Origin of retroflexes: answers to Hock's objections?

Lars Martin Fosse l.m.fosse at internet.no
Thu Nov 21 10:08:10 UTC 1996

Nath Rao wrote:
>Now seems to be a good time to ask this question, as this seems to be
>the time for controversies in INDOLOGY. And now that Dominic himself
>has broken the `two screenfuls' rule, I feel free to send this long
>post. [And this does have something to do with `Aryan Invasion Theory'.]
>I am trying locate any answers to Hock's objections to the often made
>claim that retroflex consonants of IA are due to Dravidian speakers
>`mispronouncing' Proto-Indo-Iranian words. (The only paper of Hock
>I have read in this regard is the one in `Ideology and Status of
>Sanskrit'. But I understand that the objection discussed below is older.
>At least I was aware of this objection before reading that paper.)

I have a very marginal note here (I am not familiar with the Dravidian
languages and can therefore not participate in the discussion at a higher

Retroflex sounds in IA languages may have evolved as a result of the contact
between Dravidian and Indo-Aryan languages, but they may also have evolved
for purely internal reasons. Such sounds also exist in some European
languages, among others in East Norwegian, where e.g. the consonant cluster
rt has developed into a retroflex .t. Thus, you will find that "kart" (map)
is pronounced ka.t in East Norwegian, and you get the minimal pair

                kart [ka.t]     katt [kat]
                =map            =cat

It is tempting to compare e.g. the development of Skt. k.rta > Pkt. ka.ta. 

As for the distinction between dentals, alveolars and retroflexes, we do not
know for sure if this distinction was alive and well in Northern India at
the time of the arrival of the Aryans. Hypotheses concerning the interaction
between Dravidian and IA languages will therefore remain hypothetic. If,
however, the Aryans developed a certain amount of retroflex sounds due to
internal phonetic development, they may have felt that Dravidian words with
alveolars - if they existed - "sounded" like words with retroflexes and
therefore adopted these words with retroflexes. There may, in other words,
be several reasons for the "retroflexisation" of IA languages. 

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

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