Monday, March 25, 2013

Language Profile: Kannada

This week, we're taking a look at Kannada, not to be confused with the world's second largest country, Canada. Kannada is a member of the Dravidian language family. It boasts nearly 38 million native speakers, making it the 8th most spoken official language in India. It is primarily spoken in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka. Kannada is one of a long list of official regional languages in India.

In 2008, the language also received the distinction of being made one of five official classical languages of India, alongside Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, and Malayalam. A center for the study of classical Kannada was then established in Mysore, the second-largest city in Karnataka, in 2011 in order to promote and aid in language-related research.

Mysore Palace in the Indian state of Karnataka.
It is thought that Kannada and Tamil once formed their own branch of the Dravidian language family. Sometime around the 5th century B.C., they split into two independent languages. However, Kannada, along with most other Dravidian languages, was also heavily influenced by Sanskrit in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and phonology, while Tamil was not.

There are approximately 20 dialects of Kannada that are mainly influenced by the region and culture of the speakers. These dialects are mainly spoken though, while written Kannada is fairly consistent throughout the state of Karnataka.

The Kannada alphabet is an abugida that is written from left to right. Interestingly, it was heavily influenced by stone carving, which is why most of its characters are round with straight strokes. Kannada script has 49 letters that are divided into three groups: 34 consonants known as vyanjana, 13 vowels known as swara, and two other letters known as yagavaahaka. These two letters are called anusvara (ಅಂ) and visarga (ಅಃ), and are considered to be something in between a consonant and a vowel. The alphabet is almost perfectly phonetic, which is a definite plus for anyone wanting to learn the language!