Journal : Alternate History

Presentation of  evidence for Indo-European homeland continues …

Inter-Familial Literary, after the researched linguistic and literary evidence earlier placed.


The historico-linguistic connection between Indo-European and other language families, like Uralic and Semitic, are projected by many scholars as linguistic evidence for the origin of the Indo-European family in or around South Russia. But the evidence we have discussed fails to prove the point. A rather complex and scientific analysis of such connections forms the subject of a paper by Johanna Nichols, significantly called The Epicentre of the Indo-European Linguistic Spread, which is part of a more detailed study contained in two volumes of  Archaeology and Language, of which the particular paper under discussion constitutes Chapter 8 of the first volume.

Nichols determines the location of “the epicentre of the Indo-European linguistic spread” primarily on the basis of an examination of loan-words from Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent of West Asia. As she points out, loan-words from this region must have spread out via three trajectories (or routes) :

To Central Europe via the Bosporus and the Balkans, to the western steppe via the Caucasus… and eastward via Iran to western Central Asia…”

The first step in specifying a locus for the IE homeland is to narrow it down to one of these three trajectories, and that can be done by comparing areal Wanderwörter in the IE cultural vocabulary to those of other language families that can be located relative to one or another trajectory in ancient times.”

Therefore, Nichols examines loan-words from West Asia (Semitic and Sumerian) found in Indo-European and in other families like Caucasian (separately Kartvelian, Abkhaz-Circassian and Nakh-Daghestanian), and the mode and form of transmission of these loan-words into the Indo-European family, as a whole as well as into particular branches; and she combines this with the evidence of the spread of Uralic and its connections with Indo-European. After a detailed examination, her final conclusions about the locus or epicentre of the Indo-European linguistic spread are as follows :

Several kinds of evidence for the PIE locus have been presented here.  Ancient loan-words point to a locus along the desert trajectory, not particularly close to Mesopotamia and probably far out in the eastern hinterlands.  The structure of the family tree, the accumulation of genetic diversity at the western periphery of the range, the location of Tocharian and its implications for early dialect geography, the early attestation of Anatolian in Asia Minor, and the geography of the centum-satem split all point in the same direction : a locus in western central Asia.  Evidence presented in Volume II supports the same conclusion : the long-standing westward trajectories of languages point to an eastward locus, and the spread of IE along all three trajectories points to a locus well to the east of the Caspian Sea. The satem shift also spread from a locus to the south-east of the Caspian, with satem languages showing up as later entrants along all three trajectory terminals. (The satem shift is a post-PIE but very early IE development).  The locus of the IE spread was therefore somewhere in the vicinity of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana.”

This linguistic evidence thus fits in perfectly with the literary and other evidence examined by us and with the theory outlined by us. Nichols’ analysis covers three concepts :

1. The Spread Zone: “The vast interior of Eurasia is a linguistic spread zone – a genetic and typological bottleneck where many genetic lines go extinct, structural types tend to converge, a single language or language family spreads out over a broad territorial range, and one language family replaces another over a large range every few millennia…”

2. The Locus: “The locus is a smallish part of the range which functions in the same way as a dialect-geographical centre : an epicentre of sorts from which innovations spread to other regions and dialects, and a catch-point at which cultural borrowings and linguistic loan-words entered from prestigious or economically important foreign societies to spread (along with native linguistic innovations) to the distant dialects.  If an innovation arose in the vicinity of the locus, or a loan-word entered, it spread to all or most of the family; otherwise, it remained a regionalism.  Diversification of daughter dialects in a spread zone takes place far from the locus at the periphery, giving the family tree a distinctive shape with many major early branches, and creating a distinctive dialect map where genetic diversity piles up at the periphery. These principles make it possible to pinpoint the locus in space more or less accurately even for a language family as old as IE.  Here it will be shown that the locus accounting for the distribution of loan-words, internal innovations and genetic diversity within IE could only have lain well to the east of the Caspian Sea.”

The specific location is “in the vicinity of Bactria-Sogdiana”.

The central Eurasian spread zone, as described in Volume II, was part of a standing pattern whereby languages were drawn into the spread zone, spread westward, and were eventually succeeded by the next spreading family.  The dispersal for each entering family occurred after entry into the spread zone. The point of dispersal for each family is the locus of its proto-homeland, and this locus eventually is engulfed by the next entering language.  Hence in a spread zone the locus cannot, by definition, be the point of present greatest diversity (except possibly for the most recent family to enter the spread zone).  On the contrary, the locus is one of the earliest points to be overtaken by the next spread.”

Further, “the Caspian Sea divides westward spreads into steppe versus desert trajectories quite close to the locus and hence quite early in the spread.”

