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Recordings of Badaga: A Dravidian language of Tamil Nadu


Language Badaga
Depositor Alexandre François, Christiane Pilot-Raichoor
Affiliation CNRS-LACITO
Location India
Collection ID 0590
Grant ID LMG0001
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

Badaga is a Dravidian language spoken in the Nilgiri mountains of Tamil Nadu, in southern India. Although it was historically an offshoot of the larger Kannada language, its isolation in the mountains since the 16th century has allowed it to evolve separately – to the point that it now presents special features in phonology, morphology, syntax and phraseology.

With a total of 93 minutes, this archive presents six stories, myths and legends of the Badagas, as well as a sung ballad – also an important part of the oral tradition.

These legacy audio items were recorded in 1977 by the late Christiane Pilot-Raichoor (1951-2018), a French linguist working with French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), in Paris-based dept. LACITO. Her analog recordings were digitized in 2020 with the help of SOAS and CNRS, and deposited by A. François.


Group represented

Badaga is a Dravidian language spoken by about 140,000 people in southern India. The language belongs to the Tamil–Kannada branch of South Dravidian. It is relatively close to Kannada, a much larger language with 40 million speakers. Its exact location is in the Nilgiri mountains, in the state of Tamil Nadu, on the border with the states of Kerala and Karnataka. The Badaga area became divided across those three separate states upon India’s independence in 1947.

The Nilgiris, a mountainous area of western Tamil Nadu, were always sparsely inhabited by very small and mobile tribal groups, who were dependent mainly on the environment for subsistence. These “hill tribes”, as they used to be called, consist of four distinct communities. The Badagas, today the largest tribe, arrived into the area in the 16th century. The three other tribes are more ancient: the Todas, essentially cattle breeders; the Kotas, craftsmen and musicians; and the Kurumbas, nomadic hunter-gatherers who have long lived in the Nilgiri mountains following a self-sufficient way of life. After their migration into the Nilgiris, the Badaga farmers settled in the highest zones – an area of agricultural land and grasslands located between 1400 and 2500m. Their expansion pushed back the forest areas, forcing the Kurumba hunter-gatherers to retreat to lower terrain, at about 1300m. When the British settled in the Nilgiri highlands, the four communities were still distinct in their culture, habitat and economy, yet they were closely linked by links of ritual trade and economy.

Badaga is in fact an offshoot of the larger language Kannada; it developed independently after a group of Kannada speakers left Karnataka in the 16th c., and migrated south to the isolated Nilgiri mountains. Badaga then underwent the influence of the Kurumba languages also spoken in that area. Contrary to the larger Dravidian languages used as lingua franca across southern India (such as Tamil, Kannada or Malayalam), Badaga lacks a writing system, and has remained unwritten to this day. In later decades, traditional ways of life and social ties among Badaga tribes have been impacted by the pressure of modern society.

The urgency of language documentation here is motivated by the fast disruption of the traditional social ties and ways of life, which nowadays is affecting these tribal people. After India’s independence, various development programmes opened up the region to outside groups. The political reorganisation that ensued split up the area into three distinct states, each one developing its own tribal welfare and schooling programmes where the state language, Tamil, Kannada or Malayalam was the principal language of communication. The social changes linked to globalization and modernization, have increased contact and communication with outsiders, triggering a fast shift towards the surrounding dominant languages; this also implied the loss of the peculiarities of minority languages. This makes research on this language all the more urgent.


Language information

The Badaga Dravidian language (Kannada branch) of the southern group is spoken by about 140,000 speakers in the Nilgiris massif which rises to more than 2000 meters and is located on the borders of three states in southern India: Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It comes from the Kannada language spoken by people who emigrated in the 16th century. These populations found in the Nilgiris a naturally isolated refuge. Thus Badaga has developed over the centuries of near isolation characteristics that bring it closer to other languages of the Nilgiris, especially Kurumba, and has long been protected from the contact of intrusive languages. It was only in the 19th century with the arrival of the British that the highland tribes were directly affected by modern civilization. After India’s independence, the political reorganization that subdivided the region into three separate states. Tamil, Kannada or Malayalam became the main languages of communication. Then in recent years India becoming a major world actor, the pressure of the lowlands has accelerated on unprecedented scales. The urgency of documentation is motivated by the rapid breakdown of social ties and traditional ways of life that affect these tribes today. Description and analysis by Christiane Pilot-Raichoor.


