Kinship Terms in Sumerian and Tamil


Dr K.Loganthan, Jan 2003


It is quite amazing that the kinship terms in Sumerian that date back to the period 3000 BC or thereabouts are still retained in Tamil with a reasonable degree of morphological and semantic identities. Below I collect together many such terms as an input for studying further the spread of SumeroTamil both in India  African subcontinent  and SEAsia where many scholars trace the origin or the spreadof the Dravidians.


The list may not be exhaustive but I hope to make it more and more  comprehensive by returning to it  when I come across suitable words in the course of my SumeroTamil studies.


The following line from Suruppak’s NeRi ( c. 3000 BC) yields the following terms:


Ses( Ta. cisu(> Sk sisya) , a-a, ai-ia ( Ta. ayyaa) ama ( Ta. ammaa) a-a na-nam nin-gal ama na-nam ( (The elder brother is indeed a father, the elder sister is indeed a mother!)


Ta. cisukaL aiya nanam ningaL ammaa nanam ( “)


Ses-gal : Ta. cisu.kaL where cisu : child and kaL; big, large etc. Thus lit means “big child”


a-a : Ta. ayyaa. This shows that while semivowel ‘y’ was though present but not phonetically signified.


Na-nam: Ta. nanam: very well, still in use. Also Ta. nalam, nayam: good, fair, excellent etc. : Ta. niiGkaL : second singular honorific, certainly a derivative meaning. Nin : Ta. nil, niiL : tall, great. It appears that in the distant past only the females were considered great.


Ama : Ta. ammaa : mother . Still in use quite widely


In other places we have also Su. umma ( >Ta. amma) and ab-ba ( Ta. appaa) meaning ‘an elderly woman” ‘an elderly man” etc.



Ses : childhood; pa-ses : sisyas


This sense is available in Sulgi  Hymn B:


 ses kuli sul Utu am ( Ta. cisu kuli suul Utu aam) : My childhood friend was the radiant Sun.


The sense of ‘sisya’ is available from the from the following line of Kes temple Hymn

113. pa-ses-e-ne kus mu-un-sig-ge-ne ( The pases beat on the (drum-) skin )

*Ta. paa cisu-inee koosu mun siikkinee ( The youths  beat on the (drum-) skin)

( pa Ta. paa: persons,  -pa: the third person plural marker; ses Ta. cicu: child, ciiden : the  student < Sk sisya;  kus Ta. koocam: loud noise made as a group  sig-ge Ta. ciikku: to beat)


tur: small, young Ta. tur, tun, turumbu ; something small

We have this word in such a use below

Sulgi Hymn B:

13. tur-ra mu-de e-dub-ba-a-a am ( Since my (very) youth, I belonged on the edubba)

Ta. turra mutee il tubbiaya aa aam

The word ‘tur; has also the metaphorical sense of ‘despicable, evil’ etc and which are also meanings of Ta. tur, tun etc.

dumu : son, daughter, child, people etc  Ta. tamu, tamar etc.


149 & 150


Suruppak dumu ubar.tu.tu-ke


zi.u.sud.ra dumu-ni-ra na na-mu-un-ri-ri ( Suruppak, son of Ubartutu, gave instructions to his son Ziusudra)




Ta. Suruppak tamu ubartuutukkee, Jivasudra tamuninRa nanna  munaRiaRi ( “)



dumu ; Ta. tamu :  it is present to this day entrenched in tam-akkai: sister, tam-aiyan: brother; tam-bi; younger brother, tam-ar: relatives etc.


It also as “dumu-gal” means the eldest daughter, dumu-nitah (Ta. amu naatan) , the male child etc.


In the following line we have “ dumu-ji, dumu-gi” meaning here ‘prince’ but literally ‘a noble son’ also a term the Sumerian called themselves ( and from which the word Tamiz might have evolved: dumu-ji> Tammuz> TammuLh etc)


Sulgi Hymn B:


12. Sul-gi-me-en dumu-gi sa-zi-ta nam-dug-tar-ra-me-en ( I, Sulgi, the legitimate prince, was allotted a good destiny, right from the faithful heart)


Ta. cuulki maan tamuji saaycutta tuGka tarunam maan


(to continue) 1




Kinship Terms in Sumerian and Tamil



As I have said above, over and above the terms ‘a-a’ ( ai-ia) and ‘ama’ we have  also um-ma and ab-ba as below taken from the account of the paradise ( Dilmun)


20. um-ma-bi (an old woman there)   um-ma-me-en nu ((said)( not " I am an old woman') ab-ba-bi ( an old man there ) ab-ba-me-en nu ( (said)not 'I am an old man"

Thus um-ma ( amma )  and ab-ba seems to have been used for elderly man and woman and from which we have Ta. av-va, avvai : the woman sage, still in use.

