M.B. Emeneau : Great Minds

Murray Barnson Emeneau (1904 –  2005) was a Canadian professor of linguistics who specialized in Dravidian languages.

Emeneau’s greatest achievement in Dravidian studies was  the Dravidian Etymological Dictionary (in two volumes), written with Thomas Burrow and first published in 1961. Revised in a 1984, the  second edition, remains the indispensable guide, tool, and authority for every Dravidianist.

Emeneau’s connection with the Nilgiris dates to the 1930s when he came to research the lesser known non-literary languages of the Dravidian family. The professor, who became an authority on Sanskrit and Indo-European languages, documented and translated the grammar and songs of the Todas and Kotas

He spent eight months in 1936-38 making an exhaustive study of the folklore of the Todas and Kotas.  He also collected 250 Toda songs. His contribution to Dravidian linguistics includes detailed descriptions of Toda, Badaga and Kota languages.

His work on the Toda language remains essential reading for students of Dravidian languages. According to him the Toda language
was an independent language of the Dravidian family and hence, they
were of South Indian origin. His book, ‘Toda Song’ published in 1971 contains many old and contemporary songs. He established that the Toda songs language is different from any other language.

On the derivation of the name of Ootacamund, Emeneau established that it was a corruption of the original Badaga word Hottegemund.  He worked on Nilgiris studies till he was 101 and died in his sleep.

Nilgiri Documentation Centre

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