There seem to be striking typological similarities between Dravidian and Australian languages (see, e.g., the answers to this question Are there languages with the three-fold articulation place contrast dental–alveolar–retroflex?). There are also genetic studies suggesting an Indian migration to Australia 4000 years ago (see http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-21016700).

Is there an attested historical linguistic link between languages of India and Australian languages?

  • 5
    I don't know much about these languages, but the fact of having a dental-alveolar-retroflex contrast isn't particularly probative for genetic relationship: phonological inventory structure is quite unstable over time and very prone to areal diffusion, so it doesn't tell you much about relatedness (e.g. the phonological structures of IE languages differ wildly).
    – TKR
    Jul 7 '16 at 17:01
  • 2
    No, there is no evidence of such a link and I haven't heard of such a proposal. And no historical link unless you want to go back to the spread of humans across south Asia (ie India) and on to Australia, but that's so far back it has no relevance to today's languages. As @TKR said, the phonological inventory is not useful as evidence of ancient connections. Jul 8 '16 at 0:00
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    @GastonÜmlaut: The study behind the BBC link suggest an influx of Indic migrant some myriads of years after the first settlement of the Australian continent. And 4000 years ago should be in the reach of historical linguistics. Jul 11 '16 at 9:02
  • To be clear, it's not useful to compare the current phonologies of Dravidian and Australian languages; as already pointed out, these things change pretty fast. As for the Indian connection of 4000 years ago, that was a finding in one genetic study, others have had different results, including a divergence between Australian and South Asian Y chomosomes of around 54,000BP. Jul 12 '16 at 5:36
  • One aspect to review is if the Indic people who showed up in Australia spoke a pre Dravidian language that can only be discerned in a substratum study of Dravidian. That is Pama-Nyungan can be used as a reference to understand whether it left a substratum in Dravidian. It’s a hypothesis for some future linguist to investigate. Apr 11 at 17:30

There is no evidence of a linguistic link between Dravidian languages and Australian languages and I haven't heard of a proposal for 'Dravido-Australic' superfamily. Typologically the groups of languages are quite distinct although of course comparing two groups of languages is always going to generate lots of similarities between individual languages.

Taking Tamil as the canonical Dravidian language, it has a phonology which is quite different from Australian languages, having numerous fricatives and affricates (famously absent from almost all Australian languages), and a large set of approximants. Tamil also has many more vowels than Australian languages, which typically have 3.

While Tamil is superficially similar to Australian languages in grammar, both being agglutinative, it is much more so than Australian languages and can string together large sequences of suffixes to produce very large words.

But as commenter @TKR points out, the comparison of the present-day languages, whether of phonological inventories or the grammar, are not useful as evidence of ancient connections as they would have changed substantially since that time.

Australian languages fall into several quite distinct families. The largest one, Pama-Nyungan has had some reconstruction work and the results do not look like Dravidian languages. As well, proto-Pama-Nyungan is usually given a time-depth of around 5,000 BP, so it is too old to be connected to Dravidian languages at 4,000 BP. And of course proto-Australian (if there ever was such a thing) has a much greater time-depth.

As for the Indian connection of 4000 years ago, that was a finding in one genetic study, others have had different results, including a divergence between Australian and South Asian Y chomosomes of around 54,000BP. And of course Indians have been present in SE Asia for over 1,500 years, while over the last few centuries there has been regular contact between peoples of SE Asia (Macassans in particular) and Australia, so an Indian genetic link could have been brought to Australia that way. But even if an Indian genetic link was substantiated, evidence about a linguistic link is a quite separate matter.

To summarise, a Dravido-Australic language superfamily has not been proposed because there is, at present, no evidence of such a connection.

  • 1
    Very good point - what one should expect of branching languages is divergence, this is why they, you know, branched in the first place. Finding some random similarities or even same tokens in languages very far from each other should actually cast doubt on any form of genetic relationship. It is not similarity or identity of items but rather extensive systemic correlations that are necessary to discount chance or area infuences.
    – Eleshar
    Dec 14 '16 at 19:13

I did some amateur research into similarities between Eurasiatic and Australian as well as Trans-New-Guinean. There is some similarity in numerals for one, two, five and ten (ten usually has part meaning "two" and five often means "palm" or "one palm"):

enter image description here

Besides this, there is a striking similarity in the words for fire, but this hypothesis should be rejected because the word for fire in Australian is known to originate from the word for wood.

