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

South Dravidian is an outer branch (Zvelebil 1990:56) of the Dravidian languages family. There have been slight differences in the way Dravidian languages are grouped by various Dravidian linguists (see Subrahmanyam 1983, Zvelebil 1990, Krishnamurthi 2003); Krishnamurti calls Tamil-Tulu as South Dravidian I, Telugu-Kui as South Dravidian II and Kolami-Parji as Central Dravidian. South Dravidian I in turn branches off into Tamil–Kannada and Tuluic. The languages that constitute the Tamil–Kannada branch are Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Irula, Toda, Kota, Kodava, and Badaga and the languages that constitute the Tuluic branch are Tulu, Koraga, Kudiya, Bellari. (Zvelebil 1990:56)

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.

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.[1]

Phonological features

Tamil and Malayalam have both retroflex lateral (/ɭ/) and retroflex approximant (/ɻ/) sounds, whereas Kannada has retained only the retroflex 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 velar fricative (/h/) or has disappeared completely. This change is unique to Kannada in the Dravidian family. Tamil does not show this change.

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, however, is totally inert to this change and hence the velar plosives are retained as such or with minimum changes in the corresponding words.

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 plosives became post alveolar affricates or dental plosives, even some of the singular ones which usually becomes a trill in SD and SCD languages, e.g. Tamil oṉṟu, āṟu, Tulu oñji, āji. The retroflex approximant mostly became a /ɾ/ and also /ɭ, ɖ/, e.g. Tamil ēẓu, puẓu, Tulu {ēḷŭ, ēlŭ, ēḍŭ}, puru.[2]


The Dravidian languages form a close-knit family. Most scholars agree on four groups:[3]



  1. ^ "Odia gets classical language status – The Hindu". The Hindu. 20 February 2014.
  2. ^ Krishnamurti (2003), pp. 127, 146.
  3. ^ Krishnamurti (2003), pp. 19–20.
  4. ^ Krishnamurti (2003), p. 21.
  5. ^ Zvelebil (1990), p. 56.


  • Krishnamurti, B. (2003). The Dravidian Languages. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77111-0.
  • Subrahmanyam, P.S., Dravidian Comparative Phonology, Annamalai University, 1983.
  • Zvelebil, Kamil., Dravidian Linguistics: An Introduction", PILC (Pondicherry Institute of Linguistics and Culture), 1990.