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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 world-wide it is spoken by upward 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 TamilTeluguMarathi, 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/ =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: nominativeaccusativegenitivedativelocative, 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 SanskritPortuguese, 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.

30 Responses to Kannada


    Nudi kannada, mana KANNADA, yava bhashe matadidru kannadadashtu impu yavdu illa. jai KANNADA mathe….

    • Irene Thompson

      Please submit your comment in English.

      • usha

        The language I speak is Kannada. My heart belongs to kannada. Despite of many languages I speak, no other language can provide me the pleasure of using Kannada. Salute to mother Kannada.

    • Ravi


  2. Gops

    Kannada is no way referred as Madrassi as mentioned in the very first line. Madrassi is particularly referred to People of Tamilnaadu who speaks Tamil.

    • Irene Thompson

      We did not understand what you were trying to say. Please rephrase and make your meaning clear.

  3. Abhi

    Hi Irene,

    The person who has commented above tries to say , do not refer Kannada as Madrassi, as Madrassi is reffered to Tamil speaking people who are different from kannada speaking people

  4. roshan sayeed

    People of Madras (Present Chennai) are called Madarasi, People of Karnataka are called Kannnadiga not Madarasi. Kindly rectify and correct the error in the first line.

  5. Hekmat-ullah Mehsud

    Excellent article. Glad to see so much of effort that you have put into this beautiful piece of work.

  6. Ravindra dev

    kannada numerals are different from the english numerals. hope you include them as well.

  7. Aditya

    Kannada does not have six cases. You forgot to mention the instrumental-ablative case marked by ‘-inda’. I have not seen a Kannada grammar yet that does not mention specifically as a case.

    In addition, there are not special pronouns in the second person for politeness. The plural forms are used, but those aren’t really special forms.

  8. Deepak indiankannadiga

    Really very organised and devoted work. I may run out of words to describe this work. Good work dude.

    Sirigannadam gelge
    Sirigannadam baalge

    • Irene Thompson

      Not everyone is a “dude”. I, for one, am not.

  9. Ravi

    Kannada is one of the sweetest language: all of its words (take any Kannada word)are ends with oval sound (hogi=go, banni=come, heli=tell. kodi=give){in sweet languages words are ends with oval sound)
    Kannada is the third oldest language of India

    Kannada is as old as 2000 years.

    Kannada is 99.99% perfect – logically and scientifically.

    has got 8 Gnana Peetha (Indian award given to regional languages) Awards . Look at other languages . . . Hindi — 6,

    Telugu – 2, Malayalam – 3, Tamil – 2 ( Second one during 2005 )

    Shri VINOBA BHAVE called Kannada script as QUEEN OF WORLD SCRIPTS

    – ” Vishwa LipigaLa RaaNi – ”

    So called International language — English doesnot have its own Script. English is written in ” ROMAN ”

    So called National Language — Hindi doesn’t have its own script.

    Hindi is written in ” Deva nagari ”

    Though Tamil has a script, logically it is imperfect — as common letters are used for many pronunciations.

    is as old as 2000 years. You can write what you speak and you can read what you write.

    When “Kaviraja Maarga was written . .” kaaveriyinda ,

    gOdaavarivaregirpa … ” by Amogha Varsha Nripathumga, English was in

    cradle & Hindi was not born at all.

    Kannada is the only indian language for whicha foreigner(Kittal) wrote a dictionary( Shabda Kosha)

    Ragale Saahithya can be seen only in Kannada which is of a rare and different kind of literature.

    Number of literature awards KUVEMPU got, was highest among any Indian author s.

    Chandassu (shatpadis) out pared all other languages

    • Irene Thompson

      You are proud of Kannada. That’s wonderful. But what do you mean by “logical”, “sweetest”, “oval sounds”? Your comment makes little sense.

