Kannada is one of the four major literary languages of the Dravidian family, the other three being Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam. It is spoken in the state of Karnataka comprising of an area of 74,122 Sq,miles. It is the official language of Karnataka and is the mother tongue of 32590177 people (1991 census of India pp-11). Adjoining areas are of Tamilnadu (tamiLuna:Du), Kerala (ke:raLa), Andhrapradhesha (a:ñdʰraprade:śa) and Maharashtra (maha:ra:s̡tra). It is one of the 18 languages listed in the VIII schedule in the constitution of India. It has a fine literary tradition which goes back to the 9th century and exhibits a complex pattern of sociolinguistic and stylistic variation marked by a thorough assimilation of Indo-Aryan (mainly Sanskrit, Prakrit, Hindi, Urdu etc) and more recently English elements too.

The earliest written document in Kannada is the Halmidi (halmiDi) inscription which is dated about 450 A.D. A few Kannada words are also noticed in Greek Drama of 2nd century A.D. The name Karuna:Dar is said to occur in cilappatika:ram of the 2nd century A.D of Tamil literature (epic). Govinda pai, the indefatigable research scholar of Kannada has recognized some of the place names mentioned in the travelogue of the Greek traveller Ptolemy as Banavasi, Mudgal and Malpe.

In ga:tʰasaptaśati (prakrit literature) by Halaraja of the 2nd century A.D, some Kannada words such as poTTe ‘belly’ tuppa ‘ghee’ peTTu ‘beat’ etc… have been identified by scholars and the names karna:Ta/kannaDa in vara:hamihara’s Brihatsamhita of the 6th century A.D of Sanskrit literature.

Kavira:jama:rga (9th century A.D) is very important from the point of view of history, linguistics, literature and culture, because it is the first kannada literary work discovered so far. It throws considerable light on the so called dark period of kannada language and literature and it is the first work dealing with certain problems of kannada grammar also.

A few note worthy statements are given by the author of Kavira:jama:rga (Srivijaya) such as: 

1)  The geographical boundary of the then Karnataka-

	ಕಾವೇರಿಯಿಂದಮಾ ಗೋದಾವರಿವರಂ ಇರ್ದ್ದ ನಾಡದಾ 
	Ka:ve:riyindama:  go:da:varivaram  irda  na:Dada:
	KannaDa doL …….
 [The tract between the rivers Ka:ve:ri and Go:da:vari is the area where Kannada is spoken (Kavirajamarga 1.36)
The region in which kannada was spoken extended from the Ka:ve:ri as far as the go:da:vari.] ಅದರೊಳಗಂ ಕಿಸುವೊಳಲಾ ವಿದಿತಮಹಾಕೊಪಣ ನಗರದಾ ಪುಲಿಗೆರೆ ಯಾ ಸದಭಿಸ್ತುತಮಪ್ಪೊಂಕುಂ ದದ ನಡುವಣ ನಾಡೆ ನಾಡೆ ಕನ್ನಡದ ತಿರುಳ್ adaroLagam kisuvoLala: viditamaha:kopaNa nagarada: puligereya: sadabʰistutamappońkun dada naDuvaNa na:De na:De kannaDada tiruL 2) A standard form of kannada was spoken in the urban area between the city of koppana nagar (the present koppala)
okunda and kisuvoLalu (the present PaTTadakallu) (Kavira:jama:rga 1.37) ....................................... .................. ಕನ್ನಡಂಗಳೊಳೆಂದುಂ ವಾಸುಗಿಯುಮರು ಯಲಾದೆ ಬೇಸರುಗುಂ ದೇಸಿ ಬೇರೆ ವೇಪ್ಪುದರುಮ್ ………………………………… …………… kannaDańgaLoLendum va:sugiyumaruyala:rade be:sarugum de:si be:re ve:rappudarum 3) There were a number of mutually unintelligible dialects (Kavira:jama:rga 1.46)and 4) The people were intelligent, upright and heroic (Kavira:jama:rga 1.46) ** Dravidian Encyclopedia – source 1997 vol. 3

The evidence of kannada language has got a history of about 1500 years of writing system. It is written from left to right. The early form of the kannada scripts are found in the inscription of kadamba’s of Banavasi (banava:si) and ca:lukya’s of Badami (ba:da:mi). In the west scholars traced the origin of kannada script to the Brahmi (bra:hmi) script.

