Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Language - An infusion by influx

I wish life was not so short, he thought. languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about – J .R.R. Tolkien. A look in to the indigenous linguistic culture and its various strands…
India enjoys a unique dais and fan following the world over for its cultural and linguistic diversity. With more than 428 segregated language strands and ethnicity, 13 of which falling under the category of ‘dead’ or ‘extinct’ languages, and a count of 22 being the list of scheduled languages, diverse would be an understatement while extolling the linguistic heritage of the democracy. This makes it easy to understand why any written piece on language and literature manages to rope in Lingua India in some form or the other.

With such a smorgasbord of heritage on the table, it is indeed a Herculean task to segregate or contextualize the languages into any spectrum. On continuing this note however, we know that this linguistic array is broadly categorized into distinct language forms or groups. This divide furthermore is foremost a broad geographic distinction and then concentrates on the nuances of lineage and scripting.

Indigenous linguistic culture in the Indian subcontinent is arguable and a source of countless debates and speculation. The accepted theory, among linguistic scholars seems to be that the credit for influx of this diversity goes to the war ravaged history of the subcontinent. With each conquest and successive change of rule, not only did the country undergo a cultural turnaround but has seen a gradual reformation of language in so intermittently interwoven and weaved a fabric that the diversity that is so prided upon has come to stay.

The Great divide
Predominantly the languages in the subcontinent are divided into two groups, the Indo-European family of the North, geographically speaking and the Dravidian family of the South. The Indo-European group is also called the Indo-Aryan or the Aryan group. The two groups of languages have many different root words (though a number in common one might add), and above all a different grammatical structure, the Dravidian being agglutinative and the Indo-European being inflected.

The Aryan invasion theory has been used to explain both the linguistic and racial differences between the peoples of North and South India, and such differences have been put forth as proof of the invasion. As the Aryans were made into a race, so were the Dravidians and the Aryan/Dravidian divide was turned into a racial war, the Aryan invaders versus the indigenous Dravidians of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. And this theory now brings us to a point that makes it all the more complex. Dravidian languages, with their agglutinative patterns, share common traits and are of the same broad linguistic group as such Asian and East European languages as Finnish, Hungarian, old Bulgarian, Turkish, Mongolian and Japanese, the Finno-Ugric and Ural-Altaic branches of languages. As the common point between these groups lies in Central Asia some scholars have recently proposed that the Dravidian people originally came from this region.

The speculation that brought about the Aryan invasion theory will by logic also feed the theory of an Dravidian invasion following the speculated association of the Dravidian language in the subcontinent with other East European languages as mentioned earlier. Which would then mean that the Dravidians, not unlike the ‘Aryans’ migrated from Iran and Central Asia, eastwards into India. Thus the arguable conclusion would be that the following Aryan invasion of the subcontinent forced the ‘indigenous’ Dravidian race to set up camp further south. But in brass reality there is no mention or evidence of a Dravidian migration of such sort. Hence such theories though palatable for arguments sake, appear far too simplistic and mitigative given the complex ways in which cultures, languages and races move and interact.

It has now been established that both the Aryan and Dravidian races come from the same branch of the Caucasian race of ancient Egypt and Sumeria. Hence claims of both the Aryan and the Dravidian groups to be indigenous to the subcontinent have been discredited through linguistic argument. But this argument suggests long term camaraderie between the two, outside of the Indian subcontinent. However if we were to give up on the invasion theory model and look at the Aryan-Dravidian contact within India, a better explanation of the associations and the linguistic similarities is forthcoming.

In fact now the linguistic divide between Aryan and Dravidian, as that between the Indo-European and other language groups is also now being questioned. A greater Nostratic family of languages has been proposed that includes Indo-European, Dravidian and Semitic languages and looks for a common ancestor for all three. And for this proposition one has to take into account that a greater degree of contact is a must, a contact that is or was not possible in remote Central Asia. Moreover the linguistic closeness between Sanskrit and Munda, the aborigine languages of India indicate a long term association if not evolution, and this is a possibility only within the subcontinent. Dravidian history one might add does not contradict the Aryan Vedic history. Dravidian kings for long have been historically called Aryans and it is notable fact that culturally and religion wise North and South are historically similar, which might lead one to believe that prior to Vedic Sanskrit there might have been a language which might have formed the basis for the Dravidian and the Aryan languages in the subcontinent.

Which brings us to..
This does not mean to imply that these languages are immune to linguistic mingling. On the contrary, Sanskrit and the Prakrits present themselves in each of the major Dravidian tongues, though Tamil remains largely immune to the addition of Indo- Aryan words. Telugu and Malayalam are the two languages most influenced by Indo-Aryan, though vast differences in pronunciation-- as the Dravidian sound system makes the borrowed words conform to its rules-- make these loan words somewhat invisible. In addition to these new words, Europeanisms can be heard in the major Dravidian languages. Similarly, the Dravidian speech pockets in north and central India draw from the surrounding sea of Indo-Aryan conversation.

Finally it is important to note here that linguistic differences have social, cultural, and political consequences too numerous to summarize easily. The sub-continent's diversity makes defining a customary language or literature virtually impossible. With so many traditions, and their complex weave of borrowings and translations, selecting texts and finding the resources to study them will provide more material than institutions in India or abroad can handle.
This site uses Unicode and Open Type fonts for Indic Languages. Powered by Microsoft SharePoint 2013.
©2016 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.