Other instances  or a-a and ama are :


52. a-a ugu-za  :your begettor i.e father. Su. ‘ugu’ : to beget (< Ta uku : to drop )

96. dumu-ir-pa-da-bi ama-ne na-an-sed-e ( May its plaintive child not be placated by its mother)

Ta. tamu iir paadubi ammaanee nAan cettee ( “)

Ki-sikil , gin-e : maiden Ta. kanni

Another line from the same text is as follows

21. ki-sikil ( a maiden)  a-nu-tu-a-ni  ( whose water was not poured out?) uru-a  ( in the city) nu-mu-ni-ib-si-gi (was not given in marriage)



Here ‘ki-sikil’ may mean kai (<ki) small and young and sukil ( <sikil) pure and hence perhaps a virgin. It should be noted that this word is retained in Sk as cukkilam, cuklam etc with the meaning of ‘white’ ‘pure’. The ritual of sprinkling with waters (a-tu> Ta. aal tuuvu) may be related to the ritual of purification with the onset of menstruation.


The word ‘gin-e” occurs in many places with the same sense and which can be taken as the arche form of Ta. kanni: a maiden, a virgin



gurus : young men Ta. kurucil




48. gurus a-tuku ( able bodied young men)  ( kurucil aal toku: a young man who is physically strong)


50. gurus-sa-gan  (young adults ) ( > Ta. kurucil caGkan : a young man capable of combats?)


This term may be related Su.kur,gur and  Ta, kuRu ; small



Su. dam  : spouse Ta. tam, taaram : id


There is a term Ta. tampati ( also in Sk? ) meaning ‘wife-husband” and which seems to be  a derivative of very ancient terms Su. dam ( > Ta. tam)  and pate-si ( < pate-ji) : governor, lord and from which we have Ta. pati : lord, king, husband etc


The following are instances of dam : spouse


Suruppak’s NeRi:


190. lu dam.tuku a su im-du-du ( The married man is well equipped)


191. dam nu-un-tuku mu-un-na ( The unmarried man man sleeps in haystack)


Ta. uLu tamtoku aal suuz iim iduyidu


Ta. tam nAantoku  seeRutavav mun aNai ( The unamarried man has to sleep in muddy places?)


These lines indicate that married life was strongly recommended for ordinary people and in which the wife is seen to be responsible for establishing a fine home



 Su. munus :wife Ta. manuci


The following line from Sulgi Hymn B shows that term ‘manuci” ( Su. munus) in common use even now initially meant wife perhaps, manaiyaaL, the house-keeper.


189. munus-e dumu-ra su nu-mu-un -bar-re  ( The (noble) woman never gave her child a free hand)


Ta. manuciyee tamnunRa  suur naa munvari : ( The woman did not bind the hands of her child)


The context makes it clear that Sulgi is talking about his wife with whom he had a very happy family life.


Su. mi: woman, geme: slave, domestic help Ta. kaimai: widow


The word ‘mi’ means black ( gi> mi) as well as woman especially a beautiful woman and which notion is rendered by a later term , kaarikai, also meaning someone  black and beautiful.


The following are some instances of it:


Suruppak’s NeRi


162: geme e-gal-la ( slave or servant of the palace)


 Ta. kaimme il gaLLa




2. mi-ji me-lam gur-ru ki-aga an-uras-a ( Righteous woman clothed in radiance,  beloved of Heaven and Earth)


Ta. mai.cii mellam ( > veLLam) kuuru kaama vaan uurasya ( “)


55. mi-be dam-a-ni-ta sa-ga na-an-da-ab-be ( Its woman no longer speaks of love with her husband)


Ta. maibee tamaanitta saGkam nA avanodu abaiyee ( “)


Tab : brother? Ta, tambi Su, muruman: son-in-law Ta. marumaan


Of some outstanding importance is the word Su. muruman that relates very intimately to the pattern of kinships very specific to even modern Tamils.


