Major Dravidian languages include Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and Telugu. Although almost all of them are in the south of India, with Tamil also in northern Sri Lanka, there is one called Brahui in Iran, which is believed to be the last vestige of a much wider geographical spread, before the Indo-European-speaking Aryans invaded from the north. (But see Aryan invasion theory for a questioning of this traditional archaeological view.)

It is possible that the undeciphered ancient language on the seals of the Harappan civilization was also Dravidian; this would fit the above spread, but there is no direct evidence for it.

Phonologically they are remarkable for distinguishing dental and alveolar T, N, and L, as well as retroflex. (The alveolar series has been lost in Tamil of Tamil Nadu.) It is likely that Sanskrit adopted the retroflex series from Dravidian. Words or at least names are often strikingly polysyllabic.

In recent years it has been tentatively established that the language of ancient Elam, just to the east of Sumer at the head of the Persian Gulf, is distantly related, and the larger family may be referred to as Elamo-Dravidian. Its wider affinities are unknown but it is often included in the Nostratic hypothesis, linking it with many of the other families of Eurasia.

Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka uses the name Eelam (or Ilam) for their homeland; I presume this is just a coincidence.

The Dravidian languages of today are spoken primarily in South India, though it is believed to be the language of the Indus Valley Civilization in present day Pakistan and North-West India. The family has three branches, the Northern, Central, and Southern. The best known North Dravidian language is Brahui, a language spoken in Baluchistan, part of modern-day Pakistan. It is written in Arabic script and supports the theory that the Indus Valley Civilization was Dravidian. The Central branch consists mainly of tribal languages. The only exception is Telugu, the most spoken Dravidian language in the world. Telugu is primarily spoken in Andhra Pradesh, though there are Telugu minorities in the neighbouring states of Orissa and Tamil Nadu. The Southern branch includes Kannada (Canarese), Malayalam, Tamil and Tulu. Only Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil have significant speaking populations. Tamil is famous for its ancient literature and for retaining the most Dravidian words. Malayalam is more closely related to Tamil than Kannada. Many dialects of the above exist, including a significant Ayengaar Tamil population who are Tamilians settled in Karnataka and who speak a strongly Kannada influenced dialect of Tamil.

The Dravidian languages have an affinity for liquids and are inflected languages. Some people have suggested that the Dravidian language group may be distantly related to the Finno-Ugric language group, but there exists little evidence to support this conclusion. Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu are the only Dravidian "national languages" of India. Examples of the languages can be seen on an Indian rupee, where the denomination of the note is written in the national languages in English alphabetical order (which makes some Tamilians more than a little angry).

Dra*vid"i*an (?), a. [From Skr. Dravia, the name of the southern portion of the peninsula of India.] Ethnol.

Of or pertaining to the Dravida.

Dravidian languages, a group of languages of Southern India, which seem to have been the idioms of the natives, before the invasion of tribes speaking Sanskrit. Of these languages, the Tamil is the most important.


© Webster 1913.

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