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Review of  The Dravidian Languages

Reviewer: Basanti Devi
Book Title: The Dravidian Languages
Book Author: Bhadriraju Krishnamurti
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Language Family(ies): Dravidian
Issue Number: 17.1541

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AUTHOR: Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju
TITLE: The Dravidian Languages
SERIES: Cambridge Language Surveys
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2003

Basanti Devi, Associate Professor, JSS Institute of Speech & Hearing,
Mysore, India


This book deals with historical and comparative aspects of the
Dravidian languages. It will undoubtedly meet the requirements of a
variety of readers. The book, a result of extensive research, can be
treated as an authentic source book on the entire Dravidian language
family, the world's fifth largest; it can be used as a reference book by
students as well as scholars of linguistics. More specifically, it will
cater to the needs of scholars involved in research in historical and
comparative aspects of Dravidian languages. Scholars of contrastive
linguistics and linguistic typology will also benefit from it.

The book is divided into eleven chapters including an introduction and
a conclusion. A list of tables (pp xii-xiv), note on transliteration and
symbols (pp xx-xxii), abbreviations used (pp xxiii-xxvii), bibliography
(pp 504-533) and a general index of subjects and names are also

Chapter 1: Introduction
The book begins with clarification of the term 'Dravidian' which is
generic in nature used to refer to a family of languages. The author
also includes a brief discussion of the people speaking these
languages and their cultures. Geographic and demographic
distribution of the sub-groups as well as individual languages
belonging to this family is outlined. The introduction includes a brief
note on the typological features of Dravidian languages. It also
contains an overview of previous work on these languages. Finally,
the author has devoted a few pages to the discussion of affinity
between Dravidian languages and some languages spoken outside
India and with Harappan.

Chapter 2: Phonology: Descriptive
This chapter begins with the sounds of Proto Dravidian. It also offers
an explanation for subsequent sound changes in the modern
Dravidian languages. This is followed by a description of vowels and
consonants found in different groups within the Dravidian family such
as South Dravidian I, South Dravidian II, Central Dravidian and North
Dravidian. The description includes allophonic variations of these
vowels and consonants. Dialectical variations are also mentioned.
Some light is thrown on the suprasegmental features.
Morphophonemic patterns also find a place. The chapter ends with an
appendix containing the phonemic inventories of individual languages
with separate tables for vowels and consonants.

Chapter 3: The Writing Systems of the Major Literary Languages
The third chapter is devoted to the description of script systems of
modern Dravidian languages. Beginning with a brief note on Ashokan
Brahmi script, the mother of all major Indian scripts, the chapter
contains a discussion of the evolutionary aspects of the major modern
Dravidian languages, viz. Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam.
Proto Telugu & Kannada script developed in sixth century AD. It
continued till fifteenth century AD after which they diverged and
developed independently. He elaborates on how new symbols were
innovated and added to the existing Ashokan Brahmi script to
represent sounds peculiar to Tamil. Out of this adapted script called
Tamil Brahmi evolved a transitional variety called Vattezuttu. How
Malayalam and Tamil scripts developed independently is described at
some length. This is supplemented by a chart containing symbols of
primary vowels and consonants of each of these two languages as
well as vowel diacritics added to consonant symbols. The chapter
ends with a table showing symbols of consonant clusters in these

Chapter 4: Phonology: Historical & Comparative
This chapter provides both a historical and a comparative treatment of
Dravidian phonology. A feature matrix of the consonant sounds of
Proto-Dravidian is given in terms of which sound change in the
Dravidian languages can be explained. The morphophonemic rules of
Proto-Dravidian are elaborated. Every aspect of sound change in
each language is discussed at length. The author has identified two
types of sound change and has argued that the entire system of
sound changes can be attributed to either system-internal pressures
or typographical motivation.

Chapter 5: Word Formation: Roots, Stems, Formatives, Derivational
Suffixes and Nominal Compounds
In the fifth chapter the author deals with all the important aspects of
the formation of different types of words. It begins with Caldwell's
description of formation of Proto-Dravidian roots. However, the author
has differed from Caldwell and reconstructed the primary roots as well
as extended stems for Proto-Dravidian with great insight, He
hypothesizes that primary derivational suffixes developed from
inflectional suffixes are incorporated into the stem. He also cites
empirical evidence in support of his hypothesis from several case
studies. Stem formatives of both nouns and verbs are discussed at
length. Derivational suffixes also form a part of the discussion. He
concludes the chapter with a discussion on the structure and
composition of compound words in Proto-Dravidian.

