Book notice: Krishnamurti, The Dravidian Languages 2003

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU
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AUTHOR: Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju
TITLE: The Dravidian Languages
SERIES: Cambridge Language Surveys
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2003

Basanti Devi, Associate Professor, JSS Institute of Speech & Hearing,
Mysore, India

This book deals with historical and comparative aspects of the Dravidian
languages. It will undoubtedly meet the requirements of a variety of
readers. The book, a result of extensive research, can be treated as an
authentic source book on the entire Dravidian language family, the world's
fifth largest; it can be used as a reference book by students as well as
scholars of linguistics. More specifically, it will cater to the needs of
scholars involved in research in historical and comparative aspects of
Dravidian languages. Scholars of contrastive linguistics and linguistic
typology will also benefit from it.

The book is divided into eleven chapters including an introduction and a
conclusion. A list of tables (pp xii-xiv), note on transliteration and
symbols (pp xx-xxii), abbreviations used (pp xxiii-xxvii), bibliography
(pp 504-533) and a general index of subjects and names are also provided.

Chapter 1: Introduction The book begins with clarification of the term
'Dravidian' which is generic in nature used to refer to a family of
languages. The author also includes a brief discussion of the people
speaking these languages and their cultures. Geographic and demographic
distribution of the sub-groups as well as individual languages belonging
to this family is outlined. The introduction includes a brief note on the
typological features of Dravidian languages. It also contains an overview
of previous work on these languages. Finally, the author has devoted a few
pages to the discussion of affinity between Dravidian languages and some
languages spoken outside India and with Harappan.

Chapter 2: Phonology: Descriptive This chapter begins with the sounds of
Proto Dravidian. It also offers an explanation for subsequent sound
changes in the modern Dravidian languages. This is followed by a
description of vowels and consonants found in different groups within the
Dravidian family such as South Dravidian I, South Dravidian II, Central
Dravidian and North Dravidian. The description includes allophonic
variations of these vowels and consonants. Dialectical variations are also
mentioned.  Some light is thrown on the suprasegmental features.
Morphophonemic patterns also find a place. The chapter ends with an
appendix containing the phonemic inventories of individual languages with
separate tables for vowels and consonants.

Chapter 3: The Writing Systems of the Major Literary Languages The third
chapter is devoted to the description of script systems of modern
Dravidian languages. Beginning with a brief note on Ashokan Brahmi script,
the mother of all major Indian scripts, the chapter contains a discussion
of the evolutionary aspects of the major modern Dravidian languages, viz.
Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam.  Proto Telugu & Kannada script
developed in sixth century AD. It continued till fifteenth century AD
after which they diverged and developed independently. He elaborates on
how new symbols were innovated and added to the existing Ashokan Brahmi
script to represent sounds peculiar to Tamil. Out of this adapted script
called Tamil Brahmi evolved a transitional variety called Vattezuttu. How
Malayalam and Tamil scripts developed independently is described at some
length. This is supplemented by a chart containing symbols of primary
vowels and consonants of each of these two languages as well as vowel
diacritics added to consonant symbols. The chapter ends with a table
showing symbols of consonant clusters in these languages.

Chapter 4: Phonology: Historical & Comparative This chapter provides both
a historical and a comparative treatment of Dravidian phonology. A feature
matrix of the consonant sounds of Proto-Dravidian is given in terms of
which sound change in the Dravidian languages can be explained. The
morphophonemic rules of Proto-Dravidian are elaborated. Every aspect of
sound change in each language is discussed at length. The author has
identified two types of sound change and has argued that the entire system
of sound changes can be attributed to either system-internal pressures or
typographical motivation.

Chapter 5: Word Formation: Roots, Stems, Formatives, Derivational Suffixes
and Nominal Compounds In the fifth chapter the author deals with all the
important aspects of the formation of different types of words. It begins
with Caldwell's description of formation of Proto-Dravidian roots.
However, the author has differed from Caldwell and reconstructed the
primary roots as well as extended stems for Proto-Dravidian with great
insight, He hypothesizes that primary derivational suffixes developed from
inflectional suffixes are incorporated into the stem. He also cites
empirical evidence in support of his hypothesis from several case studies.
Stem formatives of both nouns and verbs are discussed at length.
Derivational suffixes also form a part of the discussion. He concludes the
chapter with a discussion on the structure and composition of compound
words in Proto-Dravidian.

