Original Dravidian Homeland

Hans Henrich Hock hhhock at STAFF.UIUC.EDU
Mon Jun 14 15:18:23 UTC 1999

First of all, there is a difference between language and people.  For
instance, although the Veddas of Sri Lanka may be a different "people" (in
one sense or another), their language is Sinhala, i.e. Indo-Aryan.  So, we
can get all kinds of different phenotypes speaking the same language, and
the same phenotypes speaking different languages.  Put differently, when we
talk about migrations we must distinguish between languages and peoples.
(Not that language can spread without people, but the people themselves may
be of multiple phenotypes, and so may be other people who adopt the

Second, yes, there are several other linguistic groups in India/South Asia
beside Indo-Aryan and Dravidian.  These include the Munda languages as well
as Khasi (more distantly related to Munda) and Tibeto-Burman languages; but
there are also the language isolates Nahali (which may be the remnant of a
distinctly different language family), Burushaski (in the extreme NW),
possibly Kusunda (in Nepal, according to Witzel), and apparently also
Andamanese.  The existence of such language isolates raises serious
questions about the prehistoric and early historic linguistic scene in all
of South Asia.

Third, although McAlpin has asserted a linguistic relationship between
Dravidian and Elamite, this relationship has not been widely accepted (the
Elamite evidence is overly limited and thus does not permit establishing
any relationship with confidence).  Tyler has argued for a linguistic
relationship between Dravidian and Uralic:  there is an old paper on this
in the journal Language, and according to Andree Sjoberg, a follow-up study
which is more conclusive--I have not yet seen this study, and the evidence
in Language is tantalizing but not conclusive.  Others have claimed a
relationship with Altaic (this may need to be looked into in more detail;
what I have seen looks rather meager.  And then there is Clyde Winter who
argues for an African origin, but on very dubious grounds (e.g.:  there is
supposed to be a place-name suffix _-wana_ shared by Dravidian and African
languages, as in _goND(a)vana_ and _botwana_; but _goNDavana_ is Skt./IAr.
_goNDa-vana-_ 'the forest(-land) of the Gonds' [corresponding to
_khoND(a)-maal_, with the Dravidian -maal- 'forest, hill'], and
_bo-tshwana_ contains a place-name *pre-*fix _bo-_, thus contrasting with
_se-tshwana_ the name of the language, and _ba-tshwana_ the name of the
people; moreover, _tshw_ is the standard Setshwana reflex of earlier
palatalized _p_ (or _d_) and its _w_ therefore is of secondary origin).
Finally, there are also "Nostratic" and Greenbergian attempts to establish
Dravidian relationship with (most) other Eurasian languages, or even with
all human languages.

If any of these different theories should turn out to be better
established, this would lend credence to a migration of pre-Dravidian
speakers into South Asia -- unless we adapt the Hindutva "Out of India"
view (formulated for Indo-Aryan) and attribute this relationship, too, to
an outmigration from India.  At this point, however, all of this is rather
uncertain, and we have to turn to those who trace the dispersal of homo
sapiens for possible answers as to the origin of the different South Asian
phenotypes.  (Here, the most widely accepted theory argues for an African
origin of all human beings.)


Hans Henrich Hock

>Dear  Indologists  specializing  in  Dravidian  studies:
>I  need  your  informed  opinions,  comments,  observations  etc.  on
>the  following:
>According  to  Prof. N.Subramaniam  (who  has  been  given  the  title
>"Historian  of  the  Tamils"  by  Prof. R. Sathyanathaier)  says  in
>book  "The  History  of  Tamilnad  to  AD  1336": "The  Dravidian
>speech  was  introduced  into  South  India  by  a  group  of  people
>who  migrated  from  the  original  home,  i.e. from  the  Eastern
>Mediterranean  region  to  South  India.  When  exactly  this  occurred
>it  is  difficult  to  say."  (p.22)
>Also,  Dr. David  W. McAlpin  has  written  a  tract  entitled
>"Proto-Elamo-Dravidian:  The  Evidence  and  its  Implications"
>(American  Philosophical  Society,  Philadelphia:1981)  seems  to  imply
>that  the  Dravidians  have  connections  outside  India.
>Since,  the  "Aryan  migration"  theory  was  being  so  hotly
>discussed,  I  am  curious  to  know  if,  in  the  light  of  the
>above,  the  "Dravidian  migration"  theory  had  any  connections  and
>implications  to  the  "Aryan"  one.
>Also,  are  there  any  people  in  South  Asia  who  neither  speak  an
>"Aryan"  nor  Dravidian  language?  If  so,  where  would  they  fit  in
>to  all  this?  And  are  there  any  theories  on  these  people?  Are
>the  Veddas  of  Ceylon  these  people?
>Many  thanks  in  advance  to  all  who  respond.
>Waiting  for  your  learned  responses,

Hans Henrich Hock, Director
Program in South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
220 International Studies Building, MC-489
910 S. Fifth Street
Champaign IL 61820
217-265-5016, 217-244-7331
fax 217-333-6270
e-mail hhhock at staff.uiuc.edu
***Visit our website at:

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list