[Re: Comparative linguistics]

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at GMX.LI
Fri Mar 17 09:51:55 UTC 2000

Am Fri, 17 Mar 2000 schrieb Rahul Oka:

> "the current north-south divide [which already existed for a very long time
> prior to the British period]."
> Really? There was a North India and a South India before the British came?  I
> would really like to see some sources on this one.

References have already been given, on this very list, already a long time
ago, and they can be found in the archives if you are interested. There you
will find, e.g., references to the ancient Tamil word va.tamo_li, literally
"northern language", for "Sanskrit".

> All my reading history in
> pre-British India was that the scene on the sub-continent was geo-political
> negotiation between various ethnic (not linguistic) groups who did not align
> themselves according to North-South.

Please note that the subject is "comparative linguistics", not "comparative
ethnology". Even if language is closely related to society and ethnicity,
ethnic and linguistic groups should not be considered identical.

> Did the Southern Kingdoms and peoples
> regard themselves as a block, (and same for the north), based on local and
> temporal socio-economics and cultural movements or based on ideas that "they
> are the medevial Madrasi's and the North Indian equivalent?"

No, not in such a crude form. For that matter, India as a block did not exist
either, and people from certain parts of the geographical expanse that today
is called India happily went around pillaging other parts (much like some
Europeans pillaged other parts of Europe). - And that is precisely what makes
criticisms like that of Prof. Gupt (and so many others nowadays) so absurd.
Linguists are faced with factual data, of considerable antiquity, spanning
many hundreds of years, that cannot be brushed aside and that lead to
well-founded conclusions. The findings of linguists (Indian as well as
non-Indian, mind you, in case this makes any readers feel happier) cannot in
any way be blamed for modern socio-political tensions.

> I would really like to see some evidence that the Indian ethos was divided
> into North and South well before the British came.

Apart from that a question about "ethos" is irrelevant to this lingustic
matter, I am afraid that the question as given here is too vague to discuss.

But I am willing to say that an "Indian ethos" will be something like a
"European ethos", based on a very long history of exchange of diverse
cultural items (material civilisation, religious beliefs, artistic
expressions, words and other elements of language,...), just as happened
across the European continent. Just as Europe is not one monolithic
whole, neither is India. There is diversity in the unity. There is
north and south in India just as there is in Europe. Just exactly
where the Indian south begins, is a matter of debate, based on one's
criteria. Linguistically it is where the majority language is Dravidian.
Some anthropologists take the Tungabhadra river as the northern
limit, based on certain features of traditional social organisation,
or the extent of the Vijayanagara empire (it is noteworthy that ever more
cities in Karnataka have new extensions named 'Vijayanagara'). Language, as
the prime vehicle of culture, plays a major role in this matter. But to say
that linguists and linguistics are in the forefront of a conspiracy to divide
and rule colonial and even post-colonial India, as we hear so often nowadays
(also on this list), is plainly laughable. The accusers will have to find some
other whipping boy.



Dr. Robert J. Zydenbos
Eindhoven, the Netherlands
e-mail: zydenbos at gmx.li

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