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

Language spoken in southeastern India. It is the official language of Andhra Pradesh, and is also spoken in Malaysia, giving a total number of speakers of around 50 million. Written records in Telugu date from the 7th century AD. Telugu belongs to the Dravidian family.

Summary Article: TELUGU
from Dictionary of Languages
45,000,000 SPEAKERS


One of the dravidian languages, Telugu is the language of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (for map see KANNADA).

Telugu is a later, local form of the name Telinga once given to this region and its people in Sanskrit texts. Andhra is an alternative, used officially in the state name (pradeśa, ‘province’) and locally for the people and their language. In some older English writings it is called Gentoo, from Portuguese Gentio: from the point of view of early European traders, speakers of this language were the ‘gentiles’ of the Empire of Vijayanagar, in contrast with the Moros, the ‘Moors’ or Muslims, who were more in evidence on the western coast of India.

Within India Telugu perhaps has a larger number of speakers than any other Dravidian language. It is known from inscriptions beginning in the 6th century AD and from literature beginning around 1100. The Middle Telugu period is reckoned from the 11th to 15th centuries. It was in this period that the literary language became fixed in form. Among the early classics are versions of the Sanskrit epics and pura̅ṇas, notably the 11th-century Andhra Maha̅bha̅ratam of Nannaya. Early modern Telugu court poetry was interwoven with music and dance; the mixed verse and prose form of the prabandha is a special feature of this literature.

By the beginning of the 20th century literary and spoken Telugu were almost two different languages. After long dispute between classicists and modernists, a modernised literary language, much closer to everyday speech, is now almost universal in current writing and in the media.

Telugu has three genders – but only two distinct gender forms. In the singular of nouns, feminine and non-human genders are combined, so that the distinction is masculine/non-masculine; in the plural, masculine and feminine are combined, and the distinction is human/non-human. The positive/negative opposition is incorporated in some verb forms: ammuta̅du ‘he sells it’, ammaḍu ‘he does not sell it’.

Telugu has undergone lengthy, pervasive influence from Sanskrit, the traditional learned language of the subcontinent, and also from the Prakrits, the spoken Indo-Aryan languages of medieval northern India. As a result, the vocabulary of traditional literary Telugu is heavily Indo-Aryan, and so is that of the modern spoken language. At least one Telugu scholar argues that Sanskrit, not proto-Dravidian, is the true parent of Telugu.

Polite address in Telugu

Politeness is expressed by the choice of pronouns: nuwwu ‘you (singular)’ is informal, while mi̅ru ‘you (plural)’ also functions as honorific singular. The third person pronouns have a four-way distinction for males and a three-way distinction for females: listed from low to high these are wa̅ḍu, atanu, a̅yana, wa̅ru ‘he’, and adi, a̅me, wa̅ru ‘she’. The choice depends on the age and education of speaker and hearer, the social context and the speaker's intentions.

After Bh. Krishnamurti, ‘Telugu’ in International encyclopedia of linguistics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) vol. 4 pp. 137–41

Numerals in Telugu and Kannada



oṇḍu, oka






























Telugu script

Telugu script is very similar to that of Kannada. As with other descendants of the Brahmi script, a consonant is combined with a following vowel in each symbol. Compound consonants are usually easy to pick out as they generally involve subsidiary symbols written below the line.

Dictionary of Languages © 1998 + 2004

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