Retroflex sounds

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Wed Jul 1 22:56:38 UTC 1998

It looks like interest in this thread has dwindled. But let me propose the

In a message dated 98-06-29 14:14:53 EDT, vidynath at writes:

 Furthermore there is no phonological pattern in Tamil. It seems to be
 affected by semantics (oTTu) or by influence from retroflexes occurring
 in adjacent syllables, but no phonological pattern as we see in IA.
 The `easy understandability' ignores such details.

 As always, the devil is in the details. It is about time that we face him,
 instead of waving our hands and then running away. >>

I see a systematic connection between Dravidian and IA in this manner. In
Classical Tamil the following morphophonemic rules can be seen.

l + n > n2
kuricil +nI > kurucin2I
kal + neJcam > kan2n2eJcam

l + t > _t or _t_t
iyal + tEr > iya_tEr
kal + tAzai > ka_t_tAzai

L + n > N
tAL + nArai > tANArai
kaL + nurai > kaNNurai

L + t > T or TT
kaL + tAzi   > kaTTAzi
nAL + tO_tum > nATO_tum

If I understand the Fortunatov's law, as discussed in Madhav Deshpande's 1979
article, correctly, in IA

*l +d > D

Actually, if we use a transliteration system based on actual Tamil
pronunciation for intervocalic T, and Stephen Levitt's finding of the split of
Dravidian *l into l and L, we shall end up with Fortunatov's law as one of the
results of applying Dravidian morphophonemic rules to l+d cluster.

For example, if we had a hypothetical form *iyal splitting into iyal and iyaL,
iyal+tEr > iya_tEr
iyaL+tEr > iyaTEr

In other words, original iyal+tEr > iyaTEr, or l+t > T (pronounced as D).

I have been wondering if this type of alternation within Dravidian could have
a long history. I have found some pairs of words with very similar semantics
but one word having alveolar and the other one having aretroflex.

DED 4326 vala - to surround
DED 4348 vaLai - to surround

DED 859 o_t_tu - to press, hug close
DED 807 oTTu - to stick, glue on

DED 1311 cilampal (*kil-) - a chatterer
DED 1677 kiLappu - speech, utterance

In DED, kiLappu has been grouped with words like kEL - meaning to hear. The
semantics seem to suggest, it may not belong here. Tolkappiyam uses the verb
kiLa- so often in a sense of utterance that one should consider seriously if
the words speak and hear really belong together in that entry.

I have also pointed out that there are quite a few cases where North Dravidian
(and even Central Dravidian)changes *r to a retroflex. In that case, a dental
following the retroflexed r can easily become a retroflex T.  I think Levitt's
paper where he discusses r-l alternation and splitting of *l into l and Land
my finding regarding North and Central Dravidian reflexes of *r may offer some
useful explanation for the IA retroflexes.

Anyway, these are not final conclusions, but suggestions for further

S. Palaniappan

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