Kannada language, Shivoham Shiva Temple


Svaagata- Welcome

Kannada (ಕನ್ನಡ), also known as Kanarese, or Canarese, belongs to the Southern branch of the Dravidian language family. It is spoken as a first language by 38 million people and as a second language by another 9 million people in southern India, primarily in the state of Karnataka. It is also spoken in the neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra. It is estimated that worldwide it is spoken by upwards of 44 million people, including those who speak it as a second language (Ethnologue).



Kannada is one of the 22 official languages and 14 regional languages of India. Official interstate communication is conducted in Hindi, and English still plays a dominant role in education, particularly at the university level.



Spoken vs. written

There is a considerable difference between the spoken and written forms of the language with regard to its phonology, grammar, and lexicon. Spoken Kannada has many regional dialects, while the written form remains relatively uniform.



There are about 20 spoken dialects of Kannada (Ethnologue). They are usually grouped into three major groups: Northern, Southern, and Central. All the dialects are influenced by the neighboring languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, and others.



There are also a number of social varieties depending on caste or class. Colloquial Kannada has three dialects based on social class: Brahmin, non-Brahmin, and Untouchable. The standard, or prestigious, variety is based on the middle-class, educated Brahmin dialect of the Mysore-Bangalore area.



Sound system

The sound system of Kannada is similar to that of other Dravidian languages.



The Mysore dialect of Kannada has 15 vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning, All but one vowel (/ə/) can be short or long. Vowel length makes a difference in word meaning. In addition, there are two diphthongs: /ai/ and /au/.

i, ī
u, ū
e, ē
o, ō
ɛ, ɛ̄
ɔ, ɔ̄
a, ā
  • /ɛ/ =e in bed
  • /ə/ = a in about
  • /ɔ/ = o in bog



Mysore Kannada has a large number of consonant phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. The consonant system is characterized by the fact that besides a Dravidian inventory, it includes a number of features typical of Indo-Aryan languages. Below are some of the typical features:

  • a contrast between apical and retroflex consonants, e.g., /ṱ/ – /ʈ/. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth;
  • a contrast between plain and aspirated stops;
  • limited occurrence of consonant clusters in final position.
  • gemination, or doubling, of consonants. (doubled).
Labiodental Alveolar
Stops voiceless plain/aspirated
p pʰ
ṱ ṱ
ʈ ʈʰ
k kʰ
b bʰ
ḓ ḓʰ
ɖ ɖʰ
g gʰ
Fricatives voiceless f
ʂ ʃ
Affricates voiceless/voiced xx tʃ dʒ
  • /ʈ, ɖ, ɳ, ʂ, ɭ, ɻ/ are retroflex consonants with no equivalents in English
  • /ṱ, ḓ, ṋ, ḽ / are pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the back of the front teeth
  • ʃ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • *z occurs only in borrowed words
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /ɲ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /ʋ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /j/ = y in yet



Kannada is a highly inflected language with a grammar that is similar to that of Tamil. Like other Dravidian languages, it is agglutinative, which means that suffixes are added to stems to derive new words and to express various grammatical relationships. This can result in very long words such as Shivatatvaratnakara, the name of the world’s first encyclopedia. Kannada uses postpositions that are added to the end of noun phrases, usually after a case marker, to indicate time, location, instrumentality, and so forth. Postpositions are similar in function and meaning to prepositions in other languages.


Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, numerals

This class of words includes common nouns, proper names, pronouns and adjectives. They are inflected for the following categories:

  • two genders: rational and irrational; rational nouns include men and deities; irrational nouns include women, animals, objects, and everthing else.
  • two numbers: singular and plural; singular is unmarked, the plural is marked by the suffix -gɭu, e.g., mane ‘house’ and manegɭu ‘houses’.
  • seven cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, locative, instrumental, and vocative.
  • special pronouns for indicating politeness
  • contrast between proximate and remote demonstrative pronouns
  • Personal pronouns are marked for person, case and number. Gender is marked only in the third person singular.
  • Adjectives share properties with nouns. Some linguists think that they do not constitute a separate word class.
  • Numerals 1-5 are marked for gender.



Kannada verbs have the following properties.

