Purandara Dasa – A German Connection

Today is the day when Purandara Dasa, the Grandsire of Carnatic music, died in the mid-sixteeth century on a pushya bahula amavasya (a new moon day) according to the Indian lunar calender. He is a celebrated figure across the Carnatic music fraternity as the founding father of the systematic method of teaching that is followed even to this day, and for the numerous songs that he has given us as a poet and a social reformer. While researching for the post about linguistic survey of India I stumbled upon a unique document whose content lies at the point of concurrence of my three very big interests: Carnatic music, Kannada and foreign languages.

It seems that the songs of Purandara Dasa travelled to the West even before most of our great-grandfathers were born, thanks to the work of Hermann Friedrich Mögling, a missionary of the Basel Mission and the pioneer of journalism in Kannada. The issue of “Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft” (Journal of the German Oriental Society) from the year 1860 carried Purandara Dasa’s brief life history along with a few of his songs translated into German. It is only fair that I share my serendipitous find on this special day when the whole of Karnataka pays a tribute to the musical genius by singing his songs.

Here are two of the songs that were published in an article titled “Lieder Kanareischer Sänger” (songs of Kannada singers). I could not recognise the other songs due to absence of reference literature. I had to rely upon my own translation skills and familiarity with the songs.

The author starts with a note:


“The text in Kannada, written in Latin script. Notes (musical) will follow later. In the meanwhile, I can only assure you that the translation has not changed the meaning/sense, instead has beautified it”

Song 1: Drei Freunde gibt es: Weib, Land, Geld (ಆರು ಹಿತವರು ನಿನಗೆ ಈ ಮೂವರೊಳಗೆ – Aru hitavaru ninage ee mUvaroLage)


Song 2: Die Todes-Engel kennen kein Erbarmen (ಅಂತಕನ ದೂತರಿಗೆ ಕಿಂಚಿತ್ತೂ ದಯವಿಲ್ಲ antakana dUtarige kinchittU dayavilla)


The ankita nama or the signature of Purandara Dasa is highlighted in the above texts.

These two are very popular songs that have seen many concert renditions and commericial recordings. With my limited knowledge of German, I can only assert the claim that the author has initially made about not losing meaning. Even if you don’t understand the language, observe the rhyme scheme, which is an improvisation on the original song!

This is a small tribute to the saint whose works have spread far and wide, and to the missionary who came to spread his faith and documented something invaluable.

References and further reading:

  1. Lieder Kanareischer Sänger (German)
  2. Ueber canaresische Sprache und Literatur (German)
  3. Aaru Hitavaru Ninage – Lyrics (Kannada)
  4. Antakana dUtarige – Lyrics and meaning (English)

Are You Grinning Or Grinding Teeth? ಠ_ಠ

We have been using pictures and symbols to communicate since forever. A popular picture circulating on social media compares the modern day Emojis and Emoticons to the symbols drawn by cavemen. It is very tempting to draw this comparison, but they differ in the very fact that former act as paralanguages in written communication and the latter don’t. Paralanguages generally fall outside the boundaries of phonology, morphology and lexical analysis. These phenomena are the voice qualities and tones which communicate expressive feelings, indicate the age, health and sex of a speaker, modify the meanings of words, and help to regulate interaction between speakers. Emoticons and Emojis when accompanied with a text add a layer of ‘meaning’ to the it.

Let us look at some bits of history to discover how we have used symbols to communicate, starting from the early days of printing to today’s computer mediated communication (not starting at cavemen writings, sorry) .


Image source

Dingbats, Webdings, and Wingdings 

If you are a 90s kid like me who had access to a computer (I say this because kids these days have better past time activities than trying out different fonts on MS-word), you would have invariably come across the ‘Wingdings’ font which would make ‘Hello’ look like this: ☟︎☜︎☹︎☹︎⚐︎, and often wondered about their purpose. It all began with Dingbats, a shortcut method invented by printers to print ornamental symbols at a time where every letter, word, sentence and page had to be manually aligned, making the arrangement of special symbols a tedious task. So you could just arrange Dingbats together and come up with a pretty-looking pattern. Microsoft later bought the rights for Lucida, an improvised version of Dingbats, and called it ‘Wingdings’, combining Windows and Dingbats. Wingdings can be considered the offline predecessor of the modern day Emoji. Microsoft later developed the Webdings to create a fast and easy method of incorporating graphics in their pages.

Fun fact: The New York Times found out that NYC translates to ☠︎✡︎👍︎, which looks like an anti-semitic message, so they changed it to  (I ❤ NY) in Webdings!

Emoticon and Kaomoji

We 90s kids (also some 80s kids) grew up alongside the evolution of pictures and symbols for communication. As you might have already guessed, the etymology of emoticon is Emotion + icon. We started off with Emoticons that mainly used punctuation marks numbers and letters and improved upon it unlike MS Outlook, which until recently displayed a ‘J’ when ‘:)’ was typed on many devices (best regards J). We have adapted to the rapidly changing symbols and have learnt their usage from peers within no time.

While the Western world had to make do with reading Emoticons at right angles to the text, the Japanese developed Kaomoji (Kao + Moji = face + character) which could be read without tilting one’s head. Along with punctuation marks, they also used letters from various scripts from around the world such as Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Thai, Cryllic and……Kannada!

A surprisngly large number of Kaomojis were formed using Kannada letters. It often puzzled me when I saw someone with no connection to Kannada use an Emoticon lik Emoticon like ಠ_ಠ. It turns out that Kannada letters are very expressive. Here is a list of such Emoticons. If you are able to read Kannada script you may have to put in some effort to stop yourself from reading out the actual letter and just see what the Emoticon represents:


v(ಥ ̯ ಥ)v

ಠ , ಥ

Table flipping
(ノಥ益ಥ)ノ ┻━┻

ლ(ಠ_ಠ ლ)


The world Emoji day anthem composed by Jonathan Mann starts like this:

All around the world all across the globe
Get on a plane and watch the sunset go
Doesn’t matter who you are
‘coz everybody uses Emoji

Although the song is not something I recommend, it represents the widespread popularity of Emojis. ‘Emoji’ was the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2015 and July 17th is declared as the world Emoji day. Hollywood even tried to take advantage of the popularity and came up with a disappointing movie showing Emojis as real people.

Emoji is a Japanese word from E + Moji, meaning picture-charachter. The similarity in words has created a false etymology that Emoji comes from Emoticon (by being respectful like ‘Modiji’), or that they can be used interchangeably.  Another popular word for Emoji is ‘Smiley’, which I personally use many times. But hey, who’s to say what is right and what is wrong here? Created in Japan and popularised in the West by Apple, the Unicode Consoritum is reponsible for Emojis today. It publishes an updated list of Emojis along with their intended meanings every year. In fact, it works the other way around. They first get a request to make a certain Emoji and then make one to depict the expression or symbol. As of July 2017 there were 2,666 emojis on the official Unicode Standard list!