3. The Original Homeland: “Central Eurasia is a linguistic bottleneck, spread zone, and extinction chamber, but its languages had to come from somewhere.  The locus of the IE spread is a theoretical point representing a linguistic epicentre, not a literal place of ethnic or linguistic origin, so the ultimate origin of PIE need not be in the same place as the locus.  There are several linguistically plausible possibilities for the origin of Pre-PIE.  It could have spread eastward from the Black Sea steppe (as proposed by Mallory 1989 and by Anthony 1991, 1995), so that the locus formed only after this spread but still very early in the history of disintegrating PIE… It could have come into the spread zone from the east as Mongolian, Turkic, and probably Indo-Iranian did.  Or it could have been a language of the early urban oases of southern central Asia.”

This linguistic evidence affirms all conditions that would locate the original Indo-European homeland in India, an exit-point in Afghanistan, and two streams of westward emigration or expansion. But Nichols does not advocate such a conclusion. She does propose or accepts the following :

a. The Pre-PIE language could have come from any direction (east or west), or could have been native to south Central Asia (Bactria-Sogdiana) itself… since the linguistic data only accounts for the later part of the movement, and not the earlier one.

b. The later part of the movement, as indicated by linguistic data, is in the opposite direction… that is, away from India.

c. The literary evidence, as we have seen, provides the evidence for the earlier part of the movement.

Nichols’ analysis of the linguistic data, moreover, produces a picture which is more natural and more compatible with what may be called “linguistic migration theory” :

As defined by Dyen (1956), a homeland is a continuous area and a migration is any movement causing that area to become non-continuous (while a movement that simply changes its shape or area is an expansion or expansive intrusion). The linguistic population of the homeland is a set of intermediate proto-languages, the first-order daughters of the original proto-language (in Dyen’s terms, a chain of coordinate languages).  The homeland is the same as (or overlaps) the area of the largest chain of such co-ordinates, i.e. the area where the greatest number of highest-level branches occur. Homelands are to be reconstructed in such a way as to minimize the number of migrations, and the number of migrating daughter branches, as are required to get from them to attested distributions (Dyen 1956: 613).”

The theories which place the original homeland in South Russia postulate a great number of separate emigrations of individual branches in different directions : Hittite and Tocharian would be the earliest emigrants in two different and opposite directions, and Indo-Iranian, Armenian and Greek would be the last emigrants, again, in three different and opposite directions.

But the picture produced by the evidence analysed by Nichols differs : “no major migrations are required to explain the distribution of IE languages at any stage in their history up to the colonial period of the last few centuries.  All movements of languages or more precisely all viable movements – that is, all movements that produced natural speech communities that lasted for generations and branched into dialects – were expansions, and all geographically isolated languages (e.g.  Tocharian, Ossetic in the Caucasus, ancestral Armenian, perhaps ancestral Anatolian) appear to be remnants of formerly continuous distributions.  They were stranded by subsequent expansions of other language families, chiefly Turkic in historical times.”

Let it be repeated : Nichols does not support the Indian homeland theory. That makes her analytical testimony all the more credible when her propositions admit of no better fit than an Indian homeland theory for proto Indo-Europeans. Nichols suggests that there was a point of time during the expansion of the Indo-Europeans when “ancestral Proto-Indo-Aryan was spreading into northern India,” and that “the Indo-Iranian distribution is the result of a later, post-PIE spread”.

The evidence primarily shows two things :

a. “The long-standing westward trajectories of languages point to an eastward locus, and the spread of IE along all these trajectories point to a locus well to the east of the Caspian Sea.”

b. “The locus of the IE spread was therefore somewhere in the vicinity of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana.”

The evidence shows “westward trajectories of languages” from a locus “in the vicinity of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana,” it does not show eastward or southward trajectories of languages from this locus. Nichols’ conclusion that Indo-European languages found to the west of Bactria Sogdiana were due to expansions from Bactria-Sogdiana is based on linguistic evidence, but her conclusion that the Indo-European languages found to the south and east of Bactria-Sogdiana were also the result of expansions from Bactria-Sogdiana is not based on linguistic evidence premised by her.

Also, perhaps, Nichols has no particular reason to believe that India could be the original homeland and, hence, finds no reason to go much further than is absolutely necessary while challenging established notions : as it is, she is conscious that the locus indicated by the linguistic evidence “is unlike any other proposed homeland” and therefore avoids suggesting anything more provocative than that.

We now know though that the Indian homeland theory fits in perfectly with Nichols’ conclusions : that the homeland lay along the easternmost of the three trajectories… the one which led “eastward via Iran to western central Asia,” she says. Obviosly, this same trajectory also leads to India; but such an extension would have been going too far, it seems.

While Nichols’ detailed linguistic analysis brings into focus the location of the original homeland as indicated by geographical relationship of Indo-European with certain western families of languages, other scholars have also noted the relationship of IE with certain eastern families : we refer in particular to two studies conducted respectively by Tsung-tung Chang, in respect of the Chinese language, and Isidore Dyen, in respect of the Austronesian family of languages.

The Chinese Language 

Tsung-tung Chang, a scholar of Chinese / Taiwanese origin, studied the relationship between the vocabulary of Old Chinese, as reconstructed by Bernard Karlgren (Grammata Serica, 1940, etc.), and the etymological roots of Proto-Indo-European vocabulary, as reconstructed by Julius Pokorny (Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, 1959), and has shown that there was a strong Indo-European influence on the formative vocabulary of Old Chinese.

