Munda in Early NW India

David L. White dlwhite at
Wed Apr 11 00:12:02 UTC 2001

        The Conventional Wisdom seems to be that the Munda languages are
recently intrusive from the east, having come in at about the same time as
Indic from the NW, and that they acquired their Indian characteristics as a
result of contacts there.
        That might seem like the end of the story, but I doubt that it is.
Phonemic murmur ("voiced aspiration"), though on vowels rather than
consonants, is fairly common in the larger family ("Austro-Asiatic"), and
re-analysis of this as being on consonants would not be at all difficult to
motivate.  In other words, this one Indian characteristic, phonemic murmur,
does occur in the family outside of India.
        Answering my own question, yes, retroflex consonants occur in at
least one member of the family, Santali (which also has voiced aspirates),
though I have not determined whether the words in question are native or
not.  Some of them are "basic" enough in meaning that borrowing does not on
the face of it seem likely, though of course what we need to do is check
Bengali and so on, and I have not done (and will not do) that.
        Overall, I must say that it does not seem at all likely that the
pre-Indic language of NW India was any form of Munda.  But I still suspect
that the preservation of voiced aspirates in Indic is the result of such
things having been present in indigenous languages when the "Aryans" came
in, though probably in a language family long extinct.  Such sounds are
difficult to acquire for those whose native language does not have them, and
we would expect loss to have occurred in Indic as everywhere else if
something else had not intervened.  In any event, from what I know, it seems
quite probable that the problem of deciphering the Indus valley script is
not solvable, as both Dravidian and Munda seem to be dead ends, and no other
possibilities are known.

Dr. David L. White

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