The intepratations of Emojis are culture-specific. I experienced this when a senior person on one of the family WhatsApp groups sent a ‘relaxed face’ and a ‘grin’ while discussing a death in the family. After following up, I realised that the the person interpreted those Emojis as something else. The symbol that we normally think of as a wide smile or grin in India, is seen as a person grinding their teeth before a fight! Another classic example was the inability to decide whether the ‘joining palms’ Emoji was Namaste or a hi5. Different operating systems and applications are free to tweak them to suit their audience or to make them stand out. This, I believe, is also the cause of some misunderstandings due to the creation a para-paralinguistic layer of meaning.

We have already moved ahead of Emojis, created stickers and use GIFs on a daily basis for informal communication. You can even create a sticker pack with your own face on apps like Telegram to add a personal touch. I am eager to see what comes next.



References and further reading
  1. Wikipedia pages on Emoji and Emoticon
  2. Characters from other languages that make great Emoticons
  3. Why the Wingdigs font exists? (video)
  4. Paralanguage in computer mediated communication
  5. Emoticon World
  6. Emojiwrap Podcast
  7. Emoji page on Unicode




Hindi Imposition – Answers to FAQs and Claims

The imposition of Hindi by the centre on the non-Hindi-speaking regions of India has always been a subject of discussion. It has recently been triggered by the extensive usage of Hindi on the Bangalore Metro. Multiple claims and arguments have been made for and against the cause. Here is a logical and balanced take on the issue. This was originally a post on Facebook by Mr. Sharath Bhat Seraje which I have translated to English with his permission. 

There were and are hundreds of people who have voiced their opinions for and against Hindi imposition, and yet lot of misconceptions have remained. As the Kannada poet Da.Ra.Bendre said “a hundred trees will have a hundred voices”, opposing views are common and they should exist. However, this time it has just been a lot for noise for no real purpose. I am open to comments and corrections but please do not argue for the sake of it.

1. Why is there a hatred towards Hindi? People behind this are the lazy ones who are not capable of learning Hindi.

Neither is this a movement against the Hindi language, nor does it discourage or demean those who want to learn Hindi. Kannada poet Manjeshwara Govinda Pai had learnt fifteen languages, Shatavadhani Ganesh is known to have learnt eighteen languages. There is no one stopping you from learning more than that. Another Kannada poet B. M. Srikantaiah, an admirer and a scholar of both English and Sanskrit, spoke about how Kannada has been troubled by both the languages. Our intention is to make sure that Hindi does not get precedence over other languages. We do respect all the languages and we should maintain the same. Moreover, a lot of us love and admire Hindi. I personally have spent hours together reading Hindi shayaris, Hindi books in their original form, and I have also translated a story from Hindi to Kannada. But that is not the point here. When a child is instructed by the parents not to watch TV or to stop playing cricket and start studying, does it mean that the parents hate cricket or that they are against watching TV? No, no, not at all! They just want the child to give precedence to studying over other activities. Similarly, our discussion is about how much priority should be given to Hindi. Just like how a parent is expected to provide equal educational opportunities to all her children, the government should treat all languages equally (and not put just one of them on a pedestal). All Indian languages are equal in the sense that all languages are ‘regional’. Hindi alone should not resort to chest thumping with the false assumption it is the only ‘national language’. We are of the opinion that all of them are national languages. The government should not encourage this attitude of one language being superior to the others. We want to be friends with Hindi speakers, but at the same time we do not need to deem them superior. We want to just make it clear that Hindi and Hindi imposition are two entirely different things. It can be understood using this analogy which Ms. Aparna used in her article in “Kannada Prabha” newspaper: There is a difference between someone voluntarily buying a piece of chocolate at the store and having to buy one forcibly because the shopkeeper has no change. The same applies here as well.

2. Why don’t you talk about English (imposition)?
A counter question to answer this question: Where had you vanished when the discussion about English was happening? Along the same lines, in the past century or so, there have not been discussions about any other language as much as there have been about English. Kannada movement has a history of at least one hundred years. As mentioned earlier, poet B.M.Sri has talked about English, Sanskrit, as well as Hindi affecting Kannada. A number of Kannada literary giants including Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, Sediyapu Krishna Bhat, Kuvempu and U R Anantamurthy among others, have voiced their opinions about English. Apart from writers and poets, many individuals and organisations have raised their voices against the forceful imposition of both English and Hindi. Those who allege that English imposition is not being discussed are just turning a blind eye, intentionally or unintentionally. To top it all, my first blog post is about English! None of the aforementioned persons have discouraged learning English and have clearly recognised the advantages of learning the English language. Their main concern was that one should not forget Kannada for the sake of English and consequently English should not become an enemy of Kannada.

3. Can’t we get rid of English instead of Hindi?
We are not like frogs in a well. We need contact with the outside world and we cannot live in a marooned island without a link language. We need a way to access the knowledge that is documented in other languages. The next question is which of the two languages under consideration is most suited to be the link language. A trip to Mangalore, Udupi or to smaller towns such as Balehonnur or to Badiyadka near the Kerala border should provide an answer. If you survey a few display boards, you will observe that most of them are written only in Kannada, or in Kannada and English but never in Hindi. Another case is of the wedding invitations. You will find only Kannada and English there as well and never Hindi. In what language do our people sign? Is there anyone in Karnataka who has a signature in Hindi? Among the numerous private schools we have, try to count the number people who have gone to Hindi medium schools. Among those who have studied science, engineering, medicine and law, how many have studied their subjects/courses in Hindi? The people themselves have shown preference to English over Hindi as the link language by making such choices every day. We read the instructions of how to link our Aadhar with PAN in English and not in Hindi. During the golden age of Islam, Muslim intellectuals translated many Sanskrit books to Persian. This was not imposed on them by anyone, instead they were attracted by the treasure cove of knowledge that was in Sanskrit and voluntarily translated into Persian in order to spread the same to their part of the world. Newton wrote his works in Latin and not in English, which was his mother tongue. The status that Latin and Sanskrit enjoyed in those days has now been taken over by English. Everyone needs the advantages that English offers today. We can regulate the status and the extent of usage of English in our society such that it does not pose a threat to our own languages. When such is the case, comparing English with Hindi is like asking why Tendulkar gets to open and not Kumble, though both Kumble and Tendulkar are capable of holding the bat. Link language exists for the sake of utility. It is obvious that the first choice of a link language by the people would be the one that has more utility. As mentioned before, there is no opposition to learning English or Hindi by anyone. The concern here is that the learning of other languages should not be a threat to Kannada.