He provides a long list of words common to Indo-European and Old Chinese, and adds: “In the last four years, I have traced out about 1500 cognate words, which would constitute roughly two-thirds of the basic vocabulary in Old Chinese.  The common words are to be found in all spheres of life including kinship, animals, plants, hydrography, landscape, parts of the body, actions, emotional expression, politics and religion, and even function words such as pronouns and prepositions, as partly shown in the lists of this paper.”

This Indo-European influence on Old Chinese, according to Chang, took place at the time of the founding of the first Chinese empire in about 2400 BC.  He calls this the “Chinese Empire established by Indo-European conquerors” and identifies Huang-ti or “Yellow Emperor”, the traditional Chinese founder of the first empire, as an Indo-European, suggesting that his name should actually be interpreted as “blond heavenly god”.

About Huang-ti, Chang tells us that he was a nomadic king who “ordered roads to be built, and was perpetually on the move with treks of carriages.  At night he slept in a barricade of wagons.  He had no interest in walled towns… All of this indicates his origin from a stock-breeding tribe in Inner Mongolia.  With introduction of horse- or oxen-pulled wagons, transport and traffic in northern China was revolutionized.  Only on this new technical basis did the founding of a state with central government become feasible and functional.”

Chang deduces : “Huang-ti is mentioned also as the founder of Chinese language in the Li-Chi (Book of Rites).  In the Chapter 23 chi-fa (Rules of Sacrifices),… we read : ‘Huang-ti gave hundreds of things their right names, in order to illumine the people about the common goods……’ ” In this way : “The aboriginal people had thus to learn new foreign words from the emperors.  Probably thereby the Proto-Indo-European vocabulary became dominant in Old Chinese.”

What Tsung attempts to do to Chinese civilization is more or less what invasionist scholars have tried to do to Indian civilization, and we can take his insistence that the first Chinese civilization was established by “Indo-European conquerors” with a fistful of salt.  The more natural explanation for similarity in vocabulary is simply that there was mutual influence between the Old Chinese and certain Indo-European branches that were located in Central Asia in the third millennium BC or slightly earlier.

Basically, that is what his own hypothesis also actually suggests.  According to Tsung: “Among Indo-European dialects, Germanic languages seem to have been mostly akin to Old Chinese… Germanic preserved the largest number of cognate words also to be found in Chinese… Germanic and Chinese belong to the group of so-called centum languages… The initial /h/ in Germanic corresponds mostly to /h/ and /H/ in Old Chinese…. Chinese and Northern Germanic languages are poor in grammatical categories such as case, gender, number, tense, mood, etc…”

It is unlikely that this relationship between Germanic and Old Chinese developed in Europe, nor does Tsung himself makes such a claim.  He accepts that “Indo-Europeans had coexisted for thousands of years in Central Asia… (before) they emigrated into Europe”.

The influence on the Chinese language probably, according to Tsung, spread to other related languages later on : “Sino-Thai common vocabulary, too, bristles with Indo-European stems.  In my opinion, these southern tribes were once the aborigines of Northern China, who migrated to the south… Nevertheless they could not escape the influence of Chinese languages and civilization.”

How far Tsung’s hypothesis will find acceptance is not clear.  It is, however, a scholarly work by a Western academician (albeit one of Taiwanese origin) established in Germany, and it is being seriously studied in the West.

Such as it is, it constitutes further linguistic support for the theory that Central Asia was the secondary homeland for various Indo-European branches on their route from India to Europe.

The Austronesian Family of Languages 

Isidore Dyen, in his paper, The Case of the Austronesian Languages, presented at the 3rd Indo-European Conference at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966, has made out a case showing the similarities between many basic words reconstructed in the Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Austronesian languages. They include such basic words as the very first four numerals, many of the personal pronouns, the words for “water” and “land”, etc.  And Dyen points out that “the number of comparisons could be increased at least slightly, perhaps even substantially, without a severe loss of quality”.

Dyen is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a supporter of the Indian homeland theory; and in fact such a theory does not strike him even after he notes these similarities. He simply admits that the distribution of the two families and their respective homelands, as understood by him, do not explain the situation.  In his own words: “The hypothesis to be dealt with is not favoured by considerations of the distribution of the two families… The probable homelands of the respective families appear to be very distant; that of the Indo-European is probably in Europe, whereas that of the Austronesian is no farther west than the longitude of the Malay Peninsula in any reasonable hypothesis, and has been placed considerably farther east in at least one hypothesis.  The hypothesis suggested by linguistic evidence is not thus facilitated by a single homeland hypothesis.”

