Saurashtra language

Infobox Language
name=Saurashtra
nativename=சௌராஷ்டிரம்
pronunciation=
region=Tamil Nadu (India)
speakers=310,000 (1997)
rank=
familycolor=Indo-European
fam2=Indo-Iranian
fam3=Indo-Aryan
fam4=Western Indo-Aryan
fam5=Gujarati
script=Saurashtra script
nation=
iso1=|iso2=|iso3=saz
notice=Indic

Saurashtra, more correctly, Sauraṣṭri or Sauraṣṭram or Sourashtra, also known as Palkar, Sowrashtra, Saurashtram, is an Indo-Aryan language spoken in parts of the Southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu. The Saurashtra community is referred to by the same name, or sometimes by the Tamil name, "Pattunoolkaarar" (silk-thread-maker). The Ethnologue puts the number of speakers at 510,000 (1997 IMA), although the actual number could be double this figure or even more.

Classification

Saurashtra is an Indo-Aryan language belonging to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family."sou" in Hindi means 100 and "rashtra" refers to region so in general sourashtra refers to a province of 100 regions.

Geographical Distribution

The speakers of the Saurashtra language, known as Saurashtrians, maintain a predominant presence in Madurai, a city, also known as 'Temple City' in the southern part of Tamil Nadu. Though official figures are hard to come by, it is believed that the Saurashtra population is anywhere between one-fourth and one-fifth of the city's total population. They are also present in significant numbers in Dindigul, Periyakulam, Paramakudi, Erode, Palani, kancheepuram, Rajapalayam, Nilakottai, Salem, Namakkal, Thanjavur, Trichy, Kumbakonam, Thiruvarur, Ayyampettai, Ammapettai,Dharasuram,Thirubhuvanam,Ammayappan, Walaja, Arni, Tiruvannamalai, Veeravanaloor Tirunelveli and Kottar in Nagercoil. Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh is said to house several Saurashtrian families, known as "Pattusali" or "saurastrian brahmins" in local parlance.

A sizable number is also found in Chennai (formerly "Madras"), Bangalore, and other parts of India, but this presence is largely due to small-scale migrations in the last few decades from one of the aforesaid traditional Saurashtrian settlements.

History

Though there is little historical evidence available to support the argument that the Saurashtrians lived in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat in Western India, folklore, and recent linguistic and genetic researches have been able to establish that this region was indeed once the habitat of the Saurashtrians. However, their language has more similarities with Marathi and Konkani, both Indo-Aryan languages of Western India, than it does with Modern Gujarati, the language of present-day Gujarat. Linguists have been able to explain why it is so: Both Saurashtra and Gujarati branched off from a common parent, and have since taken completely different paths to modernity. Gujarati came under the influence of Hindi, Persian, and Arabic, whereas Saurashtra, taking off from Gujarat before it had made any Muslim contact, was influenced by Marathi, Konkani, Kannada, Telugu, and finally, Tamil. It has been acknowledged that Persian and Arabic have had only limited influence on Marathi and Konkani, and this is why they still retain a good amount of vocabulary and grammar derived from Sanskrit, as compared to other daughter languages of Sanskrit. It is possible that the vocabulary and grammar shared between Modern Saurashtra and Marathi is what was originally derived from Sanskrit.

The southward flight of the Saurashtrians seems to have been triggered by the frequent Muslim invasions of their homeland and the instability caused by it. No details are available whether it was a mass migration and when it took place. They found safe haven in the Vijayanagar Kingdom, with its capital at Hampi in present-day Karnataka, which was then expanding southwards. Weaving being their traditional occupation, they were able to win the attention of the Emperor and were soon elevated to the position of royal weavers. Telugu and Kannada were the court languages, though other languages such as Sanskrit and Tamil were also in use. It was during this period that Saurashtra started absorbing Telugu and Kannada words into its lexicon.

Vijayanagar rulers had the practice of appointing Governors, known as Nayaks, to manage far-flung regions of the empire. When Madurai and Thanjavur were annexed to the empire, Governors were appointed to administer the new territories. A part of the Saurashtra community may have moved to Madurai and Thanjavur at the time to serve the Governors.

The Vijayanagar empire collapsed after more than two centuries of rule, in 1565, after the Sultans of Deccan Confederacy won the battle of Talikota, thus opening up southern India for Muslim conquest. Soon afterwards, the Governors of Madurai and Thanjavur declared themselves the new rulers of the respective territories.

The Saurashtrians had to migrate again since they no longer enjoyed the royal patronage they were used to, and so, once again, were on the move. As there were Saurashtrians already present in Madurai and Thanjavur, it was only natural that they migrated further south to join their folks living there. The language would undergo one last alteration, this time influenced by Tamil, to bring it to its modern form. To this day, Saurashtrians are densely populated around the Royal Palace of Thirumalai Nayak, the greatest of the Nayak Rulers that ruled Madurai. There are good number of people staying in Mumbai(Maharashtra) in a place called Cheeta Camp and also in other parts of the city.

It is important to note that the Marathi-speaking community in Thanjavur should not be mistaken for Saurashtrians. The Marathi community arrived in Thanjavur during King Serfoji's reign and they are culturally and linguistically distinct from Saurashtrians.

The greatest of the Nayak Rulers had great liking for silk wears and as the Saurashtrians were specialists in the weaving trade, they were invited the KIng for weaving special silk clothings for the palace dwellers and that is how they settled around the palace of Thirumalai Nayak.

Writing System

The language has had its own script for centuries, and is said to have had many literary works. Unfortunately, all literary pieces barring a few modern ones have been irretrievably lost. This language is not taught in schools and hence has been confined to being merely a spoken language. Most Saurashtrians are bilingual in their mother tongue and Tamil — which displaced Telugu as the second language when they migrated to Tamil Nadu — and are more comfortable using their second language for all practical written communication.

There is an ongoing debate within the Saurashtra community on what the writing standard should be going forward. The contenders are: An adapted Tamil Script with superscript numbers and a colon to show sounds not used in Tamil, which is currently used in most Saurashtra publications, but presence of superscripts render it unsuitable for fast reading and writing; Devanagari Script, which is by far the most suitable script given its ability to represent most Saurashtra sounds, but is sparingly used since not many Saurashtrians comprehend it; Saurashtra script, preferred by the Purists, but whose restoration and promotion is an arduous task in itself given its disuse for centuries; and, Romanized Saurashtra Script, popular amongst netizens and youngsters, and can be fairly accurate in its representation of Saurashtra sounds, but is frowned upon by the Traditionalists who see it as a foreign influence on their language.

Dialects

Each of the traditional Saurashtrian settlements has its own dialect. Since there is not a central linguistic body governing the rules, and establishing what is standard and what is not, each dialect speaker considers his own the standard form. The dialects share lexical similarities varying between 77% and 96%.

External links

* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=saz Ethnologue Report for Saurashtra]
* [http://www.omniglot.com/writing/sourashtra.htm Saurashtra on Omniglot]
* [http://www.sourashtra.in/ Sourashtra Friends Club (SFC)]
* [http://www.palkar.org/index.shtml The Sourashtra Homepage]
* [http://www.sourashtra.com/history.htm Saurashtra History]
* [http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/br/2003/04/29/stories/2003042900120300.htm Information on Saurashtra Dictionaries] "'


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