4. You realised all this only when Modi came to power.
These discussions were on when Manmohan Singh was in power as well. Even before that, that is even before independence, there have been protests, movements, discussions and demonstrations for the same cause. Some may have linked this to politics but that does not change the narrative. It is advisable that both parties, for and against, should keep politics out of this.

5. This is a ‘roll-call protest’ (You are getting paid by vested interests to do this).
Please let us know who pays roll-call for this. If we are indeed getting as much money as these Hindi-lovers claim, I will gladly quit my job and take this up full time. I have been working for this cause for the last eight years and have not received a single rupee from the Hindi speakers. Wonder who decides how much roll-call is paid. Perhaps the sons of Hindi-maata should decide.

6. Discussions about Kirik Keerthi (a new-age self-proclaimed pro-Kannada activist who went viral on YouTube and subsequently entered BigBoss).
More than half of those arguing against us have reserved more than half of their strength to take on Kirik Keerthi. They have ignored what the poets, writers and scholars have said and conveniently chosen to counter only what Kirik Keerthi has said. Even the articles recently written by Vasudhendra, Aparna in Kannada Prabha and the relevant content by teams such as Banavasi Balaga, Munnota and individuals like Vasant Shetty have been completely disregarded.

7. What is wrong in having Hindi on the Bangalore Metro display boards?
This discussion has a socio-political context. The display boards used in the Bangalore Metro only served as a trigger. The bigger question should be about the preferential treatment of Hindi over other languages. The status of Hindi in comparison with Kannada should be clearly discussed. Kannada has completely disappeared from banks, railway, milestones on highways, LIC and even from cooking gas cylinders. There are those who are pushing to get a union territory status to Bangalore. Companies like Flipkart that are based in Bangalore communicate only in English and Hindi with their customers. Bus conductors, auto-rickshaw drivers, cab drivers and shopkeepers who cannot speak Hindi are treated like barbarians by many. A cab company has made it mandatory for its drivers to know Hindi. One of the governors has propagated Hindi saying it is our duty to learn the language. Just yesterday a bunch of people protested in a shopping mall because a girl there did not/could not respond to them in Hindi. UPSC exams are available in Hindi and none of the other Indian languages. There is an endless list of such problems. It has also become common to see posts on Facebook which call for ‘banning this local language’ .

8. Why are you making such big issue out of this? What has happened to Kannada now?
I received a call from Axis bank yesterday. The person on the line straightaway spoke to me in Hindi. I do not understand why he thought Hindi would be the most preferred language in Bangalore. The same is reflected in areas such as Marathalli, Whitefield and MG road. Parents in big cities talk to their kids in English. Most parents are not aware of songs written for children in Kannada. Kids don’t read stories in Kannada. They learn Ramayana and Mahabharata in English.
The language gradually dies if this trend continues. At one point of time, Europe had over one thousand languages, out of which only about twenty-five are left today. Pakistan government imposed Urdu on everyone which troubled the languages of Punjabis and Sindhis, despite them being more in number. English has sidelined Irish in Ireland and completely wiped out numerous African languages. Sanskrit and Latin, which once enjoyed the same status as that of English today, are not being spoken as everyday languages. Prakrit and Pali languages of our country have completely died out. Around one hundred and ninety languages in India are currently at the verge of extinction. Languages do not die overnight, instead they undergo a gradual process of extinction. Though we cannot claim any near-to-death status for Kannada, it is true that has been severely infected. Instead of trying to fetch a doctor when the language is about to die, it is easier to treat it every time it falls sick.

9. We need a national language for the unity of the nation.
Has there been an instance where Karnataka has declared war on Madhya Pradesh in the last seventy years? Has there been a civil war between Kerala and Gujarat? We are living in unity to a great extent. We have had problems relating to corruption and poverty but never once because we do not have a national language. There are people protesting for food, water, employment, better transport conditions and electricity among others, but only a handful for a ‘national language’. Till date there are around sixty crore people who do not know Hindi who have never posed a threat to the unity of the country. Did the entire nation know Hindi during the freedom struggle? And yet the whole country fought for the cause in unison. When Gandhiji came to Mangalore, a local translated/interpreted his speech to either Kannada or Tulu. Where there is a will, there is a way. They say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Is it not breaking unity if one tries to find a cure for a non-existent disease?


Kannada on Kindle – ಏನ್ ಕಿಂಡಲ್ಲಾ?

Kindle has revolutionised book reading. Notwithstanding the opinions of those who prefer real books over Kindle, I have taken to serious reading after I bought myself a Kindle. For now, Kindle only supports a limited number of fonts that cover around 40 languages. Rest assured that all European languages are covered as most of them use the same script. Among the Indian languages, it supports Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Marathi and Tamil as of now, but not Kannada. Especially after Amazon removed the book ‘5 ಪೈಸೆ ವರದಕ್ಷಿಣೆ’ by the Kannada author Vasudhendra from the Kindle store stating that Kannada is not supported, more and more people have become aware of this issue. This means that authors cannot publish and readers cannot buy Kannada books from the Kindle store. We will have to wait till Amazon decides to support Kannada or shift to another platform which would support it (there are other sites where you can buy Kannada ebooks to read on other devices. This site has a good list of those).

I am certainly not the first person to have tried reading Kannada on Kindle. This blog post contains the things I have discovered so far which, I hope, will benefit of my fellow Kannada readers. I did a little research on the Internet and came up with some workarounds to read Kannada content.  Without much ado, I will now tell you how you can do this.

A disclaimer before we start: Please check the copyrights associated with the content. Proceed with the further steps at your own risk. I do not encourage violation of copyrights.

Step 1

First, you need a Kindle (mine is a Kindle Paperwhite 3rd genenration). Then, you need to download a Kannada font onto your computer (download link) and put it on the root directory of your Kindle (Connect the Kindle to a computer and copy the font file onto the main directory). Now you have installed Kannada font on the device! It is as simple as that. A detailed instructional post has been done by Mr. Amar Tumballi.

Step 2

Next, you need to find content.

The types of Kannada content you can easily find on the internet:

  • Blogs
  • Articles
  • Books

Here are four ways you can import content into your Kindle.

