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Kannada (ಕನ್ನಡ)

Spoken in

India ( Karnataka and neighboring states)
speaker 44 million
Official status
Official language in India , Karnataka State
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Kannada (ಕನ್ನಡ kannaḍa ), also Canarian , is a language from the Dravidian language family . It is spoken by around 44 million native speakers in southern India , mainly in the state of Karnataka , and is mainly written in the Kannada script . The speakers of the Kannada are called Kannadiga .

Distribution and number of speakers

Approximate distribution area of ​​the Kannada

The distribution area of ​​the Kannada largely coincides with the southern Indian state of Karnataka , whose borders were drawn in 1956 along the language border of the Kannada. There are also Kanada-speaking minorities in the neighboring areas of South India. More recently, Kannada has also been spoken among expatriates in the United States , the United Kingdom , Canada and Australia . The Kannada is the official language in the state of Karnataka. Most of the state's non-Kannada-speaking residents have a command of Kannada as a second language . In addition, it is recognized as one of 22 constitutional languages ​​in India on a supraregional level .

According to the 2011 Indian census, Kannada is spoken by almost 44 million people as their mother tongue. A good 41 million of them live in Karnataka, where Kannada speakers make up around two thirds of the population. Larger minorities of Kannada speakers can also be found in the neighboring states of Tamil Nadu (1.3 million), Maharashtra (1.0 million) and Andhra Pradesh (0.5 million).


Kannada belongs to the family of Dravidian languages, which are mainly spoken in South India . Besides Telugu , Tamil and Malayalam , Kannada is one of the four major Dravidian languages. Within this family of languages, Kannada belongs to the South Dravidian branch. The Kannada's closest relative is Badaga . This language, spoken among the tribal population of the Nilgiri Mountains in Tamil Nadu, is sometimes also understood as the Kannada dialect.

Kannada is not related to the Indo-Aryan languages spoken in northern India . However, it has been heavily influenced by Sanskrit , the classical language of Hinduism , and, in addition to a large number of loanwords, has also adopted structural features from this Indo-Aryan language.

Forms of speech

Kannada is divided into four dialect groups , which consist of further sub-dialects. The southern dialect is spoken in and around the two largest cities of Karnataka, Bangalore and Mysore . The western dialect is common in the Mangalore area . The northern dialect is spoken in the Dharwad area , the northeast dialect in and around Bijapur . The northern and northeastern dialect have been influenced by Marathi , the Indo-Aryan language of the neighboring state of Maharashtra.

In parallel to the geographical dialects, there are caste dialects or sociolects . The main distinction here lies between the dialects of the Brahmins , non-Brahmans and Dalit dialects. More recently, however, class differences have increasingly taken the place of caste membership among sociolects .

The written and spoken language in the Kannada are quite different from each other, even if the diglossia is less pronounced than in the related Tamil. The spoken language of the educated urban population of Bengalurus and Mysurus has established itself as the supraregional standard colloquial language.

History of language and literature

Kannada inscription in the temple of Basaral ( Hoysala dynasty, 13th century)

Kannada is divided into three language levels: Old Kanada (up to 1200), Middle Kanada (1200–1700) and modern Kannada (since 1700). The oldest surviving language certificate of the Kannada is an inscription found in the Hassan district , which is dated to around 450.

Kannada is the second oldest Dravidian literary language after Tamil. The oldest known work of Kannada literature, the Kavirajamarga , a treatise on poetry written in verse, attributed to the Rashtrakuta king Amoghavarsha I , is dated to the first quarter of the 9th century. In the 10th – 12th In the 19th century, poems, epic poems and fables were mainly written by the Jain authors Pampa , Ponna and Ranna . The first prose work on Kannada is the Lokopakara of Chavundaraya from the middle of the 12th century. Important authors of the late 12th century are the Hindu poets Harihara and Raghavanka . During the Vijayanagar Kingdom in the 14th-16th centuries In the 19th century, Kannada literature experienced an upswing through the patronage of the court. The most famous authors of this period are Chamarasa and Kumara Vyasa .

After India became a British colony , Kannada literature dried up. It was not until the end of the 19th century that Kannada literature began to renaissance, drawing on Western influences and introducing new genres such as the novel and the short story . A Kannada-speaking author has won the Jnanpith Award , the most important Indian literary prize, seven times , most recently Girish Karnad (1998) and UR Ananthamurthy (1994).