  • Verbs agree with their subjects in person, number, and gender.
  • Subject pronouns are often deleted because person, number, and gender information is carried by the verb.
  • Verbs consist of a verb stem + tense marker + person/number/gender marker, e.g., hoog ‘go’ + –tt– ‘present tense’ + –iini ‘;1st person singular’ =hoogtiini ‘I go.’
  • Person, number, and gender markers have different forms, depending on the tense.
  • Verbs occur in two forms: finite (imperative, present and past forms, modals, and verbal nouns) which are marked for person, number and gender, and non-finite (infinitives, participles, and verb stems). Finite forms can stand alone, but non-finite forms cannot.
  • Imperatives have various levels of politeness or deference towards the addressee, e.g., impolite, casual, polite, very polite, extremely polite. Optative imperative (Let him go!) and hortative imperative (Let’s go!) have special forms.
  • The future tense is no longer used in spoken Kannada.
  • There are several modal auxiliary verbs (may, must, could, should, etc.) that are attached to the infinitive.
  • Variety of aspect markers add nuances to the basic meaning of the verb, such as relative sequence of two or more actions, completeness, duration, speaker’s attitude towards the action expressed by the verb, etc.
  • Causative verbs are formed from intransitive stems by adding the suffix -(i)su, e.g., kali ‘learn’ + –(i)su = kalisu ‘teach.’
  • There is a special conditional form.

Word order

The standard word order in Kannada is Subject-Object-Verb. However, other orders are possible because Inflectional endings take care of keeping clear grammatical relations and roles in the sentence. There are special markers for topic (what the sentence is about, or old information) and focus (new information). Constituents with old information precede constituents with new information, or those that carry most emphasis. Omission of the subject is common since the verb agrees with the subject in person and number. Modifiers usually precede the words they modify.



Kannada’s vocabulary is Dravidian in nature. Like other Dravidian languages, Kannada uses compounding and reduplication to form new words. Along with Telugu, it has been influenced by Sanskrit, Portuguese, and English.

Below are some basic words and phrases in Kannada.

Hello Halō, ಹಲೋ
Goodbye Vidāya, ವಿದಾಯ
Thank you Dhan’yavāda, ಧನ್ಯವಾದ
Please Dayaviṭṭu, ದಯವಿಟ್ಟು
Excuse me Nannannu kṣamisabēku, ನನ್ನನ್ನು ಕ್ಷಮಿಸಬೇಕು
Man Manuṣya, ಮನುಷ್ಯ
Woman Heṅgasu, ಹೆಂಗಸು
Yes Haudu,ಹೌದು
No Illa,ಇಲ್ಲ


Below are Kannada numerals 1-10.

eraḍu mūru nālku aydu Āru Ēḷu Eṇṭu




The earliest inscriptions in Kannada date back to 450 AD. Kannada literature was fully developed by the 10th century, and works on medicine and science appeared in the 12th century. The same period marked the start of a grammar tradition.

The Kannada alphabet evolved from descendants of the Brahmi script which were used in the 5th-7th centuries AD. These scripts provided the basis for the Old Kannada script, which, in turn, evolved into the Kannada and Telugu scripts standardized in the early 1900s by Christian missionaries, and used today.

Kannada is written horizontally from left to right with a syllabic alphabet in which all consonants have an inherent vowel. Diacritics, which can appear above, below, before or after the consonant, indicate change to another vowel or suppression of the inherent vowel. At the beginning of a syllable, vowels are written as independent letters. When consonants appear together without intervening vowels, the second consonant is written as a special conjunct symbol with the second consonant written below the first. Kannada letters have rounded shapes due to the fact that in ancient times writing was done by carving on palm leaves with a sharp point. Using this technique, it was apparently easier to produce curved lines than straight ones.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Kannada script and Romanization.

ನಿಬಂಧನೆ ೧.
ಎಲ್ಲಾ ಮಾನವರೂ ಸ್ವತಂತ್ರರಾಗಿಯೇ ಜನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾರೆ. ಹಾಗೂ ಘನತೆ ಮತ್ತು ಹಕ್ಕುಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಸಮಾನರಾಗಿದ್ದಾರೆ. ವಿವೇಕ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಕರಣ ಗಳನ್ನು ಪದೆದವರಾದ್ದ ರಿಂದ ಅವರು ಪರಸ್ಪರ ಸಹೋದರ ಭಾವದಿಂದ ವರ್ತಿಸಚೀಕು.
Ellā mānavarū svatantrarāgiyē janisiddāre. Hāgū ghanate mattu hakku gaḷalli samānarāgiddāre. Vivēka mattu antaḥkaraṇagaḷannu paḍedavarāddarinda avaru paraspara sahōdara bhāvadinda vartisabēku.
Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.



Language Difficulty

questionHow difficult is it to learn Kannada?
There is no data on the difficulty level of Kannada for speakers of English.