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I have noticed that there seem to be many words that have travelled the globe due to trade, such as the word orange or rice, which have plausible origins in proto-Dravidian. Meanwhile, it is hypothesized that the language (if it is a language, which some people argue against) recorded in the Indus script is a Dravidian one. All this makes me wonder if these numerous possibly-Dravidian Wanderworts are indicative of the Indus Valley Civilization's success in trade.

This page of Wikipedia lists 7 English words with possible Dravidian origins, notably:

  • Orange, through Old French orenge, Medieval Latin orenge and Italian arancia from Arabic نارنج naranj, via Persian نارنگ narang and Sanskrit नारङ्ग naranga-s meaning "an orange tree", derived from proto-Dravidian.
  • Rice, via Old French ris and Italian riso from Latin oriza, which is from Greek ὄρυζα oryza, through an Indo-Iranian tongue finally from Sanskrit व्रीहिस् vrihi-s "rice", derived from proto-Dravidian.
  • Sugar, through Old French sucre, Italian zucchero, Medieval Latin succarum, Arabic: سكر sukkar and Persian: شکر shakar ultimately from Sanskrit शर्करा sharkara which means "ground or candied sugar" (originally "grit" or "gravel"), from proto-Dravidian.

So, is it likely that the Dravidian language that these words came from is the language of the Indus Valley Civilization? Is this a poor, uninformed idea? or, alternatively, am I late to the party and this is already intuitively obvious to historians? What are your thoughts?

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I believe this is more suited to our sister site: english.stackexchange.com –  Pieter Geerkens Dec 14 '13 at 4:02
    
Really? I feel like this is much much more suited for a history kind of place and not at all an English one, especially because it's a question about these Wanderworts in general in languages all over the world, and why so many are theorized (by some) to have come from a Dravidian language, whereas nowadays we don't see Dravidian languages being that central to civilization; as opposed to being a simple etymology question about an English word. –  mhenderson Dec 14 '13 at 14:53
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I waited to see your response before voting to Put on Hold. The linguistics experts hang out at ELU rather than here. There is always a historical element to any linguistics question, so relevant experts will understand the historical context, and in this case I believe the linguistics expertise is much more relevant than the historical. –  Pieter Geerkens Dec 14 '13 at 15:19
    
Fair enough--I'll try it out. Thanks for the tip. –  mhenderson Dec 14 '13 at 15:24
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I have flagged a moderator to consider migrating it. will look an answer over at ELU. –  Pieter Geerkens Dec 14 '13 at 15:29
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Sad to say, probably not. Let's look at the reported itenerary of these words:

Rice: via Old French ris and Italian riso from Latin oriza, which is from Greek ὄρυζα oryza, through an Indo-Iranian tongue finally from Sanskrit व्रीहिस् vrihi-s "rice", derived from proto-Dravidian.

So this word was first imported to Sanskrit (an Indo-Euorpean language descended likely from the language spoken by folks who destroyed the Indus Valley Civ), then to Greek, likely during the immediate time post-Alexander when those two languages would have been in contact. So no, unless you count having your territory overrun to be "trade", this wouldn't be one.

You see a similar pattern with your other two words:

Orange through Old French orenge, Medieval Latin orenge and Italian arancia from Arabic نارنج naranj, via Persian نارنگ narang and Sanskrit नारङ्ग naranga-s meaning "an orange tree", derived from proto-Dravidian.

Sugar through Old French sucre, Italian zucchero, Medieval Latin succarum, Arabic: سكر sukkar and Persian: شکر shakar ultimately from Sanskrit शर्करा sharkara which means "ground or candied sugar" (originally "grit" or "gravel"), from proto-Dravidian.

Both of these went into Sanskrit first, then into Persian, then to Arabic. The Sanskrit would indicate an Indo-European takeover of the words in the subcontinent. The Persian -> Arabic implies that the actual trade that moved these words west didn't happen until the Middle Ages. The Persians took over their namesake territory in the near east from the Greeks in the early middle ages. Arabic wasn't a particularly important (or well-traveled) language until about the 7th Century AD.

So it looks like in all cases the outside world only knows these terms thanks to the (Indo-European) Sanskrit speakers. Where trade outside the subcontinent is concerned, the trading parties appear to have been Greeks and Persians, trading with Sanskrit speakers.

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The Medes and Persians were Iranian (from Aryan) people settled in modern Iran from the Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medes and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_people –  Pieter Geerkens Dec 22 '13 at 4:37
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I have noticed that there seem to be many words that have travelled the globe due to trade, such as the word orange or rice, which have plausible origins in proto-Dravidian

The English (rice), Italian (riso), French (riz), Nordic (ris), German (Reis) words have their 'European' root in the Latin word 'oryza'. However, the root of the Latin word 'oryza' is the Tamil word 'arisi'. Rice was one of the many things which were sold to Romans by the Indian seafarers. There are available literature on maritime trade between these two regions.

Mango, orange, catamaran, cash, anaconda, teak, peacock, anicut, curry, betel, candy, and pariah are some of the most popular words that also come from Tamil. Most of those words, came into European languages through the English language, during British colonial period in India. Others came earlier, through Romans and Greeks.

I think your question has its right place here as ethymology and linguistics are deeply related to history !

So, is it likely that the Dravidian language that these words came from is the language of the Indus Valley Civilization? Is this a poor, uninformed idea? or, alternatively, am I late to the party and this is already intuitively obvious to historians? What are your thoughts?

I believe there might be some IVC's root in primordial words like mama/amma, papa/appa which are very common in many 'IE' and 'Dravidian' languages.

You've a good intuition, keep researching and interesting yourself to the subject, it's worth the study.

P.S : I'm not an expert, I'm just an interested autodidact who has been learning about this stuff for the past couple of years.

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