90. tab mu-si-in-ku-ra-ni muru-man-e hu-mu-un-te (Having entered before as partner, he has even appropriated his sister-in-law


Ta. tamb.i muu icin uurani marumaanee ummun teey ( Having entered your brother , he wants ti become your son-in-law)


In Ta. mari has the meaning of “young, offspring” etc and taking Su. man here as Ta. moon, maan, makan etc. we can see that the son-in-law was considered another son but of course married to the  daughter.


This is one kinship term that goes beyond the immediate family unit but still assimilated into the basic family unit.



The Family in the Metaphysics of the Sumerian and Dravidian


It appears that the basic kinship terms that were formulated in the deep past i.e. 3000 BC or thereabouts continues to survive to this day contributing to the stability of the family unit among the Dravidians especially the Tamils. These notions seems to have also utilized the metaphysical depths.


Let us look at the following line again: a-a na-nam nin-gal ama na-nam ( (The elder brother is indeed a father, the elder sister is indeed a mother!)


Ta. cisukaL aiya nanam ningaL ammaa nanam (“)


Here we have already the cultural shaping of the elder brother in the image of Father and the elder sister in the image of Mother. Thus to the young ones, the elder brother and sister OUGHT to function like father and mother and in this they being brought up  or given a very responsible role in the family functions. What is quite amazing is that such a close bonding of the first born in relation to the later ones still survives quite intact to this day.  Many first-born children are known to sacrifice their personal life for the sake of their younger ones.


We also notice the older men and women are also called in terms of the variants of the terms for father and mother viz. ab-ba and um-ma which again shows the incorporation of the old people of the society into part of the family unit in terms of the concepts of father and mother. Thus it appears that in those ancient days the elderly people were not thrown out but rather incorporated into the nuclear family and put along with the father and mother and hence as people who ought to be respected and cared for.


We also notice that in the formation for terms for elder brother and elder sister the word ‘gal” (Ta. kaL: large, big etc) is used. Obviously here the gal/kaL is a term of size and not number, the ‘large male child” is elder brother, and the female the elder sister. These are still retained in the classical terms of tamaiyan (< tamu-aiyan) and tamakkai (tamu-akkai). We may note here that the term ‘ak’ may be a variant of the plural marker in Su. es/as where it probably meant ‘large, big’ etc. Corresponding to this we would expect ‘small male child’ ‘small female child’ as terms for younger brother and sister. The word taGkai: younger sister  (<tamu-kai) where ‘kai’ means ‘small’ may satisfy us here but the word ‘tambi’ for younger brother may not. It seems to be  of different origins, from perhaps Su. tab, meaning a friend.


Now I must also mention that the semantic pattern shown in the generation of terms for ‘elder brother’ and ‘elder sister’ appear to have been extended to assimilate the uncles and aunties into the same pattern. The term big (Peria) and small (cinna) are used to define the elder brother of father (Periya appaa) and younger brother of father (cittappaa), the elder sister of mother (periayamma) the younger sister of mother (cinnammaa).


However the terms for brother of mother (maamaa) and sister of father (attai) stand out as different  though in a way related to that of Mother (ama-ama> maammaa ?) and father (attaa: also father)


Now there is something interesting about the term son-in-law, muruman (Ta. marumaan, marumakan)


Here ‘maan’ is perhaps a variant of the frequently occurring ‘me-en’ simply meaning a person but taking here the specific sense of ‘son’. Now assuming the ‘muru’ is the arche form of ‘ maru’ (> varu, maru as in marabu: that which comes) we see that the son-in-law being assimilated into the kinship of the ‘son’.


Thus it appears to me that right from ancient times the notions ‘Father Mother, Child” played a central roles in defining the kinship terms and all appears to be designed to destroy the ALIENATION that normally exists among people. The elderly and the new arrivals into the family though marriage were made non-alien through being made variants of son, father and mother.



The formation of these kinship terms seems to be reflected also in the way they understood the world where the Cosmos itself is seen as a family whose parents are Siva and Sakti, to the Ammai-Appar. In Tiruvuntiyaar (12th cent AD) it is said that the androgynous reality of BEING as Father-Mother (ammai-appar) is also the parents of the whole world. (ulakukkee ammai-appar)