Kannada language

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Kannada is one of the major Dravidian languages of Southern India and one of the earliest languages attested epigraphically in India. It is the 27th most spoken language in the world, with native speakers of its various dialects called Kannadigas and numbering roughly 35 million. It is the state language of Karnataka, one of the four southern states in India. It is also one of the official languages of the Republic of India. It is written using the Kannada script. At present, a classical language tag for Kannada language is being sought by various government and non-government organisations on the lines of Sanskrit and Tamil, based on its antiquity. The other native languages of Karnataka, Tulu, Kodava and Konkani are written using Kannada script. The Telugu script also is derived from old Kannada script.


History and development

Kannada is one of the oldest Dravidian languages with an antiquity of at least 2000 years. The spoken language is said to have separated from its proto-Dravidian source earlier than Tamil and about the same time as Tulu. However, the written tradition of this language is around 1500-1600 years based on the archaeological evidences. The initial development of the Kannada language is similar to that of other Dravidian languages and independent of Sanskrit. During later centuries, Kannada, along with other Dravidian languages like Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam etc., has been greatly influenced by Sanskrit in terms of vocabulary, grammatical and literary styles.

Stone inscriptions

The first record on Kannada language is traced to Emperor Ashoka's Brahmagiri edict dated 230 BC. The first example of full length Kannada language stone inscription (shilashaasana) containing Brahmi characters with charateristics resembling those of Tamil, in Hale Kannada (Old-Kannada) script can be found in the Halmidi inscription, dated c. 450 CE, indicating Kannada had become an administrative language at this time. The Chikkamagaluru inscription of 500 CE is another example. Prior to this, there is an abundance of inscriptions containing Kannada words, phrases and sentences. The 543 CE. Badami cliff shilashaasana of Pulakesi I is an example of Sanskrit inscription in Hale Kannada script.

Copper plate inscriptions An example of early Sanskrit-Kannada bilinguial copper plate inscription (tamarashaasana) is the Tumbula inscriptions of Western Ganga Dynasty dated 444 CE. The earliest full length Kannada tamarashaasana in Old Kannada script (early 8th c. CE) belongs to Alupa King Aluvarasa II from Belmannu, South Kanara district and has the double crest fish, their royal emblem.

Ancient manuscripts The oldest well-preserved palm leaf manuscript is in old Kannada and is that of Dhavala, dated to around 9th century, preserved in the Jain Bhandar, Mudbidri, Dakshina Kannada district. The manuscript contains 1478 leaves written in ink. Kannada language inscriptions are the highest of any language in India, with more than 30,000. These inscriptions were not only discovered in Karnataka but also quite commonly in Andhra Pradesh Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Some inscriptions were also found in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat As an example, the inscription at Jura 964 C.E. (Jabalpur), belonging to the reign of Rashtrakuta Krishna III, is regarded as an epigraphical landmark of classical Kannada literary composition, with charming poetic diction in polished Kannada metre. This indicates the spread of the language over the ages, especially during the rule of large Kannada empires.

Impact on other cultures and languages Kannada has had significant influence on other Indian languages and overseas cultures. It has been brought to light the influence of old Kannada on the language of Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions from the 2nd. c. BCE - 4th. c. CE. These observations were made using grammatical and lexical analysis. Charition mime, a Greek drama discovered at Oxyrhynchus and dated to second century CE or earlier contains scenes where Indian characters in the skit speak dialogue which appears to be in Kannada. Prior to and during the early Christian era, Kannada country seems to have been in close trade ties with the Greek and Roman empires of the west. Greek dramatists of fourth century BCE, particularly Euripedes and Aristophanes seem to have been familiar with Kannada language. This is evident in their usage of Kannada words and phrases in their dramas and skits.

Coinage Recent discovery of copper coin dated back to fifth century CE in Banavasi, Uttara Kannada district with the inscription Srimanaragi in Kannada script proves that Kannada had become official by the time of the Kadambas of Banavasi. Coins with Kannada legends have been discovered spanning the rule of the Western Ganga Dynasty, Badami Chalukyas, Alupas, Western Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas, Vijayanagar Empire, Kadambas, Keladi Nayaka and Mysore Kingdom, the Badami Chalukya coins being a recent discovery.


