Reconstruction ofDravidian languages
RegionEastern Iran, Pakistan, Western India and Deccan Plateau
Erac. 4th–3rd m. BCE
Lower-order reconstructions

Proto-Dravidian is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Dravidian languages native to the Indian subcontinent.[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]


See also: Elamo-Dravidian languages

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 evolving into various branches around 3rd-millennium BCE.[3][full citation needed]

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

According to Franklin Southworth (2005),[5] 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:[6]

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:[6]



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).[10]


Proto-Dravidian has been reconstructed as having the following consonant phonemes:[11][12][13]

Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasals *m *n (*ṉ)[a] *ṇ
Plosive *p *t *ṯ *ṭ *c *k
Semivowel *w *y *H
Rhotic *r *ẓ[b]
Lateral *l *ḷ
  1. ^ reconstructed by P.S. Subrahmanyam
  2. ^ may also be represented as ḻ or r̤

The singular alveolar plosive *ṯ developed into an alveolar trill /r/ in many of the South and South Central languages, it later merged with the tap in many of them; Tulu has /d͡ʒ, d̪, ɾ/ as reflexes, Manda-Kui made it /d͡ʒ/ and Hill-Maria Gondi made it /ʁ/. *ṯṯ and *nṯ became /r̥, nr/ in Konda and [tr, ndr] in many Tamil dialects apart from them, other didnt rhotacised it, instead either preserving them or merging it with other set of stops like dentals in Kannada, retroflexes in Telugu or palatals in Manda-Kui and some languages of Kerala.[14] Central made all alveolars dental which is one of the features distinguishing it from South Central branch and North made it /r, s/.[13][15] For example, Tamil āṟu, Tulu āji, Naiki sādi, Kui hāja; Tamil puṟṟu, Tulu puñca, Kannada huttu, Naiki puṭṭa, Konda puRi, Malto pute; Tamil onṟu, Tulu oñji, Pengo ronje, Brahui asi.

Velar nasal *ṅ 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 or *ṅṅ.[16]

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

P.S. Subrahmanyam reconstructs 6 nasals for PD compared to 4 by Krishnamurti and also doesn't agree with the laryngeal.[17]

The Northern Dravidian languages Kurukh, Malto and Brahui cannot easily be derived from the traditional Proto-Dravidian phonological system. McAlpin (2003) 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)


Main article: wikt:Appendix:Cognate sets for Dravidian languages § Numerals


Crop plants

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 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.[5]

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 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 Sesamum indicum Late Proto-Dravidian *nū(v)- sesame
sugarcane Saccharum sp. Early Proto-Dravidian *cet-Vkk
hemp Cannabis sp. Late Proto-Dravidian ? *boy-Vl

Basic vocabulary

Basic vocabulary of Proto-Dravidian selected from Krishnamurti (2003):[18]

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[a] *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. ^ Also 'edge, beak, mouth of vessel, aperture, blade of sword'.

See also


  1. ^ Andronov 2003, p. 299.
  2. ^ Krishnamurti 2003, p. 492.
  3. ^ History and Archaeology. vol. 1, no. 1–2. Department of Ancient History, Culture, and Archaeology, University of Allahabad. 1980. p. 234. OCLC 11579254.
  4. ^ a b McIntosh 2008, p. 353.
  5. ^ a b Southworth 2005.
  6. ^ a b McIntosh 2008, p. 353-354.
  7. ^ Parpola & Parpola 1975, p. 217-225.
  8. ^ McIntosh 2008, p. 354.
  9. ^ Ansumali Mukhopadhyay 2021.
  10. ^ Baldi 1990, p. 342.
  11. ^ Subrahmanyam 1983, p. 40.
  12. ^ Zvelebil 1990.
  13. ^ a b Krishnamurti 2003.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Subrahmanyam 1983.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Krishnamurti 2003, p. [page needed].

Works cited

Further reading