The “Ha” sound in Badaga (Badagu)


Badaga or  Badagu, is a ‘classic‘ and independent language spoken by Badagas of the Blue Mountains or the Nilgiri hills, in north -west Tamil Nadu, bordering Karnataka and Kerala.

Though it is unique by itself, it can be said to be akin to Halaiya (old) Kannada more than any Dravidian language. But due to the geo – political reasons, it is being identified more with Tamil.

Unfortunately, some ‘over enthusiastic scholars’ and a few elders have been trying to eliminate the sound ‘ha -ஹ ‘ (which is an integral part of the Badaga language and) replace it with ‘ah- அ ‘ with some unacceptable justification that these letters (as well as letter like Ja ஜ, Sa ஸ, Sha ஷ ) do not form part of pure/classical Tamil though they are very much in day to day usage.

Let me elaborate and justify why ha and other letters, like ஜ, ஸ, ஷ etc should remain as core letters/sounds in Badaga.

A Badaga village is known as Hatti (ஹட்டி) and not as அட்டி.

Our deity/ Goddess is Hethe – ஹெத்தே and not Athe எத்தே

Some day to day words starting with ha

Haalu – ஹாலு – milk

Habba – ஹப்பா – festival

Hannu – ஹண்ணு – fruit

Haavu – ஹாவு – snake

Jana ஜன – people
Janni ஜன்னி – cold

Jav’voni – Young

Jakkadha –  ஜக்கத –  the famous hatti (village)

Hasu ஹஸு – hunger

Haasu ஹாஸு – spread

Hethe nangava Harichali – ஹெத்தே நங்கவ ஹரிச்சலி

Let Goddess Hethe bless us !


Badaga language not a dialect of Kannada, French linguistic scholar

“The Badaga language, widely believed to be a dialect of Kannada, was the language of communication of ancient South Dravidians and shares similarities with the local Alu Kurumba tongue,” said Christiane Pilot-Raichoor, a linguistic French scholar from LACITO, a scientific research centre in Paris. She was in town recently to do some research work. ”Today, it is recognized as a separate language,” said Pilot-Raichoor, who has been working on the linguistic heritage of the Badaga language for the past two decades. According to her, there are too many important differences in the phonology and the grammar, differences in gender system, case system, verb classes, to claim a genetic relationship between Kannada and Badaga languages.“Once our minds are freed from the idea that Badaga is a dialect of Kannada, it may become possible to consider more objectively the Alu Kurumba-Badaga linguistic relationship,” she said. Alu Kurumba shares most of the characteristic Nilgiri features including verb peculiarities of Badaga language. “Whatever resemblance it has to Kannada points to early medieval and older forms of the language. The core grammar in the Badaga language converges with other Nilgiris languages which can be traced to early south Dravidian features,” she explained.

According to her research paper published recently in the Encyclopedia of Nilgiris, edited by international anthropologist Paul Hockings, a professor in the United States, there are evident, but isolated and non-systematic coincidences between Badaga and Alu Kurumba.

Hence, the four traditional communities of the Nilgiris, Todas, Kotas, Alu Kurumbas and Badagas retain their morphology and categorical distinctions, some very archaic features, which give them an overall grammatical homogeneity, according to her. It is evident from her research that the Badaga community was created in the Nilgiris with small local groups in ancient times. LACITO in Paris houses numerous varieties of Badaga stories and songs collected over the past two decades by Pilot-Raichoor.

(Shanta Thiagarajan, TNN Dec 4, 2012)


When I brought the importance of ‘Ha’ sound to the notice of Dr. R.Haldorai, a Badaga scholar, he had the the following argument.

p->h-Change in Badaga
As a special feature among Dravidian languages Kannada language attested p- > h- change which occurred quite early (Kulli 1976:304). “ p-, There is no change in languages other than Modern Kannada. In old Kannada, p- was preserved until the 10th century as evidenced by inscriptions, but after that period it changed to h-. The change became complete by the 14th century but between the 10th and the 14th centuries, forms with p- became less and less in course of time and forms with h- tended to replace them. This process is clearly seen in prose rather than in verse” (Subrahmanyam 1983:371).