The written Kannada language has come under various religious and social influences in its 1600 years of known existence. Linguists generally divide the written form into four broad categories.

Poorvada Halegannada (Pre-ancient Kananda) This is the language of Halmidi scripture known to be from the fifth century CE.

Halegannada (Ancient Kannada) From the ninth to fourteenth century CE, Kannada works were classified under Old Kannada. In this period Kannada showed a high level of maturity as a language of original lierature.[40] Mostly Jain and Saivite poets produced works in this period. This period saw the growth of Jain puranas and Virashaiva Vachana Sahitya or simply vachana, a unique and native form of literature which was the sum contributions from all sections of society. Early Brahminical works also emerged from the 11th century.

Nadugannada (Middle Kannada) In the period between fourteenth and eighteenth century CE, Brahmanical Hinduism had a great influence on Kannada. Kannada grammar was further developed based on Sanskrit grammar by Keshiraja Bhatta. The language itself Sanskritised to a large extent. Non-brahmin Hindu saints like Kanakadasa and Brahminical saints of Vaishnava cadre such as Purandaradasa, Naraharitirtha, Vyasatirtha, Sripadaraya, Vadirajatirtha, Vijayadasa, Jagannathadasa etc., produced devotional poems in this period. Kanakadasa's Ramadhanya Charite is a rare work on class struggle. This period saw the advent of Haridasa Sahitya which made rich contributions to bhakti literature and sowed the seeds of carnatic music.

Hosagannada (Modern Kannada) The Kannada works produced by the end of nineteenth century and later are classified under Hosagannada or Modern Kannada. However, till the beginning of twentieth century there were Kannada literary works that could still be classified under Middle Kannada. Most notable among them is poet Muddana's works. Sometimes, his works were described as the 'dawn of Modern Kannada'. Generally, linguists treat Indira Bai or Saddharma Vijayavu by Gulvadi Venkata Raya as the first literary work in Modern Kannada.


There is also some distinction between the spoken and written forms of the language. Spoken Kannada tends to vary from region to region. The written form is more or less constant throughout Karnataka, however. The ethnologue identifies about 20 dialects of Kannada . Among them are Kundagannada (spoken exclusively in Kundapura),Nadavar-Kannada (spoken by Nadavaru), Havyaka (spoken mainly by Havyaka Brahmins), Are Bhashe (spoken mainly in Sullia region of Dakshina Kannada), Soliga, Badaga, Gulbarga Kannada, Dharawad Kannada, Chitradurga Kannada, and others. All of these dialects are influenced by their regional and cultural background. Tulu, Kodava, Sankethi, and Konkani have borrowed many words from Kannada. A simple name given to people speaking Kannada and its variants is Kannadiga.

Literature and poetry

The oldest existing record of Kannada poetry in tripadi metre is the Kappe Arabhatta record of 700 CE. Kavirajamarga by King Nripatunga Amoghavarsha I (850 CE) is the earliest existing literary work in Kannada. It is a writing on literary criticism and poetics meant to standardize various written Kannada dialects used in literature in previous centuries. The book makes reference to Kannada works by early writers such as King Durvinita of 6th century. The writing refers to the entire area between the Kaveri River and Godavari River as Kannada country, implying the language was popular further north in present day Maharashtra. An early extant prose work, Vaddaradhane by Shivakotiacharya of 900 CE describes the life of Bhadrabahu of Shravanabelagola elaborately. Many Kannada works from the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries mentioned in Kavirajamarga are not yet traced. Kannada literature has been prolific ever since.