A local Kannada grammar tradition had developed early on. Their most important works are the Shabdamanidarpana of Keshiraja from the second half of the 13th century and the Shabdanushasana of Bhattakalanka (1604). The first western Kannada grammar appeared in 1820. In the 19th century, it was mainly Christian missionaries who were concerned with the Kannada. Above all, the German missionary Ferdinand Kittel did a great job with his Kannada-English dictionary (1894) and his grammar (1903).


Bilingual street sign (Kannada / English) in Bangalore

Like many Indian languages, Kannada has its own script, the Kannada script . This is very similar to the Telugu script and belongs to the Indian script family . It shares the common origin of the Brahmi script from the 3rd century BC with the other scriptures of India, Tibet and Southeast Asia . Chr. And a common functional principle: They are an intermediate form of alphabet and syllabary, so-called Abugidas , in which each consonant sign has an inherent vowel a , which can be modified by diacritical marks . Typically for a South Indian script, the Kannada script is characterized by its round shapes.


Kannada consonant phonemes
  labial dental retroflex palatal velar
Plosives stl. unasp. p [ p ] t [ ] ṭ [ ʈ ] c [ ʧ ] k [ k ]
stl. asp. ph [ ] th [ t̪ʰ ] ṭh [ ʈʰ ] ch [ ʧʰ ] kh [ ]
sth. unasp. b [ b ] d [ ] ḍ [ ɖ ] j [ ʤ ] g [ g ]
sth. asp. bh [ ] dh [ d̪ʱ ] ḍh [ ɖʱ ] jh [ ʤʱ ] gh [ ]
Fricatives stl. (f [ f ]) s [ s ] ṣ [ ʂ ] ś [ ɕ ] h [ h ]
sth.   (z [ z ])      
Nasals m [ m ] n [ ] ṇ [ ɳ ] (ñ [ ɲ ]) (ṅ [ ŋ ])
Lateral   l [ l ] ḷ [ ɭ ]    
Half vowels v [ ʋ ]     y [ j ]  
Flap   r [ r ]      

Kannada has 34 consonant phonemes . The distinction between five places of articulation is typical for the Indian languages : velar , palatal , retroflex , dental and labial . In the case of plosives ( plosives ), voiceless and voiced sounds contrast . Due to the numerous loanwords from Sanskrit, the aspirated plosives (both voiceless and voiced) have acquired phoneme status in the Kannada, so that the plosives occur in rows of four as in the Indo-Aryan languages ​​(e.g. k , kh , g , gh ). There are no aspirated consonants in inherited Dravidian words. In the case of careless pronunciation and in certain dialects, they can be replaced by the corresponding unaspirated sounds. The consonants f and z only occur in younger loan words, for example from English, so they are not always given a phoneme status. The two nasals ñ and are allophones of n that only occur before the corresponding plosives. In the Kannada script, nasals before plosives are consistently reproduced with the anusvara , which can stand for m , n , , ñ or depending on the following consonant .

Kannada vowel phonemes
  front central back
short long short long short long
closed i [ i ] ī [ ]     u [ u ] ū [ ]
medium e [ e ] ē [ ]     o [ o ] ō [ ]
open     a [ ʌ ] ā [ ]    

There are ten vowel phonemes in the Kannada . The vowels a , i , u , e and o occur in pairs of long and short vowels, respectively. Then there are the phonematic diphthongs ai and au . There is also the vowel / ǣ /, which is limited to English loanwords (e.g. ಬ್ಯಾಂಕು / bǣnku / from English bank ) and is therefore usually not counted as a full-fledged phoneme. In certain dialects, however, it also occurs in real Kannada words.

Almost all Kannada words end in a vowel. A so-called enunciatory vowel u or i is often appended to loan words that end in a consonant (e.g. ಬಸ್ಸು bassu from English bus ). All consonants except retroflex ḷ and ṇ can occur at the beginning of a word. Consonant clusters (succession of two or more consonants) at the beginning of a word only occur in loan words (e.g. ಪ್ರೀತಿ prīti "love", from Sanskrit). Uneducated speakers in particular often add a scion vowel and speak e.g. B. / piriti /. In Kannada, the emphasis is always on the first syllable of a word. So it does not differ in meaning and is also not too strongly pronounced.