To restate, Dyen feels that the Indo-European homeland is “probably in Europe” and the Austronesian homeland “no farther west than the longitude of the Malay Peninsula”, and hence he finds that the “linguistic evidence is not… facilitated by a single homeland hypothesis”. But, apart from the Indian homeland theory for the Indo-European family of languages, which Dyen does not consider, there is also an Indian homeland theory for the ultimate origin of the Austronesian family of languages : S.K. Chatterji, an invasionist scholar, suggests that “India was the centre from which the Austric race spread into the lands and islands of the east and Pacific”, and that “the Austric speech… in its original form (as the ultimate source of both the Austro-Asiatic and Austronesian branches)… could very well have been characterised within India”.

Therefore the linguistic evidence is “facilitated by a single homeland hypothesis” in the prehistoric past : the Indian homeland hypothesis. Linguistic evidence as it is, in respect of connections between Indo-European and other families in the Proto-Indo-European period, all point towards an Indian homeland for the Indo-European family of languages.



With plenty of linguistic evidence indicating that the Indo-European family of languages originated in India, we will examine the linguistic “evidence” which the linguists usually employ to dismiss the Indian homeland theory and in the name of which archaeologists are classified together with “Hindu fundamentalists”.  Entire schools of scholars are mesmerised into treating the external (to India) homeland and the Aryan invasion of India as linguistically established facts.

There are two main fields of linguistic study which have contributed to this misrepresentation of the linguistic situation :

a. The study of the so-called non-Aryan substrata in Indo-Aryan languages.

b. The study of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language, society and culture.

Let us examine the first. According to many linguists, the Indo-Aryan languages contain a large number of non-Aryan words, as well as grammatical and syntactical features, which appear to be Dravidian, or occasionally Austric – words and features which are missing in Indo-European languages outside India. The feature, it is construed, shows that the Indo-Aryan languages were intruders into an area (North India) formerly occupied by speakers of Dravidian and Austric languages who, in course of time, adopted the Indo-Aryan speech forms.  A special aspect of this argument is that names of Indian animals and plants, in Indo-Aryan languages, are alleged to be adopted from non-Aryan (Dravidian or Austric) population, thereby showing that the original Indo-Aryan speakers were not acquainted with the flora and fauna of India.

Closer analysis of these claims however lead us to following arguments against them :

  1. In respect of the grammatical and syntactical features common to Indo-Aryan and Dravidian, most of these features are also found in different Indo-European branches or languages outside India. That makes such features common and likely consequences of internal developments. 

The modern Indo-Aryan languages do not necessarily represent a change from an originally Vedic like structure, since these modem Indo-Aryan languages are not, as is popularly believed, descendants of the Vedic language. They are derived of other Indo-European dialects that we understand as Inner-Indo-European, whose grammatical and syntactical features may have been different from that of dialects in north-west and northern-most India, the region which sustained both the Vedic and the parent of non-Vedic Indo-European languages. These inner IE dialects are similar to the other non-Indo-European families within India since pre-Vedic times (Dravidian, Austric).

  1. The linguists classify words as non-Aryan not because they are recognizable loan-words from Dravidian or Austric (I.e. words which have a clear etymology that is Dravidian or Austric alone, not Indo-European or Sanskrit), but simply because they are words for which, in their subjective opinion, the Indo-European or Sanskrit etymologies are “not satisfactory”.

In most cases, these words or equivalent forms are not even found in the Dravidian or Austric languages. But the scholars divine the “possibility of non-Aryan speeches (other than Dravidian, Kol and later Tibeto-Burman), speeches now extinct, being present in India”, and regard those supposedly extinct dialects as having been the source for these words. It speaks of a predisposition to brand these words as “non-Aryan”, by hook or crook, to fit a favoured notion.

  1. Most of the non-Aryan (Dravidian or Austric) etymological derivations postulated by linguists for particular words are challenged or refuted by other linguists, who give clear Indo-European or Sanskrit etymological derivations for the same words.

There is no consistency or consensus about these linguistic assertions, beyond the favoured dogma that there must be non-Aryan words in the Indo-Aryan languages.

  1. Many of the ‘scholarly’ derivations from Dravidian or Austric are basically impossible, since these words contain phonetic characteristics which are inconsistent with those of the alleged source languages. 

Thus words original to the Dravidian languages could not start with an initial cerebral or liquid (T, D, r, l), did not contain aspirate sounds (h, kh, gh, ch, jh, Th, Dh, th, dh, ph, bh) and sibilants (s, S), could not start with initial voiced stops (g, j, D, d, b) or have intervocalic voiceless obstruents (k, c, T, t, p), and did not contain obstruents with liquids (kr, pi, pr, tr, etc).  And yet, the linguists regularly postulate a Dravidian origin for large numbers of words which contain these phonetic characteristics.

  1. In case of names of Indian plants and animals, the majority of them have been given Sanskrit etymologies, not only by ancient Sanskrit grammarians and etymologists but even by modern Western Sanskritists, like Sir Monier-Williams. 

Linguists who are predisposed to reject these etymologies, without establishing alternates indisputable ones, cannot be taken seriously.

