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Sourashtra (alternate names and spellings: Palkar, Sowrashtra, Saurashtra, Saurashtri, Patnuli) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken in parts of the Southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu. The Ethnologue puts the number of speakers at 310,000 (1997 IMA), although the actual number could be double this figure or even more.
The speakers of the Sourashtra language, known as Sourashtrians, maintain a predominant presence in Madurai, a city in the southern part of Tamil Nadu. Though official figures are hard to come by, it is believed that the Sourashtra population makes up for about one-third of the city's total population. They are present in significant numbers in the cities of Dindigul, Paramakudi, Rajapalayam, Nilakottai, Salem, Thanjavur, Trichy, Kumbakonam and Thiruvarur. A sizable number is also found in Chennai, Bangalore and other parts of India, but this presence is largely due to small-scale migrations in the last few decades from one of the aforesaid traditional Sourashtrian settlements.
It is also believed that Sourashtra speakers exist, albeit in small numbers, in other southern states such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. However, in the absence of any reliable facts to substantiate this claim, this remains a speculation at best.
Though there is little historical evidence available to support the argument that the Sourashtrians lived in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat in Western India, folklore, and recent linguistic and genetic researches have been able to establish that this region was indeed once the habitat of the Sourashtrians. However, their language has more similarities with Marathi and Konkani, both Indo-Aryan languages of Western India, than it does with Modern Gujarati, the language of present-day Gujarat. Linguists have been able to explain why it is so: Both Sourashtra and Gujarati branched off from a common parent, and have since taken completely different paths to modernity. Gujarati came under the influence of Persian, Arabic, many tribal languages and Hindi, whereas Sourashtra, taking off from Gujarat before it had made any Muslim contact, was influenced by Marathi, Konkani, Kannada, Telugu, and finally, Tamil. It has been acknowledged that Persian and Arabic have had only limited influence on Marathi and Konkani, and this is why they still retain a good amount of vocabulary and grammar derived from Sanskrit, as compared to other daughter languages of Sanskrit. It is possible that the vocabulary and grammar shared between Modern Sourashtra and Marathi is what was originally derived from Sanskrit.
The southward flight of the Sourashtrians seems to have been triggered by the frequent Muslim invasions of their homeland and the instability caused by it. No details are available as to whether it was a mass-migration and when it took place. They found the safe haven they were looking for in the Vijayanagar Kingdom, with its capital at Hampi in present-day Karnataka, which was then expanding southwards. They, whose traditional occupation was weaving, were able to impress upon the Emperor with their weaving skills, and soon were elevated to the position of Royal Weavers. Telugu and Kannada were the court languages, though other languages such as Sanskrit and Tamil were also in use. It was during this period that Sourashtra started absorbing Telugu and Kannada words into its lexicon.
Vijayanagar rulers had the practice of appointing Governors, known as Nayaks, to manage far-flung regions of the empire. When Madurai and Thanjavur were annexed to the empire, Governors were appointed to administer the new territories. It is believed that a part of the Sourashtra community moved to Madurai and Thanjavur to serve the Governors.
The mighty empire collapsed after more than two centuries of rule, in 1565, after the Sultans of Deccan Confederacy won the battle of Talikota, thus opening up southern India for Muslim conquest. Soon afterwards, the Governors of Madurai and Thanjavur declared themselves the new rulers of the respective territories.
The Sourashtrians had to migrate again since they no longer enjoyed the royal patronage they used to, and more so, for fear of their lives. As there were Sourashtrians already present in Madurai and Thanjavur, it was only natural that they migrated further south to join their brethren living there. The language would undergo one last alteration, this time influenced by Tamil, to bring it to its modern form. To this day, Sourashtrians are densely populated around the Royal Palace of Thirumalai Nayak, the greatest of the Nayak Rulers that ruled Madurai.
The language has had its own script  for centuries, and is said to have had many literary works. Unfortunately, all literary pieces barring a few modern ones have been irretrievably lost. This language is not taught in schools and hence has been confined to being merely a spoken language. Most Sourashtrians are bilingual in their mother tongue and Tamil — which displaced Telugu as the second language when they migrated to Tamil Nadu — and are more comfortable using their second language for all practical written communication.
There is an ongoing debate within the Sourashtra community on what the writing standard should be going forward. The contenders are: An adapted Tamil Script with superscript numbers and a colon to show sounds not used in Tamil, which is currently used in most Sourashtra publications, but presence of superscripts render it unsuitable for fast reading and writing; Devanagari Script, which is by far the most suitable script given its ability to represent most Sourashtra sounds, but is sparingly used since not many Sourashtrians comprehend it; Sourashtra Script, preferred by the Purists, but whose restoration and promotion is an arduous task in itself given its disuse for centuries; and, Romanized Sourashtra Script, popular amongst netizens and youngsters, and can be fairly accurate in its representation of Sourashtra sounds, but is frowned upon by the Traditionalists who see it as a foreign influence on their language.
Each of the Traditional Sourashtrian settlements has its own dialect. Since there is not a central linguistic body governing the rules, and establishing what is standard and what is not, each dialect speaker considers his own the standard form. The dialects share lexical similarities varying between 77% and 96%.
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