Other ancient texts now considered extinct but referenced in later centuries are writings by Syamakundacharya of 650 CE who wrote Prabhrita and Tumubuluracharya of 650 CE who authored Chudamani (96,000 verse-measures) a commentary on logic Tatwartha-mahashastra. Karnateshwara Kathe a eulogy of King Pulakesi II is said to have belonged to the seventh century, Gajastaka a work on elephant management by King Shivamara II belonged to the eighth century. Chandraprabha-purana by Sri Vijaya in the court of Amoghavarsha belonged to early ninth century. Since the earliest extant Kannada work is one of complex grammar and a guide of sorts to unify existing variants of Kannada grammar(ವ್ಯಾಕರಣ) and literary styles, it can be safely assumed that literature in Kannada must have started several centuries earlier. Many historians consider that only Sanskrit and Tamil have an older written tradition than Kannada based on available inscriptions and literature. Kannada is one of the most ancient literatures not only of South India, but of all India as well. Tamil Buddhist commentators of the tenth century CE (commentary on Nemrinatham, a Tamil grammatical work) make references that show that Kannada literature must have flourished as early as fourth century CE.

Current literary trends

Modern Kannada in the twentieth century has been influenced by many movements. Notable among them are Navodaya, Navya, Dalita/Bandaya. Kannada literature has had the prestige of most Jnanpith awards (seven in all) and forty eight Sahitya Academy awards among all Indian languages.

Jnanpeetha Awardees 1. 1967 Kuvempu for Sri Ramayana Darshanam

2. 1973 Da.Ra.Bendre for Naaku thanthi

3. 1977 Shivaram Karanth for Mookajjiya Kanasugalu

4. 1983 Masti Venkatesh Iyengar for Chikaveera Raajendhra

5. 1990 Vi.Kru.Gokak for Bhaaratha Sindhhu Rashmi

6. 1994 U.R.Ananthamurthy for his works in Kannada / samagra sahitya

7. 1998 Girish Karnad for his dramatic works in Kannada / samagra sahitya

Geographic distribution

Kannada is mainly spoken in Karnataka in India, and to a good extent in the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and in Goa.

Official status

Kannada is one of the twenty-two official languages of India and is the sole administrative language of the state of Karnataka.

Kannada script

The language uses forty-nine phonemic letters, divided into three groups: Swaragalu (thirteen letters); Yogavaahakagalu (two letters, ಅಂ and ಅಃ); and Vyanjanagalu (thirty-four letters), similar to the vowels and consonants of English, respectively. The character set is almost identical to that of other Indian languages. The script itself, derived from brahmi script, is fairly complicated like most other languages of India owing to the occurrence of various combinations of "half-letters" (glyphs), or symbols that attach to various letters in a manner similar to diacritical marks in the Romance languages. The Kannada script is almost perfectly phonetic, but for the sound of a "half n" (which becomes a half m). The number of written symbols, however, is far more than the forty-nine characters in the alphabet, because different characters can be combined to form compound characters (vattaksharas). Each written symbol in the Kannada script corresponds with one syllable, as opposed to one phoneme in languages like English. The script of Kannada is also used in other languages such as Tulu, Kodava Takk and Konkani. Simply put the Kannada script is syllabic.

Extinct Kannada letters

Kannada literary works employed letters ಱ (transliterated 'ṟ' or 'rh') and ೞ (transliterated 'ḻ', 'lh' or 'zh'), whose manner of articulation most plausibly could be akin to those in present day Malayalam and Tamil. The letters dropped out of use in the twelfth and eighteenth century, respectively. The later Kannada works replaced 'rh' and 'lh' with ರ (ra) and ಳ (La) respectively.

Another letter (or unclassified vyanjana (consonant)) that has become extinct is 'nh' or 'inn'. (Likewise this has its equivalent in Malayalam and Tamil.) The usage of this consonant was observed until the 1980s in mostly coastal Karnataka (especially, Dakshina Kannada district) Kannada works. Now hardly any mainstream works use this consonant. This letter has been replaced by ನ್ (consonant n).

Kannada script in computing


Several transliteration schemes are used to type Kannada characters using a standard keyboard. These include Baraha (based on ITRANS). Nudi, the government of Karnataka's standard for Kannada Input is a phonetic layout loosely based on transliteration.




Kannada is a highly inflected language with three genders (masculine, feminine, neutral or common) and two numbers (singular, plural). It is inflected for gender, number and tense, among other things.

Dictionary A German priest, Reverend Ferdinand Kittel, composed the first Kannada dictionary, consisting of more than 70,000 words.

Reverend Ferdinand Kittel has also written a book on Kannada grammar called "A Grammar of the Kannada Language: Comprising the Three Dialects of the language"