Language History


Kannada is one of the Dravidian languages of South India. Apart from being the language of the majority in Karnataka, there are also a large number of people speaking it in the neighboring states of Karnataka i.e. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Out of 21.7 Million Kannada speaking population 86% is in Karnataka. Kannada is surrounded by three literature-rich Dravidian languages (Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu) in south & East, while in the west with Kodava and Tulu of the same Dravidian family languages and in the north with Indo Aryan family language Marathi. Thus, though Kannada is influenced by Aryan aspects, it has been able to retain its "Dravidianism" in terms of its vocabulary, literary and so on.

Sometimes, ‘Kannada’ and ‘Karnataka’ were considered to be synonyms. It was true that the two words denote the state too. Kannada Nadu/Karnata Desha, Kannada Nudi/Karnata Bhashe (Kannada speaking land, State of Karnataka, Kannada language/Karnata language). But in official and real usage “Kannada’’ symbolizes the language and “Karnataka’ state.

“Kannada’, ‘Karnataka’ words have a very ancient history. Much before 3-4 century BC the word Karnataka used as a name of a province or state in Mahabharata. (The meaning of this word is high altitude area with the text ‘unnatyaka’), the antiquity of the word Karnataka usage in inscriptions goes back to west Ganga King Bhoo Vikrama’s Bedapura copper inscription (7th Century).



There is a disagreement among scholars on the etymology of the words 'Karnataka' and 'Kannada'. Many scholars think that `Karnataka 'is a Sanskritization of the vernacular word `Kannada' (or an ancient form of Kannada '). `Karnata (ka) is thought to be 'kar + nat + a + ka(ga)' (black soil) and karu + nadu (highland).

In Dravidian languages Kannada belongs to the sub-sect called a south Dravidian. In south Dravidian languages it was possible that the beginning of the words Ch (ಚ್)-/Ss (ಸ್) - consonant could be omitted and that characteristics appeared in Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada. In its century-old history, Kannada went through many modifications, but it retained its original Dravidian characteristic which is in the father status of all Dravidian languages.  Some of these characteristics may fade out in remaining languages. We can see the ‘Talvyikarana’ as an example. In the literary rich languages like Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, the word Kh (ಕ್) 'consonant' became 'ch' in some particular environment. But Kannada provide invaluable information during the reconstruction of the non-primitive Kh (ಕ್)-consonant, keeping the Kh (ಕ್ )-'consonant unchanged everywhere. Besides, it also has a unique self-differences like Ph (ಪ್) consonant changed to Hh (ಹ್). It can be recalled that ‘Ph’ > ‘Hh’ self-differentiation was the main reason for evolving New Kannada after it became Middle Kannada.


Old Kannada

It is not easy to judge, Kannada began its independent life by branching out from its parent language. Kannada may be bifurcated from its parent language by 4th century BC or much before.  We can talk about the antiquity of Kannada with confidence. According to D.L. Narasimhachar, the very first Kannada word ‘Isila’ is the name of a place found in one of the inscriptions of Ashoka i.e. Brahmagiri inscription belonging to 3rd century BC.  This is definitely a Kannada word, it means ‘throw an arrow’ which is derived from ‘aey’ or ‘esu’ krypton. ‘Isila’ may be a place of throwing an arrow or a town that is surrounded by a fort. Govinda Pai recognized the word “Atta’ (see Atte), (See hotti) “Tuppa’ and many Kannada words in  Hala’s ‘Gaathasaptashati’ (1st century AD). These are all separate words of Kannada language.  But, the official inclusive text which is available for us in Halmidi inscription of around 450 AD. The inscription documents, the gifts of two officers named Pashupati and Naga, made to Vija Arasa, a warrior and to some Brahmins. The language of the inscription named pre- old Kannada (purva Halegannada). The interesting aspects to the readers are the full influence of Sanskrit on Kannada vocabulary, word formation and sentence formation at that time. The Sanskrit word "jaya" is combined with the Kannada verb "Pettha" in the Kasi kriyasamasa, which is "Pettajayan". In addition, the Passive voice which was not the style of Dravidian sentence formation was in colloquial Kannada, the best example for the influence of Sanskrit over Kannada.  The importance of the Halmidi inscription as a primitive model of Kannada was not enough; there was an even greater significance to it. The inscription belonged to the first Kannada rulers Kadambas (as historians believes) also highlighted the importance of Kannada in 5th century AD. Before Kadambas, the official language of the rulers who ruled Karnataka was Prakruta. It was important to note that the Kadambas, who were basically Kannadigas, established an independent kingdom and used Kannada for administrative purposes. Kannada, which was a dialect, became the court language of their time. After Halmidi many inscriptions in Kannada, flown one by one with the King’s order regarding gifts and charity. As Kannada became the administrative language, its expression capacity also grew. Later, Kannada was perhaps, the first used for artistic purposes in the clan of the Badami Chalukyas. Historians had unanimously agreed that the culture of Karnataka was carved during the Badami Chalukyas in the sixth and seventh centuries. The earliest Kannada literary works must have been created under the Chalukya dynasty. The earliest Kannada inscriptions of literary value were available from the seventh century. That was a clear indication of the beginning of literary works in Kannada. Because in Karnataka, the language of inscriptions also made up of literary language styles. In the surroundings of Badami, the capital of  Chalukyas, Kannada became sophisticated and also the court language. The sublanguage became a literary language. After the Chalukyas, Rashtrakuta came to power, In their clan Kavirajamarga of Srivijaya (around 850) was a milestone. While, we recognized the Tirulgannadanadu the middle places of Badami, Pattadakallu, Koppala, Vakkunda were named.  The Pampa and Ranna of the 10th century were also recalled that they had selected the Kannada of Puligere (now Lakshmeswara) surroundings as their literary language. 

