How similar are the Dravidian languages?

Dymn

Senior Member
I'm asking for the biggest ones from South India: Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Is there some kind of mutual intelligibility? Up to which point? Or is it just restricted to certain words? Would the speakers of these languages understand the others if they were written in their writing system? How about similarities in grammar, or phonology? Are the differences comparable to Romance, Germanic, Indo-Iranian, Indo-European languages?

Thank you! :)
 
  • Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    I don't really speak any of them. But what I hear from my friends from down South, Tamil and Malayalam are mutually intelligible to some extent. The other big ones, not so much. I hope, we'll get more informed answers soon.

    Theoretically speaking, I'd expect, more diversity among the major Dravidian languages (except Tamil-Malayalam) than the Romance languages, because they must have split, already in BCE. Oldest surviving Dravidian literature is linguistically Tamil-Malayalam (traditionally called Old Tamil), and is dated variously around 0AD+/-3 centuries or so. Kannada must have already split, Telugu even before that.

    At the level of vocabulary, most modern literary languages of India (Tamil being a notable exception in modern times) use many Sanskrit loanwords, which would definitely generate some mutual intelligibility.
     
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    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    In "The Dravidian Languages" (Cambridge) there is this tree:
    Proto-South Dravidian I: 1 Tamil 2 Malayalam 3 Irula 4 Kodagu 4 Kurumba 5 Toda 6 Kota 7 Badaga 8 Kannada 9 Koraga 10 Tulu.
    Proto-South Dravidian II: 12 Telugu 13 Gondi 14 Konda 15 Kui 16 Kuvi 17 Pengo 18 Manda

    Tamil–Malayalam with a retention rate 73 per cent of cognates, are said to have been separated by 1,043 years, i.e. the tenth century AD, which is, in any case, the known historical date. The greatest time depth is between Telugu and Brahui, with 16 per cent retention of cognates indicating a distance of 6,075 years or 4100 BC.
    page 491
     
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    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    @Nino83: Well, we should add that the author proceeds to point out that glottochronology is unreliable, including the quoted conclusions - Brahui being his main point of contention in this particular case.
     

    Nino83

    Senior Member
    Italian
    @Dib
    Yes, you're right on the glottochronology.:thumbsup:
    On the other hand the quote is relevant for the part regarding lexical similarity and mutual intelligibility between Tamil and Malayalam languages.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    On the other hand the quote is relevant for the part regarding lexical similarity and mutual intelligibility between Tamil and Malayalam languages.
    Indeed.

    Can we agree that Tamil and Malayalam are the most similar languages while Telugu is the most distant of the main four?
    It seems so.

    On a related but different note, Kannada and Telugu scripts are very similar to each other. Tamil and Malayalam scripts are quite different from each other as well as Kannada/Telugu.
     

    ilocas2

    Banned
    Czech
    Czech Wikipedia says that differences between Malayalam and Tamil are smaller than between Czech and Slovak. :D Well, at least you can see that Wikipedia is not always the best source of informations.
     

    Dymn

    Senior Member
    On a related but different note, Kannada and Telugu scripts are very similar to each other. Tamil and Malayalam scripts are quite different from each other as well as Kannada/Telugu.
    So are they similar or different? I don't fully understand you.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    What I mean is, Tamil and Malayalam languages are the most similar, while Telugu is apparently the most different. As for the scripts, they are written in (each one is written in a separate script), Telugu and Kannada scripts look quite similar to each other. Tamil script is quite different from the others. Malayalam script is also quite different from the rest.
     
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