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Kannada (, ) or ,[1] is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas () and number roughly 38 million,[2] is one of the 40 most spoken languages in the world. It is one of the scheduled languages of India and the official and administrative language of the state of Karnataka.[3]

The Kannada language is written using the Kannada script, which evolved from the 5th century Kadamba script. Kannada is attested epigraphically from about one and a half millennia, and literary Old Kannada flourished in the 6th century Ganga dynasty[4] and during 9th century Rashtrakuta Dynasty.[5] With an unbroken literary history of over a thousand years,[6] the excellence of Kannada literature continues into the present day. Works of Kannada literature have received eight Jnanpith awards[7] and fifty-six Sahitya Akademi awards.

Based on the recommendations of the Committee of Linguistic Experts, appointed by the Ministry of Culture, the Government of India officially recognised Kannada as a classical language.[8][9][10] In July 2011, a centre for the study of classical Kannada was established under the aegis of Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) at Mysore to facilitate research related to the language.[11]



Kannada is a southern Dravidian Language and the history of Kannada is conventionally divided in three periods, Old Kannada (600 - 1200), Middle Kannada (1200 1700) and Modern Kannada (1700 present).[12] Kannada is influenced to an appreciable extent by Sanskrit. Based on the generally accepted theory that Kannada and Tamil originated from a common Dravidian source, the scholar D.N. Shankara Bhatt claimed the two languages must have exhibited some commonalities in the ancient past that are now masked by Sanskritic influences.[13] According to the Dravidian scholars Bhadriraju Krishnamurti and Kamil Zvelebil, Kannada and Tamil languages split into independent languages from their common source, the proto Tamil-Kannada sub-group around 5th - 6th. century B.C. or earlier,[13][14] Influences of other languages such as Prakrit, Telugu and Persian can also be found in Kannada language. The scholar Iravatham Mahadevan proved that Kannada was already a language of rich oral tradition earlier than 3rd century B.C., and based on the native Kannada words found in Prakrit and Tamil inscriptions of that period, Kannada must have been spoken by a widespread and stable populations.[13][15] The scholar K.V. Narayana claims that many tribal languages which are now designated as Kannada dialects could be nearer to the earlier form of the language with lesser influence from other languages.[13]

Influence of Sanskrit and Prakrit

The sources of influence on Kannada grammar appear to be three-fold; Panini's grammar, non-Paninian schools of Sanskrit grammar, particularly Katantra and Sakatayana schools, and Prakrit grammar.[16] Literary Prakrit seemed to have prevailed in Karnataka since ancient times. The vernacular Prakrit speaking people, may have come in contact with the Kannada speaking ones, thus influencing their language, even before Kannada was used for administrative or liturgical purpose. Kannada phoenetics, morphology, vocabulory, grammar and syntax shows significant Sanskrit and Prakrit influence.[16][16]

Some examples of naturalised (tatbhava) words of Prakrit origin in Kannada are ba a derived from va a, arasu (king), and from Sanskrit, var a (color), hunnime (new moon) from pu iv , paur im (full moon), and r ya from r ja (king).[17] Kannada has numerous borrowed (tatsama) words such as dina, kopa, surya, mukha, nimi a, anna.[18]

Early epigraphy

The Halmidi inscription at Halmidi village in old-Kannada dated "450 AD". (Kadamba Dynasty) Badami cave temple]] no.3 Old-Kannada inscription at the base of Gomateshwara monolith in Shravanabelagola (981 AD. Western Ganga Dynasty) note the fingertips of the subject, plants, and scrolls surrounding the inscription Kannada Hoysala inscription of 1220 AD at Ishwara temple Hassan district that shows three deities flanked by adorned animals, a nursing cow to the left and an elephant to the right

Pre-old Kannada (or Purava HaleGannada) was the language of Banavasi in the early Common Era, the Satavahana and Kadamba periods and hence has a history of over 2000 years.[15][19][20][21] The Ashoka rock edict found at Brahmagiri (dated to 230 BC) has been suggested to contain words in identifiable Kannada.[22]

A possibly more definite reference to Kannada is found in the 'Charition mime' of the 1st or 2nd century CE. The farce, written by an unknown author was discovered in early 20th century at Oxyrynchus in Egypt.[23][24] The play is concerned with a Greek lady named Charition who has been stranded on the coast of a country bordering the Indian Ocean. The king of this region, and his countrymen, sometimes use their own language, and the sentences they spoke include Koncha madhu patrakke haki (lit having poured a little wine into the cup separately) and paanam beretti katti madhuvam ber ettuvenu (lit having taken up the cup separately and having covered it, I shall take wine separately).[25] The language employed in the papyrus indicates that the play is set in one of the numerous small ports on the western coast of India, between Karwar and Mangalore.[25]

