Munda, Dravidian, etc.

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Thu Mar 23 03:52:25 UTC 2000

Koenraad Elst <<koenraad.elst at PANDORA.BE> wrote:

>> Anyway, the theory that the IVC and its astronomy were Dravidian is now
>> being abandoned even by prominent opponents of any "Vedic Harappa" theory,
>> who have installed "para-Munda" and "language X" in its place.

To be clear, not Munda but "Para-Munda", because I am not as sure as my
old friend FBJ Kuiper about their "Munda-ness". One would expect more
words with n-infix.
Etymologies are even more difficult, due to lack of good materials (see
just some more or less good modern dictionaries.

And, there is a gap of some 3500 years between the RV and
available Munda texts. Even Kuiper thinks that the Munda languages have
gone through several shifts in the meantime (see below), and have
become "Indian" and  part of the Indian linguistic region (Sprachbund).
As he wrote in a letter to me, some 1 1/2 years ago, "like an old
mountain chain, now eroded into (pleasant, rolling) hills..."

So, I won't be surprised if it should turn out that this RV substrate is
(a) a more  distant relative of Munda/Austro-Asiatic/Austric or
(b) a different substrate altogether, "Language Y" or "Z". Hence, my caution
in calling it Para-Munda. It shares some characteristics, but not all, of

Swaminathan Madhuresan :

>>Prof. Witzel's hypothesis of making Munda as the high language
>>of IVC will be contended by Dravidologists in the future. Many
>>unanswered questions and problems in that.

Certainly, and I look forward to it. Parpola has a paper in press
already (in Japan). (And I  have an answer). The problem is that there are
few, very few Drav. words in the oldest RV (adstrate loans?), and even
in the rest of RV,  not  many.

After 700 years of Indus civilization, one would expect at least a few
more, such as "(village) headman, trader, merchandise, weight, bath,
granary, town" etc. etc. None of this kind of words. Just "farm/village
words" (The last item already underlined by Kuiper,in 1955!!, without
reference to the Indus civ.).

>>Dravidian linguistics
>>and philology are nascent fields, not any Professorships at all!
>>Academic dravidology is miniscule compared to well entrenched
>>IA/IE studies.

Historical accident. Let the Tamil film industry do something about it!
(the Chinese one did...) Or do you know someone on Singapur?
As I said, I am tired of running after elusive people. But if you bring a
funded chair, we'll take it tomorrow. Each new Drav. (and Munda) chair
matters a  lot to the whole field.

Munda linguistics is even worse off. And not well described so far.
There is only one complete phonology, by KH Pinnow, 1959 (in German),
no comp. grammar, no comp. syntax, no etymological dictionary!
Southern Munda, which really would give us clues about Proto-Munda, is
almost undescribed. It also would tell us more about the situation in
eastern India at the time of the arrival of Austroasiatic.
Tell friends, colleagues & students to do something about it!

>>Foll. Prof. Parpola, what about the Fish symbol as Star in IVC?

Well, just for your amusement: Two years ago, I tried precisely these symbols,
reading them in rebus fashion as REAL Munda -- and they worked perfectly.
Won't publish it, as not to get  G. Possehl's badge "no. 56" -- of failed
of deciphering the Indus script...

Only one of the two explanations (or none of both) can be right.....

>>Also, how to explain Retroflexion in IVC and later?

Retroflexes are an altogether different problem. It is a myth that they
must be of Drav. origin. Why should the people highup in the Pamirs
have some of the strongest groups retroflex sounds? (Some E. Iranian Pamir
Pashto,  Nuristani, Dardic  -- and Burushaski) see the map of
B. Tikkanen, reprinted in Parpola's Indus script, 1994.

In short, people on arrival, at the fringes of South Asia, start
bending back their tongues. Last case: The Baluchis, arrived c. 1000
CE, from W. Iran. Half of their dialects now have retroflexion.

Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138

ph. 617-496 2990 (also messages)
home page:

Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies:
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