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A Declining Field

The comparative study of Dravidian languages is not new. It dates back more than two centuries to the 1816 publication of the seminal work A Grammar of the Teloogoo Language, in which the “Note to the Introduction” by Francis Whyte Ellis initially proposed a Dravidian language family, separate from the Indic languages to the north. Following this were detailed grammars of two of the other so-called literary languages – Tamil (Beschi) and Kannada (Kittel) – which further led to a monumental work by Rev. Robert Caldwell, A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages. This was the first study to posit reconstructions of morphology in an earlier stage of Dravidian.

The following century could probably be considered the “golden era” of Dravidian linguistics, with possible family trees being debated, new languages discovered, and a plethora of new analytical studies undertaken. As McAlpin’s 1981 monograph Proto-Elamo-Dravidian: The Evidence and Its Implications states: “it [was] every Dravidianist for himself and a very exciting time in comparative Dravidian morphology.” Later in the twentieth century and going into the 2000s, Steever’s The Dravidian Languages and Krishnamurti’s namesake book provided detailed descriptions of prominent dialects, as well as a cumulative summary of reconstructions to date.

However, even with so much more work left to do, the field has over the past two decades lost the popularity that it once had. The University of Pennsylvania’s once-flourishing Dravidian linguistics program has now become dormant. Altogether, this is part of a larger shift in linguistics toward computation and sociolinguistics, leading to the waning of other areas, especially comparative and historical linguistics.

Our Mission

The goal of DravLing is to bring Dravidian linguistics back in vogue, while taking advantage of newer developments within linguistics in general. More importantly, though, we hope to increase communication within the field and to offer a forum for students to discuss and present their ideas to experienced researchers. By bringing in new perspectives, we believe that we can much more efficiently tackle unsolved problems within the field.


The members of DravLing are of various backgrounds, from those who focus on comparative Dravidian, to those who focus on particular languages, to those who specialize in computational linguistics. However, we all strive to better understand how the South Asian linguistic situation as we know it today arose, with particular focus on the Dravidian languages.

Comparative Dravidian Linguistics

The aim of comparative Dravidian linguistics is to elucidate the origin of the Dravidian languages, how they diverged, and how they interacted with each other and other nearby languages. Comparative morphology is one of the more complex problems in the field, but it has been discussed quite often in DravLing. Dr. Masato Kobayashi has presented on the origins of verbal morphology in Kuṛux-Malto (DravLing 4), as well as with a syntactic feature in Brahui – asyndeton – that has parallels in Kuṛux-Malto (DravLing 9). Dr. Sanford Steever also has discussed similarities in structure across Dravidian, both in the noun (DravLing 7) and in the verb (DravLing 8). Internal classification has also been discussed in the group to some extent in Suresh Kolichala’s talk on South-Central Dravidian (DravLing 6) and as a note in Surya Sanjay’s talks on Toda (DravLing 2) and Tulu (DravLing 9-10). External classification, discussed primarily by Dr. David McAlpin, has focused on potential relationships with Elamite, an ancient language of Iran (DravLing 3).

Language-Specific Studies

Presented works discussing specific languages generally focus on a certain aspect of grammar in a language and its implications on the rest of Dravidian. This has been the topic of discussion in Surya Sanjay’s talks on Toda verb morphology (DravLing 2) and Old Tulu verb morphology (DravLing 9-10), as well as Dr. Gail Coelho’s presentation on Betta Kurumba past stems (DravLing 5).

South Asia as a Linguistic Area

Areal linguistics is being seen more as a better descriptive tool to study the languages of South Asia (cf. the creation of Journal Bhasha). This is touched on in many presentations but most directly in our discussion on Indic (Indo-Aryan) influence on Dravidian languages (DravLing 11).



Surya Sanjay (founder) · Abhishek Kodumagulla · Adam Farris · Arhant Ghanta · Aryaman Arora · Deeraj Pothapragada · Gopalakrishnan Ramamurthy · Ramprashanth Venkatakrishnan · Samopriya Basu


Andrew Ollett · E. Annamalai · Gail Coelho · Jean-Luc Chevillard · Masato Kobayashi · Periannan Chandrasekaran · Sanford Steever · Suresh Kolichala · Uma Maheshwar Rao Garapati