Dravidian is often considered Nostratic, one of the closest relatives of Eurasiatic, but I know no similarities between them except the numeral for four (nāl in Proto-Dravidian). In my opinion, this can be a borrowing. There is no similar numeral attested in Australian.

enter image description here

I also have seen claims that Australian and Indo-Pacific (including Trans-New Guinean) are "Eurasian" languages (whatever it means in the author's terminology) as opposed to Austric family from the same region.

So, to sum it up, if Australian and Dravidian are related, I would guess, they are more likely related via Eurasiatic than directly.

  • A superfamily requires exchange to stabilize the tree. Any australian language would be an offshot not a contender or equal sibling and the older the connection the harder to tell (however I do not want to discount the idea of at least some exchange).

  • Inarguably, the aboriginal travelers settling australia brought language with them. The result of such language changing might not count as provably related languages in most linguistic senses compared to the old languages.

  • As the hunter-gatherers came in waves over time they would introduce different languages and with austronesian languages to compare there is no reason to think these would all be dravidian. That's unlikely, to say the least, and needs strong evidence.

  • For a late minority I wouldn't discount the possibility. But, as was pointed out above, the answer so far is negative.

  • I want to bring to your attention the "Kangaroo", the great grey kangaroo - "gangurru" in Guugu Yimidhirr, recorded by cptn. Cook in northern queensland. "guru" appears to be significant when "kara~kala" means black, dark in such a wide variety of languages that an old link should be expected. Although, any inference based on a single word would be sketchy at best and would be dismissed for coincidental chance. See black, Proto-Dravidian *kar-. The spiritual "guru" (venerable, teacher) is said to be from a root that means (heavy) cognate to "gravitas", but folk etymology has it that "gu" stands for dark. In "Gujarati" it is speculated to stand for enemy - the allusion from great, dark to enemy ... to powerful, devine presents itself.

  • I'm afraid I don't understand most of your points. But re your last, what's your basis for claiming "kara~kala" means 'black, dark' in a "wide variety of languages"? Also, you've changed "-gurru" to "guru" (the contrast rr/r is phonemic in Guugu Yimidhirr and most other Australian languages) and then compared this modified form to "kara~kala". And "kangaroo" was recorded by Joseph Banks (as 'kanguru'), not Cook (nitpicking, sorry). One more thing, did you mean to point to me with "@garcon"? Oct 4 '18 at 0:47
  • This post seems to be suggesting some arguments in favor of superfamily hypothesis. However, the question was not about whether such arguments exist. It was about "Is there an attested historical linguistic link…", and this post never addresses this question. A good answer here would either refer some academic paper or prove that such paper doesn't/can't exist.
    – bytebuster
    Oct 4 '18 at 2:38
  • @gaston-ümlaut yes to banks and gaston. I will post a follow up question with a list in due time. It seems to be a wanderword dispersed over Slavic, Indic, Turkic or Altaic, and Afro Asiatic. Japanese kara might be a loan from the silk road. Words in the lexical vicinity are so copious and conflated while black alone is so unsubstantial, it's hard to pin down the vector. It's unmistakeable between Altaic and Indic at least. Very obscure ("dunkel" - dark, as the Germans say).
    – vectory
    Oct 4 '18 at 23:07
  • @bytebuster, it is a low effort answer indeed written on the commute. I did explicitly agree with gaston. The suggestion is secondary, a heads up to whatever the question's ulterior goal was. I do not understand the answer to the linked question on contrast. I was just too keen to suggest this observation I made a day prior.
    – vectory
    Oct 4 '18 at 23:16
  • @vectory One point I didn't make (as I wanted to check my memory first) is that the Guugu Yimidhirr word that Banks transcribed is actually /ɡaŋuru/, so there is no portion '-guru' to compare with the wanderwort you mention. Oct 5 '18 at 0:47

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