Sandhi processes can occur when morphemes come together within a word or among words . Thus, between the root word ಹೂ Hu "Flower" and the Instrumentalsuffix -iṃda a glide v inserted: ಹೂವಿಂದ hūviṃda . If two words are joined together, the unvoiced initial consonant of the second word can become voiced. This phenomenon is mostly not expressed in the scriptures: ಕೆಳತುಟಿ keḷatuṭi , spoken / keḷaduṭi / "lower lip". A phonological process that only occurs in colloquial language is the loss ( syncope ) of a vowel in the second syllable of three- or more-syllable words (e.g. written ಹೆಸರು hesaru , colloquial ಹೆಸ್ರು hesru "name").


Kannada is an agglutinating language and expresses the relationships between words using suffixes (suffixes).



Kannada knows three genera : masculine (male), feminine (female) and neuter (neuter). The gender division is based on the natural gender : the masculine is used for male persons or gods, the feminine for female persons or goddesses and usually the neuter for animals or things. In the case of the stems on -a and the person- identifying stems on -u , the gender can be recognized by the suffixes of the nominative singular: cf. ಸೇವಕನು sēvaka-nu (mask.) “Servant”, ಸೇವಕಳು sēvaka-ḷu (fem.) “Servant” and ಮರವು mara-vu ( neuter ) “tree”.

Plural formation

The nouns in Kannada appear in two numbers : singular and plural . The plural is formed agglutinatively by one of four possible suffixes:

  • -aru in male and female tribes to -a (e.g. ಹುಡುಗ huḍuga "boy" - ಹುಡುಗರ huḍugaru "boy")
  • -aṃdiru for male and, more rarely, female family names (e.g. ಅಣ್ಣ aṇṇa "older brother" - ಅಣ್ಣಂದಿರು aṇṇaṃdiru "older brothers")
  • -avaru for the so-called form of respect. Formally, the word is in the plural, but the meaning remains singular. (e.g. ತಾಯಿ tāyi "mother" - ತಾಯಿಯವರು tāyiyavaru about "woman mother")
  • -gaḷu with all neuter and sometimes with masculine personal names (e.g. ಮರ mara "tree" - ಮರಗಳು maragaḷu "trees", ಶತ್ರು śatru "enemy" - ಶತ್ರುಗಳು śatrugaḷu "enemy")


Nouns in Kannada are declined in seven cases : nominative , genitive , accusative , dative , instrumental , vocative and locative .


Adjectives can either be simple (e.g. ಒಳ್ಳೆ oḷḷe “good”) or derived from nouns (e.g. ಬಲವಾದ balavāda “strong” from ಬಲ bala “strength”). As an attribute , the adjective always stands in its unchanged root form in front of its reference word, i.e. That is, it is not included in the declination: ಸಣ್ಣ ಮನೆ saṇṇa mane "a small house" - ಸಣ್ಣ ಮನೆಗಳು saṇṇa manegaḷu "small houses". Sometimes the attribute also merges with its reference word to form a compound: ಎಳೆಮಗು eḷe-magu "small child". The personal pronoun of the 3rd person singular is added to an adjective that is used as a predicative or as a noun (e.g. ಈ ಕುದುರೆ ಒಳ್ಳೆದು ī kudure oḷḷe-du “this horse is good”).


The numerals from 1 to 10 are:

1 ಒಂದು oṃdu
2 ಎರಡು eraḍu
3 ಮೂರು mūru
4th ನಾಲ್ಕು nālku
5 ಐದು aidu
6th ಆರು āru
7th ಏಳು ēḷu
8th ಎಂಟು eṃṭu
9 ಒಂಬತ್ತು oṃbattu
10 ಹತ್ತು hattu

The numerals from 11 to 19 are formed by adding the numerals for the ones to han- or hadi (11 ಹನ್ನೊಂದು hannoṃdu , 12 ಹನ್ನೆರಡು hanneraḍu , 13 ಹದಿಮೂರು hadimūru etc.). 20 has the special form ಇಪ್ಪತ್ತು ippattu. The numerals from 30 to 90 are formed by combining the numerals from 3 to 9 and hattu for 10 (30 ಮೂವತ್ತು mūvattu , 40 ನಾಲ್ವತ್ತು nālvattu etc.). The words for 100 and 1000 are ನೂರು nūru and ಸಾವಿರ sāvira . As usual in South Asia, there are special numerals for 100,000 (ಲಕ್ಷವು lakṣavu , cf. Lakh ) and 10,000,000 (ಕೋಟಿ kōṭi , cf. Crore ).


Similar to German, the verb consists of stem + tense sign + personal ending.