Kannada has a very complex range of regional, social and stylistic variation.  Four major regional varieties may be identified :

	(a)  Mysore/Bangalore dialect (kannada)
	(b)  Mangalore dialect (kannada)/coastal dialect.
	(c)  Dharwar dialect (kannada)     
	(d)  Kalaburgi dialect (kannada)

[see for more details  “A comparative study of kannada dialects” (bellary, gulbarga, kumta and nanjangud 
dialects) - Upadhyaya U.P (1976)
Prasaranga, Mysore and Accoustic characteristics of kannada - Rajpurohit B. (1982)]

The difference among the regional varieties was accentuated by long periods of political (and hence cultural, administrative and commercial) isolation from one another, as well as by contact with a number of different neighbouring languages,
Ex. Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Konkani, Kodagu etc.,. The prestige variety of the written language is based on the Mysore-Bangalore variety.
Source: ( S.N.Sridhar – 1990 ‘Kannada’).

In addition to regional varieties, Kannada also has a number of social varieties (like so:liga kannaDa, baDaga kannaDa, havyaka kannaDa, ha:lakki kannaDa, koraga kannaDa etc….) Characterized by class/caste (see the works of Bright’s ‘Social Dialect’ and language history (1960), Sangamesha’s ‘KannaDa Bʰa:s̡a Sampada (1998) among others). The spoken variety regarded as the standard/prestigious is what used to be that of the middle class, educated Brahmin dialect of the Mysore/Bangalore area. It is characterized primarily by a number of phonological, morphological and lexical features (eg: distinction between /S̡/ is and /Ś/ as well as by the unassimilated retention of foreign language sounds in borrowed words. Sanskrit aspirated consonants, such as /bʰ/ and /dʰ/. The english /f/ and /z/ used without simplification with the spread of education, this variety has ceased to be the presence of the brahmins and has become a ‘class’ rather than a ‘caste’ dialect.

Kannada is a diglossic language. The formal/literary variety differs in several respects from the spoken (or colloquial) variety in pholology, morphology, lexicon and syntax [see for more details Nayak.H.M. ‘Kannada: literary and colloquial- A study of two styles’ (1967)]. The use of the literary variety is not confined to literature. It is used in personal and official correspondence, journalism, text books and most types of writing, class room and public lectures, news broadcast and so on. One learns this variety at school and the ability to control it is a test of one’s elite status. It is therefore, perhaps more appropriate to call this the ‘formal’ variety and the colloquial variety is the informal variety.


Mainly, on the basis of the proper historical stages and literary forms of kannada it is classified into four 
important groups, such as: (i) pre-old kannada/early old kannada/pu:rvada haLagannaDa (ii) old kannada / haLagannaDa (iii) medieval kannada / naDugannaDa (iv) modern kannada/hosagannaDa (i) Pre old kannada:- Pre old kannada is available in the inscriptions of the 6th and 7th century A.D. The earliest
known inscription of kannada is that of Halmidi, belonging to A.D. 450.
Ex: The lengthening of the vowel in the conjugational suffixes of the third person. ಸಂದನ್ಾ (Sanda:n) ಏರುದಾರ್ (e:ruda:r) ಪಡೆದನ್ಾ (paDeda:n) ಪ್ರಸಾದಂ ( prasa:dam) The use of –uL for the locative suffix ವೆಟ್ಟದುಳ್ (vettadul) ಧರಣಿಯುಳ್ (dʰaraNiyuL) The lengthening of the vowel in the suffixes of the negative mood. ತಪ್ಪಾದೆ (tappa:de) ನಿಲಲಾರದೆ (nilala:rade) The use of –n- for bindu ಅವನ್ಗೆ (avańge) The lengthening of –a: the genitive and adjectival suffix ದೇವನಾ (de:vana:) ಏಳನೆಯಾ (e:laneya:)

(ii) Old Kannada: (From 750 A.D. to 1150 A.D )

Old kannada is available in a number of mature literary works, the earliest of them being a work on poetics, namely kavira:jama:rga by Sreevijaya dated to 850 A.D.