  1. Install a plugin such as ‘Send to Kindle’ on your browser (Chrome, Firefox etc). Follow the steps provided by the plugin to complete the installation. Open the article on your browser and click on ‘Send to Kindle’ button and you will receive the article in a readable format on your Kindle. Some plugins also provide an option to preview how the article would look on the Kindle before sending it to the device.
  2. Most Kindle users will also use a book management software such as Calibre. You can easily convert Kannada content that is in formats such as .doc to .azw (Kindle) format. You can copy the content to a word editor such as MS-Word and then convert it using Calibre.
  3. Thanks to the work of some Kannada literature enthusiasts, a good number of Kannada books are readily available in epub format on this site. You can get an epub file from there, repeat the same process of importing into Calibre and convert it into Kindle format.
  4. Calibre offers an interesting feature which lets you add RSS feeds and sync it to your Kindle in the form of a magazine. Some Kannada newspapers such as Kannada Prabha and online services like One India Kannada offer RSS feeds of their pages, which you can add on Calibre and sync regularly to the Kindle to enjoy a Kannada e-magazine. This is also a great way to read articles from any of your favourite news service.

ಕಿಂಡಲ್ಲಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರಜಾವಾಣಿ

Note: If you see Kannada font being rendered something like this “«eÁÕ£À'” on your screen, it means the document has been written in ASCII/ANSI. The ones written in Unicode are displayed correctly. However, there is an option of converting ASCII/ANSI to Unicode. Mr. Aravinda has prepared an ASCII2Unicode converter for this purpose. Follow this link for more.

Going one step further, you can try the same steps to read any on Kindle if Amazon does not officially support it. If you have better ways of doing the same, please let me know in the comments. Happy reading!

Edit: One of the people who is monumental in generating digital content in Kannada such as subtitles for foreign films, Mr. Vikas Hegde, has written a similar instructional post in Kannada. Check out his blog for more.

Ideophones in Kannada ಮತ್ತು ಭಟ್ಟು ಮಾಮ

You might have come across posts such as “how to sound like a dog in different languages”, “how eating sounds in different languages” and “cat sounds from around the world”. Ever wondered how and why there are so many differences? Here, read on!

A child’s first set of words will invariably contain words which imitate the sound that a certain animal makes. A Kannada child would say ‘bau bau’, an English child might say ‘woof woof’, a Japanese child might say ‘wan wan’, so on and so forth. Such a word is called an onomatopoeia. It might seem ridiculous to an English speaker that a dog says ‘gong gong’ in Indonesia but it is important to keep in mind that ‘woof woof’ also seems ridiculous to some. This is because these words are also ‘learnt’ like the other words in the language. The choice of words to represent the sound a dog makes is purely arbitrary. Over the course of time, they become a convention, and a part of the vocabulary. Since this is the case, onomatopoeias also follow the phonological rules of that language. Simply put, they obey the rules of how the sounds function within that language. These words reflect the uniqueness of the language itself because humans filter quite a bit of their world and experience through their native language.

Just to demonstrate how much these words are intertwined within our languages, consider the following examples in Kannada:

  1. “ನಿಮ್ಮನೆ ನಾಯಿ ನೋಡಿ ವೂಫ್-ವೂಫ್ ಅನ್ನುತ್ತಾ ಇದೆ” (nimmane naayi nOdi woof-woof annuttaa ide – Look, your dog is saying woof woof)
  2.  “ನನ್ನ ಎದೆ ಥಂಪ್ ಥಂಪ್ ಅಂತ ಹೊಡ್ಕೋತಾ ಇದೆ” (nanna ede thump thump anta hoDkOtA ide – my heart is beating thump thump)

The listener would lose his mind because dogs always say ಬೌಬೌ (bau bau) and hearts always beat ಢವಢವ (DhavaDhava) in Kannada. Any words to represent these sounds, other than the conventionally used ones, seem out of place and meaningless to a native speaker.

Onomatopoeias are specific and well-known forms of ideophones that phonetically imitate the sounds they describe. Ideophones are the words that bring about an idea such as smell, colour, feeling, sound etc., which can be perceived by any of the senses. They show how speech can very precisely represent sensory imagery. Ideophones are the link between visual and verbal modes of the language.  They are abundant in Asian and African languages and rare in Indo-European languages. It is interesting to note that ideophones are often echo words. Some English words here illustrate the difference:

  • Onomatopoeia: Animals sounds (woof, meow, moo etc.), human sounds (achoo, gulp etc.)
  • Ideophones: All onomatopoeias + words such as bling bling (to denote glitter/shine)

In this blog post, I will refer to all such words as ideophones.

A poem by N. S. Lakshminarayan Bhat from his collection of children’s poems titled ‘Nandana’ makes use of ideophones very well. Some poems from this collection were made into songs which were a great rage among the 90s kids. Other popular songs from this series include ಭಾಳ ಒಳ್ಳ್ಯೋರ್ ನಮ್ ಮಿಸ್ಸು and ಗೇರ್ ಗೇರ್ ಮಂಗಣ್ಣ (bhaaLa oLLyor nam missu and gEr gEr mangaNNa). The songs were sung by the then child singers who have now carved a niche for themselves in the Kannada light music industry. These songs have stood the test of time and are being carried forward by the present generations as well. In the introduction to the audio cassette, his name is mentioned as “ಭಟ್ಟು ಮಾಮ” (Bhattu mama = Bhat uncle) and I always identified him that way. Whenever we happened to pass in front his house, my parents would point and say that’s where Bhattu mama lives. You can listen to the song on Saavn or YouTube. The ideophones in the lyrics are marked in bold:

ಹಕ್ಕಿ ಚಿಲಿಪಿಲಿ ಗಿಲಕಿ ಗಿಲಿಗಿಲಿ [hakki (bird) chilipili gilaki (rattle box) giligili]
ದುಡ್ಡು ಝಣಝಣ ಗಂಟೆ ಢಣಢಣ [duDDu (money) jhaNajhaNa ganTe (bell) DhaNaDhaNa]
ಕಪ್ಪೆ ವಟವಟ ಅಜ್ಜಿ ಲೊಟಲೊಟ [kappe (frog) vaTavaTa ajji (grandmother) loTaloTa]

ನಾಯಿ ಕುರುಕುರು ಬೆಕ್ಕು ಗುರುಗುರು [naayi (dog) kurukuru bekku (cat) guruguru]
ಅಪ್ಪ ದುರುದುರು ಅಮ್ಮ ಸುರುಬುರು [appa (dad) duruduru amma (mom) suruburu]
ರೊಟ್ಟಿ ಸುಡುಸುಡು ಹೊಟ್ಟೆ ಗುಡುಗುಡು [rotti (bread) suDusuDu hoTTe (stomach) guDuguDu]

ಬೆಂಕಿ ಧಗಧಗ ಗಾಯ ಭಗಭಗ [benki (fire) dhagadhaga gaaya (wound) bhagabhaga]
ಮಿಂಚು ಫಳಫಳ ಕಂಚು ಥಳಥಳ [minchu (lightning) phaLaphaLa kanchu (bronze) thaLathaLa]
ಮಳೆ ಬಳಬಳ ನೆಲ ಝಳಝಳ [maLe (rain) baLabaLa nela (ground) jhaLajhaLa]

I will try to explain some of the idiophones in this poem which I find particularly interesting. All the idiophones in the first verse are onomatopoeias that denote sounds made by the respective objects/persons. In the second verse, ಸುಡುಸುಡು (suDusuDu)which is usually not used as an idiophone, is used as a special case. The poet uses the verb ಸುಡು (suDu) = ‘to burn’ to the effect of an echo word to represent a feeling of something being hot, which in this case is the ರೊಟ್ಟಿ (rotti = bread). In the third verse, ಭಗಭಗ (bhagabhaga) describes the pulsating feeling that one experiences in/around a wound. ಥಳಥಳ (thaLathaLa) denotes the lustre of a brass vessel.