The written tradition of Kannada begins in the early centuries of common era. The earliest examples of a full-length Kannada language stone inscription (shilashaasana) containing Brahmi characters with characteristics attributed to those of proto-Kannada in Hale Kannada (lit Old Kannada) script can be found in the Halmidi inscription, usually dated c. 450 C.E., indicating that Kannada had become an administrative language at that time. The Halmidi inscription provides invaluable information about the history and culture of Karnataka.[26][27][28][29] The 5th century Tamatekallu inscription of Chitradurga and the Chikkamagaluru inscription of 500 AD are further examples.[30][31][32] Recent reports indicate that the 'Nishadi' Inscription, discovered on Chandragiri hill, Shravanabelagola, which is in Old Kannada, is older than Halmidi inscription by about fifty to hundred years and may belong to c.(350 400)CE.[33] The noted archaeologist and art historian S. Settar is of the opinion that an inscription of the Western Ganga King Kongunivarma (c.350 - 370) is older than the Halmidi inscrption.[34]

Over 30,000 inscriptions written in the Kannada language have been discovered so far.[35] Prior to the Halmidi inscription, there is an abundance of inscriptions containing Kannada words, phrases and sentences, proving its antiquity. The 543 AD Badami cliff inscription of Pulakesi I is an example of a Sanskrit inscription in old Kannada script.[36][37]

The earliest copper plates inscribed in Old Kannada script and language, dated to early 8th century AD belongs to the Alupa King Aluvarasa II from Belmannu, Dakshina Kannada district, and displays the double crested fish, his royal emblem.[38] The oldest well-preserved palm leaf manuscript in Old Kannada is that of Dhavala. It dated to around the 9th century, preserved in the Jain Bhandar, Mudbidri, Dakshina Kannada district.[39] The manuscript contains 1478 leaves written using ink.[39]


Some early Kadamba Dynasty coins bearing the Kannada inscription Vira and Skandha were found in Satara collectorate.[40] A gold coin bearing three inscriptions of Sri and an abbreviated inscription of king Bhagiratha's name called bhagi (c. 390 420 C.E.) in old Kannada exists.[41] A Kadamba copper coin dated to the 5th century C.E with the inscription Srimanaragi in Kannada script was discovered in Banavasi, Uttara Kannada district.[42] Coins with Kannada legends have been discovered spanning the rule of the Western Ganga Dynasty, the Badami Chalukyas, the Alupas, the Western Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas, the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Kadamba Dynasty of Banavasi, the Keladi Nayakas and the Mysore Kingdom, the Badami Chalukya coins being a recent discovery.[43][44][45] The coins of the Kadambas of Goa are unique in that they have alternate inscription of the king's name in Kannada and Devanagari in triplicate,[46] a few coins of the Kadambas of Hangal are also available.[47]


Old Kannada

The oldest existing record of Kannada poetry in tripadi metre is the Kappe Arabhatta record of 700 AD.[48] Kavirajamarga by King Nripatunga Amoghavarsha I (850 AD) 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 the 6th century and Ravikirti, the author of the Aihole record of 636 AD.[49][50] Since the earliest available Kannada work is one on grammar and a guide of sorts to unify existing variants of Kannada grammar and literary styles, it can be safely assumed that literature in Kannada must have started several centuries earlier.[49][51] An early extant prose work, the Vaddaradhane by Shivakotiacharya of 900 AD provides an elaborate description of the life of Bhadrabahu of Shravanabelagola.[52]

Kannada works from earlier centuries mentioned in the Kavirajamarga are not yet traced. Some ancient texts now considered extinct but referenced in later centuries are Prabhrita (650 AD) by Syamakundacharya, Chudamani (Crest Jewel 650 AD) by Srivaradhadeva, also known as Tumbuluracharya, which is a work of 96,000 verse-measures and a commentary on logic (Tatwartha-mahashastra).[53][54][55] Other sources date Chudamani to the 6th century or earlier.[56][57] The Karnateshwara Katha, a eulogy for King Pulakesi II, is said to have belonged to the 7th century; the Gajastaka, a work on elephant management by King Shivamara II, belonged to the 8th century,[58] and the Chandraprabha-purana by Sri Vijaya, a court poet of King Amoghavarsha I, is ascribed to the early 9th century.[59] Tamil Buddhist commentators of the 10th century AD (in the commentary on Nemrinatham, a Tamil grammatical work) make references that show that Kannada literature must have flourished as early as the 4th century AD.[60]

