Narmada and Narbada

Suresh Kolichala suresh.kolichala at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 8 09:42:53 UTC 2012

Thanks a lot, Hock, for your detailed reply. I think the following
derivation makes much sense:

*naramada* -[lenition of labial nasal as nasalized oral stop]-> naraβ̃ada
-[syncope of second vowel]-> narβ̃ada > narbada.

In many NIA languages, /v/ in clusters does become /b/. For example, *parvat
*'mountain' > *parbat, **pabbī** *in many eastern and central languages*.* In
fact, in the eastern Indo-Aryan languages (such as Bengali, Oriya etc.),
even the intervocalic /v/ is merged with /b/ ~ [β].  For instance, *viv**āha
> bib**āh; bhuvaneśwar > **bhubaneśwar *etc.

On the etymology of *Narmada/ā*, we have the following theories so far:

   1. The traditional etymology according to the Sanskrit sources is: Giver(
   *d**ā*) of Pleasure (*Narma*).
   2. Witzel (1999) adduces to Pinnow who had pointed out many river names,
   from the  *Gaṇḍakī *to the *Narma-dā* to be containing the Munda element
   -*da’, *-da’k  'water' (Pinnow 1959: 69).
   3. It is also possible to ascribe a Dravidian derivation as there are a
   few river names and place names in South India with a suffix of -ma*ḍu(gu)
   *and *madu(ku) (*See [*DEDR
   *and* [DEDR 4688<>

Since the influence of Indo-Aryan on the languages of the Narmada valley
appears to be much later (Kuiper 1966), I believe, we need to study the
corpuses (corpora) of Nahali, Munda (Kurku) and the Dravidian languages to
trace a possible origin for this hydronym.


On Sun, Oct 7, 2012 at 11:44 AM, Hock, Hans Henrich <hhhock at>wrote:

>  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) > *nar**β/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).
>  Cheers,
>  Hans Henrich Hock

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