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?

  • 6
    It must be first proved that the language of the Indus Valley Civilization was Dravidian.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 19:06
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    I am aware that there is no proof that it was Dravidian, and that we do not know enough to say anything very confidently about the language they spoke. However, a Dravidian origin is one of the major theories for the language and I do not think it is impossible to do some speculation and at least entertain the idea.
    – mhenderson
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 19:13
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    Don't forget there's a strong nationalistic issue in ascribing ancient cultures to Dravidian, Aryan, or some other race. I think, most of those studies on ancient Dravidian are full of nationalism, reflecting the current political situation in India.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 19:18
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    That is definitely true, but I don't think that necessarily invalidatse the theory, and I personally think it quite plausible although I am not that knowledgeable in the issue.
    – mhenderson
    Commented Dec 14, 2013 at 19:26
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    You cannot admit that "there is no proof" for something and then say that it is "quite plausible". Until now, no one has succeeded in deciphering the Indus Valley script. Until that has happened it is impossible to determine to which family the language belonged.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 15, 2013 at 0:26

1 Answer 1


There is no proof that the Indus valley language was Dravidian at all. Looking only at the geographical distribution of the Dravidian languages, it looks at the first sight that Brahui is an old relic of a formerly existing Dravidian language continuum stretching from the southern tip of India to the border of Pakistan and Iran.

However, newer research has completely turned the picture: Now we think that the Brahui speaking people are rather recent immigrants from central India. They picked up words from Indoarian languages during their migration.

Glottochronology also tells us that the last common ancestor of the Dravidian languages is rather young and post-dates the Indus civilisation.

  • Not just Brahui, the whole of the North Dravidian subfamily. Great answer, +1.
    – Aryaman
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 2:23

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