It is true that ideophones are not always attested in the standard or the written form of the language. However, there are some words which have evolved out of ideophones, specifically out of onomatopoeias. The Sanskrit word (also in Kannada) ಕುಕ್ಕುಟ (kukkuTa = cock) has its origins in the sound that a cock makes, similar to the English word for the bird ‘cuckoo’. The generally accepted etymology for the word ‘barbarian’ has its origins in Greece where they thought the speech of foreigners sounded something like babababa. A word used in the above poem, ಗಿಲಕಿ/ಗಿಲಕೆ (gilaki/gilake), which means a child’s rattle box, gets its name from the sound ಗಿಲಿಗಿಲಿ (giligili) that it makes.

After reading this post, I hope you will pay special attention to an ideophone when you come across one in your language (Hint: Look at the comic books). I will now go ಸರಸರ (sarasara = move swiftly), eat something ಗಬಗಬ (gabagaba = to eat hurriedly) and drink something ಗಟಗಟ (gaTagaTa = to gulp).


  1. Onomatopoeia and language perception – Joshua Nash, Adelaide, Australia
  2. The Meaning and Use of Ideophones in Siwu by Mark Dingemanse. http://thesis.ideophone.org/
  3. A blog by Mark Dingemanse – http://ideophone.org
  4. Wikipedia page on Cross-linguistic onomatopoeias 

Linguistic Survey of India & How Kannada Sounded a Century Ago

First of all, I would like to apologise for the click-bait headline because Kannada from a century ago and Kannada today still sound the same except for the greater influx foreign words into the everyday vocabulary. 100 years is a very short time frame to observe significant language change. However, it is still possible to observe minor changes such as change in the way a particular vowel is pronounced by a certain group of people. The present generation acquires the language from their parents and passes it on to their children with some changes. This is the first and foremost reason why language always evolves. Apart from this, the changes can also be seen between social classes, between genders etc. If you wish to explore this further, you can start with the famous socio-linguist William Labov’s study titled “Social Stratification of (r) in the New York City Departmental Stores”.

Language change is not what I intend to talk about in today’s blog post; but about the first attempt in counting and documenting the Indian languages. Over a century ago, much before the Indian states were divided (many of them based on languages) as they are today, there was no clear idea of how many languages existed in the Indian sub-continent and how many people spoke those languages. Moreover, a language or a dialect is a political classification. Unless it is defined by some kind of a geographical or a political border, it is very difficult to say where one language ends and another begins. It can be visualised as a dialect continuum without well-defined borders. Even in linguistically standardised societies like most European countries, people at the border regions speak and understand languages from either side, or the dialect spoken at the border region tends to have an influence from across the border. So how did we get to know the number of languages in India, especially when there were no linguistic borders yet? One such attempt to record the languages and dialects in India was pioneered by George A. Grierson, an Irish administrator belonging to the Bengal and Bihar cadre of the Indian Civil Service, who had great interest in philology and linguistics. This was titled “The Linguistic Survey of India” (LSI). A project of the British Raj, LSI was made mainly for the benefit of the colonial government and no copy of this survey was made available in India at that time. Whatever be the case, we now have an open access database containing 242 recordings, illustrative of 97 different dialects and languages of India from the early 20th century. The project started in 1894, and the complete work was published in 11 volumes between 1903 and 1928. Back then, LSI described 179 languages and 544 dialects in what was then known as the Indian Empire. Needless to say that it was not a comprehensive survey because a more recent work headed by Ganesh Devy, titled ” The people’s linguistic survey of India” (PLSI), takes this total to a whopping 780 languages. Though it may seem outdated at first, LSI needs to be looked at because it was the first of its kind and a commendable feat considering the technology and resources that were available a 100 years ago.

Grierson used ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son’, which is one of the parables of Jesus, as the standard passage in all languages to facilitate easier comparison. The reason why he chose this, in his own words: ‘It contains the three personal pronouns, most of the cases found in the declension of nouns, and the present, past, and future tenses of the verb’. Quite thoughtful! Along with this, some more stories and songs were recorded during this process, which are also a part of the database. There are 6 recordings available under ‘Kanarese’. Yeah, that’s what they called it (now you must be thinking ‘Kannad’ sounds much better. Kanarese gottilla). There are 6 recordings under Kanarese (each link redirects to the respective page on the LSI database):

  1. Parable of the prodigal son as spoken in Mysore – Spoken by H. Venketashamurthy – 1922

  2. Vice justly punished (Mysore dialect) – Spoken by H. Venketashamurthy – 1922

  3. A song in Kanarese (Purandara Dasara pada) – Sung by S.G. Vibhuti – 1919

  4. Parable of the prodigal son (South Kanarese dialect) – Spoken by D Narayana Batt – 1922

  5. Bheeshma’s vow in Kanarese – B.B. Burli of Bijapur – 1919 

  6. Parable of the prodigal son in Kanarese – G.G. Kulkarni of Dharwad – 1919

If you listen to the links (1) and (2), you will immediately recognise it as the dialect that is still spoken around Mysore region, which includes Bangalore as well. It seems that the speaker, Mr. Venkateshamurthy, was very enthusiastic about this project that he narrated the story in such a high pitch; or the person recording it feared that the speaker’s voice would not be loud enough to record unless he spoke this way. These are two very colloquial renditions, pretty much how anyone who speaks good Kannada would recite it today. Link (4) can be recognised as one of the Dakshina-Kannada (South Canara) dialects. However, in link (5) and (6), no stark traits of Bijapur or Dharwad Kannada are found. It was perhaps not communicated well enough that the recitation has to be colloquial (that was in fact the aim of LSI, as it is written in the introduction to Dravidian language family); or the speakers thought it was apt to render something that was considered standard because they did not know what the collectors of data were looking for. This probably is the reason why Grierson concludes that there are not many differences between various dialects of Kanarese that is spoken within the Kanarese territory. We know it is not true because there are at least 20 distinguishable dialects as of today and an average Kannada speaker can easily distinguish between them at a high level as Mysore Kannada, North Karnataka Kannada, Mangalore Kannada etc.

