CHAPTER-6 : The Linguistic Background

Ancient History of India
Short Notes or Revision Notes 

Languages of Ancient India

Four Main Families

  • Austro-Asiatic (earliest)
  • Tibeto-Burman
  • Dravidian
  • Indo-Aryan


  • Subfamilies: Munda, Mon-Khmer
  • Munda: spoken by Santhals (largest tribal group) in Jharkhand, Bihar, etc.
  • Mon-Khmer: Khasi language (Meghalaya) and Nicobar languages


  • Branch of Sino-Tibetan family (300+ languages)
  • Spoken in China, Tibet, Myanmar
  • In India: Himalayas (Assam to Punjab), Northeast states (Tripura, Sikkim, etc.)
  • 116 dialects

Dravidian Languages

  • Covers South India and parts of Sri Lanka (over 20 languages)
  • Brahui (earliest form) spoken in northwest Pakistan
  • Migration theories:
    • Genetic view: First major migration from Middle East (30,000 BCE)
    • Linguistic view: Originated in Elam (6,000 BCE), dispersal started 30,000 BCE – 4,000 BCE
  • Main Branches: Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam (Tamil most purely Dravidian)
  • Oraon/Kurukh (Jharkhand, Central India) – spoken by Oraon tribe

Indo-Aryan Languages

  • Indo-European family
  • Genetic link to Central Asia suggests migration
  • Sub-branches of Indo-European:
    • Indo-Iranian (spoken in Iran)
    • Dardic (eastern Afghanistan, north Pakistan, Kashmir) – considered by some to be Indo-Aryan
  • Geographic Reach: Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal (nearly 500 languages)
  • Historical Stages:
    • Old Indo-Aryan (Vedic Sanskrit)
    • Middle Indo-Aryan (Prakrit, Pali, Apabhramsha – 500 BCE to 1000 CE)
    • Modern Indo-Aryan (Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, etc. – developed from Apabhramsha)
  • Kashmiri: Dardic origin with strong Sanskrit and Prakrit influence


Language Family – Ethnic Group

  • Austro-Asiatic – Australoid (Munda languages)
  • Tibeto-Burman – Mongoloid
  • Dravidian & Indo-Aryan – Caucasoid

Physical Characteristics

  • Negrito (Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Nilgiri Hills): Short stature, dark complexion, short face/lips
  • Australoid (Central/South India, Himalayas): Short stature, dark complexion, body hair
  • Mongoloid (Sub-Himalayas, Northeast): Short stature, scanty body hair, flat nose
  • Caucasoid (Tall, fair skin, prominent nose): Dravidian & Indo-Aryan speakers



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