Drav. niir & Skt. niiram

Timothy Lubin LubinT at WLU.EDU
Tue Dec 18 03:08:29 UTC 2007

It is intriguing that a 13th c. Tamil commentator should accept the
notion that the word niir, the ubiquitous and predominant word for
'water' in the Dravidian languages might be a corrupt form of an "Ariya"
word, but there cannot really be much doubt that, linguistically
speaking, Skt. niiram is a borrowing from Proto-Dravidian. Caldwell
favors the Dravidian pedigree, even though he notes the similarity (and
possibility of a connection) with M. Greek nero (νερό) < Classical Greek
neeron/naron (νηρον/νᾶρον) 'water' < neeros/naros (νηρος/νᾶρος) 'moist,
fresh' in his somewhat inconclusive remarks (http://tinyurl.com/2dcud7),
mentioning what is now the standard etymology of the Greek words:
< naoo (νάω) 'flow' < PIE *sna-u-: This etymon yields Skt snaa-,
snaanam, etc., all derivates retaining initial s- (at least until late
medieval IA forms like nahaanaa).

On the other hand, The American Heritage Dictionary's Indo-European
Roots Index (prepared by Calvert Watkins) suggests for these words:
< PIE *newo- 'new' via a contracted form of nea-ros 'young, fresh',
applied to water and fish; there is nava- in Skt, but I don't see where
the long -ii- could come in. 

Also, unless I am mistaken, there is no extant parallel in Old Iranian
to Skt niiram, although that is no proof that one did not exist.

In any case, the case seems solid for niiram as a loan from Dravidian. 
Which makes the social dynamics and scholastic background of Jean-Luc's
commentator's remark very intriguing, and ironic to our ears.


Timothy Lubin
Associate Professor, Department of Religion
Director, East Asian Studies Program
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, Virginia  USA

lubint at wlu.edu   |   http://home.wlu.edu/~lubint

Tel: 540.458.8146 (office) 
Fax: 540.458.8498

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list