A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian family of languages

A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian family of languages. By Robert Caldwell. (LINCOM gramatica 14.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2012. Pp. 640. ISBN 9783895861352. $119.50.

Reviewed by Elly van Gelderen, Arizona State University

This book was originally printed in 1856, and Robert Caldwell put out a second edition in 1875. The current edition is a reprint of the 1913 third edition, prepared by J. L. Wyatt and T. Ramakkrishna Pillai. It remains a fascinating read, surprisingly accessible, and clearly reproduced by LINCOM Europa. C, who lived from 1814–1891, has been regarded as a pioneer in Dravidian linguistics, making the case that Dravidian was not a branch of Indo-European, as had been assumed. As Thomas Trautmann (e.g. ‘Discovering Aryan and Dravidian in British India’, 2004) has shown, however, C was not the first to claim the independence of Dravidian from Indo-European. This honor goes to Francis Whyte Ellis, who lived from 1777 to 1819.

The first hundred pages or so of the grammar are devoted to a general introduction of the Dravidian languages, to the earliest traces of Dravidian, and to how Dravidian languages are independent from Indo-European but somewhat related to Scythian. The latter term is used to include Finnish, Turkish, Mongolian, and Tungusian (61), and it is mainly due to their common agglutinative nature that they are seen as related. C cites Rasmus Rask as having related Dravidian to Scythian, although Rask ‘did little more than suggest this relationship’ (62) and did not work it out. The first part of the grammar concerns the alphabets, the sounds, and the ‘harmonic sequence of vowels’.

The remaining major parts of the book discuss roots, the noun, the numerals, the pronoun, the verb, and glossarial affinities. There are extensive discussions on the nature of number and case. Pronouns, especially the first person, are said to be among the most stable (359), and the nominative pronoun and the verbal inflections are virtually the same. C reconstructs the first pronoun as nâ, yâ, or â and second person as nî, yî, or î and considers whether the vowels could be related to the distal and remote demonstratives but concludes that this cannot be the case since a is remote and i proximate demonstrative (372). We then read a comparison between Dravidian pronouns and Semitic, Indo-European, and Scythian ones. The included tables containing Dravidian pronouns and those of other Indian languages are very helpful (416–19). Demonstratives and interrogatives are seen as related, and the lack of relative pronouns is noted.

In Dravidian, a root can turn into a noun if it has case and into a verb if it has verbal inflection. The verb has one declension and may be compounded with a noun. Intransitives can be transitivized in a number of ways, and verbal nouns play an important role in Dravidian. The book’s final part provides affinities in the Dravidian lexicon to Indo-European, Semitic, and Scythian. True to his time, C uses terms such as ‘rude’, ‘uncultivated’, and ‘primitive’, but that does not obscure his interesting observations and descriptions.