A challenging aspect of such an unprecedented linguistic survey is to get the names of the languages right. How does one do it? Well, you ask the speaker what language he/she is speaking. What if one group of speakers speak a certain language but they call it by a different name? It gets documented as another language. Check out this recording under the language “Devanga”. Devanga is a community that was traditionally known for weaving silk clothes. To my ears, it sounds no different from Kannada but perhaps the people themselves named their language after their caste/community and the same was documented. This is just one of the many challenges that are faced while trying to document the languages when there are no linguistic boundaries. These challenges accompanied with untrained data collectors, non-uniform methodology and other such aspects made this mammoth task not the most perfect linguistic survey, but the century-old recordings that it has produced is of much value.

As a spare time activity, you can try clicking on the recordings of other languages you know and check out how they sounded a century ago. My heartfelt thanks to all those behind this mega task of extracting audio from the gramophone records, remastering them and making them available to everyone for free.

Further reading/listening:


Echo word formation: ಬ್ಲಾಗು-ಗೀಗು

While discussing with a friend about the frequent usage of meaningless words in different languages, my attention turned towards the innumerable words in Kannada that start with the syllable ಗಿ (gi) or ಗೀ (gii/gee) that do not mean anything at all, but everyone uses them in speech. A Kannada speaker would find the below dialogue completely normal:

“ಸರಿ ಹಾಗಾದ್ರೆ. ಮಧ್ಯಾಹ್ನದ ಮೇಲೆ ಊಟ-ಗೀಟ ಮಾಡ್ಕೊಂಡು, ಕಾಪಿ-ಗೀಪಿ ಕುಡ್ದು ಆಮೇಲೆ ಮಾರುಕಟ್ಟೆಗೆ ಹೋಗಿ ಸಾಮಾನು-ಗೀಮಾನು ತರೋಣ. ನಿನಗೇನು ತೊಂದ್ರೆ-ಗಿಂದ್ರೆ ಆಗಲ್ಲ ಅಲ್ವೇ?”

“Ok then. We will have ooTa-geeTa (ooTa = lunch), drink kApi-geepi (kApi = coffee) and then head to the market to buy sAman-geeman (sAman = groceries). Do you have tondre-gindre (tondre = problem) with this plan?”

Notice the words ‘geeTa’, ‘geepi’, ‘geeman’ and ‘gindre’. They do not mean anything on their own. These words in combination with a base word has a meaning that suggests ‘other similar things’ or ‘et. cetera’. For instance, in the above sentence, the usage kApi-geepi may suggest coffee or a similar beverage, perhaps accompanied with a snack, as opposed to saying only kApi which would mean the speaker is suggesting only coffee. These word formations are colloquial in nature and are not well-attested in the grammars of literary languages . Such combinations are called ಜೋಡಿ ಪದ (jODi pada) in Kannada, where the first syllable of a word is replaced with the syllable ಗಿ (gi) or ಗೀ (gii/gee), and uttered subsequently. If the word itself begins with ಗಿ (gi), the first syllable is usually replaced with a ಪ/ಪಾ (pa/pA). This is not to be confused with word formations like ಹೆಜ್ಜೆ-ಹೆಜ್ಜೆಗೂ (hejje-hejjegU = at every step) or ಆಸೆ-ಆಕಾಂಕ್ಷೆ (Ase-AkAnkshe = wishes and desires) or expressives like ಸರ-ಸರ (sara-sara = swiftly). I intend to write about these in a future blog post.

Mindry In has produced a Kannada comedy video in which the thief is a master of echo word formation. The video has a special emphasis on this process and the thief goes on to become a jODi pada expert.

Upon further reading, I found out that the technical term for this process is ‘partial reduplication’ or ‘echo word formation’. In fact, this is a common characteristic of most South-Asian languages; hence of most Indian languages.This may seem abstract to those who do not speak an Indian language, but the native speakers can associate with this very well. What is more interesting is, the initial syllable/consonant used for echo-word formations is different in different languages. As it can be seen from the above sentence and the video, it is ‘gi’ or ‘gii’ in Kannada. Hindi speakers tend to form echo words with ‘V’ (english-vinglish, chai-vai, khAna-vAna etc.). The same syllable/consonant is applied to words borrowed from other languages as well. A word like ‘pen’ would be ‘pen-gin’ in Kannada whereas it would be ‘pen-ven’ in Hindi.

Among the Indian languages studied for echo word formation, Kannada stands out due to the fact that it offers most flexibility in this process. It applies to nearly all classes of words and is allowed/accepted at lexical, sub-lexical and phrasal levels. The following examples show echo word formation with different classes of words (nouns, adjectives etc.) This is not an exhaustive list:

  • ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಜೇಬುಗಳ್ಳರು ಜಾಸ್ತಿ. ದುಡ್ಡು-ಗಿಡ್ಡು ಹುಷಾರಾಗಿ ನೋಡ್ಕೊಳಿ – illi jEbugaLLaru jaasti. duDDu-giDDu hushArAgi nODkoLi – There are a lot of pickpockets here. Take care of your duDDu-giddu (duDDu = money).
  • ನಮಗೆ ಚಿಕ್ಕ ಮನೆ ಸಾಕು. ದೊಡ್ಡ-ಗಿಡ್ಡ ಮನೆ ಸುಧಾರಿಸೋಕೆ ಆಗಲ್ಲ- namage chikka mane saaku. doDDa-giDDa mane sudhArisOke aagalla – A small house is enough for us. We cannot manage a doDDa-giDDa (doDDa = large) house.
  • ರಸ್ತೇಲಿ ಗಾಡಿಗಳು ಬರ್ತಿರತ್ವೆ. ಅವನಿಗೆ ಓಡ-ಗೀಡಬೇಡ ಅಂತ ಹೇಳು – rasteli gADigaLu bartiratve. avanige ODa-geeDabEDa anta hELu – There may be vehicles on the road. Ask him not to ODa-geeDa (ODu = to run).

