Language and dialect (was Re: Etymon: paTTaN, pattan, patan)
Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sun Nov 23 08:25:25 UTC 1997
In a message dated 97-11-22 15:09:56 EST, bhk at HD1.VSNL.NET.IN writes:
<< Tamil- Malayalam-Telugu palatalized
Proto-Dravidian *k- before front vowels (with some constraints) but all
other languages have preserved the older *k, e.g. *key: Ta. Ma.cey, Te.
ceeyu; but Ka. gey, etc. Ta. Ma.u in pukai is later than o *pokay. Features
that Tamil had changed several centuries ago are preserved in some other
languages including some tribal languages. Toda-Malayalam-Konda- Jaffna
Tamil preserve r/R distinction. Modern Tamil has lost it as well as Telugu
and Kannada. >>
I agree with Dr. Krishnamurti on the well-known palatalization phenomenon.
However, I do have some questions regarding what he says afterwards.
Colloquial Tamil still has the form "pokai". There is a lot of
hyper-correction and back-formation going on in Tamil and the interplay
between the formal and colloquial versions has been on-going. Many words with
a radical vowel "u" in formal Tamil followed by "a" or "ai" have "o" in
Colloquial Tamil. The word for "book" in Chola inscriptions was "pottakam".
Nowadays most people use the form "puttakam" in their "formal" usage. (The
etymology of "puttakam" vis-a-vis an Iranian origin is not important here.)
But some traditional Tamil scholars use "pottakam" in their writings. In
this situation of interaction between colloquial and formal Tamil versions,
can one categorically say a form has or has not been preserved in "Tamil"?
More importantly, what Dr. Krishnamurti says regarding Tamil, Jaffna Tamil
and Modern Tamil is very confusing. He says, "Features that Tamil had
changed several centuries ago are preserved in some other languages including
some tribal languages. Toda-Malayalam-Konda- Jaffna Tamil preserve r/R
distinction. Modern Tamil has lost it as well as Telugu and Kannada." There
seems to be some inconsistency here. When one says, "Jaffna Tamil", is the
language denoted not Tamil? Jaffna Tamil is one dialect of Tamil just like
Tirunelveli dialect or Madras dialect. Whether a Tamil lives in Tirunelveli
(in Jaffna) or Tirunelveli (in India) we can communicate very well in our
language, we use the same script, and we share the same identity. (When I was
in India, the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation's Tamil broadcasts were far
more popular than the All India Radio broadcasts. Some of the radio
announcers like K. A. S. Raja were widely popular for their language use.)
Jaffna Tamil maintains the distinction between "r" and "R", but many Jaffna
Tamils do not distinguish between "L" and "z". On the other hand, many upper
caste Tamils in the Madras region (including non-brahmins) maintain the
distinction between "z" and "L", but have lost the "r"-"R" distinction.
Palghat Iyer dialect maintains both distinctions like their Malayali
neighbors. So is it correct to say that Tamil has lost the distinction of
"r"-"R"? I think not. As long as some dialects maintain the distinction and
they still call their language Tamil, Tamil has that distinction. As for
"Modern Tamil", Jaffna Tamil is also one version of Modern Tamil. It
maintains some old features which many mainland Tamil dialects have lost (Ex.
three types of deictics). On the other hand, it has lost some features which
many mainland Tamil dialects have maintained (Ex. inclusive and exclusive
first person plural). Also, contrary to many linguistic groups in India, the
linguistic/cultural consciousness of Tamils is not restricted by the boundary
of the political entity of India. Thus there is no need to separate Jaffna
Tamil dialect from Tamil. If an eminent historical linguist can make such
mistakes, I see no reason why one cannot be understanding of those who are
not linguists by training. Even a seemingly inane question can lead to some
As Auvaiyar said, "kaRRatu kaimaN aLavu. kallAtatu ulakaLavu". (What we have
learnt amounts to a handful of dirt. What we have not learnt equals the whole
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