Dr. Suresh Kolicha, a well known Dravidian linguist, had once stated about the subject of "language drift" quoting 4 words. This message was in "CTamil" mail list. The following is his message. I gave my response. Here I am saving his message and my response in my blog.
Sound change is an important phonological deviation that can be easily detected, which helps in determining the linguistic drift. Similarly, morphological and syntactical deviations also mark divergence of a language to become a separate entity. For example, Tamil and many other south Dravidian languages lost initial c- to become Ø (null), while that sound is retained in many South Central Dravidian languages like Gondi, Kui etc. in words like *ciy/cii = to give [iv, ii (tamil)], *caval = rice obtained from fried paddy by pestling it > aval (tamil), *cintam=tamarind > cintam/intam (Tamil), (but cinta in Telugu), *cay-m=five > aintu, aJju (Tamil). Another such change is palatalization where velar initials in Proto-south-Dravidian transformed in Tamil to become palatals (*k > *c), which did not happen in Kannada Ex: *kem=red > *cem/cevvu (tamil)-. Please note that there are also many other astonishing number of proto-Dravidian features that are maintained in Tamil, while their traces are almost lost in other languages.
First a personal welcome from me to Dr.Suresh. I am not a linguist but dabble in Tamil as and when I like. While I am contesting few of his statements and also that of Prof. Bhadriraju (I have read his book "The Dravidian Languages"- not completely but largely) I am willing to learn from Professional linguists.
Mr.Suresh, Pl. do show me the mistakes I make. I am a serious student of the Tamil language studies.
Regarding the 4 words Mr.Suresh has given in the above statement, my understanding is very different. In my opinion, one should not see only the initial c-, we should also see initial k- whether initial c- is lost systematically or not is a different question.
ii-thal in Tamil is a later form. iihu-thal is the earlier form. [it is actually written as iikuthal, ஈகுதல், but pronounced as iihuthal based on tamil pronunciation rules. This pronunciation rule, one should not forget. ’hu’ is pronounced variantly as vu also in certain cases. iihu-thal can become iivuthal and finally even 'vu' can go off. We end with ii-thal. We call ku-vu change as poli in Tamil grammar. (that is one sound resembles the other so much and replaces the same in folk usage). In hundreds of Tamil noun words, the final ku is alternatively pronounced as vu.
Now how could iiku-thal would have been the correct form? Because the noun obtained from it is called iikai (pronounced iihai). Now what would be the pre-form of iiku-thal itself? "iiyen kiLavi izinthoon kuuRRee" - (ii is the form uttered by the lowly person) - is NuuRpaa 928 in eccaviyal, collathikaaram, Tholkaappiyam. so iiku-thal most probably would have been *iizku-thal and z was lost on usage. Again there are many examples for such loss of 'z'. I can give examples of usage in Sivagangai district as vaazvaraci > vaavaraci = A lady who died as sumangali. Similarly kaaz> kaazmbu> kaambu (tender shoot of a plant which becomes firm on growth.)
The pre-form of *iizku-thal could possibly be *kiizku-thal = that which is given to the lowly person. if *kiizku-thal is the constructed proto form, then it can explain all the Dravidian forms like *iizku-thal, iiku-thal, iivu-thal, iiyu-thal, ii-thal, *cyii-thal, *cii-thal etc. through loss of k- or palatization of 'k' to 'c' and subsequent loss of 'c-'.
Similar words do exist in Tamil kiizku-thal>iizku-thal>iziku-thal = dripping down for example in toddy tapping. I can quote many examples in the similar category.
Let us move on to the next word Dr.Suresh indicated namely *caval = rice obtained from fried paddy by pestling it.
The crucial aspect here is pestling. In Tamil similar words do exist but in different context. we have to follow the phonological changes though.
cavai-th-thal = to be mashed, to chew, to munch
cavaL-thal = to smash, to make one supple, to make it flat by beating
cavaL+ thu = cavattu > cavattu-thal = to tread upon, to trample, to beat, to strike
cavattu vaNdi = bicycle, as called by thenpaandi folks in the late 1940s to 50s = vaNdi driven by pedaling. [Mind you, pedaling is similar to pestling]
cavattu vazi = foot path.
cavattai>caattai = whip. [caattaiyaal adiththaan]
cavaL = a kind of oar, with which you beat the water to row.
cavaL thadi = flexible stick., a kind of oar
cavaLam = bearded dart or lance, pike. javelin,
cavaLaM = a kind of flat fish.
cavaLi>javaLi = cloth (the meaning is related to cavaLu-thal = to be flexible.)
caval>cavalai = leanness. cavalaip piLLai = lean child, a child who is not stout, strong and healthy [compare the usual rice and aval here.]
cavalaik kathir = lean grain, an empty grain
cavalaik kanRu = young calf, not so strong
cavalai paaythal = to grow lean from want of mother's milk, as an infant
cavalai mathi = crescent moon
Although the form *caval' denoting pestled rice is not exactly there in Modern Tamil, and only 'aval' is there, the inherent thought process is very much prevalent as shown in the words above. The process of beating and making flat and lean is shown above. Especially 'cavalaip pillai' clearly indicates the potential possibility of 'caval' in Tamil.