According to Kannada grammar Sabdamanidarpana and that is considered beautiful in provincial or native dialect (Kittel 1982:187-188).
[ In his “Two Proto – Indian inscriptions from Chanhu Daro” (Journal of Bihar and Orissa Research Society XXII, Part IV :1936) Father Henry Heras observed. “The aspiration that substitutes the p in Kannada seems to be totally foreign to the Dravidian languages. Its use, therefore, is equivalent to
dropping the initial consonant altogether”. It is difficult to agree with this view. Even in Tamil where k occurs in the middle of the word (e.g. akaram, pakatu, takavu) there is an incipient aspiration in vocalising k ]
2.) Due to PDr. p- > h- change, in Badaga language also there are many words with initial h-. This aspect has been adduced as an argument for settling Badaga language’s relationship with Kannada and even fordeeming it‘s dialect of Kannada. This paper analyses the extent of p- > h- in Badaga and its irrelevance for settling the relationship of Badaga with Kannada.
3.) Since p- > h- change, is common to Kannada and Badaga, scholars tried to fix the date of separation of Badaga language. On the basis that Badaga diverged from Kannada, only after the Old Kannada initial p- changes to Middle and Modern Kannada initial h- (Emeneau 1965:18-19). They ignored
the fact that in spite of attested p- > h- change, Badaga still had many words in use with initial p-, many basic in nature.
e.g. pakka (near), pace (green), pacci (female name), pattidi (place, spot), pattini (starvation), pattu (towel), pattu (mane pattu) (piece of land or ground for house), patte (bark), patakkana (excellently), pataarna (very brightly), padi (angadi padi) (measure of capacity), panaarna (brightly),
pandita (medical man), pannu pannu (expression of throbbing pain), pattakane (no where it is seen), pattu (si pattu) (particles of boiled rice adhering to the cooking pot), pattiya (prescribed diet for patient), panne (hair-cutting in the front portion of the head), panne (female name), pappidi (broken space of plastering in a wall, payilu (sprout), parrana (noise of bird flying up suddenly from ground), paradale (if it is possible), pallemma (a kind of buffalo). paata (atta patta) (song), patta kode (umbrella of palmyra leaves), paadu (patta paadu) (difficulty), pate (flower plant), pada (foot), paadi (half), paame (story), paayi (mat), paga (portion, share), paala (bridge), parpatti (headman of division/naadu). Picci (female name), pitti (buttock), pitakkane (tightly), pini pini (expression of dim light), pithta (bile), pittalata (deception, fraud), piriya (love), pilli (sorcery, magic), pilingolu (flute), pillu (narrow passage), pille (bathroom), pisasi (demon), pike (whistle, flute), pite (very thin), piri (female name), pilu (lean).
puccu (puchchu) (mad), pucca (puchcha) (mad man), pucci ( puchchi mad woman), putti (bottle), puduku (testicle), punniya (moral or religious merit), puri (fried rice), puraca$l@i (bandicoot), puripuri (expression of roughness of skin), pulli (dot), puse kannu ( white spoted eye), pu$se kunnu$ru ( name of a village), pujari (priest), pujiya (worship), poottu (lock), pura (full). pekke (wings of birds), petapeta (wandering with madness), petti (box), pettu (fitting nature), pettu kara (friend), peke (female name), pesane (delirium), peyi (demon), pere (buttermilk). pokkuva (simpleton), pottu (fool), potle (a plant), poththittu (wheat dosai), pottitta (dull head), podu (common), poy (lie), porangadu (a division), porulu (thing), pore (gap in a rock), polle (lightness), po (scar), poru (support, especially in fight), potake (hollow state), pokiri (deceit, fraud), pot@e (hollow), poli ( kalipoli) (spend thrift).
4.) The Kannada Encyclopaedia (KE) analyses this Badaga feature in brief and it points out that all initial p-words are not changed into initial h- words in Badaga. Many initial p- words are in daily use in Badaga. In Kannada p- >h- change began after 10th century. Hence Badaga might have diverged from Kannada prior to 10th century A.D. KE therefore assigns Badaga the status of a separate language (Nayak 1983:412). Differing from Emeneau and others KE holds that Badaga might have diverged from
Kannada even earlier than 10th century.
5.) There are some words with initial p-, in use in present Kannada and they are considered as borrowings from neighbouring languages (Subrahmanyam 1983:371-372). Can one hold that similarly these initial p- words in Badaga also are borrowed from neighbouring languages? This hypothesis is not quite tenable. The number of such words is really too large for all of them have so been borrowed. At least if the borrowed words are nouns it will be reasonable to concede this hypothesis. But there are verbs also with initial p- in Badaga and verbs are considered rarely borrowed.
e.g. padu (padupadu) (to be dashed, to experience, to suffer), padusu (to make to dash, suffer), pari (to pluck), pare (to fly), pagu / palagu (to be acquainted), piccu (to tear, to scatter), pinnu (to plait, braid), piri (to separate), pisuku (to squeeze), pettu (to plaster), pesu (to talk in dream), pongu (to rage and foam), potu (to burst), pottu (to touch), poru (to endure), peruku (to concede with peaceful words), peranu (to be rolled), peratu (to roll).
6.) In the present day Badaga the word initial h- has been totally lost and the remaining vowel alone is pronounced. So the initial h- words became initial vowel words.
e.g. hallu > allu (tooth), ha$lu > aalu (milk), haalu > alu (ruin), hoge > oge (smoke), hola > ola (field), hogu > ogu (to go). This feature of loss of initial h- is found in present day Kannada also and is considered as substandard (Subrahmanyam 1983:37). p- > h- > – change is found in Ālu Kurumba
language also (Pilot Raichoor 2002:9).
7.) An attempt has been made to classify Badaga language into two dialects based on h- in the word initial position. It is said that the speech of the older generation preserve h- which is disappeared in the speech of the younger generation (Balakrishnan 2002:44).
8.) In Badaga only initial PDr. p- > h- change is found. There is no p- > h- change in word middle or word final. Whereas Kannada attested the change in word middle or word final position also.
e.g. ihane, ihange (thus, in this manner), ihaloga (to laugh merrily), tahataha (anxiety, distress, grief).
“ In the 12th and 13th centuries, intervocalic –p(p)- also changed to –h– as in hoharu < poparu ; they will go ; baha < bappa, they will come; baharu < bapparu < barper, they will come” (Subrahmanyam 1983:371).
The Kannada grammar Sabdamanidarpana stated that there were no Kannada verbs with final -h. But in latter period verbal themes with final -h (hu), were in use, that too replacing -p (pu) (Kittel 1982:28).
9.) “Kannada is an extreme example of diglossia. Furthermore it has one of the more complex and divergent sets of colloquial, both regionally and socially. This makes it difficult to decide if an aberrant variant like Badaga is a dialect or another language” (McAlpin 1991:18). Kannada dictionary
(Butcher 1983) recorded with many initial p- and initial h- words, including some which are mere variants of the same words. Among these following Badaga language retained initial p- instead of initial h-.
e.g. Ka. puccu, huccu (foolishness); Ba. puccu
Ka. pali, hali (blame, rebuke); Ba. pali
Ka. pusi, husi (falsehood, lie); Ba. poy, puyyi
Ka. potte, hote (hollow of a tree) ; Ba. potte (hollow)
Ka. pisuku, hisuku (to squeeze); Ba. pisuku

