Tamil, Sanskrit

nas_ng at lms420.jsc.nasa.gov nas_ng at lms420.jsc.nasa.gov
Fri Apr 7 19:07:18 UTC 1995

April 7, 1995

These are recent postings in soc.culture.tamil by Prof. George Hart, 
University of California, Berkeley. I thought they may of interest to you.

n. ganesan
nas_ng at lms461.jsc.nasa.gov


             Relations between Dravidian (Tamil) and Sanskrit

Actually, Sanskrit has many Dravidian syntactic features as well as loan 
words from Dravidian.  A few of these are very old -- even as old as the 
Rig Veda.  Clearly, Sanskrit came to be spoken as a second language by 
Dravidian speakers, and, as is common in such situations, these speakers 
transferred syntax from their native languages into the new language.  
Such features include the use of api, of iti, and of evam, and also, I 
believe, of certain compounds.  These ARE Indo-European words, not 
Dravidian, but their usage is equivalent to similar particles in 
Dravidian languages (e.g. Tamil -um, enRu, taan).  Prof. Murray Emeneau 
has written at length on this phenomenon.  The North-Indian Indo-Aryan 
languages are even more akin syntactically to Dravidian languages.  I 
have tried to show that many of the major conventions of Sanskrit 
literature, and especially of poetry, come from a Dravidian poetic 
tradition (e.g. the messenger poem such as Meghaduta, the idea of lovers 
suffering in separation during the monsoon, etc. etc.).  The fact is, it 
is not possible to talk about Sanskrit as a separate "non-Dravidian" 
tradition -- the truth is far more complex.  George Hart.
Presumably, the people who adopted Sanskrit (or something akin to it) in 
North India didn't have a highly developed literature -- there are still 
some Dravidian languages in N. India like that.  On the other hand, 
history is full of cultivated languages that have been replaced by less 
developed newer ones -- e.g. Elamite speakers started speaking Persian 
and Elamite disappeared.  People tend to speak whatever language gives 
them influence, prestige, and the ability to survive -- to some extent, 
English has this function in modern India (at least in some parts, e.g. 
IIT's).  Most areas of the earth have changed their language 3 times in 
HISTORICAL times (at least this is what I learned in a linguistics class 
at Harvard a long time ago).  I wouldn't say Sanskrit is Dravidian -- it 
isn't.  But it has many intriguing "Dravidian" features not found in 
other (non-Indian) Indo-European languages.  (Retroflexes, for example 
-- called murdhanya in Skt).  This stuff is interesting, isn't it?  GH
One of the most intriguing contributions of the Tamil area to Sanskrit 
is the Bhagavatapurana.  It is pretty universally agreed that it was 
written by a Tamilian and that it is filled with motifs and themes from 
the Divyaprabandha and other Tamil literature.  Its author also uses 
"Vedic" forms -- sometimes incorrectly! -- to try to make it sound old 
and hoary.  This work has catalyzed Bhakti movements all over India and 
is, arguably, one of the most important works in the Sanskrit language.  
An example of a Tamilism is the word avamocana, "inn."  This occurs 
nowhere else in Sanskrit -- it is clearly a translation of Tamil viTuti.  
On the other hand, the greatest poet of all Indian literature, Kampan, 
took his story from Sanskrit.  There has been an enormously productive 
interchange between Sanskrit and Tamil.  GH


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