Proto-Dravidian language

Proto-Dravidian is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Dravidian languages.[1] It is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian, and Proto-South Dravidian, although the date of diversification is still debated.[2]

Reconstruction ofDravidian languages
Regionpossibly Northwestern India or West Central India
Eraca. 4th–3rd m. BCE
Lower-order reconstructions


As a proto-language, Proto-Dravidian is not itself attested in historical records. Its modern conception is based solely on reconstruction. It is suggested that the language was spoken in the 4th millennium BCE, and started disintegrating into various branches around 3rd millennium BCE.[3]

The origin and territory of the Proto-Dravidian speakers is uncertain, but some suggestions have been made based on the reconstructed Proto-Dravidian vocabulary. The reconstruction has been done on the basis of cognate words present in the different branches (Northern, Central and Southern) of the Dravidian language family.[4]

According to Dorian Fuller (2007), the botanical vocabulary of Proto-Dravidian is characteristic of the dry deciduous forests of central and peninsular India. This region extends from Saurashtra and Central India to South India. It thus represents the general area in which the Dravidians were living before separation of branches.[4]

According to Franklin Southworth (2005), the Proto-Dravidian vocabulary is characteristic of a rural economy based on agriculture, animal husbandry and hunting. However, there are some indications of a society more complex than a rural one:[5]

  • Words for an upper storey and beam
  • Metallurgy
  • Trade
  • Payment of dues (possibly taxes or contributions to religious ceremonies)
  • Social stratification

This evidence is not sufficient to determine with certainty the territory of the Proto-Dravidians. These characteristics can be accommodated within multiple contemporary cultures, including:[5]



Proto-Dravidian contrasted between five short and long vowels: *a, , *i, , *u, , *e, , *o, . The sequences *ai and *au are treated as *ay and *av (or *aw)[8]


Proto-Dravidian has been reconstructed as having the following consonant phonemes (Subrahmanyam 1983:p40, Zvelebil 1990, Krishnamurthi 2003):

Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal *m *n̪ *n (*ŋ)
Plosive *p *t̪ *t *c *k
Fricative *ɭ (*ṛ, *r̤) (*h)
Approximant *l *j

The alveolar stop *ṯ developed into an alveolar trill /r/ in many daughter languages. The stop sound is retained in Kota and Toda (Subrahmanyam 1983). Malayalam still retains the original (alveolar) stop sound in gemination (ibid). In Old Tamil it took the enunciative vowel like the other stops. In other words, *ṯ (or *ṟ) did not occur word-finally without the enunciative vowel (ibid)[further explanation needed].

Velar nasal */ŋ/ occurred only before *k in Proto-Dravidian (as in many of its daughter languages). Therefore, it is not considered a separate phoneme in Proto-Dravidian. However, it attained phonemic status in languages like Malayalam, Gondi, Konda and Pengo because the original sequence *ṅk was simplified to *ṅ. (Subrahmanyam 1983)

The glottal fricative *h has been proposed by Bh. Krishnamurthi to account for the Old Tamil Aytam (Āytam) and other Dravidian comparative phonological phenomena (Krishnamurthi 2003).

The Northern Dravidian languages Kurukh, Malto and Brahui cannot easily be derived from the traditional Proto-Dravidian phonological system. McAlpin (2003)[9] proposes that they branched off from an earlier stage of Proto-Dravidian than the conventional reconstruction, which would apply only to the other languages. He suggests reconstructing a richer system of dorsal stop consonants:

Early Proto-Dravidian Late Proto-Dravidian
(Proto-Non-North Dravidian)
Proto-Kurukh-Malto Brahui
*c *c *c
*kʲ *c *k k
*k *k *k k
*q *k *q x
k / _i(ː)



Crop plantsEdit

Below are some crop plants that have been found in the Southern Neolithic complex of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, along with their Proto-Dravidian or Proto-South Dravidian reconstructions by Franklin Southworth (2005). In some cases, the proto-form glosses differ from the species identified from archaeological sites. For example, the two Southern Neolithic staple grasses Brachiaria ramosa and Setaria verticillata respectively correspond to the reconstructed Proto-Dravidian forms for Sorghum vulgare and Setaria italica as early Dravidian speakers shifted to millet species that were later introduced to South India.[10]

