Monday, December 3, 2012

Language Profile: Telugu

This week, we're taking a look at the Telugu language. It's a member of the Dravidian language family and has nearly 70 million native speakers. Telugu is the official language of Andhra Pradesh (nicknamed "Rice Bowl of India"), which is one of the largest states in India. It's also the third most spoken language in all of India.

This is the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly. Pretty nice!

Telugu is written using Telugu script, an abugida. It is a member of the Brahmic writing system family, which developed in India and is now used throughout Asia. Telugu is written from left to right in syllabic script, meaning that each of the units of writing are syllables. When reading or writing consonants on their own, it is tradition to add in an implied 'a' vowel sound. The Telugu alphabet has an impressive 60 symbols in its inventory, which includes 41 consonants, 16 vowels, and 3 vowel modifiers.

"Telugu" written in Telugu script.

Each of Telugu's 16 vowels has two written forms: an independent form and a diacritic form that is combined with consonants to create syllables. Telugu script definitely doesn't sound like the easiest writing system to learn! Telugu also has uses three grammatical genders to classify nouns (masculine, feminine and neutral), and has its own numerical system.

Telugu also has a long literary tradition that dates back to the 11th century. By the 14th century, it was known for its poetry, particularly narrative poetry. Telugu literature is also said to have experienced a "golden age" in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Throughout history, the vocabulary of Telugu has been heavily influenced by Sanskrit. It also contains many borrowed words from Arabic and Persian. It's interesting to note that most Telugu speakers use two different varieties of the language in everyday life. Formal standardized Telugu is used at school, in government, and for religious purposes. At home, most people use a vernacular form of the language, which can vary significantly depending on the region and social status of the speaker. There are so many dialects of Telugu we won't even begin to list them here... you'll just have to trust us that this language is very diverse!