Chapter 6: Nominals: Nouns, Pronouns, Numerals and Time and
Place Adverbs
In the beginning of this chapter, the author focuses on gender-number
contrasts with reference to demonstrative pronouns. There seem to
be three dominant types of gender-number distinctions in Dravidian.
Each has been separately claimed to represent the Proto-Dravidian
system by different scholars. The author reaffirms his earlier view
(Krishnamurti 1961) that type II represents Proto-Dravidian. He also
includes a summary of the arguments that he presented earlier.
Discussion of gender-number marking in finite verbs and nominal
derivation is followed by a section on reconstruction of gender-number
suffixes. The case system is discussed at length including examples of
case markers in the subgroups of these languages. The pronoun and
number (cardinal and ordinal) systems are also described. The
chapter ends with an appendix containing paradigms of nominal
declensions in some of the Dravidian languages.

Chapter 7: The Verb
In this the longest chapter of the book, the author sheds light on
various aspects of verb structure in Dravidian. It begins with a note on
canonical structures of roots which are common for nouns, verbs and
adjectives. He also sheds light on the morphological aspects of the
verbal base. The author identifies three main patterns in the formation
of transitive causative stems and elaborates on them. The chapter
includes discussion of tense, gender, number and person markers. It
also deals with finite and nonfinite verbs in different groups of
Dravidian languages. Concepts of negation and mood also find a
place. The author argues that the continuous form of tense in
Dravidian is an independent innovation and no proto-form can be
reconstructed. A special discussion is made of serial verbs which is a
peculiar feature of Dravidian. The chapter ends with a note on
complex predicates and auxiliaries.

Chapter 8: Adjectives, Adverbs and Clitics
The author begins this chapter with a brief summary of how other
authors have treated adjectives in Dravidian. Then he reconstructs
the basic adjectives for Proto-Dravidian corresponding to different
semantic types. He also elaborates on the details of basic and derived
adjectives in the modern Dravidian. He delves into the etymological
aspects of adverbs which are generally derived forms, citing examples
from individual languages. Having reconstructed four clitics for Proto-
Dravidian, the author then elaborates on their corresponding forms in
modern Dravidian.

Chapter 9: Syntax
In this chapter the author deviates from the norm that he has followed
throughout the book. There is no reconstruction of Proto-Dravidian
syntactic forms. He has restricted discussion of syntax to the four
literary languages. Simple, complex, and compound sentences are
analyzed highlighting the structural patterns of their constituents
corresponding to different types. He has established that all the four
literary languages follow similar syntactic patterns.

Chapter 10: Lexicon
Dravidian lexicon is divided into two groups viz. native and borrowed.
The loan words come from three distinct sources viz. Indo-Aryan,
Perso-Arabic and Western languages like English and Portuguese. He
has explained with illustration how words of Indo-Aryan origin entered
these languages via Pali & Prakrit rather than from Sanskrit directly.
The process of nativization of these words in the respective
languages conforming to their phonological rules is illustrated. The
borrowing of words from other languages is also discussed. Kannada,
Telugu and Malayalam have taken borrowing as a natural process.
But in Tamil there has been a deliberate effort to replace words of
Sanskrit origin with native words. This chapter also includes a
discussion of semantic fields and onomatopoeic words.

Chapter 11: Conclusion: A Summary and Overview
The concluding chapter contains a summary of the book and an
overview of research of Dravidian by previous scholars. The author
reiterates the arguments for making a new sub-grouping of the
Dravidian languages based on evidence from phonological as well as
morphological features. Desiderata, which forms the concluding part
of this chapter, contains suggestions of viable topics for future
research in comparative and historical Dravidian.


The book is undoubtedly a significant contribution to the study of
historical and comparative aspects of Dravidian languages. It is also
significant from typological perspective. The book is well organized,
coherent and highly informative. The author presents an enormous
data in a systematic way, from minor non-literary languages to the
major literary ones. In fact, the vast amount of data from minor
languages adds to the strength of the book. His conclusions, which
differ from those of other scholars, are well supported by this data.
Each topic in the book is dealt with utmost detail.

The last chapter containing summary and overview makes it
particularly user-friendly as it helps the reader to keep track of what
has been said in previous chapters. The desiderata are especially
useful for scholars interested in future research in this area.

However, the chapter on syntax is less informative and there is no
reconstruction of Proto-Dravidian forms. The book would have been
even more comprehensive if syntax had been dealt with as extensively
as phonology and morphology.

Nonetheless, the book will serve as a great sourcebook for students,
scholars, and teachers of linguistics.


Krishnamurti, Bh. 1961. Telugu Verbal Bases: A Comparative and
Descriptive Study. UCPL 24, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
California Press.

Basanti Devi received her PhD on 'A Contrastive Study of Assamese
and Kannada' from University of Mysore, India. She has been
teaching linguistics to speech and hearing students for the past twenty
years. In 2003 she was awarded senior fellowship to work
on 'Representation of Women in Assamese Fiction' by Sahitya
Akademi, New Delhi. Her research interests are in sociolinguistics,
psycholinguistics, clinical linguistics, language and gender, and
literature. Currently she is an associate professor of linguistics at JSS
Institute of Speech and Hearing, Mysore, India.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0521771110
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 574
Prices: U.K. £ 70
U.S. $ 95