In Kannada the verb has three tenses :

  • The present tense is formed by adding the morpheme - (u) tt- to the stem (ಮಾಡುತ್ತೇನೆ māḍuttēne "I do").
  • The future tense is formed by adding the morpheme - (u) v- to the stem. (ಮಾಡುವೆನು māḍuvenu “I will do”). In addition to the future, future tense forms can also express actions that occur regularly in the present (“I usually do”). In colloquial language, the present tense is often used instead of the future tense as in German.
  • The past tense is formed by adding the morpheme - (i) d- to the stem (ಮಾಡಿದೆನು māḍidenu "I did"). However, there are quite a few irregular verbs whose past tense has to be learned, e.g. B. ಕೊಂದೆನು kondenu from ಕೊಳ್ಳು koḷḷu "to put", ಬಂದೆನು bandenu from ಬರು baru "to come", ಇದ್ದೆನು iddenu from ಇರು iru "to be there" etc.

With the present participle on -uttā + iru “to be”, progressive forms can be formed: ಮಾಡುತ್ತಾ ಇರುತ್ತೇನೆ māḍuttā iruttēne “I am doing”, ಮಾಡುತ್ತಾ ಇದ್ದೆನು māḍuttā iddenu “I was just doing”.

Likewise, perfect forms arise from the participle perfect + iru . The past participle is formed:

  • in the regular verbs with -i (ಮಾಡಿ māḍi "made")
  • in the irregular verbs -u goes to the perfect stem (ಬಂದು bandu " haben ")

Together with iru , this creates a perfect (ಬಂದಿರುತ್ತೇನೆ band 'iruttēne “I came”) and a past perfect (ಬಂದಿದ್ದೆನು band' iddenu “I came”).

There are several forms of the imperative :

  • The rude you imperative is the basic form: ಮಾಡು! māḍu! "Do!"
  • For the polite you imperative, -iri is added: ಮಾಡಿರಿ! māḍiri "do it!"
  • When prompted to the group ( hortative ) -ōṇa is added: ಮಾಡೋಣ māḍōṇa! "do we!"
  • Finally there is a request to yourself with -ali : ಮಾಡಲಿ māḍali "I'll do it then"

The modal verbs “can”, “should” and “must” are expressed by extensions: ಮಾಡಬಲ್ಲೆನು māḍaballenu “I can do”, ಮಾಡಲಾರೆನು māḍalārenu “I cannot do”, ಮಾಡಬೇಕು māḍabēku “I have to do”, ಮಾಡಬಹುದು māḍabahudu “I should do” etc.


The fixed sentence order in Kannada is subject-object-verb (SOV). Accordingly, the subject is in the first place in the sentence (it can only be preceded by circumstances of time and place) and the predicate always at the end of the sentence. As is characteristic of SOV languages, in Kannada attributes always come before their reference word, subordinate clauses before main clauses, full verbs before auxiliary verbs and postpositions are used instead of prepositions .

Complex sentences consist of a main clause and one or more subordinate clauses . In general, a sentence can only contain one finite verb. The Kannada has no conjunctions , subordinate clauses as well as parataxes are formed by infinite verb forms. These include the infinitive , the gerund and the participle .

Therefore, similar (but not the same) as in Turkish, these infinite verb forms are used instead of words such as “that”, “if” or “to”. For example, “I go out to have a coffee” means: ಒಂದು ಕಾಫಿ ಕುಡಿಯುವುದಕ್ಕೆ ಹೊರಗೆ ಹೋಗುತ್ತೇನೆ Ondu kaphi kudiyuvudakke horage hōguttēne , literally: “I go out to have a coffee ”. “If” is the verb ending -are : ನೀನು ಅವನನ್ನು ನೋಡಿದರೆ ನನಗೆ ಹೇಳು Nīnu avanannu nōḍid-are, nanage hēḷu , literally: “You see him-if, tell me (it)”, thus: “Tell me if you like him see". Etc.

Also in relative clauses there are no relative pronouns, but participles. For example: ನಿನ್ನೆ ಬಂದ ಹುಡುಗ ನನ್ನ ತಮ್ಮ ಆಗಿದ್ದ Ninne banda huḍuga nanna tamma agidda , literally: "The boy who came yesterday was my brother", thus: "The boy who came yesterday was my brother."


Native grammar divides the Kannada words into four categories. The main criterion is how they relate to the Sanskrit vocabulary. This concept originally comes from the daughter languages ​​of Sanskrit, but was also carried over to the unrelated Kannada.

