DEVARAKONDA VENKATA NARAYANA SARMA
narayana at HD1.VSNL.NET.IN
Tue May 5 12:13:29 UTC 1998
At 01:37 AM 5/5/98 EDT, you wrote:
>In a message dated 98-05-03 16:26:59 EDT, vidynath at MATH.OHIO-STATE.EDU writes:
><< I disagree with what N. Ganesan said, but the correctness or
> acceptability of what he said cannot be determined by his CV,
> or by the length of his publication list or some kind of
> citation count, but by the particular idea itself.
> This particular point has always been what impressed me most about
> modern Western shcolarship, and which I always felt to be welcome
> contrast to the attitude seen in the legends of Ashtavakra, Anglimala
> etc. But what I have seen posted in the last few months makes me wonder
> if Indologists still believe that ideas have to be judged by themselves,
> with no reference to who put it forth. >>
>I agree with this whole-heartedly. I wish everyone just responds to the ideas
>posted instead of imputing motives to the person posting it. I have always
>held that useful information can often come from unlikely sources. Let me give
>A few months back, in a posting entitled "Tamil words in English" Dr. Ganesan,
>indicated that English "koel" is derived from Tamil "kuyil' according to a
>source on the internet. Dr. Sarma responded saying that "the word koel in
>english is more likely to be derived from telugu kOyila or hindi koyel rather
>than kuyil of tamil from the affinity sounds." In a later posting, Dr. Ganesan
>responded, "According to the Oxford dictionary, the word was first used by
>Erskine in 1826. There is a Erskine hospital in Madurai. It could have come
>from tamil too." The statements of both Dr. Ganesan and Dr. Sarma seemed
>reasonable to me. Considering the different sounds found in the words in the
>three languages, one would naturally assign Hindi to be the more likely source
>for English "koel". But the possibility of Erskine having lived in the Tamil
>region seemed to encourage looking at this further.
>On the face of it, among the three languages, the Hindi form quoted by Dr.
>Sarma seemed the closest with even the second vowel matching the English form.
>On the other hand, according to the Oxford dictionary, the word koel first
>occurs in 1826 in Erskine's translation of Baber's Mem. 323 note, "The
>koel....has a kind of song, and is the nightingale of HindustAn." The
>dictionary lists the Hindi word which was the possible source as "ko'il".
>When this is considered, the significant difference between the Tamil word and
>the Hindi word 2 is really the radical vowel, "u" in Tamil vs. "o" in Hindi.
>We seemed to have the good old problem of root vowel "u/o" alternation working
>Everybody knows that when the English borrowed Indian words into English, the
>source was likely to be the spoken form and not the literary form. One can see
>that in this process of borrowing, three word forms are at issue: the word as
>spoken by the native speaker, the word as heard by the Englishman, and the
>word form he transliterated it into. All three need not be identical.
>Is there any possibility, then, that what in literary Tamil is "u" is
>pronounced by Tamils in some cases in such a way that it finally becomes "o"
>in English. (We should also have the following/derivative vowel to be "i".) In
>other words, is it possible for a radical "u" to become "o" when followed by a
>derivative vowel 'i" in actual spoken Tamil? A cursory examination of data
>reveals English Tuticorin < Tamil tUttukkuTi, a port city in Tamilnadu. The
>comparison is between the latter parts of the words, i.e., corin and kuTi.
>Here we find Ta. "u" > Eng. "o" when the following vowel is "i". However,
>since this word is a compound, I wanted to look at cases where "u" was really
>in the root.
>Prior to this, I had accepted as given the basic premise of Burrow-
>Krishnamurti model of "u/o" alternation in Dravidian. According to this, in a
>word when the second vowel is "i" or "u" or non-existent, and if the original
>root vowel was "u", "u" should not change to "o". Based on the case of
>Tuticorin, I looked at words with root vowel "i/u" and followed by "zero/i/u"
>as the second vowel. What I discovered was very interesting. I found a number
>of cases where "u" > "o" even when the second vowel is "i" or "u" or non-
>Consider the examples given below. In each one of the following cases, the
>vowel change "u"> "o" occurs, independent of the presence of a second vowel
>DEDR 4281 Ta. puy, poy - to be pulled out
>DED 2211 Ta. curi, cori (from Tamil Lexicon) - to whirl
>DEDR 3728 Ta. nuRukku, noRukku - to crush
>DEDR 3698 Ta. nuGku, noGku - tender palmyra fruit
>DED 1368 Ta. kuccu, koccu - tassel
>( I do not have ready access to DEDR. I have just a few pages from DEDR. So
>pardon my mixing up DED and DEDR references.) I have just shown a few examples
>of this "u">"o". Similar examples can be given for words with radical "i" also
>from Tamil Lexicon/DEDR. Considering the fact that the Tamil Lexicon favors
>literary usage, if one were to take a survey of all colloquial forms, I am
>sure we will find more examples. For instance, the form Ta. meti "to tread
>on" occurs in Tamil inscriptions. It is not found in the Tamil Lexicon or DED.
>One should note that based on Burrow-Krishnamurti approach to "i/e"-"u/o"
>alternation, P. S. Subrahmanyam (Dravidian Comparative Phonology, 1983,
>p.203) says, "The following criteria will enable one to discover the original
>Proto-Dravidian vowel: (i) related word in which the root contains a short
>vowel and is followed by either no derivative element or one that begins with
>-i or -u; and (ii) a related word in which the root contains a long vowel or a
>double consonant (for this purpose it is immaterial whether or not such a root
>is followed by a derivative element beginning with a vowel (including a)
>because such a derivative element can have no influence on this type of
>Based on the evidence presented above, these fundamental assumptions in
>Burrow-Krishnamurti model of Dravidian "i/e"-"u/o" alternation seem to be
>Coming back to English "koel", we can say that depending on the accuracy of
>word forms we work with, the word could have come from Hindi, Tamil or Telugu.
>Apparently, there was a Governor Erskine in Madras. I do not know if this
>Erskine was the same one who translated Babers work. If we know more about
>the places in India the author, Erskine, spent his time, we can say which
>language would more *probably* have been the source for English "koel". May be
>people with access to India Office Library can get the information about this
>I should note here that I embarked on this investigation because Dr. Ganesan
>posted his original note and Dr. Sarma responded to it with a reasonable
>argument against it. Considering the fact that a satisfactory interpretation
>of this "i/e"-"u/o" alternation was deemed to be an original contribution of
>"Telugu Verbal Bases" by Dr. Krishnamurti himself, I think the original
>posting by Dr. Ganesan has been very useful. If intellectual inquiry is
>stifled because of the presence or absence of publications, we will all be
There can be a much more simple way for the occurance of word "Koel".
The word in Baber's original.
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