2ND LEAD

Japanese Tamil scholar Susumu Ohno passes away

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 16 July 2008, 21:26 GMT]
Professor Susumu Ohno, distinguished scholar of Japanese linguistics, known for his phenomenal research of linking the origins of Japanese language with Tamil, passed away on Monday in Tokyo at the age of 89, reported The Japan Times. He was working on the relationship between Tamil and Japanese languages for the last 30 years and even last year came out with a publication, reasserting to his theories. A 1999 book of him on Japanese language sold nearly 2 million copies.

Prof. Susumu Ohno
Prof. Susumu Ohno (23.08.1919 - 14.07.2008)


Born on 23rd August 1919 and initiated into linguistics in the late 1930s at the Tokyo University, his academic contributions date back to the times of the Second World War. He later became a Professor at the Gakushuin University of Tokyo.

Ohno’s researches included the study of language found in the earliest poetry of Japan, compiled in the 8th century, and in an epic-novel of 11th century. His monumental publications dealt with the origins, practice and usage of the Japanese language.

In the late 1970s he came out with his first writings on the affinities between Tamil and Japanese. He was not the first to come out with such a study, but he became the central figure in theorizing it.

Ohno’s Tamil-Japanese studies didn’t just stop at linguistics: comparing sounds, words, grammar, and literature, but involved a wider area covering archaeology, folklore etc.

It is well known that Chinese and Japanese are fundamentally different languages despite their geographical proximity. Linguists, account to this difference by speculating maritime origins for the Japanese language.

Prof. Ohno, while accepting a Polynesian base for the Japanese language in prehistoric times, put forwarded the theory of the influence of Dravidian languages, especially Tamil shaping Japanese, along with the introduction of agriculture in Japan in the Yayoi period between 500 BCE and 300 CE. He envisaged maritime contacts behind such developments.

To substantiate his theories he conducted research on the comparison of the Yayoi burials of Japan with the Megalithic burials (1300 BCE – 300 CE) of South India and Sri Lanka. This study in early 1990s revealed amazing similarities in pottery, burial habits and above all in the graffiti marks between the two cultures.

Prof. Susumu Ohno maintained a long connection with Tamil institutions and scholars. He encouraged many Japanese students to learn Tamil.

Sri Lankan Tamil scholars, Prof. A. Sanmugadas and Manonmani Sanmugadas worked for a long time with Prof. Ohno and have brought out joint publications while Dr. P. Ragupathy was associated with him in the study of Yayoi burials.

Encyclopedia of Languages & Linguistics refers to his Tamil-Japanese studies in the following words:

"His search for the roots of Japanese language started in 1957. He compared Japanese with Korean, Ainu, and Austronesian languages. Unable to establish any kind of genetic kinship between them, he turned to a branch of Dravidian. Encouraged by professors Emeneau and Kothandaraman, Ohno pursued his Japanese-Tamil hypothesis in spite of withering criticism by some Japanese scholars. Commenting on it, Zvelebil (1990) said: 'The similarities between Japanese and Dravidian cannot be regarded as mere freakish coincidence, and may indeed reflect a very deep genetic kinship...' Ohno's studies are trying prove this kinship."

[L-R] Professor A. Sanmugadas, Professor Susumu Ohno and Dr. Manonmany Sanmugadas
[L-R] Professor A. Sanmugadas, Professor Susumu Ohno and Dr. Manonmani Sanmugadas

 

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