Indo-Aryan - Dravidian bhaaii bhaaii

wieson wieson at RAINBOW.CH
Fri Feb 20 17:28:14 UTC 1998

I have the feeling that there are a few misconceptions here about
linguistics (here I go again!):

> 1. Lars Martin Fosse
>    Your arguments about languages being more reliable than archeology
>    is untenable. You undermine your own arguments by stating that
>    languages are arbitrary and hence more valid !!!.

I believe what Lars meant was the following: language IS a relatively
arbitrary system: It can be organized along a number of patterns (although
it is never COMPLETELY arbitrary). What makes it valid (NOT more valid than
archaeology) is when two supposedly arbitrary systems show surprising
similarities. Then, depending on the circumstances, these may be: 1.
coincidental, 2. due to typological considerations; 3. due to a genetic
relationship, 4. due to LANGUAGE CONTACT.

It seems to me that it is the language contact phenomenon that will
undoubtedly prove the most useful in explaining similarites between Marathi
and Kannada. This is actually a very well known example of contact
phenomena and almost every beginning linguist gets a few sentences from a
village in Maharashtra (it's been too long, I've forgotten the name) to see
how, in the course of time, unrelated languages can converge in syntax and

This is of course not a proof that they aren't related. Granted, that was
the original assumption. But, assuming that they were unrelated, there is
nothing which is at all atypical here. This has happened over and over in
all parts of the world. That's why we speak of a 'South Asian linguistic
area', a 'Balkan linguistic area', a 'Central American linguistic area',
etc. And even if they were related, we still would never expect such a huge
amount of exact correspondences, since genetic similarities in the syntax
are often the first to fade - just compare English and German morphosyntax,
or Latin and Italian. Or, for that matter, Vedic and Hindi or Shina and
Sinhalese. When two languages can in fact be translated word-for-word (or
rather, morpheme-for-morpheme) one into the other, this is most likely due
to contact, not a genetic relation going back thousands of years, unless of
course they were in close contact during that time.

> 2. Mr. Robert J. Zydenbos
>    YES....there is a similiarity between Northern and Southern languages
>    in India.  In fact you can just about do a one to one substitution of
> words and
>    can easily translate sentences. To account for this, linguists have
come up
>    with their own theories - please ask some of the expert linguists on
>    theories as to how they account for this.
>        naanu  odida pustaka   - kannada
>        mayaa paTitaM pustakaM - sanskrit
>    In school when we were learning sanskrit, the teacher used to tell us
> that we would
>    be able to translate from English to Sanskrit very easily, if we first
> translated the
>    English to our own mother tongue and then to Sanskrit. He was right,
> it used to work
>    all the time. Seeing so much commonality, I find it very hard to
> that somehow,
>    English and Sanskrit are closer to each other than Kannada & Sanskrit.
>    Please read some of the arguments used by linguists to explain this
> commonality,
>    and you will see, why I find it so hard to believe them.

I believe that several thousand years of non-contact will have left just as
many marks on English and Sanskrit (or rather, Indo-Aryan) as will
thousands of years of contact between Indo-Aryan and Dravidian.
Nonetheless, it is certainly justified to ask what sense there is in making
up a stammbaum-type history when other factors (such as contact, here) are

Another problem with this type of genetic relationship: Are creoles based
on English Indo-European? If they're not Indo-European, what are they?
Certainly not Bantu (or whatever), if most of the vocabulary comes from
English and few signs of an African substratum are to be found. But one
would normally hesitate to call them Indo-European (and certainly not
English, as they have a full-fledged grammar of their own), seeing as they
generally have only been in existence for a few hundred years, while with
Indo-European we think in thousands. So what are they? This type of
classification certainly has its limits, even though it is a useful guide

Another case in point, which I am currently working on:. Although it is not
possible to translate morpheme for morpheme from Newari into Nepali, the
grammars of the two languages have remarkable similarities, which can only
be explained by the fact that the speakers of these two languages have been
in close contact for centuries. This does not mean that Newari is
Indo-Aryan, nor does it point to a Tibeto-Burman origin of Nepali. It just
points to centuries of bilingualism. Newari has left an indelible mark on
Nepali. Nepali is now doing the same in the Kiranti languages of Eastern
Nepal. Here again - Nepali is not Kiranti, and Camling is not
Indo-European. They are merely in a contact situation where virtually all
Kiranti speakers are fluent in Nepali.

I for one would be very interested in seeing hard evidence for an
'out-of-India' model. I find the idea interesting, but I reserve the right
to be hesitant, which by the way has nothing to do with skin color. I
believe there are *linguistic* problems assuming an Indian homeland,
although there is always room for an alternative explanation.


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