  1. Names of plants and animals which appear to have no clear or credible Indo-European or Sanskrit etymologies cannot be automatically treated as non-Aryan words, purely on that ground alone unless they have clear and indisputable Dravidian or Austric etymologies, since the situation is identical in the case of words which are very clearly and definitely inherited Indo-European words.

Thus, Carl D. Buck points out : “In the inherited names of animals there is little to be said about their semantic nature for, in most of them, the root-connection is wholly obscure.” Likewise, in the few inherited names of plants common to various Indo-European branches, Buck points to the same condition : “the root connections are mostly obscure”. Specifically, even a universal Indo-European word like *kuon (dog) has a “root connection much disputed and dubious”; and the equally universal word *ekwo (horse) has a “root connection wholly obscure”.

Therefore, unless it is to be assumed that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were totally unacquainted with any plants and animals at all, it must be accepted that the names of plants and animals in any language need not necessarily be derivable from the etymological roots of that language : these names are more likely to have been “at first colloquial or even slang words” which subsequently were included in the standard vocabulary.

  1. When the names of certain plants or animals in the Indo-Aryan languages are demonstrably Dravidian or Austric, this will be because the plants or animals concerned are native to those parts of India where Dravidian or Austric languages are spoken.  Thus the Sanskrit word ela is certainly derived from the Dravidian word yela, since the plant concerned (cardamom) is native to Kerala, located in Dravidian speaking area.  The South Indian plant was borrowed, along with its name, by people of North India.

In such cases, it need not even be necessary that the plant must not be found in the area of the borrowers.  If a plant, which is native to both North and South India, was first cultivated and popularised in the South, then it is possible that the South Indian name would stick to the cultivated plant, even in the North.  Thus, the tea plant is native to both China and India (Assam, etc.), and the cultivated varieties of tea today include both Chinese tea and Assamese tea.  But China was the first to cultivate and popularise the beverage, and even today, the plant is known everywhere, including in India (and Assam) by its Chinese names (cA/cAy, tea).

To summarise, the Dravidian or Austric name for a plant in Indo-Aryan languages is due to the geographical origin or historical cultivation of the plant in Dravidian or Austric area, and not because the original Indo-Aryan speakers came from outside into an originally Dravidian or Austric India.

  1. The names of plants and animals which are native to North India are of Indo-European or Sanskrit origin even in the Dravidian languages of South India and the Austric languages of eastern India.  Thus, the words for camel (Sanskrit uSTra), lion (Sanskrit siMha) and rhinoceros (Sanskrit khaDgI or gaNDa) are derived from purely Indo-European roots : the word uSTra, in fact, is found in Iranian (uStra).

The Dravidian words for camel (Tamil-Malayalam oTTagam, Kannada-Telugu oNTe, TodaoTTe, Brahui huch, etc.), for lion (Tamil cingam, Telugu siMhamu, Kannada siMha, etc.) and rhinoceros (Tamil kANDAmirugam, Telugu, khaDga-mRgamu, Kannada khaDgamRga are all derived from their Sanskrit parent.  Similarly, with Austric words for camel (Santali Ut, Khasi ut) and lion (Santali sinho, Sora sinam-kidan, etc.).

This Sanskrit etymology of words in Dravidian and Austric would clearly not have been possible if the northwestern areas, to which the camel, lion and (at least in Indus Valley period) the rhinoceros were native, had originally been Dravidian or Austric, or of any other non-Aryan language, before the alleged advent of the Indo-Aryans.

  1. In addition, it must be noted that the linguists often reject the Sanskrit or Indo-European origins of words in Indo-Aryan languages, and correspondences between Indo-Aryan words and words in other Indo-European branches, on flimsiest of grounds : even a single vowel or consonant in a word is sufficient for them to brand the word as probably or definitely non-Aryan when, according to them, the word is not how it should have been as per the strict and regular rules of Sanskrit or Indo-European derivations.

Thus, the connection between Vedic VaruNa, Greek Ouranos and Teutonic Woden is rejected despite the close similarity of the names being backed by correspondence in the mythical nature and characteristics of the three Gods, because scholars deemed the derivations as irregular.  Likewise, the connection between Vedic PaNi/VaNi, Greek Pan and Teutonic Vanir will also be rejected on similar flimsy grounds, although the three are definitely cognate names.

On the other hand, linguists connecting Indo-Aryan words with Dravidian or Austric words have no compunction about linguistic regularity or accuracy : thus T. Burrow (cf. ‘Some-Dravidian Words in Sanskrit’ in Transactions of the Philological Society-1945, London, 1946) derives Sanskrit paN (to negotiate, bargain) and paNa (wager) from “Tamil puNai, to tie, bond, pledge, security, surety, and to Kannada poNe, bond, bail…” etc.  If these are Dravidian words in Sanskrit, it could be as well surmised that the related Greek Pan and Teutonic Vanir are also Dravidian words in these languages.

