Retroflexes in Sanskrit

From: richardwordingham
Message: 14110
Date: 2002-07-22

--- In cybalist@..., "Ash" <equinus100@...> wrote:
> > > retroflexes. Does Dr Kalyanaraman know a good on-line
> > > (/s./ has a sound IE origin, but how did /n./ come to contrast
> > > with /n/? How did the retroflex plosives of Sanskrit
> > > Surely not from /s.t/ > [s.t.]! I know that in generally
> > > free Europe Swedish and one Yorkshire dialect have developed
> > > retroflexes from /r/ + dental plosive.)
> >
> > How about, from Munda and Dravidian substrate languages? (Who have
> > full contrasting retroflex series)?

The traditional, substrate view of their origin is as follows:

Step 1:
> Old Indic, or the Proto-Indo-Iranian that the Indo-Aryans brought
with them to the peninsula did not have retroflexes. After the pre-
Aryan population, the Munda and (Northern) Dravidian-speakers,
mingled with the Indo-Aryans, these speakers, under the influence of
their substrate began to interpret s, t, etc. at certain positions as

Step 2:
> It is surmised that the original Rg-Veda did not have retroflexes.
At that point in time when they were composed, the mingling of these
peoples hadn't yet taken place -- going by the evidence of the
content of the Rg-Veda. But later when these Aryanized Dravidians
(and/or Mundas maybe) took to using Vedic Sanskrit, and chanting the
Rg-Veda, they introduced retroflexion into it. Initially a second
language for them, they eventually adopted the language.

Step 3:
> By the time the work was written down, after its multi-generation
oral transfer, the fact that the original work was retroflexionless
was lost sight of, and the Vedic language had become dravidianized
enough to call retroflexion its own. This is corroborated by the
increasing tendency of retroflexion in the Prakrits.

Traditional Conclusion:
> So, it might be a little off to say that it was adopted from
Prakrit. Rather, the Vedic language, perhaps at the stage when the
Vedic culture was limited to the Punjab region, and the language had
only different dialects -- no Prakrits had developed yet,
incorporated retroflexion.
> So, Classical Sanskrit inherited the retroflexion, and this was
perhaps reinforced by the influence of the Prakrits.

There are problems with Step 1 of this scenario. Steps 2 and 3,
mutatis mutandis, would, I think, stand whatever the origin of the

I quote, from Witzel (in ELECTRONIC JOURNAL OF VEDIC STUDIES, Vol. 5
(1999), issue 1 (Sept.) , subsequent
parts being suffixed b, c):

'Further, investigations of the South Asiatic linguistic area
(Sprachbund) must be reformulated accordingly, for example the
question of
the retroflex sounds, see Tikkanen 1988, and cf. Zvelebil 1990: 71 on
distinction between true retroflex sounds (domals, 'cerebrals') and
cacuminals. In the RV they cannot go back either to Proto-Drav.
as usually assumed, because they are already found in the older parts
of RV
(books 4,5,6) where no Drav. loans are present; they also cannot go
back to
Proto-Munda influences because Munda originally had no retroflexes
1959, except for D, see Zide 1969: 414, 423). The clear increase of
retroflexes in RV books 1, and especially in 10 is remarkable. In the
RV one can only detect very few cases of not internally conditioned,
original and clearly non-IA retroflexes: RV 6: kevaTa 'hole'; reNu-
rANDya, zANDa, (hiraNya-)piNDa (late hymn), RV 4, 5: krIL-; RV 2:
mArtANDa, pipILe? (pID); cf. also jaTha'ra in RV 1,2,3,5,6,9,10. None
these old words is Dravidian (see below). In short, the people of the
(northern) Indus civilization must have spoken with retroflexes. '

I further quote, from Elst, 'Linguistic aspects of the Aryan non-
invasion theory'

'The assumption of a language X in North India will be welcomed by
many as the solution to the vexing question of the origin of
retroflexion in the Indian languages. Weak in Burushaski and Munda,
strong yet defective (never in initial position) in Dravidian, strong
in Indo-Aryan but unattested among its non-Indian sister-languages,
retroflexion in its origins is a puzzling phenomenon. So, language X
as the putative language of the influential Harappan metropolis, or
as the native substratum of the later metropolitan region, viz.
Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, might neatly fit an invasionist
scenario for the genesis of retrofle­xion in Indo-Aryan as well as its
spread to all corners of India.

'Still, there is no positive reason yet for locating the origin of
retroflexion in this elusive language X. An entirely internal
origination of retroflex­ion within early Indo-Aryan, which then
imparted it to its neighbours, has always had its defenders even
among linguists working within the invasionist paradigm (e.g. Hamp

More Questions:
What is this 'internal origination'? I've read of the Prakrits
developing further reflexes, but I cannot find out what sound changes
reinforced the retroflexes found in Sanskrit.