Common name Scientific name Reconstruction level Proto-form Gloss of proto-form
horsegram Macrotyloma uniflorum Late Proto-Dravidian *koḷ horsegram
green gram Vigna radiata Late Proto-Dravidian *pac-Vt/Vl green gram
black gram Vigna cf. mungo; Vigna trilobata Late Proto-Dravidian *uẓ-untu, *min(t) black gram
hyacinth bean Lablab purpureus Proto-Tamil *ava-rai Dolichos lablab
pigeonpea Cajanus cajan Late Proto-Dravidian *tu-var pigeonpea
Millets and related grasses
Common name Scientific name Reconstruction level Proto-form Gloss of proto-form
browntop millet Brachiaria ramosa Late Proto-Dravidian *conna-l sorghum
bristly foxtail Setaria verticillata Late Proto-Dravidian *kot-V Setaria italica
sawa millet Echinochloa cf. colona
yellow foxtail Setaria pumila
little millet Panicum sumatrense
kodo millet Paspalum scrobiculatum Proto-South Dravidian *(v)ār/ar-Vk pearl millet
millet Pennisetum glaucum Proto-South Dravidian *kam-pu bulrush millet
finger millet Eleusine coracana Proto-South Dravidian *ira(k) ragi
Large cereals
Common name Scientific name Reconstruction level Proto-form Gloss of proto-form
barley Hordeum vulgare
wheat Triticum Late Proto-Dravidian ? *kūli wheat/rice
rice Oryza sp. Late Proto-Dravidian ? *(v)ar-iñci rice
Other food/crop plants
Common name Scientific name Reconstruction level Proto-form Gloss of proto-form
jujube Zizyphus sp. Late Proto-Dravidian *irak- jujube
fig Ficus sp. Late Proto-Dravidian *cuv- fig
java plum cf. Syzygium cumini Late Proto-Dravidian *ñēr-al jambu
globe cucumber Cucumis cf. prophetarum
luffa cf. Luffa cylindrica Late Proto-Dravidian *pīr
flax Linum usitatissimum Proto-South Dravidian *ak-V-ce
cotton Gossypium sp. Proto-South Dravidian *par-utti
okra Abelmoschus sp.
parenchyma fragments Early Proto-Dravidian *kic-ampu
Not identified archaeologically in the Southern Neolithic
Common name Scientific name Reconstruction level Proto-form Gloss of proto-form
onion/garlic Allium sp. Early Proto-Dravidian *uḷḷi
eggplant Solanum sp. Early Proto-Dravidian *vaẓ-Vt sesame
sesame Sesamum indicum Late Proto-Dravidian *nū(v)-
sugarcane Saccharum sp. Early Proto-Dravidian *cet-Vkk
hemp Cannabis sp. Late Proto-Dravidian ? *boy-Vl

Basic vocabularyEdit

Basic vocabulary of Proto-Dravidian selected from Krishnamurti (2003):[11]

