Relationship between Japanese and Dravidian (Tamil)

Over the last year I developed an avid interest in Japanese, having watched such fascinating anime as Maison Ikkoku (めぞん一刻) and Code Geass (コードギアス). So, around mid-2008, I started learning the language, first by myself, and then at the amazing East Asian languages department at Stanford University.

The first thing that struck me about Japanese was its similarity with my native language, Tamil, a South Indian (Dravidian) language. I could translate almost word for word, particle for particle, and sometimes even idom for idiom between the two languages! Having studied a few other languages in school and college, including Sanskrit, Hindi, English, and ein bischen Deutsch, I have been hard pressed to find such striking grammatical resemblances even amongst these four languages even though it is well-established that they are all part of the same Indo-Aryan language family.

The more I learn, and investigate, the more I feel convinced that not just the Japanese and Tamil languages, but the cultures as well share striking similarities. Now, if you, like me, were barely awake during geography lessons in high school, you may be interested to know that Japan and South India are separated by well over 5000 miles of land and sea. So how could these similarities have come about? And when?

With these questions begins this exciting journey into the parallel worlds of Japan and South India, one that is far from complete. In this research notebook, I will document my first impressions on this voyage of discovery into the commonalities between Japanese and Dravidian: the languages, the cultures, the people and their customs.

Disclaimer: None of the ideas presented here has had the benefit of expert scrutiny.  As I am not a linguist, sociologist or anthropologist by training, some of the theories I discuss are likely controversial. Although, being a scientist by training, I will try to avoid needlessly warped logic. Comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.


The relationship of Japanese to other major language groups is controversial, and highly disputed [1]. Many scholars group Japanese with Korean, and this is not surprising given the geographical proximity of the two regions.

An alternate, prominent hypothesis is that Japanese is related to the Altaic language family (Turkic, Mongolic etc) based on vocabulary correspondences, and the fact the both Japanese and Altaic languages are agglutinative [1a]. A much less widely accepted, and even more controversial hypothesis is the relationship between Japanese and Dravidian, another agglutinative language [1b].

Akira Fujiwara called Japanese and Tamil "as alike as two peas in a pod" [2,3]. Unfortunately, such over-enthusiasm to embrace the Dravidian hypothesis has led to (eminently remediable) oversights and hasty research conclusions, drawing withering criticism. Notably, the late Susumu Ohno's extensive list of vocabulary correspondences between Japanese and Tamil [4] have been dubbed "careless and capricious" by Roy A Miller, a principal proponent of the Altaic hypothesis [3]. Rebuttals have been made to these criticisms as well [5].

Next section: What do I bring to this debate?