Two competing 13th cent. opinions on the word "niir" (water) in Tamil and...

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Fri Dec 14 04:03:09 UTC 2007

Dear JLC,
I would slightly modify the rough translation you have given us, "although  
the word "niir" is a corruption from the Aryan language, since it is  current, 
with the same meaning, both in the land of "Straight Tamil" and in the  land 
of "Deviating/Variant Tamil", it is an ordinary Tamil world."  (I feel  using 
the word 'Aryan' provides valuable socio-linguistic information on how  Tamils 
identified Sanskrit.) However, unlike you, I take this to mean  that the 
commentator indeed believed 'niir' was of Sanskrit origin. He just  gives the 
reason for including this 'Sanskitic' word in iyar_col.
More important for the current discussion is the commentator's discussion  of 
Tol.Col.401 where he gives an approach to etymologizing a word made  up of 
letters common to both Tamil and Sanskrit. According to  him, Aryan words are 
commonly used in all regions but Tamil words do not  enter Sanskrit. So in the 
case of a word with the same form and  meaning in both languages, the 
commentator classifies the word as belonging  to Aryan. (In contrast to this 
commentator, others such as naccin_aarkkin_iyar  do not seem to entertain the 
possibility of 'niir' being Aryan.)
This medieval attitude towards Sanskrit as always being the donor and  Tamil 
as always being the borrower remained very influential right through the  
compilation of Madras University Tamil Lexicon until Western scholars such  as 
Burrow and Emeneau started working on Dravidian. This attitude also generated  
Tamil nationalistic reaction which tried to create Tamil etymologies where they  
were not warranted.
S. Palaniappan
In a message dated 12/7/2007 12:45:58 P.M. Central Standard Time,  
jean-luc.chevillard at UNIV-PARIS-DIDEROT.FR writes:

Dear  professor Aklujkar and professor Hart,

you might be interested to  know
that Ceen_aavaraiyar (Ce-n_a-varaiyar),
a 13th (or 14th ?) century  grammarian
had to deal with two competing opinions on the word niir  (ni-r).

He wrote:

"ni-r en_patu a-riyac-citaiv-a-yin_um
ap  porut.k-atu-v-e- col-l-a-y-c
cen-tamil_ nilatt-um
kot.un-tamil_  nilatt-um
val_an.kappat.utala-n_ iyar_col-l-a-yir_r_u."

(although  the word "niir" is a corruption from the Northern language,
since it is  current, with the same meaning,
both in the land of "Straight Tamil"
and  in the land of "Deviating/Variant Tamil",
it is an ordinary Tamil  world")

[this is a rough English translation;
for a more precise  French translation,
see p. 473 in my 1996 book (French Institute of  Pondicherry; PIFI 84.1
"Le Commentaire de Ce-n_a-varaiyar sur le  Collatika-ram du Tolka-ppiyam"]

(see also, on the same page [footnote  398.5], my reference to Caldwell's 
discussion of the item  "niir")

This seems to imply that
Ce-n_a-varaiyar was trying to  accomodate

-- a dominant opinion (among Sanskrit scholars) stating that  "niir" was 
a Sanskrit word

-- his own intuition that "niir" was a  plain Tamil world
(see his list of plain Tamil words (iyar_-col):
nila,  niir, tii, val.i, etc. [nilam, ni-r, ti-, val.i, etc.] "earth, 
water,  fire, wind, earth"

This, of course, proves nothing concerning the  "etymology" of "niir"
but at the same time it shows a lot  concerning
13th-14th cent. beliefs
(and would be of interest to a  socio-linguist)

I hope this is useful

-- Jean-Luc Chevillard  (CNRS, Paris)

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