Was the Japanese language influenced by Tamil? The war goes on


Roger Pulvers in The Japan Times

For years I have been watching from the sidelines as the opponents battle it out. For the players this fight will go on and on, and the theater of war is right here.

This is a linguistic war, but it naturally involves archaeology, history, religion and a host of wounded egos. The question to be decided is: What exactly are the origins of the Japanese language?

It has generally been accepted by most scholars that Japanese is an Altaic language, derived from a tongue that originated on the steppes of Asia and migrated in various directions, evolving into Turkish, Mongolian and Korean. Structural similarities among these languages seem to support this.

But there was also migration to Japan from the south, through the islands of the Ryukyu chain. Ryukyuan, in its various forms, is the only language closely related to Japanese. The input from Polynesia into Japanese seems to be evident, particularly in the dominance of vowels and the use of the repetitive plural (yamayama for “mountains,” hitobito for “people,” etc.)

But then Susumu Ohno, a renowned linguist and classicist, came along and popularized the theory that Japanese was overwhelmingly influenced by Dravidian languages, particularly Tamil, brought to these shores some 2,000 years ago during the Yayoi Period (500 B.C. to 300 A.D.), when the Japanese began rice-paddy cultivation.

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