South Dravidian
South Dravidian I
South India, Sri Lanka, diaspora
Linguistic classificationDravidian
  • South Dravidian
Proto-languageProto-South Dravidian
  • Tamil–Kannada
  • Tuluic

South Dravidian (also called "South Dravidian I") is one of the four major branches of the Dravidian languages family. It includes the literary languages Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam and Tulu, as well as several non-literary languages such as Badaga, Irula, Kota, Kurumba, Toda and Kodava.[1]

Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam are recognized among the official languages of India and are spoken mainly in South India. All three are officially recognized as classical languages by the Government of India, along with Sanskrit, Telugu, and Odia.[2]

Phonological features

Tamil and Malayalam have both retroflex lateral /ɭ/ and retroflex approximant /ɻ/ sounds, whereas most of the remaining like Kannada have merged the central approximant with the lateral. Evidence shows that both retroflex approximant and the retroflex laterals were once (before the 10th century) also present in Kannada. However, all the retroflex approximants changed into retroflex laterals in Kannada later. In Kannada, the bilabial voiceless plosive (/p/) at the beginning of many words has disappeared to produce a glottal fricative (/h/) or has disappeared completely. This change was later taken to other Kannadoid languages and Tuluoid languages like Bellari and Koraga, eg. Tamil peyar, Kannada hesaru, Bellari/Koraga hudari; Tamil puṟṟu, Jenu Kuruba uṯṯu, Ka. puttu, huttu, uttu.[3][4]

Tamil-Malayalam and Telugu show the conversion of Voiceless velar plosive (/k/) into Voiceless palatal plosive (/c/) at the beginning of the words (refer to comparative method for details). Kannada and other languages, however, are totally inert to this change and hence the velar plosives are retained as such or with minimum changes in the corresponding words, eg. Tamil ceṭi, Irula gïḍa, Toda kïḍf, Kannada giḍa, Telugu ceṭṭu.

Tulu is characterized by its r/l and s/c/t alternation, for e.g. sarɛ, tarɛ across Tulu dialects compare with Kannada tale. The alveolar ṯ, ṯṯ, nṯ became post alveolar or dental, the singular ones usually becomes a trill in other Dravidian languages, e.g. Tamil oṉṟu, āṟu, nāṟu, nāṟṟam, muṟi, kīṟu; Tulu oñji, āji, nāduni, nāta, {mudipuni, muyipuni}, {kīruni, gīcuni}. The retroflex approximant mostly became a /ɾ/ and also /ɭ, ɖ/, e.g. Tamil ēẓu, puẓu, Tulu {ēḷŭ, ēlŭ, ēḍŭ}, puru.[5]

The vowels have mostly remained the same with the 5 /a, e, i, o, u/ + length; Malayalam and Tulu have an extra /ə̆/ and /ɯ/. The Nilagiri languages developed a set of centralized vowel around retroflexes and alveolars with Irula having /ɨ, ʉ, ə, ɵ/ + length.[3] Kurumba languages have nasalized vowels, eg. Jenu Kuruba ã·we, Kannada āme, āve, ēve, ēme, Tamil yāmai, āmai.[6]


Malayalam lost the prononial endings of verbs. Kannada lost clusivity. Old Tamil retained the PD like tense system of past vs non past but none currently do, all have past, present, future.[3]

Classification and terminology

The Dravidian languages form a close-knit family. Four subgroups are generally accepted: South Dravidian, South-Central Dravidian, Central Dravidian and North Dravidian.[7][8][9] Most scholars agree that the South Dravidian and South-Central Dravidian branches (called "Tamil-Tulu" and "Telugu-Kui" in Zvelebil 1990:56) are more closely related to each other than to the other branches of the Dravidian languages.[8] For this reason, Krishnamurti suggested the alternative terms South Dravidian I for the former branch and South Dravidian II for the latter.[10]

South Dravidian is classified internally into two subbranches: Tamil–Kannada and Tulu.[11] The languages that constitute the Tamil–Kannada branch are Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Irula, Toda, Kota, Kodava, and Badaga and the languages that constitute the Tulu branch are Tulu, Koraga, Kudiya, Bellari.

According to R. C. Hiremath, Director of International School of Dravidian Linguistics in Trivandrum, the separation of Tamil and Kannada into independent languages from the Tamil–Kannada inner branch started with the separation of Tulu in about 1500 BCE and completed in about 300 BCE.[citation needed]



  1. ^ Steever (2019), pp. 5–7.
  2. ^ "Odia gets classical language status – The Hindu". The Hindu. 20 February 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Krishnamurti (2003).
  4. ^ "A Dravidian etymological dictionary". 1984.
  5. ^ Krishnamurti (2003), p. 127, 146.
  6. ^ Zvelebil, Kamil V. (1988). "Jēnu Kuṟumba: Brief Report on a "Tribal" Language of the Nilgiri Area". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 108 (2): 297–301. doi:10.2307/603656. JSTOR 603656.
  7. ^ Steever (2019), pp. 5–9, 12.
  8. ^ a b Kolichala (2016), p. 76.
  9. ^ Krishnamurti (2003), pp. 19–20.
  10. ^ Krishnamurti (2003), p. 58.
  11. ^ a b Zvelebil (1990), p. 56.
  12. ^ Krishnamurti (2003), p. 21.


  • Kolichala, Suresh (2016). "Dravidian Languages". In Hans Henrich Hock; Elena Bashir (eds.). The Languages and Linguistics of South Asia: A Comprehensive Guide. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 73–107. ISBN 978-3-11-042715-8.
  • Krishnamurti, B. (2003). The Dravidian Languages. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77111-0.
  • Steever, Sanford (2019). "Introduction to the Dravidian languages". In Steever, Sanford (ed.). The Dravidian Languages (2nd ed.). Routledge. pp. 1–44. ISBN 978-1-138-85376-8.
  • Subrahmanyam, P.S. (1983). Dravidian Comparative Phonology. Annamalai University.
  • Zvelebil, Kamil (1990). Dravidian Linguistics: An Introduction. PILC (Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture).