Narmada and Narbada

Hock, Hans Henrich hhhock at ILLINOIS.EDU
Sun Oct 7 15:44:59 UTC 2012

For what is may be worth (I'm sure there is a text-message abbreviation for this):

The variant forms that I'm aware of are Narbada and Nerbudda (the latter probably just a British rendition of the former). As for the change of m to v (actually, β), what's involved is more complexed -- a lenition of m (which, as the Sanskrit phoneticians already realized, is a voiced labial *stop* with nasal coarticulation) yields in the first place a nasalized voiced labial fricative or approximant (something whose correct phonetic representation may not survive crossing the ether, computer systems, or platforms). This, in turn tends to "lose" its nasalization to a neighboring vowel, as in Hindi गाँव, which in yet a further turn will be denasalized in Modern Marathi. This means that in principle one could go from m to v/β, but it would be a rather tortuous route. What creates problems is that this lenition of m only takes place intervocalically, not in clusters. So, the only way one could get lenition to apply here is by assuming that the earlier name was something like Naramada. This could, of course, be nicely etymologized in Sanskrit -- but is it attested anywhere in Sanskrit? A further problem is that the change v/β > b normally is limited to initial position. A way around that would be to assume something like this scenario naramada > nara˜β/ṽada > nar˜β/ṽada (with syncope of the second vowel) > narβ/vada > narbada, with change of v/β to b after consonant (I'm not sure there are examples for this from Indian languages, but the change is found elsewhere). However, if you run the word through this "Prakritic" changes, you need to worry about the d of narmada -- why did this not undergo lenition, too, winding up as Ø, hence unattested narmā*.

A less convoluted account would consider the b of Narbada/Nerbudda to be the result of nasal dissimilation in the sequence n … m. A change of this type is found in asmin > Pkt. a(p)phe etc., with sm … n > sp … n (v. Hinüber Älteres Mittelindoarisch).


Hans Henrich Hock

On 7 Oct 2012, at 08:53, Suresh Kolichala wrote:

Dear Jürgenji,

Thanks for your response. Narbada (नर्बदा) and Narvada (नर्वदा) have been used as proper names in Central and North India for long.

Come to think of it, the transformation of /m/ > /v/ (actually, /w/) is not only common in Dravidian, it is found in Middle Indo-Aryan as well. For example,  intervocalic /m/ getting weakened to a nasalized /ṽ/ can be seen in: OIA grāma, 'village' > Pali/Pkt gāma > Ap. gāṽa.

So, now I feel more confident about the derivation of narbada from narmada as: *narmada > narvada > narbada.

Does anyone have an etymologies for the hydronym Narmada? What about the derivations for the other name of this river: Rewa?


On Sun, Oct 7, 2012 at 7:25 AM, Jürgen Neuss <juergen.neuss at<mailto:juergen.neuss at>> wrote:
Dear Sureshji,

Interesting question. I am aware of the use of the 'b' only in colonial, british sources ('Nerbudda/Narbada'). All the original texts (Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati) I have seen in the course of my research on the Narmadaparikrama uniformly have the 'm'. In case you find the 'b' in any (South) Indian source, please let me know.


On Sun, 07 Oct 2012 12:00:45 +0200, Suresh Kolichala <suresh.kolichala at<mailto:suresh.kolichala at>> wrote:

Does anyone know the phonological reasons for the alternation of the river
name 'Narmada' as 'Narbada'? I also see this river name sometimes being
spelled as Narbedda.

It is surprising to see a labial nasal winding up as an oral stop. Is there
any historical evidence to believe in a transformation of narmada > narvada
narbada? /m/ > /v/ is very common in Dravidian, and /v/ > /b/ is common
in the New Indo-Aryan (NIA) languages of East and Central India.

I appreciate any responses.

Atlanta, GA.

Dr. phil. Jürgen Neuß
(Independent scholar)   | email: juergen.neuss at<mailto:juergen.neuss at>
Berlin, Germany        | http:<>

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