Dravidian Cryptography

Narayan S. Raja raja at galileo.IFA.Hawaii.Edu
Mon Sep 1 10:24:45 UTC 1997

Dear Mr. Kumar,

Thank you for a series of very interesting postings.

Do you have any ideas or speculations as to WHY this 
phenomenon of "inversion" occurs in Dravidian languages
(assuming it really does occur, and is not mere coincidence)?

I don't know enough to even have a strong opinion whether
"inversion" really occurs in Dravidian languages.  Based
on my knowledge of my mothertongue, modern Tamil, it
doesn't seem to be significant.  But I hardly know
ancient Tamil -- e.g., "Sangham" Thamizh -- so I can't 
form an opinion.

However, IF "inversion" really exists and occurs, one
possible mechanism (for creating such word pairs) did 
occur to me:

Suppose a particular language was originally written
in (say) a right-to-left, or down-to-up script.  And
suppose that, over the course of history, it was
replaced by a different script, with opposite direction 
(say, left-to-right, or up-to-down).  (As we know,
precisely such changes of script, or direction, have 
indeed happened in India).  

Then, if there was a transitional stage (before the 
"old" script was completely forgotten and became
undecipherable), perhaps the scribes or scholars, when 
reading words in the "old" script, sometimes read them 
in the "new" (i.e., reversed) direction.  They might 
even have done so simply for fun, or as an "inside joke", 
or wordplay; and as centuries passed, some might also
have done it out of ignorance.  

This mechanism might account for the existence of, say, 
a few tens or few hundreds of word pairs which have 
similar meanings, but with consonant order reversed.
Of course, for this to occur, several things would
have to happen:

1. The language (or its ancestral languages) must 
   have a written form from very ancient times.
2. A new script, with "reversed direction", must
   replace the old script.
3. And if the above mechanism was really operating
   to create such word pairs (with similar meaning
   but opposite consonant order), one word must always
   be much younger than the other (since, supposedly, 
   it was merely a piece of "slang", or "jargon", or
   "wordplay", or simply a misreading, created by
   reading the older word backwards).

Gosh... what a weird idea.  Linguists must be glad 
I'm not one of them.  :-) :-)

Happy Labour Day,

Narayan Sriranga Raja.

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