The proper distinction between the letters ( l̥ ) (retroflex flap voiced sound) call it as in kannada ‘raLa’ ‘ರಳ’ (flap alveolar voiced sound) call it as “sakaTare:pha/banDiya ‘ra’, ಳ ( ļ/L ) (voiced retroflex lateral) called as kuLa, ಲ ( l ) (voiced dental lateral) and ರ ( r ) (voiced dental trill) – alliteration carefully based also on this distinction.

	ba:ļe  		‘banana ’
      	ba:le/ba:Le 	‘a kind of fish ’                    
                aṛe            	‘half ’
                are             	‘rock ’ 
Change of initial ‘p’ becomes ‘h’ in old kannada 

      	pa:lu                 >       ha:lu	‘milk’
                pa:vu                >       ha:vu      	‘snake’

In pre-old kannada locative marker –uL changes to –oL in old kannada

      	na:DuL            >	na:DoL	‘In the country’	
	dʰ araNiyuL      >      	dʰ araNiyoL  ‘In the earth’

(iii) Medieval Kannada: (From 1150 A.D. to 1700-1750)

Medieval Kannada is more or less a transition period and could probably be seen as a connecting link between the old and modern kannada stages. It is represented mainly by the poetic works of ve:raśaiva authors, is written mostly in s̡aTpadi (Six feet of metro)

The flap retroflex  l  (  ಲ  ) had become  r  ( ರ ) before a consonant and  l/L ( ಳ ) elsewhere.
      O.K                   M.K

      a ļ du            >        ardu > addu         ‘to dip’
      kalte             >        karte > katte        ‘donkey’
      male             >        male                    ‘rain’
      ba:Le            >        ba:Le                  ‘plantain’

When followed by a stop, r was deleted after a long vowel and assimilated to the consonatnt after a  short vowel.

      ba:rcu           >        ba:cu                   ‘comb’(v)
      pardu            >        haddu                  ‘eagle’

Words ending in consonants add  -u

     kaN              >         kaNNu               ‘eye’
     nil                >         nillu                    ‘stand’(v)

iv) Modern Kannada: (From 1850 A.D. onwards….)

Modern kannada, comprising the present kannada of prose writings and common conversations is less particular in the choice of words, arbitrary about the use of suffixes and not sparing in the use of vulgarisms especially in ordinary talk.

	1)  r  and  l  phonemes are not used in this period.

	2)  Omission of bindu (change which old kannada words become modern kannada)

                            O.K                       M.K

                            to:NTa             >          to:Ta               ‘garden’
                            da:NTu            >          da:Tu              ‘to jump’

	3)  The nominative is unmarked                -- Ø

                            maguvu            >          magu Ø          ‘child’

** See for more details  - Narasimhachary.R  ‘History of the kannada language’ 


Genetically, kannada is one of the major languages of Dravidian family to be more precise of the South Dravidian group and typologically it is an agglutinative language.

In the agglutinative group like the Dravidian Languages, two roots coalesce to form a word, the one retaining its radical independence, the other sinking down to a mere termination. This language show grammatical relations by prefixing, suffixing, infixing sounds and syllables which are no longer independent words, and are clearly distinguishable from the full words they modify and not inextricably blended with them.

Ex:  Noun
      Base  +  case  suffix
        ra:ma  + (n) + inda   >   ramninda       ‘ by rama’

       Base + gender - number markers
       da:s   +  a                  >      da :sa           ‘servent’
       da:s   +  i                  >      da:si              ‘female servant’
       da:si  +  (y) aru         >      da:siyaru       ‘female servants’

[see for detail information noun and verb morphology part]


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