Francis Whyte Ellis

Biography :

Ellis became a writer in the East India Company's service at Madras in 1796. He was promoted to the offices of assistant-under secretary, deputy-secretary and secretary to the board of revenue in 1798, 1801, and 1802 respectively. In 1806 he was appointed judge of the zillah of Machilipatnam, in 1809 the Collector of land customs in the Madras presidency, and in 1810 the Collector of Madras. He died at Ramnad of cholera on 10 March 1819.

Dravidian language hypothesis:

Ellis is most noted for being the first scholar to recognize the Dravidian languages as a separate language family. Robert Caldwell, who is often credited as the first scholar to propose a separate language family for South Indian languages, acknowledges Ellis's contribution in his preface to the first edition of "A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages."

The first to break ground in the field was Mr. Ellis, a Madras civilian, whose was profoundly versed in the Tamil language and literature, and who interesting but very brief comparison, not of the grammatical forms, but only of some of the vocables of three Dravidian dialects, is contained in his introduction to Campbell's Telugu Grammar.


The committee, chaired by Ellis, wanted the civil service officers to learn the basic structure of the South Indian languages, so that they can function effectively wherever they were stationed in South India. It noted that the common features of five South Indian "dialects" - High Tamil, Low Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada and recommended the teaching of Tamil as a representative of all five. The College of Fort St. George and its press (see below), were given the task of creating grammars and other text books for the language training.

The Dravidian Proof:

Ellis' Dravidian Proof is a step by step attempt to establish the non-Sanskritic origins of Telugu. Ellis first compared the roots of Sanskrit and Telugu. Parallel columns of the roots were presented to show the difference between the two languages. For Sanskrit, the roots were taken from Dhatupatha and for Telugu, they were taken from a list compiled by Pattabhirama Shastri. In the second step, Ellis used a more complex comparative table of Tamil, Telugu and Kannada roots to show that the languages shared Cognate roots. In the third and final step Ellis used a comparative table of words made from the roots of the three languages to show their relationship as well. Ellis made use of Telugu scholar Mamadi Venkayya's Andhradipaka as a source for different types of Telugu words. As a conclusion, Ellis disproved the prevailing theory that though roots and words might be common to South Indian languages, the difference in their idioms was great. He accomplished this by translating the same passages from Sanskrit and English into Tamil, Telugu and Kannada and analysing the sentence structures of the translations.Read More