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Creating a ‘pan-Dravidian’ identity

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Bh. Krishnamurti
Bh. Krishnamurti

A.D. Rangarajan

Expert favours research on dialects which exist from Bihar to Baluchistan

TIRUPATI: Those not familiar with ‘Dravidian’ take it for a ‘handful of disparate languages spoken down the Vindhyas’, but not many know that it represents a rich collection of 26 sister languages, some of which are even spoken today from the Nilgiris to Orissa and from Bihar to Baluchistan.

Dravidian dialects

Apart from the popularly known Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam, the cluster comprises a number of non-literary languages (with no regular script) spread over the entire country. Among the south Dravidian dialects, Kodagu, Tulu, Kotha, Irula and Badaga are spoken in parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, while Gondi, Kuvil, Konda, Kui are Telugu dialects, spoken in northern Andhra Pradesh bordering Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.

Kolami, Naiki, Parji, Olari and Gadaba comprise the central Dravidian dialects, while the North Dravidian dialects are Kuruk and Maltu (spoken in parts of Bihar) and Brahui (spoken in Baluchistan area of West Pakistan). “It is not proper to say that Dravidian is something which is south Indian,” says Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, an authority on Dravidian who served twice as Vice-Chancellor of University of Hyderabad.

The first of the two Indians to become the fellow of the 220 year-old Royal Society of Edinburgh, Mr. Krishnamurti, (BhK in intellectual circles), shares the rare honour with yesteryear celebrities like economist Adam Smith, nature scientist Charles Darwin and litterateur William Wordsworth.

In an exclusive interview to The Hindu recently, Mr. Krishnamurti spoke not only on the need to preserve the dialects, but also the importance of creating a pan-Dravidian identity. “When languages separated, several phonetic differences took place and the changes have to be accounted for, besides identifying the cognates (similar-sounding words). This is the study of Dravidian.”

His magnum opus ‘The Dravidian Languages’ brought out by the Cambridge University Press as part of its ‘Language Surveys’ series is the ultimate authority on anything Dravidian. The Oxford-published anthology of his articles written during 1955-2000 and his doctoral research at University of Pennsylvania, which was a comparative study of Telugu verbal roots with those of the 23 other Dravidian languages known till then, are a must-possess for researchers on linguistics and language processing studies. He gives due credit to his mentor and the greatest Dravidian scholar of his time, M.B. Emeneau, who had extensively studied the languages spoken in the Nilgiri hill ranges in the 1930s.

Separate science

Calling Dravidian a separate science, Prof. Krishnamurti appeals to all those studying Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam to extend their scope of knowledge by taking up Comparative Dravidian studies. An optimistic BhK is unperturbed at the present generation running towards an IT-oriented career. “We find only one or two top Dravidian scholars in 100 years. We don’t want mad rush, but a small yet dedicated group of linguists to perpetuate our cause,” thus signed off the ace scholar.


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