Dravidian Origins of Sanskrit

Dravidian Origin of Sanskrit

The Sanskrit language is highly respected in India. It carries the religion and culture of all the people of India. A.B. Keith, in A History of Sanskrit Literature (1928), makes it clear that Sanskrit was probably invented as early as the 6th Century BC. Although Sanskrit is recognized as a major language controversy surrounds its origin. Some researchers see it as language given to mankind by the Gods, while others see Sanskrit as an artificial language created to unify the diverse Indian nationalities. Keith in A History of Sanskrit Literature commenting on this state of affairs noted that: ” We must not. exaggerate the activity of the grammarians to the extent of suggesting. that Classical Sanskrit is an artificial creation, a product of the Brahmins when they sought to counteract the Buddhist creation of an artistic literature in Pali.. Nor.does Classical Sanskrit present the appearance of an artificial product; but rather admits exceptions in bewildering profusion, showing that the grammarians were not creators, but were engaged in a serious struggle to bring into handier shape a rather intractable material” (p.7).


Although, this is the opinion of Keith it appears that Sanskrit is lingua franca, an artificial language that was used by the people of India to unify the multi-lingual people of the India nation. This led Michael Coulson, in Teach Yourself Sanskrit 1992) to write “The advantage to using Sanskrit, in addition to the dignity which it imparted to the verse, lay in its role as a lingua franca uniting the various regions of Aryan India” (p.xviii).

As a result of its use as a lingua franca it has absorbed over the years many terms from various Indian languages. But at the base of Sanskrit we probably have a Dravidian language since Dravidian was spoken not only in the South, it was also the language of many Tribal groups in the North. The view that the Dravidian languages are the foundation of Sanskrit is supported by both Konow and Keith who noted that the auxiliary verbs, periphrastic future, and the participial forms in Sanskrit were probably of Dravidian origin. Stephan H. Levitt in a recent article in the International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics has suggested that Sanskrit may have adopted many North Dravidian forms. In addition, Levitt is sure that certain Sanskrit etyma for animals and plants that end in -l, are of Old Tamilian origin. Due to early Dravidian settlement in Northern India there is a Dravidian substratum in Indo-Aryan. There are Dravidian loans in the Rig Veda, even though Aryan recorders of this work were situated in the Punjab, which occupied around this time by the BRW Dravidians.


There are islands of Dravidian speakers in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. There are over 300,000 Brahui speakers in Qualat, Hairpur and Hyderabad districts of Pakistan. There are an additional 40,000 Brahui in Emeneau and Burrow (1962) found 500 Dravidian loan words in Sanskrit. In addition, Indo-Aryan illustrates a widespread structural borrowing from Dravidian in addition to 700 lexical loans (Kuiper 1967; Southward 1977; Winters 1989). Iran and several thousand along the southern border of Russia and Yugoslavia (ISDL 1983:227). Emeneau and Burrow (1962) have found 500 Dravidian loan words in Sanskrit. The number of Dravidian loans in Indo-Aryan is expected to reach 750.


There are numerous examples of Indo-Aryan structural borrowings from Dravidian. For example, the Bengali and Oriya plural suffix ra is analogous to the Tamil plural suffix ar. Both of these suffixes are restricted to names of intelligent beings. (Chatterji 1970:173) Oriya borrowed the ra plural suffix from the Dravidians. (Mahapatra 1983:67) The syntax of theIndo-Aryan languages is ambivalent because of the Dravidian influence on these languages. As a result, they represent both SOV and SVO traits. According to Arthur A. MacDonnell in A Sanskrit Grammar for Students (1997), says that the Sanskrit language is known by many names. It was called Nagari ‘urban writing’, Deva-nagari ‘city writing of the gods’. V. Kanakasabhai in the Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago says that Sanskrit is called Deva-nagari, because the Nagas introduced it to the Aryas. The characters associated with Deva-nagari are the characters used to write Sanskrit today. The Naga were Semitic speaking people from Ethiopia. According to MacDonnell the Semitic writing was introduced to India around 700BC (pg.2).
Clyde Winters