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The Dravidian family of languages includes approximately 26 languages that are mainly spoken in southern India and Sri Lanka, as well as certain areas in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and eastern and central India, as well as in parts of Afghanistan and Iran. Dravidian languages are spoken by more than 200 million people, and they appear to be unrelated to languages of other known families. A few scholars include the Dravidian languages in a larger Elamo-Dravidian language family, which includes the ancient Elamite language of what is now southwestern Iran; but this is not accepted by most linguists.


The origins of the Dravidian languages, as well as their subsequent development and the period of their differentiation, are unclear, and the situation is not helped by the lack of comparative linguistic research into the Dravidian languages. There are striking similarities between the Dravidian and Uralic and Altaic language groups, which suggest prolonged contact between the language families at some stage although a common origin appears unlikely. Inconclusive attempts have also been made to link the family with the Japonic languages, Basque, Korean, Sumerian, the Australian Aboriginal languages and the unknown language of the Indus valley civilisation.

Legends common to many Dravidian-speaking groups speak of their origin in a vast, now-sunken continent far to the south. Many linguists, however, tend to favour the theory that speakers of Dravidian languages spread southwards and eastwards through the Indian subcontinent, based on the fact that the southern Dravidian languages show some signs of contact with linguistic groups which the northern Dravidian languages do not. Proto-Dravidian is thought to have differentiated into Proto-North Dravidian, Proto-Central Dravidian, Proto South-Central Dravidian and Proto-South Dravidian around 1500 BC, although some linguists have argued that the degree of differentiation between the sub-families points to an earlier split.

The existence of the Dravidian language family was first suggested in 1816 by Alexander D. Campbell in his Grammar of the Teloogoo Language, in which he and Francis W. Ellis argued that Tamil and Telugu were descended from a common, non-Indo-European ancestor. However, it was not until 1856 that Robert Caldwell published his Comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages, which considerably expanded the Dravidian umbrella and established it as one of the major language groups of the world. Caldwell coined the term "Dravidian" from the Sanskrit drāvida, which was used in a 7th century text to refer to the languages of the south of India. The publication of the Dravidian etymological dictionary by T. Burrow and M. B. Emeneau was a landmark event in Dravidian linguistics.

List of Dravidian languages

  • Tamil
  • Kannada
  • Malayalam
  • Tulu
  • Bellari
  • Toda
  • Kota
  • Koraga
  • Badaga
  • Kurumba
  • Irula
  • Kodava Takk (Kodagu)
  • Paliyan
  • Kanikkaran
South Central
  • Telugu
  • Gondi
  • Abujmaria
  • Koya
  • Konda
  • Manda
  • Pengo
  • Kui
  • Kuvi
  • Kolami
  • Naiki
  • Parji
  • Gadaba
  • Brahui (the only Dravidian language NOT spoken in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or Nepal; it is spoken in Balochistan in Pakistan)
  • Kurukh
  • Malto


Dravidian languages are agglutinative and exhibit the inclusive and exclusive we feature.


Dravidian languages are noted for the lack of distinction between aspirated and unaspirated stops. While some Dravidian languages (especially Malayalam, Kannada and Telugu) have large numbers of loan words from Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages, which do make distinctions in voice and aspiration, the words are often mispronounced by monolingual Dravidian speakers.

For instance, Tamil, like Finnish, does not distinguish between voiced and unvoiced stops. In fact, the Tamil alphabet lacks symbols for voiced and aspirated stops.

Dravidian languages are also characterized by a three-way distinction between dental, alveolar, and retroflex places of articulation as well as large numbers of liquids.

Words starting with vowels

A substantial number of words also begin and end with vowels, which helps the languages' agglutinative property.

aLu (cry), elumbu (bone), adu (that), alli (there), idu (this), illai (no, absent)

adu-idil-illai (that-this-in-absent = that is absent in this)

Sanskrit influence

Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu have been relatively more influenced by the Indo-European language Sanskrit and have borrowed the aspirated consonants. Sanskrit words and derivatives are common in Kannada, Malayalam and Telugu. Tamil is the least influenced.


  1. The Dravidian Languages / by Bhadriraju Krishnamurti / Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521771110 (alternate, search)
  2. A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages / by Robert Caldwell. 3rd ed. rev. and edited / by J.L. Wyatt, T. Ramakrishna Pillai. New Delhi : Asian Educational Services, 1998. ISBN 8120601173 (alternate, search)
  3. A grammar of the Teloogoo language, commonly termed the Gentoo, peculiar to the Hindoos inhabiting the northeastern provinces of the Indian peninsula / by A.D. Campbell. 3d ed. Madras, Printed at the Hindu Press, 1849