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

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Fri Dec 14 04:18:19 UTC 2007

Sorry. In the first line in my post, please insert "to read"  after "given 
us". In the discussion on Tol.Col.401, the commentator uses "Aryan"  as well as 
"Northern" to refer to Sanskrit words.
S. Palaniappan
In a message dated 12/13/2007 10:03:52 P.M. Central Standard Time,  
Palaniappa at AOL.COM writes:

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  
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  
the word 'Aryan'  provides valuable socio-linguistic information on how  
identified Sanskrit.) However, unlike you, I take this to mean  that  the 
commentator indeed believed 'niir' was of Sanskrit origin. He  just  gives 
reason for including this 'Sanskitic' word in  iyar_col.

More important for the current discussion is the  commentator's discussion  
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 
commonly used in all  regions but Tamil words do not  enter Sanskrit. So in 
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 
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  
Burrow and Emeneau started working on Dravidian. This  attitude also 
Tamil nationalistic reaction which tried to  create Tamil etymologies where 
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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