Similarly, the process can be demonstrated for words like ಮೇಲೆ, ಕೆಳಗೆ (mEle, keLage = above, below) and ಅವಳು, ಅವನು (avaLu, avanu = he, she)

Scholars agree that echo word formation is not acceptable for words like:

  • ಯಾರು, ಯಾರನ್ನು, ಯಾರಿಗೆ etc. – yAru, yArannu, yArige = who, whom (accusative), whom (dative)
  • ಆ, ಈ. – aa, ee = that, this

To demonstrate echo word formation at different levels, consider a noun ‘ಬಾಗಿಲು’ (bAgilu = door) and a verb ‘ಮುಚ್ಚು’ (mucchu = to close). All the below sentences approximately mean “check whether they have closed the door”, with an additional meaning of “et. cetera”, at whichever level the echo word is formed. Echo word formation in Kannada is acceptable in the following ways (again, not an exhaustive list):

  1. ಬಾಗಿಲನ್ನು ಮುಚ್ಚಿ-ಗಿಚ್ಚಿದಾರಾ  ನೋಡು (bAgilannu mucchi-gicchidArA nODu)
  2. ಬಾಗಿಲನ್ನು ಮುಚ್ಚಿದಾರಾ-ಗಿಚ್ಚಿದಾರಾ ನೋಡು (bAgilannu mucchidArA-gicchidArA nODu)
  3. ಬಾಗಿಲು-ಗೀಗಿಲನ್ನು ಮುಚ್ಚಿದಾರಾ ನೋಡು (bAgilu-geegilannu mucchidArA nODu)
  4. ಬಾಗಿಲನ್ನು-ಗೀಗಿಲನ್ನು ಮುಚ್ಚಿದಾರಾ ನೋಡು (bAgilannu-geegilannu mucchidArA nODu)
  5. ಬಾಗಿಲನ್ನು ಮುಚ್ಚಿದಾರೆ-ಗೀಗಲನ್ನು ಮುಚ್ಚಿದಾರೆ ಅಂತ ಹೇಳಬೇಡ! (bAgilannu mucchidAre-geegilannu mucchidAre anta heLabEDa)

The above examples demonstrate that the echo word formation in Kannada occurs at lexical (2&4), sub-lexical (1&3) and phrasal (5) levels.

If you speak a South-Asian language, you can now think of how echo words are formed in your language. If you speak a language from another part of the world, you can try to find an equivalent or a similar formation of words that may occur in your language. If you find something interesting, please do let me know.


  1. MOHAN, SHAILENDRA. “ECHO WORD FORMATION IN INDIAN LANGUAGES: A TYPOLOGICAL STUDY.” Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute 68/69 (2008): 329-39. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42931215.
  2. Lidz, Jeffrey (2000) “Echo Reduplication in Kannada: Implications for a Theory of Word Formation,” University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics: Vol. 6 : Iss. 3, Article 11.  http://repository.upenn.edu/pwpl/vol6/iss3/11


Kannada from a global perspective – An interview with polyglot Kiran Bhat


Kiran Bhat is an Indian-American cosmopolitan currently finishing up his first novel, We, of the Forsaken World…. Born and raised in Jonesboro, Georgia, he has spent formative time in Mysore, India, and he studied abroad for a year in Madrid, which inspired him to think globally. While he taught online, he travelled to 118 countries, and lived for short periods of time, usually between a few months to a year, in Portugal (Lisboa), Peru (Cuzco), Japan (Tokyo), Kenya (Malindi), Turkey (Istanbul), and Indonesia (Yogyakarta). He currently divides his time between Shanghai, Jonesboro, and Mysore. He speaks seven languages including Kannada, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Indonesian and Japanese at various levels of proficiency.  In this interview, I talk to Kiran, to know more about his Kannada learning experience.

Harsha: Which was the first foreign language you learnt? Tell us about the experience.
Kiran: The first foreign language I learnt was Spanish. I studied it in high school for three years and then travelled to Spain to do my student exchange in 2010. People in Spain speak next to no English, but have so much personality and warmth. I wanted to understand their jokes, the particular phrases they were saying  and why they wanted to get to know me. In other words, living in Spain was the time I realised the importance of learning another language. It is the best way to bridge yourself to the mindset of people from other worlds.

H: When and why did you decide to learn Kannada?
K: Kannada is actually my mother tongue, but because I was born and raised in the States, I suffered from something that linguists call language attrition. I was able to speak in Kannada fluently until I was four or five years old, but once schooling started, I did not want to speak a language that wasn’t English, as I wanted to belong to the society I was raised in. And so, I ignored my mother every time she spoke to me in Kannada, stopped talking entirely to my Ajji (grandmother), who only speaks Kannada, and tried my hardest to distance myself from my culture. However, after I began travelling, and learnt the importance of language, I realised how immature my actions were. Being an American does not mean I am not an Indian, and if I wanted to connect to Indian-ness, I would have to learn the language of my origin.

H: Tell us how you started off with Kannada learning and the methods you used to practice.
K: I chose to move to my Ajji’s house in Mysore and live with her for some time. I was already fluent in listening to Kannada, but I was bad at speaking. It was simply a matter of learning the sounds of the words, making my pronunciation better and speaking grammatically correctly. My grandmother speaks no English and so it was simple enough to get my practice. Speaking as much as I can and getting my mistakes corrected is the best way to do it. I also try to read in the language to pick up new words. I learnt Kannada script on my own and read a few lines everyday from books of well-known authors such as Triveni.

H: Are there any challenges that you faced while learning the language?
K: Kannada is a language with a dense grammatical system and hard pronunciation. Out of the seven languages I know, I think Kannada would be the hardest after Japanese (and even Japanese has very simple pronunciation) for someone like me who does not speak any other Indian language. A mispronunciation of a D or a DH or stress on the wrong part of a word can ruin an entire sentence. There are also a lot of very specific words used in Kannada for very specific purposes or reasons. However, the difficulty in learning a language is always relative and it largely depends on what languages you already speak.

H: Have you watched Kannada movies? Which one is your favourite?
K: Yes, I really like Upendra’s work. I think he does a good job in manipulating cinematography and grounding his story in multiple levels. I think generally Kannada films are darker and more layered than Bollywood films (which tend to be campy and unrealistically dramatic), so I am very proud of the level of art and passion that goes into the film-making in my mother tongue.

H: Did knowledge of some other languages help you in learning Kannada?
K: Turkish, Japanese, and Kannada have a very similar grammatical structure (Topic of the Sentence – Sentence – Verb), and so all of these languages can go hand-in-hand in getting to think in the right way. I would say that Kannada is still different from these two other languages in more nuanced ways. And I think my biggest advantage was having Kannada as my mother tongue, which allowed me to accelerate my learning of the language more than if I was starting it afresh.

6 new-age Kannada movies you should not miss!

