Dravidian languages (drəvĭdˈēən) [key], family of about 23 languages that appears to be unrelated to any other known language family. The Dravidian languages are spoken by more than 200 million people, living chiefly in S and central India and N Sri Lanka. The four major Dravidian languages are Kannada, having over 40 million speakers; Malayalam, having about 35 million speakers; Tamil, with almost 70 million speakers; and Telugu, with over 70 million speakers. Each of these languages has a noteworthy literature of considerable age. Brahui, another of the Dravidian group, has close to 1 million speakers, in Baluchistan. It is thought that the Dravidian tongues are derived from a language spoken in India prior to the invasion of the Aryans c.1500 B.C. Dravidian languages are noted for retroflex and liquid sound types. A distinctive feature is the formation of a comparatively large number of sounds in the front of the mouth. Verbs have a negative as well as an affirmative voice. Gender classification is made on the basis of rank instead of sex, with one class including beings of a higher status and the other beings of an inferior status (to which inanimate objects and sometimes women are assigned). Nouns are declined, showing case and number. In the Dravidian languages great use is made of suffixes (but not of prefixes) with nouns and verbs. There are many words of Indic origin in the Dravidian languages, which in turn have contributed a number of words to the Indic tongues. The Dravidian languages have their own alphabets, which go back to a common source that is related to the Devanagari alphabet used for Sanskrit. Brahui, however, is recorded in the Arabic script.
See T. Burrow and M. B. Emeneau, ed., A Dravidian Etymological Dictionary (1984).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Language and Linguistics