      • Pruthweesha Airani

        It’s not that his comment makes little sense, Irene. Just that it makes little sense with the kind of grammar and spelling used. He lifted this off the internet, and every proud Kannadiga is sharing it lately. Considering the fact that English is not Ravi’s first language, it’s fair to make an effort to correct the grammatical errors and typos to get what he’s trying to say. Although his comment seems to be an expression of his pride, it does give you important data you could put up on the page. By the way, as a person whose first language is Kannada, I can tell you that most of the claims in Ravi’s comment are verified, none disproved. Kannada does have very, very few words ending in consonants, which makes it “sweet”, in Ravi’s terms. Words with vowel endings do not create complications in pronunciation when followed by a word beginning with a consonant. Eg: When you say “good time” in english, the ‘d’ sound vanishes totally due to the ‘t’ sound which follows, leaving you with a pronunciation that sounds like ‘goottime’.
        Coming to the 99.99% logically perfect part, well, Rules in Kannada grammar have only a handful of exceptions. Kannada, as you have mentioned in your article, does not have a rigid word order, due to inflection, as the case of the word in question depends solely on its ending, i.e, suffix on root word. Kannada, like many other indian languages is a phonetic language, as all written words have a unique pronunciation and all uttered words have a unique way of being writen in the Kannada script. Kannada does have its own script, which is a big plus in my opinion, because if an archaeologist found a piece of text in the Roman script, he cannot decide which language it was written in. He’ll have to look for more clues like accent marks, patterns in the order of letters, etc. But if he stumbles upon a piece of literature in the Kannada script, he knows for a fact that it is the Kannada language he is reading. Researchers agree to an extent that Kannada is about 2000 years old or older due to possible Kannada dialogues in Charition mime, an ancient Greek play found by archaeologists in Egypt.

    • Pruthweesha Airani

      you mean vowel sounds. It’s vowel, not oval sounds. Languages with the bulk of words ending with vowel sounds have an advantage over those which don’t. When you have a word ending in a consonant and another beginning with a consonant in succession. The consonant sound of the second word normally gets distorted. And by logically perfect, you probably mean grammatical consistency with very few anomalies.

      • Irene Thompson

        Although you are right that final consonant in a word can interact with the initial consonant in the following word. This process is called sandhi. There is no inherent advantage or disadvantage in these processes. What you are saying is a value judgment, which should not be applied to language.

  10. Ravi

    Hi Irene
    Use Gandaberunda Picture at the top
    Gandaberunda is official emblem used by Karnataka state government and same used by many Kannada dynasties
    just type Gandaberunda in google image search you will get many

  11. Sandeep

    Hi Irene,

    Great work. A couple of comments:

    – There are quite a bit more than 20 consonant phonemes in Kannada. In addition to the categories presented above, Kannada also distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated consonants, mostly in borrowings from Sanskrit and modern north Indian languages but also in several native Kannada words.
    By my count there are 32 consonant phonemes. You’d want to add aspirated versions (denoted with a superscript h) of the following: k, g, c, ɟ, dental t, dental d, retroflex t, retroflex d, p, and b. In addition, Kannada has ʃ and the voiceless retroflex sibilant ʂ. Each of these consonant phonemes is represented by a unique character, with the result that Kannada’s consonant inventory is quite similar to Indo-Aryan languages despite being a Dravidian language. That’s largely due to the large volume of Sanskrit vocabulary that was and continues to be absorbed into the language.

    – Second, a small typo correction: the plural is formed with gaɭu, not gɭu. Thus the plural of mane (house) is manegaɭu (houses).

    Thanks for your work, from a native speaker of the Mysore dialect.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you very much for your comments. We really appreciate input like this. Keep the corrections coming!

  12. Srinidhi

    Please correct the grammatical errors of Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Kannada.
    Correct text-
    ಎಲ್ಲಾ ಮಾನವರೂ ಸ್ವತಂತ್ರರಾಗಿಯೇ ಜನಿಸಿದ್ದಾರೆ. ಹಾಗೂ ಘನತೆ ಮತ್ತು ಹಕ್ಕುಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಸಮಾನರಾಗಿದ್ದರೆ. ವಿವೇಕ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಕರಣಗಳನ್ನು ಪಡೆದವರಾದ್ದರಿಂದ ಅವರು ಪರಸ್ಪರ ಸಹೋದರ ಭಾವದಿಂದ ವರ್ತಿಸಬೇಕು.

  13. Epari Amaresh

    Telugu is another (Dravidan)Indian language for which a foreigner(Charles Phillip Brown commonly known as Brown Dora బ్రౌన్ దొర) wrote a dictionary( నిఘంటువు)


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