gloss Proto-Dravidian
‘one’ *on-ṯu
‘one’ (adj.) *ōr-/*or-V-
‘two’ *īr/*ir-V
‘three’ (adj.) *muH-/*mū-
‘four’ (adj.) *nāl/*nal-V-
‘five’ (adj.) *cay-m-
‘six’ (adj.) *caṯ-V
‘seven’ (adj.) *eẓ-V
‘eight’ (adj.) *eṇ
‘nine, 9/10’ *toḷ-/*toṇ-
‘ten minus one’ *on-patV
‘ten’ (adj.) *paH-
‘head, hair, top’ *tal-ay
‘cheek’ *kap-Vḷ
‘eye’ *kaṇ
‘eyeball’ *kuṭ-V/*kuṇṭ-V
‘ear’ *kew-i
‘nose, beak’ *mū-nk(k)u/-nc-
‘tooth’ *pal
‘mouth’[12] *wāy
‘hand, arm’ *kay
‘leg, foot’ *kāl
‘heart, kidney’ *kuṇṭV
‘liver’ *taẓ-Vnk-/-nkk
‘milk, breast’ *pāl
‘bone’ *el-V-mp/-nk
‘bone marrow’ *mūḷ-V-
‘excrement’ *piy/*pī
‘house’ *il
‘husband’ *maẓc-a-
‘man, husband’ *māy-tt-/*mā-cc-
‘woman’ *peṇ
‘name’ *pin-cc-Vr
‘sky’ *wān-am
‘sun’ *en-ṯ-
‘sun’ *pōẓ/*poẓ-u-tu
‘moon, moonlight’ *nel-a-nc/-ncc
‘month’ *nel-V-
‘star’ *cukk-V
‘star’ *miHn
‘cloud’ *muy-il
‘water’ *nīr
‘river, stream’ *yĀtu
‘lake’ *kuḷ-am/-Vnc-
‘sea, ocean’ *kaṭ-al
‘stone’ *kal
‘wind’ *waḷi
‘day’ *nāḷ
‘night’ *nāḷ/*naḷ-V-
‘year’ *yAṇṭ-u
‘tree’ *mar-am/-an
‘fruit, pod’ *kāy
‘forest’ *kā(-n), kā-ṭu
‘grass’ *pul
‘thatched grass’ *pīr
‘dog’ *naH-ay/-att/-kuẓi
‘animal, beast, deer’ *mā
‘deer’ *kur-V-c-
‘tiger’ *pul-i
‘rat’ *el-i
‘snake’ *pāmpu
‘meat’ *iṯ-ay-cci
‘meat’ *ū/*uy
‘oil, ghee’ *ney
‘fish’ *mīn
‘louse’ *pēn
‘mosquito’ *nuẓ-Vḷ/-nk-
‘wing’ *ceṯ-ank-/-ankk-
‘black’ *cir-
‘white’ *weḷ/*weṇ
‘red’ *kem
‘sweet’ (adj./n.) *in-
‘sour’ *puḷ-
‘bitter; bitterness’ *kac (> kay)
‘to eat, drink’ *uHṇ-/*ūṇ-
‘to eat’ *tiHn-
‘to come’ *waH-/*waH-r
‘to walk’ *naṭ-a
‘to give’ *ciy-/*cī-
‘to die’ *caH- ~ *ceH-
‘to sleep’ *kū-r-
‘to sleep’ *tuñc-
‘to count’ *eṇ


  1. ^ Andronov 2003, p. 299.
  2. ^ Bhadriraju Krishnamurti (16 January 2003). The Dravidian Languages. Cambridge University Press. p. 492. ISBN 978-1-139-43533-8.
  3. ^ History and Archaeology, Volume 1, Issues 1-2 p.234, Department of Ancient History, Culture, and Archaeology, University of Allahabad
  4. ^ a b McIntosh 2008, p. 353.
  5. ^ a b McIntosh 2008, p. 353-354.
  6. ^ McIntosh 2008, p. 354.
  7. ^ Mukhopadhyay, Bahata Ansumali. "Ancestral Dravidian languages in Indus Civilization: ultraconserved Dravidian tooth-word reveals deep linguistic ancestry and supports genetics".
  8. ^ Baldi, Philip (1990). Linguistic Change and Reconstruction Methodology. Walter de Gruyter. p. 342. ISBN 3-11-011908-0.
  9. ^ McAlpin, David W. (2003). "Velars, Uvulars and the Northern Dravidian hypothesis". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 123:3: 521–546.
  10. ^ Southworth, Franklin C. 2005. Proto-Dravidian Agriculture. Paper presented at the 7th ESCA Round Table Conference, Kyoto, June 2005.
  11. ^ Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju (2003). The Dravidian Languages. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-139-43533-8.
  12. ^ Note: also edge, beak, mouth of vessel, aperture, blade of sword


See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

  1. ^ Fuller, Dorian Q. (2007), Petraglia, Michael D.; Allchin, Bridget (eds.), "Non-human genetics, agricultural origins and historical linguistics in South Asia", The Evolution and History of Human Populations in South Asia: Inter-disciplinary Studies in Archaeology, Biological Anthropology, Linguistics and Genetics, Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology Series, Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, pp. 393–443, doi:10.1007/1-4020-5562-5_18, ISBN 978-1-4020-5562-1, retrieved 2021-08-23