It is not only in respect of Indo-Aryan words that the linguists indulge in such hairsplitting : even in respect of the Greek word theós (God), instead of accepting that the word is an irregular derivation from Indo-European *deiwos, the linguists insist that theós is unrelated to *deiwos, and try to suggest alternate etymologies for it, e.g.  “from *thesós (cf. théspharos, ‘spoken by god, ordained’), where the root connection is much disputed and remains dubious. Some linguists go further : “Mr. Hopkins… rejects all the proposed etymologies and suggests that… théos itself is a loan-word from pre-Greek sources.” However, while this kind of hairsplitting is occasional in respect of Greek, it is a regular scholarly pursuit in respect of Indo-Aryan languages.

We have seen how Michael Witzel, while admitting to the fact that rivers in North India have Sanskrit names from the earliest recorded Rigvedic period itself, tries to suggest that at least three river names, KubhA, SutudrI and KoSala, are non-Aryan, on grounds of the suggested Sanskrit etymologies being irregular. But this kind of argument is basically untenable : while there can be no doubt that there is such a thing as regular derivations according to definite phonetic rules of etymology and phonetic change, there can be irregular derivations too, since human speech in its historical evolution has not evolved strictly according to rules.  Thus, the Latin word canis (dog) is definitely derived from Indo-European *kuon : according to Buck, the “phonetic development is peculiar, but connection not to be questioned”. Likewise, the modern Greek ikkos (horse) is definitely derived from Indo-European *ekwo, although, as Buck points out, “with some unexplained phonetic features”.

Hence, it is clear that linguists seeking to reject Indo-European correspondence or Sanskrit etymologies of Indo-Aryan words on grounds of irregular phonetic features are not being strictly honest, and their opinions cannot be entirely trusted.

Beyond the brief summary of our main arguments, an examination of writings of various linguists who have written on this subject shows that logic and objectivity played no part in production of their long lists of “non-Aryan” words constituting the “substratum” in Indo-Aryan languages. In such lists, It is observed that any word in Sanskrit or modern Indo-Aryan languages that appears to be similar in sound to a Dravidian word, with even a vaguely similar meaning, automatically represents a Dravidian word adopted by Indo-Aryan, even when it has a clear Sanskrit etymology, and even while the word or a similar word is found in other Indo-European languages outside India as well.

An examination or comparative study of the works of these linguists has been undertaken by an American scholar, Edwin F. Bryant, in his paper Linguistic Substrata and the Indigenous Aryan Debate, later presented at the October 1996 Michigan-Laussane International Seminar on Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia with the title : Evidence, Interpretation and Ideology. Bryant is currently on the faculty of the Department of History, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA.

Bryant finds that “all these linguists are operating on the assumption, based on other criteria, that the Aryans ‘must have’ invaded India where there could not have been a ‘linguistic vacuum’”, and that, beyond this shared predisposition, there is no consensus among them on any specific point.  His examination of the works of several linguists shows “that they are not internally consistent, since the opinions of the principal linguists in this area have differed quite considerably.  This problematizes the value of this method as a significant determinant in the Indo-Aryan debate…”.

The extent to which these linguists (all of whom are otherwise in agreement in the belief that the Indo-Aryans are immigrants into India from an original homeland in South Russia) differ in the matter is made clear by Bryant :

  1. About the grammatical and syntactical features common to both Dravidian and Indo-Aryan, Robert Caldwell (1856) was the first to draw attention to many of them; but he rejected the idea that these features constituted originally Dravidian grammatical and syntactical elements (which surfaced in Indo-Aryan as a substratum) : “whatever the ethnological evidence of their identity may be supposed to exist… when we view the question philologically, and with reference to the evidence furnished by their languages alone, the hypothesis of their identity does not appear to me to have been established.”

But, a hundred years later, M.B. Emeneau (1956) drew up a whole list of such grammatical and syntactical features, and added to them in his later studies (1969, 1974).  F.B.J. Kuiper (1967) and Massca (1976) also added to the list.  These linguists concluded that these features were definitely evidence of a Dravidian substratum.

However, H. Hock (1975, 1984) strongly rejected the idea that these features are due to a Dravidian substratum.  He pointed out that most of these features actually have parallels in other Indo-European languages outside India, and therefore they were more likely to be internal developments in Indo-Aryan.  Since then, several other linguists, all otherwise staunch believers in the Aryan invasion theory, have rejected the idea that these features are Dravidian features.

F.B.J Kuiper (1974), a staunch protagonist of the substratum theory, admits that “we cannot compare the syntax of the Rig Veda with contemporaneous Dravidian texts.  The oldest Dravidian texts that we know are those of old Tamil.  They probably date from about the second century AD and are, accordingly, at least a thousand years later than the Rig Veda.”

M.B. Emeneau himself, although he sticks to the claim that a Dravidian substratum explains the situation better, admits (1980) that it is not as easy as that : “Is the whole Indo-Aryan history one of self-development, and the complex Dravidian development triggered by Indo-Aryan, perhaps even New Indo-Aryan, influence ? Or, in the case of Kurukh, borrowed from New Indo-Aryan ?… no easy solution is yet at hand.”

