Etymology of 'tanU'

Palaniappa at Palaniappa at
Thu Jul 10 23:02:08 UTC 1997

In his article "Lexical Evidence for Early Contacts Between Indo-Aryan and
Dravidian"  in the book "Aryan and non-Aryan in India" edited by Madhav
Deshpande and Peter Edwin Hook, 1979,  Franklin Southworth discusses the
etymology of the Sanskrit word �tanU� as quoted below.

"The following item is perhaps the most significant of those which I present

C-10. tanU - �body, person, self� (RV) - Ta. TAn2/tan2 - �oneself�
          (also used as reflexive pronoun)

We do not find languages borrowing pronouns, though it does occasionally
happen. All of the cases known to me have occurred in situations of extreme
linguistic displacement, such as those typical of pidginized languages. This,
however, appears very close to such a case, although it seems difficult to
determine the direction of borrowing. The word is deeply embedded in the
structure of Dravidian, being found in almost all the languages (including
Brahui), as well as showing an alternation in the length of the stem vowels
which occurs in other pronouns (see Krishnamurti 1968). Furthermore, the same
element has been recognized by Emeneau in the terms for younger brother
(tampi) and younger sister (tankai) which are attested in early Tamil (see
note 6; also Emeneau 1953). On the Indo-aryan side, the word appears in the
RgVeda; and there is, furthermore, an Avestan tanU with the same meanings,
also used as a reflexive, as well as an Old Persian tanUs �body, self�. (The
Persian tan �body� may possibly be the source of Hindi-Urdu tan �body�,
rather than the Sanskrit tanU.) Though there is no clear Indo-European
etymology for this word, it is hard to imagine the Indo-Iranianists accepting
it as a loan from Dravidian. And it would be unreasonable to expect
Dravidianists to concede it as a borrowing from Indo-Aryan.4 The possibility
of classing it as an accidental resemblence seems to be precluded by the
closeness in form and meaning. One could perhaps argue for the possibility
that Indo-Iranian had a word for �body� which accidentally resembled a
Dravidian pronoun meaning �self�, and that the Indo-Iranian word came to be
used as a reflexive pronoun under the influence of the Dravidian word. (Note
that Sanskrit Atman- �self� had a similar history, cf. Marathi AplA �one�s
own�, ApaN �you� (formal), Hindi-Urdu apnA �one�s own�, Ap �you�.) Even such
a possibility would however, indicate a very close relationship between
Indo-Aryan and Dravidian at a very early period."

I propose a theory regarding the etymology of �tanU�. In an earlier posting,
I had pointed out how Dravidian �pAvai� meaning �image, pupil of the eye,
doll, puppet, picture, female, goddess, a long-stemmed plant� is derived from
the root �pA� meaning �to extend, spread� and its relationship to Tantrism. I
think �pAvai� from root  �pA� is the source of the IA-II �tanU�. It is a
simple translation of the Dravidian concept into IA-II if we consider that
the IA-II root �tan� means �to extend, spread�. Now why would one consider
this to be a borrowing from Dravidian into IA-II and not the other way
around? The concept of image as an extension of the original is the basis for
the Dravidian religion as discussed in an earlier posting. The aniconic
religion of the Aryans could not have had this concept. If the meaning
�image� was the basis of the loan translation, it would be understandable to
have the meaning �body�. If early images were made of humans or animals, the
figurine could be considered as �body� or �person� by metonymy. In a similar
vein, in Tamil, �pAvai� came to mean �females�. This means that �tanU� in its
physical �form� is derived from IE roots. But semantically it is Dravidian.
After �tanU� entered the Aryan language as a loan translation, it could have
acquired the reflexive meaning as Southworth has hypothesized.

For �tanU� to enter RV and Avestan materials, the borrowing should most
probably have been pre-Vedic. It could have entered the language of the Dasas
of the Bronze Age civilization called "Bactria and Margiana Architectural
Complex" or BMAC  before the proto-RV Aryans came there. In his book
"Deciphering the Indus Script� (p.149-152),  Asko Parpola says, "It seems
that the Proto-Indo-Aryans came into being around the eighteenth century BC,
during the transition between BMAC I and II, when two distinct, successive
Aryan tribes seem to have fused together, with a concomitant restructuring of
religion. A parallel process was the later amalgamation of the
Proto-Indo-Aryans of Central Asia and of Proto-Iranians in Zarathustra�s
reform, which reinstituted Ahura<*Asurain place of Indra and other daEvas.
�.It has also recently become clear that, for example, the compartmented
metal seals of Bactria go back to the traditions of the Early Harappan period
in Baluchistan�  The only possible connection of the BMAC I or the Hissar
IIIb horizon with the Dasas would be for a small wave of Aryan-speaking
nomads to have taken over the southern Central asia around 200BC and totally
adopted the local culture, yet retained their own language�.After their
assumed conquest of the Dasa forts in Margiana and Bactria around 1700 BC
(which may have taken place more peacefully than the texts suggest), the
Sauma Aryans too would have largely adopted the earler local culture, thereby
transforming the cult of the Asura-worshipping Dasas into the
pre-Zarathustran Daiva cult (involving the *Sauma drink). Immediately after
this second cultural fusion had taken place, one group of the resulting
acculturated Proto-Indo-Aryans branched westwards to Gurgan, and from there
to northern Syria, becoming the rulers of the Mitanni kingdom, while another
faction continued (at least partly via Seistan) eastwards to Swat, founding
there the Proto-Rgvedic (=Proto-Dardic) culture of the Gandhara Grave Culture
(Ghalegay IV period) (fig.8.24b)."

When the Dasas retained their language but totally adopted the local culture,
the chances of their loan-translating a non-native word �pAvai� as �tanU�
could be very high indeed. Then the word could have entered the vocabulary of
the Proto-Indo-Aryans and then Proto-Iranians as these different groups
interacted with each other.

This seems to suggest that the origin of Tantra in its basic aspects was
clearly pre-Vedic. 

Any comments would be appreciated.


S. Palaniappan 

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list