Chapter 6: Nominals: Nouns, Pronouns, Numerals and Time and Place Adverbs
In the beginning of this chapter, the author focuses on gender-number
contrasts with reference to demonstrative pronouns. There seem to be three
dominant types of gender-number distinctions in Dravidian.  Each has been
separately claimed to represent the Proto-Dravidian system by different
scholars. The author reaffirms his earlier view (Krishnamurti 1961) that
type II represents Proto-Dravidian. He also includes a summary of the
arguments that he presented earlier.  Discussion of gender-number marking
in finite verbs and nominal derivation is followed by a section on
reconstruction of gender-number suffixes. The case system is discussed at
length including examples of case markers in the subgroups of these
languages. The pronoun and number (cardinal and ordinal) systems are also
described. The chapter ends with an appendix containing paradigms of
nominal declensions in some of the Dravidian languages.

Chapter 7: The Verb In this the longest chapter of the book, the author
sheds light on various aspects of verb structure in Dravidian. It begins
with a note on canonical structures of roots which are common for nouns,
verbs and adjectives. He also sheds light on the morphological aspects of
the verbal base. The author identifies three main patterns in the
formation of transitive causative stems and elaborates on them. The
chapter includes discussion of tense, gender, number and person markers.
It also deals with finite and nonfinite verbs in different groups of
Dravidian languages. Concepts of negation and mood also find a place. The
author argues that the continuous form of tense in Dravidian is an
independent innovation and no proto-form can be reconstructed. A special
discussion is made of serial verbs which is a peculiar feature of
Dravidian. The chapter ends with a note on complex predicates and

Chapter 8: Adjectives, Adverbs and Clitics The author begins this chapter
with a brief summary of how other authors have treated adjectives in
Dravidian. Then he reconstructs the basic adjectives for Proto-Dravidian
corresponding to different semantic types. He also elaborates on the
details of basic and derived adjectives in the modern Dravidian. He delves
into the etymological aspects of adverbs which are generally derived
forms, citing examples from individual languages. Having reconstructed
four clitics for Proto- Dravidian, the author then elaborates on their
corresponding forms in modern Dravidian.

Chapter 9: Syntax In this chapter the author deviates from the norm that
he has followed throughout the book. There is no reconstruction of
Proto-Dravidian syntactic forms. He has restricted discussion of syntax to
the four literary languages. Simple, complex, and compound sentences are
analyzed highlighting the structural patterns of their constituents
corresponding to different types. He has established that all the four
literary languages follow similar syntactic patterns.

Chapter 10: Lexicon Dravidian lexicon is divided into two groups viz.
native and borrowed.  The loan words come from three distinct sources viz.
Indo-Aryan, Perso-Arabic and Western languages like English and
Portuguese. He has explained with illustration how words of Indo-Aryan
origin entered these languages via Pali & Prakrit rather than from
Sanskrit directly.  The process of nativization of these words in the
respective languages conforming to their phonological rules is
illustrated. The borrowing of words from other languages is also
discussed. Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam have taken borrowing as a natural
process.  But in Tamil there has been a deliberate effort to replace words
of Sanskrit origin with native words. This chapter also includes a
discussion of semantic fields and onomatopoeic words.

Chapter 11: Conclusion: A Summary and Overview The concluding chapter
contains a summary of the book and an overview of research of Dravidian by
previous scholars. The author reiterates the arguments for making a new
sub-grouping of the Dravidian languages based on evidence from
phonological as well as morphological features. Desiderata, which forms
the concluding part of this chapter, contains suggestions of viable topics
for future research in comparative and historical Dravidian.


The book is undoubtedly a significant contribution to the study of
historical and comparative aspects of Dravidian languages. It is also
significant from typological perspective. The book is well organized,
coherent and highly informative. The author presents an enormous data in a
systematic way, from minor non-literary languages to the major literary
ones. In fact, the vast amount of data from minor languages adds to the
strength of the book. His conclusions, which differ from those of other
scholars, are well supported by this data.  Each topic in the book is
dealt with utmost detail.

The last chapter containing summary and overview makes it particularly
user-friendly as it helps the reader to keep track of what has been said
in previous chapters. The desiderata are especially useful for scholars
interested in future research in this area. However, the chapter on syntax
is less informative and there is no reconstruction of Proto-Dravidian
forms. The book would have been even more comprehensive if syntax had been
dealt with as extensively as phonology and morphology. Nonetheless, the
book will serve as a great sourcebook for students, scholars, and teachers
of linguistics.


Krishnamurti, Bh. 1961. Telugu Verbal Bases: A Comparative and
Descriptive Study. UCPL 24, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
California Press.


Basanti Devi received her PhD on 'A Contrastive Study of Assamese
and Kannada' from University of Mysore, India. She has been
teaching linguistics to speech and hearing students for the past twenty
years. In 2003 she was awarded senior fellowship to work
on 'Representation of Women in Assamese Fiction' by Sahitya
Akademi, New Delhi. Her research interests are in sociolinguistics,
psycholinguistics, clinical linguistics, language and gender, and
literature. Currently she is an associate professor of linguistics at JSS
Institute of Speech and Hearing, Mysore, India.

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