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Definition: Kannada from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Language spoken in southern India, the official state language of Karnataka; also spoken in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. There are over 20 million speakers of Kannada, which belongs to the Dravidian family. Written records in Kannada date from the 5th century AD.

Summary Article: KANNADA
From Dictionary of Languages
27,000,000 SPEAKERS


Kannada (Canarese, to give its older English name) belongs to the DRAVIDIAN LANGUAGES of southern India. It is the state language of Karnataka.

As a language of the Rashtrakuta and Yadava dynasties in Maharashtra, used in inscriptions along with Sanskrit, the influence of Kannada once reached further north than it does now. Indeed, MARATHI shows strong evidence of coexistence with its Dravidian neighbour. In tum Kannada has been influenced by Sanskrit, the learned language of India, and later by Portuguese, radiating from nearby Goa, the metropolis of Portugal's eastern possessions.

Known from inscriptions of the 6th century and after, Kannada has a surviving literature from the 9th century onwards. Some early texts are lost – their existence known or surmised through such sources as Kēśirāja's 13th-century grammar (‘Jewel mirror of grammar’) and the 9th-century textbook on poetry, Kavirājamarga. The campu epic, of mixed prose and verse, was a major genre in the 10th to 12th centuries. Lyric poetry came later. Kannada was a major language of literature under the Empire of Vijayanagar, from 1336 to 1575. The beginnings of a modern literary language can be traced to the middle of the 19th century.

Great numbers of Indo-Aryan loanwords, especially from Sanskrit, have brought into educated Kannada speech a contrast between aspirated and unaspirated stops (e.g., ph bh contrasting with p b) which is foreign to Dravidian languages. The typical Dravidian rolled and fricative are no longer distinguished in modern Kannada. For a table of numerals see TELUGU.

Kannada, Telugu and Tulu

Standard spoken Kannada is based on the colloquial language of Bangalore and Mysore City. The Dharwar dialect of the north of Karnataka, beyond the former borders of Mysore, forms a regional standard of its own. The coastal dialects are also quite distinct.

Languages of the Nilgiri Hills

Besides the languages of the Todas and the Kōtas, two other languages are vernacular on the Neilgherry Hills – viz., the dialect spoken by the Burghers or Baḍagars (the northern people), an ancient but organised dialect of the Canarese; and the rude Tamil spoken by the Irulars (‘people of the darkness’) and Kuruburs (Can. Kurubaru, Tam. Kurumbar, shepherds), who are occasionally stumbled upon by adventurous sportsmen in the denser, deeper jungles, and the smoke of whose fires may occasionally be seen rising from the lower gorges of the hills.

Robert Caldwell, Comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages, 3rd edn (London: Kegan Paul, 1913) p. 34

Baḍagaga bāḍāse,

The Badaga wants mutton,

Kōtaga pōtāse,

The Kōta wants beef,

Todavaga hālāse,

The Toda wants milk,

Kurumaga jēnāse.

The Kurumba wants honey.

Paul Hockings, Counsel from the ancients: a study of Badaga proverbs, prayers, omens and curses (Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter, 1988)

Kannada has two close relatives which are sometimes counted as dialects. Badaga is a language of the Nīlgiri Hills, now with 100,000 speakers, descendants of 16th-century emigrants from Mysore.

Kōḍagu or Coorg, with 90,000 speakers, is the language of the old hill state of Coorg, independent until British annexation in 1834.

Telugu dialects are usually classed in four groups: Northern, Southern, Eastern and Central. The last-named, the speech of East and West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur, has contributed most to the modern standard.

Tuḷu is spoken in a coastal region of southern Karnataka, around Mangalore.

Toda and Kōta, mentioned in the Badaga proverb (see box), are Dravidian languages of small tribal groups, with less than a thousand speakers each.

Writing in Kannada

The Kannada alphabet is in all essential features identical with that of Telugu, though it has its own typical printed style. Consonants are combined with following vowels to form a single symbol. Most compound consonants involve the writing of one element below the line.

Dictionary of Languages © 1998 + 2004

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