  1. F.B.J. Kuiper (1991) produced a list of 380 words from the Rig Veda, constituting four percent of the Rigvedic vocabulary, which he claimed were of non-Aryan (primarily Dravidian) origin.  Earlier linguists were more cautious in the matter of Rigvedic vocabulary.  M.B. Emeneau (1980), for example, hoped that the linguists would agree at least on one word mayUra, as a borrowing from Dravidian : “I can only hope that the evidence for mayuura as a RV borrowing from Dr. is convincing to scholars in general.”

But P. Thieme (1994) examined and rejected Kuiper’s list in toto, gave Indo-Aryan or Sanskrit etymologies for most of these words, and characterized Kuiper’s exercise as an example of misplaced “zeal for hunting up Dravidian loans in Sanskrit”.  In general, Thieme sharply rejects the tendency to force Dravidian or Austric etymologies onto Indo-Aryan words and insists (1992) that “if a word can be explained easily from material extant in Sanskrit itself, there is little chance for such a hypothesis”.

Rahul Peter Das (a believer in the Aryan invasion theory), likewise rejects (1994) Kuiper’s list, and emphasises that there is “not a single case in which a communis opinio has been found confirming the foreign origin of a Rgvedic (and probably Vedic in general) word”.

Therefore, it is clear that claims regarding Dravidian loan-words in Vedic Sanskrit are totally baseless.

  1. So far as the modern Indo-Aryan languages are concerned, also, the untenability of the whole exercise of hunting down non-Aryan words in Indo-Aryan can be illustrated by an examination of a detailed study conducted by Massica (1991), who examined a complete list of names of plants and agricultural terms in Hindi. Incidently, Massica is a staunch believer in the Aryan invasion theory and, in fact, concludes that his study confirms the AIT theory,

Massica’s study found that only 4.5% of the words have Austric etymologies, and 7.6% of the words have Dravidian etymologies, and, even here, “a significant portion of the suggested Dravidian and Austroasiatic etymologies is uncertain”.  When we consider that the few words with proven Austric or a Dravidian etymology probably refer to plants and agricultural processes native to South India or Eastern India, Massica’s study clearly contradicts his conclusions.

Massica, however, classifies 55% of the words as non-Aryan but of “unknown origin” in respect of words other than Dravidian and Austric, and other than non-Indian names for non-Indian plants,

It is words of this kind which have led linguists to postulate extinct indigenous families of non-Aryan, non-Dravidian and non-Austric languages in ancient India, which have disappeared without a trace but which constitute the main non-Aryan substrata in Indo-Aryan.  T. Burrow notes that even the most liberal Dravidian and Austric etymologising may not serve in explaining words which (in his opinion) are non-Aryan, since “it may very well turn out that the number of such words which cannot be explained will outnumber those which can be.  This is the impression one gets, for example, from the field of plant names, since so far only a minority of this section of the non-Aryan words has been explained from these two linguistic families.”

However, although the linguists are compelled to resort to these stratagems, they are not very comfortable with them.  Emeneau (1980), for example, admits : “it hardly seems useful to take into account the possibilities of another language, or language family, totally lost to the record, as the source” for the supposedly non-Aryan words.

Massica himself, although he brands the words as non-Aryan on the ground that there are no acceptable Sanskrit etymologies, admits that “it is not a requirement that the word be connected with a root, of course : there are many native words in Sanskrit as in all languages that cannot be analysed”.

Bloch and Thieme emphasize the point that the names of plants need not be analysable from etymological roots, since most of them will be slang or colloquial words derived from the “low culture” vernaculars of the same language.

  1. It is in Classical Sanskrit word-lists that we find many words which can be, or have been, assigned Dravidian or Austric origins.  This has led the linguists to emphasise a theory first mooted by Burrow (1968), according to which there was a very small number of Dravidian and Austric words (or none at all) in the Rig Veda, which grew in the later Vedic literature, reached a peak in the Epics, PurANas and the Classical Sanskrit word-lists, and finally dwindled in the Prakrits and even more so in the modern Indo-Aryan languages.  This situation, according to Burrow, depicts a scenario where the Aryan immigrants into India were new arrivals at the time of composition of the hymns, and hence hardly any indigenous words had infiltrated into the vocabulary of the Rig Veda.  As the process of bilingualism developed (involving both the local inhabitants of the North preserving some of their original non-Aryan vocabulary as they adopted the Aryan speech-forms, as well as post-first-generation Aryans inheriting non-Aryan words as they merged with the local people), the number of such words increased in the language of the Epics and PurANas, and the Classical Sanskrit word-lists.  Finally, when there were no more bilingual speakers left in the North, since everyone had adopted the Aryan speech-forms, the appearance of non-Aryan words in the Indo-Aryan languages ceased; hence, the modem Indoaryan languages have few such words.

However, Caldwell (1856), who was the first to produce lists of words “probably” borrowed by Sanskrit from Dravidian, rejected this substratum theory.  He noted that the words did not include the essential aspects of vocabulary (such as actions, pronouns, body parts, etc.), and consisted almost exclusively of words “remote from ordinary use”, and hence concluded that the Dravidian languages could not possibly have been spoken in North India at the time of the alleged Aryan invasion.