The Kannada film industry is more than 80 years old. Right from the first movie Sati Sulochana, which was released in 1934, it has given us a plethora of movies in different genres. Since the start of this decade, there has been a new wave in the industry. A series of young actors, movie directors, most of who are new-comers, have risen to fame with their original concepts and fresh stories. The following six movies are my personal favourites which fall into this category. All of them are available with English subtitles, so it is a great way to pick up some Kannada as well.

ಲೂಸಿಯ Lucia (2013)
Director: Pawan Kumar



Lucia was a pioneer of many sorts. It was the first crowdsourced movie and it changed the face of the Kannada film industry. The movie explores the concept of Lucid dreaming with a non-linear plot. The story revolves around Nikki, a ‘byaatri-buDonu’ (usher) in a local cinema hall, who gets dragged into a different kind of dream after taking a pill to cure insomnia. The movie received critical acclaim and won the audience choice award at the 2013 London Indian film festival.

ಉಳಿದವರು ಕಂಡಂತೆ Ulidavaru Kandante (2014)
Director: Rakshith Shetty



The title, according to the movie maker, translates to “As seen by the rest”. The film revolves around a murder and is an anthology of how different people view it. Although the concept is not something completely new, the local flavor makes this movie stand out. It showcases the life, language and prominent art forms from coastal Karnataka such as Yakshagana and Huli-vesha among others. It is also a milestone event for Kannada cinema because of the sync sound technology used to record the sound. Unlike the common practice of dubbing over the dialogues, every dialogue in this movie was recorded at the time of filming. Movie buffs will also appreciate the efficient usage of “Rashomon effect” in this movie.

ಕೆಂಡಸಂಪಿಗೆ Kendasampige (2015)
Director: Duniya Soori



Mostly set in the busy areas of Bangalore and some other cities of Karnataka, the plot of this movie revolves around a young couple who are falsely framed by the police in a crime and are on the run. Duniya Soori has mixed creative elements in an otherwise commercial movie, thereby adding a unique fragrance to Kendasampige. This movie is portrayed to be the sequel to an upcoming movie titled “Kaage Bangara”.

ತಿಥಿ Thithi (2015)
Director: Raam Reddy



The most striking part of the movie is that all main roles are done by non-actors. It is a dramatic comedy about how three generations of sons react to the death of the oldest of their clan. The setting in the movie is so natural that it just seems like the happenings in a small village is recorded without the villagers noticing it. Thithi has gained international acclaim and bagged numerous awards in multiple film festivals. This is definitely one-of-a-kind movie.

ಗೋಧಿ ಬಣ್ಣ ಸಾಧಾರಣ ಮೈಕಟ್ಟು Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu (2016)
Director: Hemanth Rao


Those who watched Kannada news at 7 pm on the DD9 free-to-air channel would be carried away by a wave of nostalgia upon hearing the title of the movie. The familiar phrase was frequently used to describe the traits of a missing person within the 2-minute airtime before the news started. Godhi Banna Sadharana Maikattu kicks off this nostalgic trip right from the outset by getting into its groove with Ananth Nag in his mettle as Venkob Rao suffering from Alzheimer’s and trying to hold on to every last piece of memory of his son and wife. He goes missing, and with this starts a son’s quest to find his father back whilst dipping into his own shared life experiences with him and in along the journey learns different facets about his father’s life. Interspersed with another crime angle, the movie powers through by the virtue of a great cast and by the sheer brilliance of Ananth Nag.

ಪುಟ ತಿರುಗಿಸಿ ನೋಡಿ Puta Tirugisi Nodi (2016)
Director: Suneel Raghavendra



The movie follows the story of a promising ex-cricketer whose dreams of representing the country are shattered and is now working hard to make ends meet, and his effervescent girlfriend who herself is unable to resolve the conflict with her own mother who is resolute in her displeasure with her daughter’s choice of a husband. Weaving through them are a bunch of kids of different cricketing factions facing off each other in a win-or-get-out-from-our-ground match which lends him his other chance to seek redemption from his own demons of the past. Puta Tirugisi Nodi received rave reviews in the last installment of the Biffes and deservedly got a limited commercial release this past month. PTN is a little gem of a film, which needs to be watched once. And again. And numerous times. By many.

Discovering your native language through a foreign one

“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

True to Goethe’s words, I started to appreciate my mother tongue more, once I started learning foreign languages. German, to be specific.

Like the majority of the language learners that I’ve encountered, I started learning German only because I wanted to study in Germany. I had heard people say that learning their language is pretty much mandatory if you want to have a good life and a successful career there. This turned out to be very true indeed. The languages in European countries are so deep-rooted, that every single piece of information is available in that language. Sometimes it irks foreigners who don’t understand the native language. Once I reached Germany, I had the perfect opportunity to use whatever I had learnt in the classroom sessions. At first, it was quite scary. You would encounter people speaking in different speeds, some unclearly, some incoherently. Definitely not like those people who spoke on the audio CDs that I listened to during the classroom practice sessions. After a few months of exposure to the language on a daily basis, I was fluent enough to communicate without having to translate it from Kannada or English in my head. In the meantime, I discovered how people around me were so appreciative of that fact that I am making an effort to speak their language and offered all the help that they could.

Before I went to Germany, I saw a poster put up by a German on the notice board at the language class, which said he wanted to learn the local language Kannada. In exchange for this, I could practice German. I was overjoyed, got in touch with him and also met for a language exchange session. That is when I realized something. A native speaker is the worst person to explain his/her language unless he/she is a teacher of that language or has analysed it linguistically. Luckily for me, he had some experience in teaching the language. I was quite a bad teacher that day.

Unlike babies, the linguistic geniuses that they are, we adults need a reference language while learning a new one. In most cases, it should be the language you are most fluent in, especially if you’re learning a foreign language for the first time. I think this is what Goethe meant. Strangely enough, many people who learn German try to learn it via English which gives funny results. Even though they belong to the same language family historically, they have drifted apart a long time ago and have had many internal changes which make their syntaxes and grammars distinct. When this was the case, Kannada came to the rescue. I realized how simple it was to learn some aspects of German grammar when I tried to learn them through Kannada. I was overjoyed and tried explaining it to my classmates. Unfortunately only 2 out of 20 knew Kannada, which quite accurately represents the state of Bangalore today.

I have never learnt Kannada formally, except for a few classes of third-language Kannada in high school, which doesn’t account for much. Thanks to the constant supervision of my mother (with a stick in the hand), I learnt reading and writing the language at a very young age. Since then, I have always read Kannada books, magazines, and newspapers. Learning a foreign language helped me understand and appreciate my mother tongue more. Kannada is a rich, old language with a very interesting history – socially, culturally and linguistically. In fact, the converse is true too. Knowledge of Kannada helped me understand and appreciate German better. You should try it too. Who knows what you’ll end up discovering?