Retroflex sounds

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Sat Jun 20 13:55:30 UTC 1998

In response to the recent post of Sandra van der Geer:

>in Australian Aboriginal languages.
>Consequently, it may be wiser not to conclude anything on the ground
>of presence of lack of retroflex sounds. It seems to be intrinsic to
>human speech.

While it is very useful to have the evidence of retroflexion cited by van
der Geer, Miguel Carrasquer Vidal, and Lars Martin Fosse, -- reminding us
that such phonemes are widespread in human language --, the *particular*
problem of the origin of retroflexion in Vedic remains an open one. This is
the view also of Hans Heinrich Hock in his recent overview of the problem
"Pre-Rgvedic Convergence Between Indo-Aryan (Sanskrit) and Dravidian? A
Survey of the Issues and Controversies" [in the volume edited by Jan
Houben, *Ideology and Status of Sanskrit*, 1996].

Leaving aside Subrahmanya [who appears unwilling to agree with anything],
perhaps we can all agree that the problem is this:

In the Common Indo-Iranian period there is no retroflexion [at least no
phonemic retroflexion]. Then after the two branch away from each other
retroflexion appears in Indic. It happens that retroflexion also appears in
Dravidian [even if the phonemic system of proto-Dravidian is quite
different from that of early Indic [e.g., Vedic].

Now, either retroflexion arose internally or it arose as a result of
contact between two distinct language families in the Indian sub-continent.

As far as I can tell, there is still no definitive argument in favor of
either one of these alternatives.

Is this something everyone would agree to?

Best wishes,

George Thompson

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