Etymology of 'iyer' and may be even that of 'iyenkAr'

Palaniappa at Palaniappa at
Fri Jun 20 06:17:15 UTC 1997

In a message dated 97-06-17 08:15:19 EDT, Hrid at writes:

<< 	I appreciate the above, but am still not clear as to why the root ai
 possibly be an IA derivative, rather than a "perfectly Tamil word".
We started with a hypothesis of Sanskrit 'Arya'> Pali 'ayya' > Tamil 'aiyar'.
It has been shown that the root is 'ai'. In Old Tamil when IA words are
borrowed they are modified to suit Tamil phonology and morphophonemics. But,
as far as I know,  a polysyllabic word is not shortened to form a
monosyllabic word and made into a root. For 'ai' to be the result of deletion
of 'ya' from 'ayya', a Tamil grammarian should have first started with the
form 'ayyar' or 'aiyar', treated the 'ar' as a suffix, 'y' as the glide, and
thus extract a root 'ai' and then recommended to the public the use of 'ai'
by itself and in combination with suffixes such as 'tu' and 'mAr' - totally
different suffixes from the IA forms. This seems far-fetched and totally
alien to the Old Tamil notion of 'literature preceding grammar' and explicit
acknowledgment of borrowing from IA.  In fact, given the basic nature of
Dravidian to keep adding suffixes to the right, the creation of a new root by
deleting 'potential' suffixes from a borrowed IA word and creating a root
seems to be very much against the basic nature of the language. Even more
unlikely is to create an abstract noun such as ai by this process. 

TolkAppiyar (uriyiyal.87) defines 'ai' as 'viyappu'. 'viyappu' is derived
from the root 'viya' (DED 4430) meaning 'to wonder, be proud, wonder at,
esteem, admire, praise, extol, compliment'. Thus the semantic range of the
term includes wonder as well as respect. From this 'ai', an adjectival noun
is also seen in Old Tamil as 'aitu' (KuRuntokai 401.6).  

If 'ai' were to be hypothesized as an IA derivative,  then we have to look at
comparable monosyllabic words in IA with similar meanings. It cannot be from

It is a lot simpler to treat it as a native root. 


S. Palaniappan

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