Bloch (1929), who rejected the substratum theory completely, pointed out that the Dravidian languages of the South, even at the level of common speech, contain a massive amount of borrowed Sanskrit vocabulary covering every aspect of life.  But this is not explained as an Aryan substratum in South India.  The natural explanation for these borrowings is that a relatively small number of Sanskrit-speaking individuals were responsible for them. 

Likewise, the Dravidian words in Sanskrit were reverse borrowings, being introductions of Dravidian words into literary Sanskrit by similar Sanskrit-speaking individuals from the South.  Such words were only part of the Classical Sanskrit lexicon, and few of them percolated to Indo-Aryan vernaculars.  Thus, even popular Sanskrit words like nIra (water, Tamil nIr), mIna(fish, Tamil mIn), heramba (buffalo, Tamil erumai), etc. are not used in the modem Indo-Aryan languages, which use instead derivatives of the Sanskrit words pAnIyam, matsya and mahiSa respectively. 

Such words, as Bloch points out, were artificial and temporary introductions into literary Sanskrit, most of which either died out completely, or remained purely literary words that did not become a part of naturally spoken Indoaryan speech (although it is likely that some of them became so popular that they replaced or accompanied original Sanskrit words and percolated down into modern Indo-Aryan).

Massica, in his later study (1991) already referred to, also notes that Dravidian words in Sanskrit are not found in present-day Indo-Aryan languages like Hindi.  Clearly, these words do not represent a Dravidian substratum in Sanskrit but a process of artificial adoption of vocabulary from regional speech-forms, both Aryan and non-Aryan.

  1. Many linguists question the idea that there could be a Dravidian or Austric substratum in Indo-Ayan languages of North India, even on grounds of likely geographical distribution of these two families in ancient times.  In respect of the Austric languages, even a staunch supporter of the non-Aryan substratum theory like Burrow (1968) admits that the possibility of an Austric substratum is remote since “the evidence as it is so far established would suggest that these languages in ancient times as well as now were situated only in eastern India”.  Massica (1979) and Southworth (1979) also reiterate this point.

R.P. Das (1994) points out that there is “not a single bit of uncontroversial evidence on the actual spread of Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic in prehistoric times, so that any statement on Dravidian and Austric in Rgvedic times is nothing but speculation”.

  1. In fact, when words are similar in both Indoaryan and Dravidian, it is more natural to conclude that the Indoaryan words are the original ones.  According to Thieme, “all the Dravidian languages known to us fairly bristle with loans from Sanskrit and the Aryan vernaculars.  Dravidian literature in South India came into existence under the impulse and influence of Sanskrit literature and speech.  Wherever there is a correspondence in the vocabularies of Sanskrit and Dravidian, there is a presumption, to be removed only by specific argument, that Sanskrit has been the lender, Dravidian the borrower.”

While Thieme is, of course, an opponent of the substratum theory, even so staunch a supporter of the substratum theory as Emeneau (1980) admits that it is “always possible, eg. to counter a suggestion of borrowing from one of the indigenous language families by suggesting that there has been borrowing in the other direction”.

7. Ultimately, therefore, the whole question of a Dravidian, or non-Aryan, substratum in the Indoaryan languages is a matter of dogma rather than scientific study.

R.P. Das (1994), for example, points out that there is little linguistic logic involved in the debate about the Dravidian or Austric origins of Indoaryan words: “Many of the arguments for (or against) such foreign origin are often not the results of impartial and thorough research, but rather of (often wistful) statements of faith.”

Bloch (1929), likewise, had earlier dismissed the Dravidian derivations which many linguists sought to force on Sanskrit words, as being not “self-evident” but “a matter of probability and to a certain extent of faith”.

While both Das and Bloch are opponents of the substratum theory (though believers in the Aryan invasion theory in general), Emeneau (1980), a staunch supporter of the substratum theory, himself admits that these derivations are “in fact all merely ‘suggestions’.  Unfortunately, all areal etymologies are in the last analysis unprovable, are ‘acts of faith’.”

The “faith” in all these cases is the faith in the external (to India) origin of the Indoaryans (and Indo-Europeans), which Emeneau (1980) describes as “our linguistic doctrine which has been held now for more than a century and a half”.

Hence, after his examination of the claims and counterclaims of the linguists, Bryant reaches the logical conclusion that “the theory of Aryan migrations must be established without doubton other grounds for research into pre-Aryan linguistic substrata to become meaningful.  However, the ‘evidence’ of a linguistic substratum in Indo-Aryan, in and of itself, due to its inconclusive nature, cannot be presented in isolation as decisive proof in support of the theory of Aryan invasions or migrations into the Indian subcontinent.”

*  *  *

We shall next present “Proto Linguistic Study” …

Please refer and links therein for previous adaptations from the most brilliant, insightful analysis ever undertaken …

by Shrikant G. Talageri available @



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