Collection contents

This collection includes seven audio recordings, totaling 1 hour 33 minutes. These recordings consist of one song (“Giriji Maadi”) and six traditional stories:

  • Kaake gubbasi
  • Karadi
  • Karuku daari
  • Kurumba Magic
  • Pullanguzel
  • The King and three daughters


Special characteristics

In 2018, upon the death of Christiane Pilot-Raichoor, Rev. Philip K Mulley, a Badaga scholar from the Nilgiris, testified to the important legacy of the linguist:

“With Christiane’s passing, linguistic studies pertaining to the Nilgiris lost a first-rate scholar. Her contribution to the study of the Badagas will always remain exemplary – in particular, her demonstration of its status as an independent language within the South Dravidian family. Her pioneering studies of the Nilgiri languages (namely Badaga, Toda, Kota, and Kurumba), highlighting their grammatical homogeneity, has provided effective arguments for a separate grouping of these languages in Dravidian taxonomy. Whoever inherits the fruit of her scholarship is bound to open up new domains of Nilgiri linguistics.”


Collection history

The researcher Christiane Pilot-Raichoor conducted her fieldwork surveys in 1977, in four different villages: Adigaratti, Ootacamund (Ooty), Oranayi and Kundacappe.

This collection forms but a small portion of the fieldwork recordings made by Christiane Pilot-Raichoor in the 1970s. At least these are the archives that she was able to prepare in person before she lost her battle with disease in 2018, aged 66.


Other information

Below is a list of selected references about the Badaga languages, authored by Christiane Pilot-Raichoor herself.

  • Pilot-Raichoor Christiane & Paul Hockings. 1992. A Badaga-English Dictionary. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 865 p.
  • Pilot-Raichoor Christiane. 2008. The Dravidian zero negative: a ‘myth’ or a challenging structural reality? International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics , 2008, 37 : 1-32.
  • Pilot-Raichoor Christiane. 2010. Converbs and adverbial clauses in Badaga, a South-Dravidian language, in I. Bril (ed.), Clause Linking and Clause Hierarchy: Syntax and pragmatics, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia, Benjamins, p. 161-202.
  • Pilot-Raichoor Christiane. 2010. The Dravidian zero negative: diachronic context of its morphogenesis and conceptualisation. In J. Wohlgemuth & M. Cysouw (eds), Rara & Rarissima: Documenting the fringes of linguistic diversity. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 267-304.
  • Pilot-Raichoor Christiane. 2012. Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions: A critical landmark in the history of the Dravidian language. In A. Murugaiyan (ed.), New Dimensions in Tamil Epigraphy, Chennai : Cre-A Publishers, 285-315.
  • Pilot-Raichoor Christiane. 2016. Dravidian conceptual basis for the Badaga « tenses ». In Z. Guentcheva (ed). Aspectuality and Temporality: Descriptive and theoretical issues. Benjamins, 131-170.
  • Naïm Samia & Christiane Pilot-Raichoor. 2016. The impact of geography and culture on the expression of spatial relations. Language Typology and Universals (STUF), 69(3), 375-409.


Acknowledgement and citation

Users of the Badaga collection should acknowledge Christiane Pilot-Raichoor from CNRS–LaCiTO as the principal investigator and the data collector. Alexandre François was in charge of coordinating the collection, in the broader framework of LAVAFLoW (Legacy audio-video archival in fourteen languages of the world). The recordings were made possible through the CNRS–LaCiTO back in 1977. ELDP supported the digitization and curation of the collection and thereby making it accessible globally. Ms Anne Armand prepared the collection for online display.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite the corpus in this way:

Pilot-Raichoor, Christiane. 2020. Recordings of Badaga: A Dravidian language of Tamil Nadu. Endangered Languages Archive. Accessed on [insert date here].

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