Retroflex sounds

George Thompson thompson at JLC.NET
Tue Jun 23 02:21:00 UTC 1998

In response to the recent post of Bh.Krishnamurti:


>        Nobody has disputed RV
>borrowings from Drav (about a dozen lexical items) including khala-
>'threshing floor', bala- 'strength', mayu:ra- 'peacock', 'a blind
>person', etc., besides some grammatical phenomena like -tva:, iti, etc.

As a matter of fact, in his recent overview in the Erdosy volume already
cited [see pp.38f.], Hock refuses to accept mayUra and kANa as borrowings
[he also presents a fairly extensive discussion of budbuda, which he
likewise questions as a borrowing from Dravidian].

I am a little puzzled by his strategy here, which seems a little perverse.
His basic argument is that since every one of the early IA derivations from
Dravidian has been contested, these words cannot be relied upon as evidence
of "subversive" influence of Dravidian on early IA [I'm also struck by his
far from idiomatic use of this term "subversive"]. In any case, using this
line of reasoning, someone like Subrahmanya could argue that there is no
"reliable" evidence whatsoever of ANY influence on early IA from ANYWHERE,
except perhaps for the Sarasvati/Indus Valley culture, which of course we
know nothing about, linguistically....

Hock also seems inconsistent when he insists upon the relevance of
retroflexion in Norwegian and Sicilian, etc.[where retroflexion seems
allophonic rather than structural, as Jacob Baltuch has observed ], whereas
he balks at the relevance of Dravidian retroflexion with regard to IA
retroflexion, because Dravidian makes a three-fold distinction betweem
dental-alveolar-retroflex, in contrast to the IA two-fold distinction
between dental-retroflex. Could someone explain to me why a proto-Dravidian
language with such a three-fold distinction COULD NOT HAVE INFLUENCED early
IA in such a way as to induce a dental-retroflex distinction?

There is no question that, as Krishnamurti suggests, "we are still looking for
>proof." But that does not mean that anything goes. We must apply our
>principles in a principled way. I'm not sure that Hock has done so in this

Best wishes,

George Thompson

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