Passive in Dravidian (Was: Re: `Conversational Sanskrit' vs `Real Sanskrit')

Palaniappa at Palaniappa at
Sun Apr 20 16:47:18 UTC 1997

In a message dated 97-04-17 15:42:02 EDT, srini at (Srinivasan
Pichumani) writes:

<< Robert, I am reminded of this striking paragraph in P.T.Srinivasa 
 Iyengar's "History of the Tamils: from the earliest times to 600 A.D." 
 (Madras, C. Coomarasawmy <sic> Naidu, 1929)... 
 As he imported the seven cases of Sanskrit into Tamil,  Agattiyanar is also
 responsible for importing the passive voice from Sanskrit.  The passive is
 a definite inflection which all verbs,  transitive or intransitive,  undergo
 in Sanskrit.  When transitive verbs become passive,  it serves the purpose
 making the object of the action the subject of the sentence,  as when in
 English we say, "the lion was killed".  This way of speaking is useful,
 the subject of the action is not known or is not intended to be mentioned or
 when the object has to be emphasized.  When intransitive verbs were given
 the passive inflection no such rational use can be found for it, but yet in
 Sanskrit the use of the passive intransitive is more idiomatic than that of
 the active, though no special meaning can be attached to the passive use;
 "saH bhavati" is the same as "tena bhUyate", only the latter cannot be
 translated into any other language, for "he is been" is absurd even in
 though it is allied to Sanskrit. Agattiyanar imposed the passive
 on Tamil; even he could not transfer the passive intransitive into Tamil,
 though he could translate "tADyate" into "aDikkapaTTAn", agglutinating the
 verb paDu, to the past participle of aDi.  aDikkapaDu, if analysed into
 aDikka [while (another man) beats], and paDu [let (you) suffer] is seen to
 be opposed to the genius of Tamil, for compounding two verbs into one and
 assuming different persons to be the subjects of the two elements of the
 compound verb is violating both logic and grammar which is based on logic
 at least as far as Tamil is concerned.  The true Tamil idiom for "undergoing
 beating" is aDipaDu or aDiyu_n, where the first part of the compound is an
 abstract noun.  AgattiyanAr invented this passive, because it is necessary
 for translating the Sanskrit passive verbs into Tamil and it proved so
 for men who think in Sanskrit and write in Tamil that AgattiyanAr's
 TolkAppiyanAr, begins his grammar with a pseudo-passive "ezhuttenapaDupa".
 This pseudo-passive which no Tamil man ever uses in natural Tamil speech,
 which was invented to enable Sanskritists to translate easily from Sanskrit
 into Tamil, has, in our days, become very fashionable in written Tamil,
 we have learnt to think in English (which revels in passive forms) and write
 in Tamil.  This barbarous form in "paDu" mars every page of the Tamil
 translation of the Bible, and unfortunately the Tamil composition of
Pandits." >>

I think P.T.S. Iyengar was overreacting to the inelegant uses of the 'paTu'
form. V.S. Rajam cites Robert Caldwell as saying,  "None of the Dravidian
dialects possesses any passive particle or suffix, or any means of expressing
passivity by direct inflectional change; the signification of the passive
voice is nevertheless, capable of being expressed in a variety of ways.
    "The Dravidian languages, indeed, are destitute of passive properly so
called, and therefore, resist every effort to bring paD-u into general use.
Such efforts are constantly being made by foreigners, who are accustomed to
passives in their own tongues, and fancy that they cannot get on without
them; but nothing sounds more barbarous to the Dravidian ear than the
unnecessary use of paTu as a passive auxiliary. It is only when combined with
nouns its use is thoroughly allowable." (A Grammar of Classical Tamil Poetry,

Caldwell and P.T. S Iyengar are partly wrong. A Grammar of Classical Tamil
Poetry  (AGCTP) describes three ways passive stems are formed in Tamil.

1. using bare verb stem
2. nominal stem+uN/uRu/paTu
3. infinitive ending with (kk)a+paTu/peRu

It is (3) which has led to these misunderstandings. (In fact (3) occurs in
poems by poets who did not have to think in Sanskrit. But this form has also
given rise to inelegant uses where a simple active form could have been
used.) What has not been realized is that (3) also can be modelled as 

nominal stem + verbal noun suffix ('al'/'kkal') + paTu/peRu

where the puNarcci process will lead to the following

nIGku + al  > nIGkal
nIGkal+paTu > nIGkaRpaTu (literary Tamil)
nIGkaRpaTu (literary Tamil) > nIGkappaTu (colloquial Tamil)

It can be translated as "to experience/undergo the action of being left

When the colloquial form is accepted in the literary tradition, what we have
is a form which superficially looks like an infinitive. When this process is
understood correctly, (2) and (3) are found to be essentially the same, i.e.,
verbal noun+a verb signifying 'to experience/undergo'.

The familiarity with the superficial formulaic aspect related to the
infinitive without proper semantic understanding of the process led to some
indiscriminate uses of (3). Compare

nI nayantu uraiyappaTTOL (aiGkuRunURu 370.3)
nI nayantu uRainarkkum    (puRanAnURu 163.1)

In modern puranic discourses they often use the form 'atAkappaTTatu' which
can be better rendered as 'atAvatu'. 

But using passive per se cannot be said to be said to be difficult for
Dravidians. (2) is often used even by children. I remember a childhood song
which I learnt not from any formal text but only from other kids. It goes
like this.

OTTaip pallu caGkarA
oru vITTukkum pOkAtE
Appam vAGkit tiGkAtE
aTipaTTuc cAkAtE

It can be translated as'

Hey, CaGkarAn who has some teeth missing
Do not go to any (other) house
Do not get Appam (rice pan cake) and eat
Do not get beaten up and die

Now, I have no idea as to how Sanskrit handles passive or what the semantics
are in Sanskrit. 


S. Palaniappan


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