In finding word comparisons, in my opinion, one should not limit ourselves to only direct comparisons. We should see the other related word forms.
The third word is *cintam = tamarind. In Tamil, Intham is recorded in few dictionaries. But then, is it all the story? I don't think so. The word 'cintham, cinthakam' are recorded in various nigandus.
"cintham, cinthuuram, (ciRantha) aambilam,
(vantha) thinthuruNi, ehinam, Puliyee"
-------is 664th nuuRpa in thivakaram (9th century NiganNdu). Likewise it is given as 'cinthakam' in 2709th Nuurpa in Pinkalam (10th century NiganNdu). Both are given in Vol III Part II of Centhamizc coRpiRappiyal peerakaramuthali - a comprehensive Etymological Dictionary. "cinthakam, cinthuuram" are given as indicating tamarind tree in cuudamaNi nigaNdu (16th century Nigandu).
Why do we say that such a word is possible in Tamil?
Because puLi (n) in tamil meaning tamarind is obtained throught process puLLuthal meaning to punch, to become pungent, to be acid.
Similarly cuLLuthal also means to punch, to become pungent. cuLLu-thal>*ciLLu-thal is the next stage of development. The past tense of this infinitive form will be *ciLnthathu. The noun formed through past tense would be only ciLntham>cintham, again loosing L in the process. I can quote related words and prove the entire process as naturally feasible. If needed, I will do.
I am proceeding to the next word. The fourth one, *cay-m=five > aintu, aJju (Tamil).Here also one should see word inital k-.
The word kai is very much used in rural trade circle to mean five. If you go to the village markets (in South Tamilnadu) and ask for banana leaves, they would quote the price in terms of kai. "iththanai kaimmaa veeNum?" How many kais of leaves you need? "oru kai naalu ruuvaa". one kai is Rs.4. Here Kai denots five leaves. Besides Kai, there are two other words to denote 5. They are atukku and puuttu. Adukku malli is one which has five levels of sheaves. Puuttu is also used in selling banana leaves.
There is one other lively day-to-day use of kai to denote five.
Cubit is a basic unit in India. As per southern practice, 1 Cubit (called Muzam in Tamil) = 2 caaN = 2* 8 1/4 inch.= 16 1/2 inch = 1 3/8 ft
An ordinary veetti is of 4 cubit measure and on special occasions we wear veetti with a measure of 8 cubits.
kaiyoli is cloth of 5 cubit. Here kai denotes 5 cubit and oli is the short form of oliyal meaning cloth or garment. If you have to clothe the idlos during normal times, that is during off-worship times, you take a kaiyoli and drape around. This is indicated in the book of Koyil ozuku. It is also given an entry in the Madras University dictionary. "kaiyoliyaith thalaiyilee kattukiRathum"
Now kaiyoli gets currupted in normal usage and becomes kaili. This is precisely the term used in south Tamil nadu for ordinary lungies. If we want to drape around at our leisure time, we use kaili. This kaili has to be of 5 cubit length.
So kai clearly indicates five. No doubt about that. kai and cai are poli. so we do - naam ceykiRoom. Incidentally, excepting Telugu, most of the Dravidian languages use k-starting hand words. k-initial is far more prominent than c- initial in the hand words.
Now coming to the whole discussion presently going on in Tamil ManRam, I was the one who said that proto-Dravidian is 98% similar to pazam - sangath- thamiz. I still hold it, for two reasons.
1. The learned Prof. S.Ilakkuvanar rightly on interpreting Tholkappium [Pl. read his book "Tholkaappiyam in English with critical studies" second ed. 1994, M.Neelamalar Educational Publishers, Ch-101] claims that Telugu most probably have been a dialect during Tholkaappiyar and Kannada was not even a dialect at that time. It is quite interesting the way he argues.
2. Sathavahana coin (circ 2nd century AD) had on one side Prakrit and on the other side Tamil as concluded by the epigraphists and numimatics. There was no Telugu then. Still It could have been a prominent dialect by AD. 200. So I reckon 2 percent change in the usage for that.
Still I would go with the usage of Proto-Dravidian, Proto- South Dravidian etc, purely for political reasons. Rather than calling Proto-Tamil, it is better to call Proto-dravidian just to treat everybody at the same level without giving any priority to any Dravidian language. In the modern times, this is important. But that does not mean we interpret the facts loosely.