the term “Early European Farmer” , the more correct word would be “Early Anatolian Farmer”

  9. so the brahui are a genetic equivalent of the ship of theseus. all the genes have been replaced, but they are still the original people…

  10. @Ugra
    If IVC was fully Dravidian speaking or at least the elites were Dravidian speaking and then migrated to the South, there should be a similar trail of isolated Dravidian speakers from NW Pakistan to Kanyakumari.

    There are archaic documents of variety of languages which were noted during British times. We are are split in variety of tiny groups speaking different reflex of tongues.
    India has not done any serious linguistic research/census of languages after independence. Even if census might have done, people will have no idea what that language is called/made-up off.
    In Gujarat, my group is split 2 broader families. One group is in Jambusar/Vadadaro they speak Lati and my family/other group on Maharashtra broader speak Jambudi (Maharashtri/konkani+Gandhari+Paishachi)

    1. Nice, I had a Saurashtra roommate in college who was pakka Tamilian but would watch Marathi movies with perfect comprehension.

  11. Brahui is a Dravidian isolate. Gujarat has Dravidian presence from Indus times. Kanva recension book of Rugveda has dravidian loan words. Most of us are Kanva Brahmans. Majority of Kanvas sit in Dravidian/southern lands.
    Sindhi language should be evaluated for the second super-substrate which might have dravidian/semitic language in it.

    1. Kanva is described as a black rishi in the rig Veda (krishna rishi). He clearly had significant native AASI admixture.

  12. @Ugra
    Some odd characteristics are they don’t use the Devanagari script but an invented abugida.

    Devanagari script has its presence in late 10th century CE/AD, late languages like gujarati, bengali were created from Apabhramsa.
    Abugida is kadambari/Buddhist script used in Orissa, that script has telegu as superstrate language in it.

  13. There’s almost always at least SOME genetic signal when languages move. Someone has to bring the the language to its new home, after all.

    This is very strong evidence in favor of Brahui being indigenous at great time depth, instead of being a medieval transplant. We should take the linguistic arguments about missing Avestan loanwords with a grain of salt – it’s very difficult for linguistics to provide smoking gun evidence in cases like this.

  14. It is true that genetics can indeed play a part in language spread; however, language and genetics can diverge. The prime example is Finno-Ugric [1]:
    “””
    Most European languages belong to the Indo-European group. Two notable exceptions are Basque, which is relatively isolated, and the Finno-Ugric languages, in particular Finnish. Modern Finns have been found to be genetically close to Indo-Europeans, but genetically different from their Saami neighbors whose language is also Finno-Ugric.
    “””
    Brahui may or may not be indigenous is beside the point. As we are talking about languages, in the end, linguistics is the primary evidence that applies — unless all possible explanations fail. I agree genetics argument can work in conjunction; or we will get absurd results.

    1. https://www.mpg.de/19395/Language_genetics

  15. The Mayan descendents in Guatemala/Yucatan/etc today speak Spanish, but have no genetic relationship with the Spaniards. Most people in Thailand, Indonesia, and other countries can speak in English but have no genetic relationship with the Brits. When there is no genetic affinity to other groups of lingustic affiliations, it is more probable that language was adopted via transmission of culture. Same may have been the case with the Brauhis. Perhaps trade between Makran coast and South India in ancient times introduced Dravidian language which evolved to become a different branch of Dravidian language

    1. In the case of spanish and english, they are global languages with enormous evidence of material culture transfer to the peoples you mention. As far as I’ve heard, there hasn’t been a single southern dravidian language inscription discovered in balochistan. The tamils probably had far more engagement with distant java than the former region. Also, if one estimates the time depth of the linguistic branching off of Brahui, its likely to be >3k ybp. This long precedes any particularly advanced/literate dravidian peninsular polity.
      Another way to look at this that doesn’t make the linguistic connection seem so implausible, is to posit that the link populations are in sind/gujarat, and that they became aryanized later. That much of maharashtra was dravidian speaking well into the historical period (700 CE) like gallic france is quite likely. The finno-urgic and austro-asiatic languages also have disjoint distributions.

      1. For a language to spread it does not necessarily have to be in a written form, nor leave evidence with inscriptions. May be the language of the Dravidian traders from South India at the Makran coast (Indus-Baluchistan region) was adopted by certain people of the area because of centuries of constant interaction with them, and those people over time evolved that language into Brauhi.

  16. Can Brahui represent Aryan settlers that were trading with IVC who adopted their language and stayed at the same place even after IVC declined?

