Family of 24 languages indigenous to and spoken principally in South Asia by more than 214 million people. Four of the Dravidian languages are among the major literary languages of southern India—Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam. These all have independent scripts and long documented histories. They account for the overwhelming majority of all Dravidian-speakers, and they form the basis of the linguistic states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. All have borrowed liberally from Sanskrit. The only Dravidian language spoken entirely outside of India is Brahui, with more than 2.2 million speakers mainly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Of the Dravidian languages, Tamil has the greatest geographical extension and the richest and most ancient literature, which is paralleled in India only by that of Sanskrit. The Dravidian family, with no demonstrated relationship to other language families, is assumed to have covered a much more extensive area of South Asia before the spread of Indo-Aryan and was the source of loanwords into early Indo-Aryan dialects.
Learn more about Dravidian languages with a free trial on Britannica.com.