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Tamil–Malayalam languages

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Title: Tamil–Malayalam languages  
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Tamil–Malayalam languages

South India
Linguistic classification: Dravidian
  • Kannada–Badaga
  • Tamil–Kodagu

Tamil–Kannada is an inner branch (Zvelebil 1990:56) of the South Dravidian I (SDr I) subfamily of the Southern Dravidian languages that include Tamil and Kannada. (There have been slight differences in the way Dravidian languages are grouped by various Dravidian linguists: (See Subrahmanyam 1983, Zvelebil 1990, Krishnamurthi 2003)). Tamil–Kannada itself is designated as a branch of the South Dravidian I subfamily and in turn branches off into Tamil–Kodagu and Kannada–Badaga. The languages that constitute the Tamil–Kannada branch are Tamil, Malayalam, Irula, Toda, Kota and Kodagu, Badaga. (Zvelebil 1990:56)

The separation of Tamil–Kannada into independent languages occurred with the separation of Tulu and before the separation of the Kodagu branch from Southern-Proto-Dravidian language, somewhere around 2000–1500 BC.

Kannada and Tamil are recognized among the official languages of India and are spoken mainly in South India. Both Kannada and Tamil are officially recognised as Classical languages along with Sanskrit and Telugu by the Government of India.

Phonological features

Tamil presently has both retroflex lateral (/ɭ/) and retroflex fricative (zh) sounds, whereas Kannada has retained only the retroflex lateral. Evidences show that both retroflex fricative and the retroflex laterals were once (before the 10th century) present in Kannada also. However all the retroflex fricatives changed into retroflex laterals in Kannada later. In Kannada, the bilabial voiceless plosive ('p-') at the beginning of many words have disappeared to produce a velar fricative (h) or have disappeared completely. This change is unique to Kannada in the Dravidian family. Tamil doesn't show this change.

Tamil and Telugu, shows the conversion of velar plosives ('k-') into palatal plosives at the beginning of the words (refer to comparative methods 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.

Dravidian languages genealogy

Proto-South-Central Dravidian
This tree diagram depicts the genealogy of the primary Dravidian languages spoken
in South India.


  • Krishnamurti, B., The Dravidian Languages, Cambridge University Press, 2003. 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
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