  • As dēśya (ದೇಶ್ಯ "local") one designates real Kannada words with no equivalent in Sanskrit. This category includes Dravidian hereditary words such as ತಾಯಿ tāyi “mother” (cf. Tamil தாய் tāy ), ಕಾಲು kālu “foot” (cf. Tamil கால் kāl ) or ನಡೆ naḍe “to go” (cf. Tamil நட naṭa ).
  • As tatsama ( "the same as the [d. E. A Sanskrit word]" ತತ್ಸಮ) refers Sanskrit words that are present in unchanged form in Kannada. Most of them such as ಚಂದ್ರ caṃdra “moon” (from चन्द्र candra ), ಮುಖ mukha “face” (from मुख mukha ) or ಗೃಹ gr̥ha “house” (from गृह gr̥ha ) have been borrowed from Sanskrit into Kannada . But they can also be hereditary words that exist in Sanskrit as Dravidian borrowings, e.g. B. ಬಲ bala “strength” (Sanskrit वल bala ), ಮಣಿ maṇi “jewel” (Sanskrit मणि maṇi ) and ಮಾಲೆ māle (Sanskrit माला mālā ).
  • As tadbhava (ತದ್ಭವ "it [d. E. From a Sanskrit word] arose") refers to words that were originally derived from Sanskrit, but phonetic changes have been unsuccessful, z. B. ಅಕ್ಕರ akkara “letter” (from akṣara ), ಅಗಸ agasa (from akāśa ) “heaven” or ಕತಿ kati “story” (from kathā ).
  • As anyadēśya (ಅನ್ಯದೇಶ್ಯ "outlandish") is called loan words from other languages. These can originate in the following languages:
    • Hindustani ( Hindi or Urdu ), e.g. B. ತಯಾರು tayāru “finished” (from तैयार taiyār ), ಸರ್ಕಾರ sarkāra “government” (from सरकार sarkār ), ಮಾಲೀಕ mālīka “owner” (from मालिक mālik ). These Hindustani words, in turn, may originally come from other languages. Some of them came to Kannada through the Telugu or Marathi .
    • English , e.g. B. ನಂಬರು naṃbaru "number" (from number ), ಟಿಕೀಟು ṭikīṭu "ticket" (from ticket ), ಡಾಕ್ಟರು ḍākṭaru "doctor" (from doctor )
    • Portuguese , e.g. B. ಮೇಜು mēju "table" (from mesa )
    • French , e.g. B. ಕುಸೀನಿ kusīni "kitchen" (from cuisine )


General descriptions

  • Sanford B. Steever: Kannada. In: Sanford B. Steever (Ed.): The Dravidian Languages. London 1998, pp. 129-157.


  • MS Andronov: The Kannada Language. Translated from V. Korotky. Moscow 1969.
  • Hans Jensen : Grammar of the Canarian written language. Leipzig 1969.
  • Ferdinand Kittel : A Grammar of the Kannada Language in English . Basel Mission Book and Tract Depository, Mangalore 1903 (English, digitized version ).
  • Harold F. Schiffman: A Reference Grammar of Spoken Kannada. Washington DC 1979.


  • L. Halemane & MN Leelavathi: An Intensive Course in Kannada. Mysore 1983.
  • Bando Bhimaji Rajpurohit: An Intensive Course in Kannada . 2nd rev. Edition. Dravidian Linguistics Association, 2006, ISBN 978-81-85691-13-8 , pp. 171 .
  • Harold Spencer, W. Preston ( arr .): A Kanarese Grammar with Graduated Exercises. Mysore 1950.


  • J. Bucher, F. (Ferdinand) Kittel, University of California Libraries: A Kannada-English school-dictionary: chiefly based on the labor of the Rev. Dr. F. Smock . Basel Mission Book & Tract Depository, Mangalore 1899 ( digitized version ).
  • F. (Ferdinand) Kittel: A Kannada-English Dictionary . Basel Mission Book & Tract Depository, Mangalore 1894 ( digitized version ).

Web links

Commons : Kannada  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Kannada  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Census of India 2011: Data on Language and Mother Tongue. Part A: Distribution of the 22 scheduled languages-India / States / Union Territories - 2011 census.
  2. Sanford B. Steever: Introduction to the Dravidian Languages . In: Sanford B. Steever: The Dravidian Languages , London 1998. Here p. 7.
  3. Sanford B. Steever: Kannada . In: Sanford B. Steever: The Dravidian Languages , London 1998. Here p. 129.