The late classical period gave birth to several genres of Kannada literature, with new forms of composition coming into use, including Ragale (a form of blank verse) and meters like Sangatya and Shatpadi. The works of this period are based on Jain and Hindu principles. Two of the early writers of this period are Harihara and Raghavanka, trailblazers in their own right. Harihara established the Ragale form of composition while Raghavanka popularized the Shatpadi(six-lined stanza) meter.[61] A famous Jaina writer of the same period is Janna, who expressed Jain religious teachings through his works.[62]

The Vachana Sahitya tradition of the 12th century is purely native and unique in world literature, and the sum of contributions by all sections of society. Vachanas were pithy poems on that period's social, religious and economic conditions. More importantly, they held a mirror to the seed of social revolution, which caused a radical re-examination of the ideas of caste, creed and religion. Some of the important writers of Vachana literature include Basavanna, Allama Prabhu and Akka Mahadevi.[63]

Middle Kannada

During the period between the 15th and 18th centuries, Hinduism had a great influence on Middle Kannada (Nadugannada) language and literature. Kumara Vyasa, who wrote the Karnata Bharata Kathamanjari, has arguably been the most influential Kannada writer of this period. His work, entirely composed in the native Bhamini Shatpadi hexa-meter, is a sublime adaptation of the first ten books of the Mahabharata.[64] During this period, the Sanskritic influence is present in most abstract, religious, scientific and rhetorical terms.[65][66][67] During this period, several Hindi and Marathi words came into Kannada, chiefly relating to feudalism and militia.[68]

Hindu saints of the Vaishnava sect such as Kanakadasa, Purandaradasa, Naraharitirtha, Vyasatirtha, Sripadaraya, Vadirajatirtha, Vijaya Dasa, Jagannatha Dasa, Prasanna Venkatadasa produced devotional poems in this period.[69] Kanakadasa's Ramadhanya Charite is a rare work, concerning with the issue of class struggle.[70] This period saw the advent of Haridasa Sahitya (lit Dasa literature) which made rich contributions to bhakti literature and sowed the seeds of Carnatic music. Purandara Dasa is widely considered the Father of Carnatic music.[71][72][73]

Modern Kannada

The Kannada works produced from the 19th century make a gradual transition and are classified as Hosagannada or Modern Kannada. Most notable among the modernists was the poet Nandalike Muddana whose writing may be described as the "Dawn of Modern Kannada", though generally, linguists treat Indira Bai or Saddharma Vijayavu by Gulvadi Venkata Raya as the first literary works in Modern Kannada. The first modern movable type printing of "Canarese" appears to be the Canarese Grammar of Carey printed at Serampore in 1817, and the "Bible in Canarese" of John Hands in 1820.[74] The first novel printed was John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, along with other texts including Canarese Proverbs, The History of Little Henry and his Bearer by Mary Martha Sherwood, Christian Gottlob Barth's Bible Stories and "a Canarese hymn book."[75]

Modern Kannada in the 20th century has been influenced by many movements, notably Navodaya, Navya, Navyottara, Dalita and Bandaya. Contemporary Kannada literature has been highly successful in reaching people of all classes in society. Works of Kannada literature have received eight Jnanpith awards,[76] the highest number awarded to any Indian language,[77] and fifty six Sahitya Academy awards.

Theatre art

A Yakshagana artist

Yakshagana, a theatre art form from Karnataka, which is also prevalent in north Kerala, is usually staged in Kannada. Yakshagana as an art form preserves the finest aspects of the Kannada language.[78] Kannada films and plays usually cater to the modern masses and the Kannada used in them is influenced by modernity. This form of Kannada enjoys relative popularity.


There is also a considerable difference 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 consistent throughout Karnataka. Subjectively, three major varieties are perceived: Mysore Kannada (Southern); Dharwar Kannada (Northern) and Mangalore Kannada (Coastal). Within each of these broad varieties, many sub-varieties can be found e.g. Bijapura Kannada, Kundapura Kannada, etc. The Ethnologue reports "about 20 dialects" of Kannada. Among them are Kundagannada (spoken exclusively in Kundapura), Nadavar-Kannada (spoken by Nadavaru), Havigannada (spoken mainly by Havyaka Brahmins), Are Bhashe (spoken by Gowda community mainly in the Sullia region of Dakshina Kannada), Soliga, Gulbarga Kannada, Dharawad Kannada, Chitradurga Kannada, and others. All of these dialects are influenced by their regional and cultural background.

Ethnologue also classifies a group of "Kannada languages" comprising four members, besides Kannada proper including Badaga, Holiya and Urali.

Geographic distribution

Kannada billboards in India. 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 Goa, as well as in sizeable communities in the USA, Europe, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Middle Eastern countries, Canada, Malaysia, Australia, the UK, and Singapore.

