Origin of retroflexes: answers to Hock's objections?

Lars Martin Fosse l.m.fosse at internet.no
Thu Nov 21 21:07:35 UTC 1996

At 20:32 21.11.96 GMT, you wrote:
>Lars Martin Fosse <l.m.fosse at internet.no> wrote:
>> 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.
>I would assume that the primary approach towards answering this would be
>to study the historic development of Dravidian. Just as we reconstruct
>proto-IIr, proto-Germanic etc, we can try to reconstruct proto-North
>Dravidian, proto-South dravidian etc. It is the lack of references 
>to such efforts in treatments of the ``substrtum hypothesis'' that
>bothers me.

As a non-Dravidist, I am here at a loss! I don't know what is going on in
Dravidology. But in principle, of course, you are right. The problem with
historical phonology is, however, that things develop at a different pace in
different places. Some languages are incredibly conservative, whereas others
develop incredibly fast. And the problem with Dravidian languages as far as
a I know is that the earliest sources are only about 2200 years old (Tamil).
For the oldest Indo-European languages, you may add another 1000 years or
more (the oldest Hittite sources go back to about 1800 B.C.E.). Thus, even
if we are able to reconstruct a system with dentals, alveolars and
retroflexes for Proto-Dravidian, we cannot say exactly when this system
disappeared in the areas where the Indo-Aryans and the Dravidians met. At
least in theory, it may have gone down the drain before the Indo-Aryans
arrived on the scene. But before I make a complete fool of myself discussing
something about which I know nothing, I'll leave the matter to Dravidologists!

>Hey, you stole my line :-)

Nice! :-)

>I had the perfect line to add after my third question (which I promise to
>post after Thanskgiving): ``It would be more credible to argue that
>the spread of retroflexes in IA is due to Aryans mispronouncing 
>Dravidian words than the other way around.''
>Now I have to think up something else.

I should think that both parties would be mispronouncing each others' words.
That is usually the way it is. (If you ever get a chance to watch a British
TV sit-com called "'Allo 'Allo" you will see what GRAND mispronunciation can

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

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