The earliest available Kannada work ‘Kavirajamarga’ had written in old Kannada and it related to Alankara Shastra (the science of figure of speech). Generally, the inscription language from 450 to 800 AD was called the earliest old Kannada (purva Halegannada). The earliest old Kannada forms were very close to old Tamil. The Earliest Old Kannada was transformed into Old Kannada. There were many variations in both the anatomical and metaphorical aspects of the earliest old Kannada and old Kannada. For example,  Gosha Moordhanya Gharsha consonant (The special alphabet (swana) of Dravidian languages) used in early old Kannada, was split at the time of Old Kannada “Lhl’(``ಳ್'') and Rh (`ರ್'') were shown the tendency of merging with Swanimas. In 9th and 10th centuaries many words from Sanskrit and Prakruta were flown into Kannada.

Middle Kannada

By the beginning of the ninth or tenth century, there was a shift from old Kannada to middle Kannada. In the eleventh century, all most all that work came to an end. The two consonantal differences in the case were (1) `Ph` (ಪ್) consonant became Hh (ಹ್). (2) Consonants and suffixes became swarantas. (Ex: Pal >> Hallu (Tooth), Paal >> >> Halu (Milk).

Linguists think that Middle Kannada is a transitional state between the old and new Kannada. There is not much difference between the new and the middle Kannada. Modern literates can understand the Middle Kannada works (12-19 century) without much effort, but they need more perseverance to understand the works of old (9-10 century) Kannada.

New Kannada

In the 19th century when Kannada established a link with English and modern civilization the New Kannada came into existence. There are four main dialect areas in Kannada today; Within each of those dialects, there are sub-dialect areas. Mangalore Kannada or costal Kannada - This is particularly influenced by Tulu, somewhat from Malayalam; This is especially important in Kannada or Southern dialects of Bangalore; Because it is the language of our capital city. The same language is used in newspapers, radio, televisions. The use of English words in Bangalore Kannada is high. Dharwad or North Karnataka’s Kannada -   particularly has Marathi influence; Gulbarga's Kannada particularly has an Urdu influence on it;  Out of these four linguistic varieties, though the Bangalore Kannada is one of the most widely spoken languages, the writers like to use the local language in their literary works - especially in creative writing. And the use of local language does not hinder understanding the literary work. However, the influence of Bangalore Kannada on the rest of the linguistic varieties are unlimited. What is important is the role of influential broadcasters in reducing dialectal differences day by day. And an equal eloquence has created without, people being aware of it.


There is no much difference between Telugu and Kannada script. Thus, they were the same until the Vijayanagara clan (16th century). Kannada script was derived from the southern variant of Ashoka's Brahmipili (3rd century BC). The symbols of Brahmipili were more linear, and the frequent use of palm leaves to write in the South had led to the formation of   Kannada - Telugu script, and it became more circular in shape. The present script was formed during the time of the Kalyana Chalukyas and the Hoysalas (11-12th century). The script had received minor changes since then. In the 19th century, due to printing machines Kannada script saw many variations on the symbols.

Vowel system

The traditional modern Kannada script has fifty `characters. Sixteen of these are vowels. Thirty-four consonants are again classified as `classical '(25),` unclassified’  (9). The vowels include ಅ, ಆ, ಇ, ಈ, ಉ, ಊ, ಎ, ಏ, ಐ, ಒ, ಓ, ಔ ಗಳೂ, ಐ ಔ  the two compound letters  ಐ.ಔ, and ಋ ಋೂ two half ovals are also included. The other two are not actually vowels, but consonants, the zero-designed "point", are used to denote the preceding consonant of a classical consonant. The visarga is actually kakalya Garsha consonant.

Classic consonants consist of twenty touches and five nasals, grouping them into five or five categories - the khantyas, talavyas, moordhanyas, dantanyas and ubhayoshtyas. The remaining consonants are called invariant because they cannot be grouped. They originate in different positions; ಯ್, ರ್, ಲ್, ವ್, ಶ್, ಷ್, ಸ್, ಹ್, ಳ್ are the unclassified’.

Last Updated: 06-05-2020 04:25 PM Updated By: Admin