Official status

Kannada is one of the 22 official languages of India and is the sole administrative language of the State of Karnataka. It is also one of the four classical languages of India.

Writing system

The Kannada language edition of Wikipedia.

The language uses forty-nine phonemic letters, divided into three groups: swaragalu (vowels thirteen letters); vyanjanagalu (consonants thirty-four letters); and yogavaahakagalu (neither vowel nor consonant two letters: the anusvara and the visarga ), . 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 (vattakshara). Each written symbol in the Kannada script corresponds with one syllable, as opposed to one phoneme in languages like English. The Kannada script is syllabic.

Obsolete Kannada letters

Kannada literary works employed the letters (transliterated '' or 'rh') and (transliterated '', '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 12th and 18th centuries, respectively. Later Kannada works replaced 'rh' and 'lh' with (ra) and (la) respectively.[79]

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 Kannada works from the mostly coastal areas of Karnataka (especially the Dakshina Kannada district). Now hardly any mainstream works use this consonant. This letter has been replaced by (consonant n).

Kannada Script Evolution

The Image below shows the evolution of Kannada script[80] from prehistoric times to modern period. The Kannada script evolved in stages like:

ProtoKannada -> PreOldKannada -> OldKannada -> ModernKannada.

The ProtoKannada script has its root in ancient Brahmi and evolved around c.3rd century BCE. The PreOldKannada script evolved around c.4th century CE. OldKannada script can be traced to c.10th Century CE. while ModernKannada script came around c.17th Century CE.

Kannada script Evolution Image


A German priest, the Reverend Ferdinand Kittel, composed the first Kannada English dictionary, consisting of more than 70,000 words.[81] Ferdinand Kittel also wrote a book on Kannada grammar called "A Grammar of the Kannada Language: Comprising the Three Dialects of the Language".[82]

Kannada script in computing


Several transliteration schemes/tools are used to type Kannada characters using a standard keyboard. These include Baraha[83] (based on ITRANS) and Quillpad[84] (predictive transliterator). Nudi, the government of Karnataka's standard for Kannada Input, is a phonetic layout loosely based on transliteration.




The canonical word order of Kannada is SOV (subject object verb) as is the case with Dravidian languages. Kannada is a highly inflected language with three genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter or common) and two numbers (singular and plural). It is inflected for gender, number and tense, among other things. The first authoritative known book on Kannada grammar is Shabdhamanidarpana by Keshiraaja. The first available Kannada book is a treatise on poetry: Kaviraja Maarga.

The most influential account of Kannada grammar is Keshiraja's Shabdamanidarpana (c. 1260 CE).[85][86] The earlier grammatical works include portions of Kavirajamarga (a treatise on ala k ra) of the 9th century, and Kavyavalokana and Karnatakabhashabhushana (both authored by Nagavarma II in the first half of the 12th century).[86]

Compound bases

Compound bases, called sam sa in Kannada, are a set of two or more words compounded together.[87] There are several types of compound bases, based on the rules followed for compounding. Examples: tangaaLi, hemmara, immadi.


According to Keshiraja's Shabdamanidarpana, there are nine gender forms in Kannada. However, in modern Kannada literature only three gender forms are used in practice: masculine, feminine, and neutral.[88]


Words that denote male persons are considered to have masculine gender.


Words that denote female persons are considered to have feminine gender.


Nouns that do not belong to either of the above two classes are considered to have neutral gender.

  • Examples: love, world, tree, bear, river

See also


  • George M. Moraes (1931), The Kadamba Kula, A History of Ancient and Medieval Karnataka, Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, Madras, 1990 ISBN 81-206-0595-0


External links

af:Kannada am: ar: an:Idioma canar s az:Kannada bn: br:Kannadeg (yezh) ca:Kanara cs:Kannad tina cy:Kannada da:Kannada de:Kannada dv: es:Idioma canar s eo:Kanara lingvo fa: hif:Kannada bhasa fr:Kannada gu: ko: hi: bpy: id:Bahasa Kannada is:Kanar ska it:Lingua kannada he: kn: ka: ( ) kv: la:Lingua Cannadica lv:Kannadu valoda lt:Kanad kalba hu:Kannada nyelv mk: ( ) mg:Fiteny kannada ml: mr: ms:Bahasa Kannada nl:Kannada ne: new: ja: no:Kannada nn:Kannada pnb: pms:Lenga Kannada nds:Kannada pl:J zyk kannada pt:L ngua canaresa qu:Kannada simi ru: sa: simple:Kannada sk:Kannad ina sr: sh:Kanada jezik fi:Kannada sv:Kannada ta: te: th: tr:Kannada dili uk: ug: vi:Ti ng Kannada wuu: yi: zh:

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