Feature Article

Sathasivam papers on Sumerian-Tamil connections see the light of day

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 20 September 2017, 23:37 GMT]
Four pioneering research papers on the Dravidian connections between ancient Sumerian and Tamil, written between 1964 and 1987 by Eezham Tamil scholar, the late Prof A Sathasivam, are now available as a book. Writing a note to one of those papers in 1965, renowned linguist Prof T. Burrow said that Sathasivam breaks new ground in seeking to relate Dravidian with Sumerian, and added that if it were to be accepted the theory would be of considerable importance for the prehistory of both Dravidian and Sumerian. Brought out by the efforts of Mrs T Sathasivam and edited by Dr. Siva Thiagarajah, the book titled “Proto Sumero Dravidian: The Common Origin of Sumerian and Dravidian Languages,” has been published this year by the History and Heritage Unit of the Tamil Information Centre in the UK.

Proto Sumero Dravidian: Papers by Prof Sathasivam
Proto Sumero Dravidian: Papers by Prof Sathasivam
The papers are only a small but valuable fraction of the quarter a century research undertaken by Prof Sathasivam. He was working on a magnum opus, an etymological dictionary of Sumero Dravidian.

Commenting on his research, another renowned linguist Prof M. B. Emeneau wrote in 1965 that the analysis he had begun would be waited for with great interest, because of the most interesting historical and prehistorical implications of this hypothesis.

Sathasivam’s research gains new significance today because of the current advancements in coupling linguistics with DNA studies.

Unfortunately, his untimely demise in 1988 halted the completion of the work, but he has left behind volumes of manuscripts. Mrs Sathasivam should be given moral support and encouragement to bring them out in print for the great benefit of world scholarship.

The book that has been published now includes a monograph he prepared at the universities of Pennsylvania and California in 1964-1965, two papers he later read at the International Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies in 1966 and 1987, and another paper he read at the Seminar on Dravidian Linguistics, Annamalainagar in 1969.

* * *

Sumerian civilization was one of the earliest of world humanity. 6000 years ago, it was flourishing in the cities, Ur, Uruk, Eridu, Larsa, Lagesh, Nippur etc., in lower Mesopotamia, which is roughly modern Iraq.

The authors of the Sumerian civilization were different from the later Babylonians and the present day Semitic populations. The Sumerians themselves were immigrants to Sumeria.

Unlike the Indus writing, the Cuneiform writings of the Sumerians became possible for decipherment with phonetic and semantic values, because of the availability of Semitic Akkadian inscriptions of later times using the same script and trilingual inscriptions in Akkadian, Elamite and old Persian.

Ever since the decipherment of Sumerian, seeing it different from Aryan or Semitic, theories were postulated as early as in 1912, linking Sumerian with Dravidian and Indus Valley.

Sathasivam found the Sumerian language as described in Sumerian grammars possessing almost identical characteristics with those of his reconstruction of prehistoric Tamil.

In his monograph he has brought in 501 cognate sets to compare Sumerian with various Dravidian languages.

Noting Sumerian and Dravidian as agglutinative languages, Sathasivam says that both have genetic relationship.

“The Sumerian language of the Archaic (3500-3000 BC) and Ur dynastic (3000-2400 BC) periods had preserved well its Proto-Dravidian elements,” Sathasivam observes.

“Both Sumerians and Dravidians spoke the same language and probably lived in some mountainous region for a long time before they separated from each other,” he further observes.

He concludes that Sumerian language fits in neatly as a member of the Dravidian family.

Pointing out Sumer meaning cultivated land, and citing the S/ K interchange, Sathasivam compares it with Kumari meaning cultivation in hills in Tamil, a piece of ground in a jungle in Kannada and Kumeru meaning a waste land cleared for cultivation in Tulu. It is interesting to note that the Dravidian strain is preserved in Sinhala too, in which Kumburu means paddy field.

* * *

Professor A Sathasivam
Professor A Sathasivam (1926 - 1988 )
Born in 1926 in Vaddukkoaddai, Jaffna, Sathasivam had a brilliant and interesting academic career.

He became a traditional Tamil Pandit first, before going from Jaffna College to the then University of Ceylon in Colombo to do Tamil honours and Master’s degrees, and then to proceed to Oxford to do doctoral research under Prof Burrow. His research on Tamil verbs was a source used in the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary.

At the University of Ceylon in the early 1950s he was a student of Prof K. Kanapathippillai, who is even today highly admired for his farsightedness in training and preparing his students in various branches of Tamil studies. Sathasivam was chosen for linguistics.

Sathasivam served as Professor in the University of Ceylon and in the University of California. Apart from his scholarship in linguistics, he is also remembered for the anthology of Eezham Tamil poetry he compiled, covering a period of nearly 2000 years.

Dr. Siva Thiagarajah, the editor of Sathasivam’s papers, is a multi-disciplinary academic. He is a medical doctor-turned Ph.D. holder in Medical Genetics, specialized in prehistoric DNA studies. He has authored two voluminous books on peoples and cultures of early Ilangkai and on the Kantharodai civilization of Jaffna. He has a special taking on Sumeria. One of his early publications was the Tamil translation of the Epic of Gilkamesh, a Sumerian epic, said to be the earliest of that genre of literature.

The 1964 - monograph of Prof Sathasivam was spotted by social anthropologist Mr. S. Visahan, while he was working at the British Library and an interest generated in the UK to bring it out in print. Mrs. Sathasivam who did the original typing of the manuscript 53 years ago, came forward to resurrect the research into a publication.

The book deserves attention of all in the field of world linguistics, Sumerian studies and Dravidian studies.


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