  17. Very interesting finding. For people claiming IVC is Dravidian, I find it a bit surprising that they don’t discuss the absence of non-IE language in indo-gantic planes. There is good evidence that rice was domesticated in gangetic planes first, and they had kingdoms (chariots in Sinauli) in gangetic planes before 1500 BCE. If they did not speak any IA language, how come there are no remnants? Is it just poor record keeping or linguists did not pay a lot of attention to many of the languages with less number of speakers?

    1. Sindh was probably proto-Dravidian. Panjab was probably something else. My guess would be something related to Burushaski.
      And 1500BC is a perfectly plausible date for Aryan kingdoms (in the medieval Irish sense of the word) in India under AIT.

  18. “The Brahui, total genetic replacement?”

    This theory is absolutely ludicrous. It clearly is a survival from a remote past. In fact, I would not call Brahui a Dravidian language, rather it is part of the Zagrossian language family (which Elamite and Dravidian are also part of.)

    All multidisciplinary evidence points to Sindh and Gujarat being formerly Dravidian speaking regions, which underwent language shift and admixture following the initial Arya migrations.

  19. Below is a link to a video of a speaker reciting the Brahui alphabet with words and another one with a woman speaking it colloquially and quickly.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_Oj1poUWXA

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzItfhqluHE

    I can tell with my native ear (Tamil, Kannada, Telugu) that this sounds not even remotely like any South Indian language. It is entirely possible that the phonetic classification of Brahui was a mistake. Other south Indians on BP can confirm.

    We might be chasing a coincidence.

    1. this is an incredibly stupid argument.

      bengali doesn’t sound anything like russian. but it’s trivially obvious that both are indo-european

      be smarter

      (i’m not using ‘stupid’ as an insulting hyperbole, it is literally stupid in the dictionary sense)

      1. I can understand the syntax of your argument, but you are not commiserating with the frustration of a Dravidian speaker. There is no ephemera of recognition at any point – not even triggered by a single word or phoneme or a phrase. Nothing!

        I will read up on the linguistic papers related to Brahui because now I am firmly sceptic.

      2. I was actually surprised by how familiar it seemed, although I couldn’t understand a thing.

        1. I listened to it again…..perhaps a slight flavor of Konkani or Tulu. The flow is broken by several loanwords from Hindi which I able to recognize and that breaks my concentration.

          Really need a blind study on this one.

          1. My understanding is that while the
            dravidian-elamite family is speculative, this is not the case with brahui as dravidian.

  20. In fact the etymology of Baloch seems to be from Maloch, and in turn Melukkha. Melukkha (can also be pronounced Meluhha) is the name given to the IVC by those in the middle east.

    Meluk in Elamite means ‘long’, whereas ‘Mel’ in Dravidian means ‘high’. This fits nicely with the Baloch region being a highland area.

    Sindu means Date palm in Proto-Dravidian, which fits with Sindh and its abundance of Date palms.

  21. This theory is absolutely ludicrous. It clearly is a survival from a remote past. In fact, I would not call Brahui a Dravidian language, rather it is part of the Zagrossian language family (which Elamite and Dravidian are also part of.)

    All multidisciplinary evidence points to Sindh and Gujarat being formerly Dravidian speaking regions, which underwent language shift and admixture following the initial Arya migrations.

    weak confidence, but this is closest to my view fwiw…

  22. The Mayan descendents in Guatemala/Yucatan/etc today speak Spanish, but have no genetic relationship with the Spaniards.

    this is false. even maya speaking indigenous (nonspanish speaking) may are 5-10% spanish. it’s a problem in genetic analysis. the mixed people are more like 20-40% european (spanish speaking mestizos).

    can you be this stupid?

  23. Maya was not the perfect example, but you should get the idea of what I was implying with the other example.
    Another (opposite) hypothesis could be that Indus language was related to Elamite, thus possibly a proto-Dravidian language (call it Zagrosian linguistic family). Indus traders to South India introduced their language to the region (South India) and over the centuries it evolved to become the present day Dravidian languages. And perhaps Brauhi language is the remnant of Indus language which also evolved to become the distant relative of South Indian Dravidian languages. This would also explain the DNA distinctiveness between Brauhis and South Indians

    1. Classical Tamil literature refers to the historical migration south from Dwaraka of the VeL (retroflex L) chieftains under the leadership of Akattiyar during the Vedic age.

