Differentiating velar versus labial Dravidian voice derivations

jess tauber phonosemantics at earthlink.net
Tue Apr 8 06:15:01 UTC 2008

Hopefully someone on the list will know whether anyone has observed this before, or if I can plant my flag here.

Dravidian has for me been one of the hardest families to understand from the perspective of root analysis phonosemantically. This started to change after a near exhaustive examination of materials from Santali (Munda) over the past few months.

Picking up a copy this past week of Burrow and Emeneau's 2nd ed. of A Dravidian Etymological Dictionary, looking for anything similar to the Santali materials, I began noticing that derived stems seemed to have similar semantics. After compiling all the Tamil -kk-, -ngk-, and -k- derivatives, specifically from the subset of shape (as listed) (C)VCV(N)C(C)u (comb. form in -i), it was clear that a large majority of derivations appeared to encode the notion of beating (or being beaten) into submission, literally or figuratively, and socially or materially.

The labial sets, which I'm still compiling, have the opposite sense of throwing off unwanted burdens, freeing oneself, and so on. Why others may not have noticed this before is a mystery to me (for instance Krishnamurti in his 1997 piece on these suffixes), but I can speculate that people were looking for GRAMMATICAL, rather than what might be more lexical (or even expressive) senses in the system. On a more abstract level, the semantic differences between the labial and velar positions could be thought of as marking CONTROL differences (as for instance seen in Salishan voice suffixes).

The various acute-featured voice forms (established dentals, sandhi-affected retroflexes and alveolars, and also palatals (but are SOME of these perhaps original??) seem more to have a linear-hierarchical sense to them, but I am far from finishing work on these.

These semantic differences may also have something to say about why the graves were used (according to Krishnamurti), in the protolanguage, for nonpast, and the acutes for past. The graves connote unbalanced forces between participants (one winning), and noncooperation (even WITH acquiescence as with velars- giving in is not the same as joining in), while the acutes seem much more about creating continuity and sharing of responsibility. I won't be sure until more of the system is analyzed (and for more languages in the family as well). But there may be something of a split between negative vs. positive reinforcement, and irrealis vs. realis senses, which would then go towards tense interpretations.

Santali data changed the way I was looking at the Dravidian materials- as I've posted ad nauseum around the WWW, Santali has a great deal of phonosemantic transparency, especially for expressive adverbs, verbs, adjectives, etc.

What IS really interesting here is that the Dravidian derivational suffixes appear to share largely the same types of senses as do, in many cases, the initial consonants in Santali forms. Is it possible that many Santali initials are originally prefixes? Going through the dictionary one can collect many forms that differ in initial but contain the same second or third consonant (where the second may also be nasalized, etc.)- for instance many different forms for 'splash' that have C1VbVr, etc.

If so, do the differences in morpheme order go back to morphosyntactic typology, constituent order preferences particularly, and their effects (much as one sees for instance, according to Haiman, different preferences for alliteration versus rhyming). 

And if there is positional differentiation semantically within derived Dravidian stems (as there definitely seems to be in Santali, just as with Bantu, Japanese, and Korean ideophones), then the root-initials may convey more spatial/pathway information that is not necessarily vital to meaning, and can be omitted.

If people are interested in discussing this I'd be happy to provide the list with examples from DEDR, or reference numbers if they want to look things up on their own, or online.

Finally, if anyone knows the current contact information for Professor Krishnamurti (assuming he's still active), please let me know. Thanks.

Jess Tauber
phonosemantics at earthlink.net

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