  1. ) In some cases Badaga substitutes s- for – found in Kannada word.
    e.g. Ka. hede (the expanded hood of a serpent); Ba.sede
    Ka. halasu (jack tree); Ba. sakke
    Ka. hiju (to rend); Ba. suli
    Ka. here (the slough of a serpent); Ba. sokke
    Ka. horasu ( a kind of pigeon); Ba. sore
    Ka. hire, pore (choking sensation while eating or drinking); Ba. selamadu
    Ka. hore (neighbourhood, vicinity); Ba. sare
    11.) It is interesting to note that in few words PDr. p- changes into b- in Badaga
    e.g. Ka. pakkale (a kind of vessel); Ba.baggare
    Ka. pani (stick, bat); Ba. bane
    Ka. pote (a hole in a tree); Ba. bogate
    Ta. pambaram (top); Ba. bombare
    Ta. pagam (share, division); Ba. baga
    Ta. pogam (crop season); Ba. boga
    In a few cases Kannada too shows this feature
    Ta. puluti (dust) ; Ka.,Ba. budi (ashes)
    Ta. pottu (a circular mark on the forehead) ; Ka. bittu ; Ba. bottu, bettu
    Ta. pirambu (rattan) ; Ka. betta ; Ba. bettu
  2. ) In a few places the initial p- and initial h- of the same word are in use in Badaga but with
    different meaning.
    e.g. pacce – green; hacce – half-boiled, unripe, tender etc.
    piri – to separate; hiri – to demolish
    piccu – to scatter; hiccu – to squirt
    poru – to endure ; horu – to bear, carry on the head
    pottu – simpleton ; hottu – chaff, husk
  3. ) PDr. p- > h- is a shared innovation found in Kannada and Badaga languages but with the
    following special features in Badaga (i) Many initial p- words are in use in Badaga language, (ii) Unlike
    Kannada, all initial p- words are not changed into initial h- words in Badaga, (iii) There is no p- > h change in word middle or final in Badaga, (iv) In a few places s- replaces h- in Badaga, (v) in a few
    places initial p- and initial h- forms of the same words are in different meaning in Badaga. It is not correct, therefore to hold p- > h- change as a major criterion in settling the relationship of Badaga language with Kannada.
    Abbreviation: Abbreviation:
    Ba. – Badaga
    Ka. – Kannada
    PDr. – Proto Dravidian
    Ta. – Tamil
    Bibliography Bibliography
    1.) Balakrishnan, R., (1999), Badaga A Dravidian Language, Annamalai University
    2.) Bucher, Rev. J., (1983), Kannada – English Dictionary, AES, New Delhi (First Published 1923)
    3.) Emeneau, M.B., (1965), India and Historical Grammar, Annamalai University
    4.) Kittel, Rev. F., (1982), A Grammar of the Kannada Language, AES, New Delhi (First Published 1908)
    5.) Kulli, J.S., (1976), Ke$sira$ja’s Sabdaman@idarpa@a, Karnataka University, Dharwar.
    6.) McAlpin David, W., (1981), Proto – Elamo Dravidian, the evidence and its implication, The American Philosophical Society, Piladelpia.
    7.) Nayak, H.M., (Ed.) (1983), Kannada Visvakosa Vol. XI Institute of Kannada Studies, University of Mysore.
    8.) Pilot Raichoor, Christiane (2002), Ways questioning the history of language; some controversial points on Badaga language, 30th All India Conference of Dravidian Linguists, Karnataka University, Dharwar.
    9.) Subrahmanyam, P.S., (1983), Dravidian Comparative Phonology, Annamalai University

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