      This one poem written around 100 AD refers to a VeL chieftain as the ‘Tiger Slayer’, whose ancestors ruled Dwaraka 49 generations ago. Tiger slayer imagery is present in IVC iconography next to a chakra symbol (which is first attested in Sanskrit literature as a sign of kingship – chakravarti).

      The Kannada Hoysala dynasty also means Tiger slayer, and are also of VeL lineage. The king KharaveLa of ancient Orissa is probably also of this VeL lineage. Some equate the VeLir with the Yadavas before their Sanskritisation.

      Akattiyar is the original Dravidian form of Agastya, and literally means ‘respected householder’.

      These legends perfectly agree with the genetic data of a migration south of IVC people from Gujarat.

      Proto-South Dravidian must have been spoken in Gujarat before it’s Sanskritisation.

      Tamil literature legends also talk of the king of Dwaraka being present at one of the early sangams (literary meetings) many thousands of years ago, and talks of sunken cities. I wonder if the sangam legends contain garbled truths from both the Dwaraka IVC migrants into South India and the more AASI natives who they merged with.

      Could the sunken cities legends carry the memory of sunken cities in Gujarat? Or are they just exaggerated memories of sunken areas in Tamil Nadu from the earlier inhabitants there?

      Supposedly there was a great flood around 2800 BC due to a comet hitting the ocean.

  24. @Chittadhara
    Gangetic plains were Aryavarta after 1000-800BCE. There is strong presence of Tibeto-Burman as well as Austro-Asiatic people on those lands.
    IVC Lands(active till 1500-1200BCE) of Baluchistan, Sind, Gujarat and Maharashtra could easily be Northern Dravidian languages. Extension from Persia through Khorosan and Sind.
    People always innovate languages and IVC complex with the materials available in that region.
    Actual Sindhi people use to live in between current date Punjab and Afghanistan. But today they are found in currently Sind, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. There is substrate in Sindhi language which is not related to Indo-Aryan languages.
    Dravidian language is profoundly present in Maharashtri (Bilingual language).
    Who cares of Sanulli chariot if you are trading through sea.
    Indo-Aryans don’t exist in Indian subcontinent before 3800 years. (dasyus+ Sintashtas)
    Indo-Arya’s were in rags/imaginary huts/open nature so they had to ask huge chuck of dowry and their obnoxious law of Manu.

    1. @Roma Bhatt. Austro-Asiatic presence in India is a late entry, there was a previous post which discussed genetics of Bengalis and Austro-Asiatic being late into India was presented there. Tibeto-Burman also has a corresponding migration pattern from Tibetan plateau, and its genetic markers are not found in Gangetic planes.

  25. @Roma Bhatt. Austro-Asiatic presence in India is a late entry, there was a previous post which discussed genetics of Bengalis and Austro-Asiatic being late into India was presented there. Tibeto-Burman also has a corresponding migration pattern from Tibetan plateau, and its genetic markers are not found in Gangetic planes.

    yeah.

    though to my surprise ‘tibeto-burman’ types were in burma quite early.

    basically it seems like all these groups + indo-aryans expanded into middle india same time. what happened to older languages? well, must be gone.

    1. Older languages just don’t go; they leave substrate or place /river names unless there is a complete genetic replacement. Even with overwhelming European replacement of Red Indians in the US, you get place names like Tallahassee, Milwaukee, Chattanooga

  26. There is a paradox here. Brahui/Dravidians retained their language even after total genetic replacement, but did not retain any river/place names in IVC vicinity? Assuming they were “people in power”, how would this happen? I conjecture, they are a late entry into IVC.

    Also, there seems to be too much coincidence. Total language replacement in two different civilizations (Punjab region and Gangetic planes) all while having cultural continuity is a stretch. I’ve been studying about IE expansion in Europe and it seems that there is a shift in archaeological record. I’ll have to read more about it, but isn’t it true?

    1. \IE expansion in Europe \ IE expansion in Europe and replacement of earlier populations is more thoroughgoing. One theory is that Steppe people brought some diseases which the local farmers had no defense against and died off in large numbers. Compared to that in India Steppe origin people just added themselves to the existing populations .
      basically we don’t know much about pre-Vedic India . Even after 100 years, Indus valley Civilization is as mysterious today as it was 100 years ago. Apart from saying ‘IVC is a large urban civ’ we know next to nothing about the people of IVC. So speculations can have a field day. Genetic buzzwords like aasi/steppe genes are neither here nor there in explaining history. That is why I laugh at questions like ‘are you ANI shifted AASI’ , etc

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