The evolutions of Kannada prose as a spoken language and as a literary language have run parallel courses and it is not fair to arrive at conclusions about one on the basis of observations done in another. However one is left with with little option because the available evidences are essentially literary. Even the inscriptions have taken recourse to a standard variety of the language. No doubt literary texts contain evidences in the form of conversations. But there is a time interval that elapses before the spoken variety is given the status of literary variety and even there the adaptation is within the frame work of literary art. The fact that poetry was the preferred mode of communication in most literary texts makes the problem more acute.  Hence a scholar has to indulge in lots of speculation.

      The usual practice of tracing the evolution of Kannada from ‘Ancient old Kannada’ (pUrvada haLagannaDa), ‘Old Kannada’ (haLgannaDa), ‘Medieval Kannada’ (naDugannaDa) and ‘Modern Kannada’ (hosagannaDa) is based on an analysis of the written texts available in Kannada. (Including the inscriptions) This hinges on many assumptions. Firstly the poets might have preferred a particular variety of the language as against others. This could be true both in terms of both social dialects and geographical dilects. Some other poets might have chosen another variety that might have prevailed earlier also. For instance the prose dialect used by Devanuru Mahadeva a contemporary dalit poet was in use for centuries. However it was selected for literary use only in the third quarter of the twentieth century. Therefore, it is inappropriate to arrive at a conclusion about the antiquity of a particular variety based on its literary use. The selections made by poets such as Basavanna and Rudrabhatta do not throw any light on the antiquity of either ‘Halagannada’ or ‘Nadugannada’        

      Another method that is usually adapted is the comparative method. This method traces the history of the language in two stages. The first stage is to delineate the descent of Kannada from an imagined ‘Proto Dravidian’ (ªÀÄÆ® zÁæ«qÀ) language. Here we compare Kannada with its cognate languages in the Dravidian family and travel backwards to get at a proto form. From that point we move downwards to an imaginary ‘Proto Kannada’ language. From Kannada one moves towards the number of geographical dialects that are in use now. Hence unbroken lineage from the ‘Proto Dravidian’ right up to the concurrent forms is created. Comparative method studies various phonological and morphological changes that have taken place over a period of time.

                  Scholars such as R.Narasimhachar, (1924) B.M.Srikantaiah and T.S.Venkannaiah (1936), P.G.Kulakarni (1957) and K.M.Krishna Rao (1968) have adapted the earlier method of comparing the literary texts. They have created categories such as pUrvada halagannaDa, haLagannaDa, naDugannaDa and hosagannaDa. Geographically they speak of the southern dialect and northern dialect paying scant attention to the dialects used in coastal Karnataka. The preferences of writers are socio political they hardly reflect their contemporary realities.

      The comparative method suffers from the lack of raw data and one has to delve deep in to the resources that are latent. This is an attempt that should be undertaken by a multilingual team. However Shankara Bhat D.N. has provided a tentative route map in his recent writings. According to him Proto Kannada has descended from the South Dravida branch of the Proto Dravidian. He is of the opinion that the coastal Kannada is the first variety to be severed from the Proto Kannada and the decoupling of the Northern and the Southern dialect took place much later. The sub regional dialects and the social dialects that have come to existence during these centuries have retained some of the original traits and have relinquished the rest and this varies from dialect to dialect.

                  It is possible to look at the situation from another point of view also. According to this theory propounded by K.V.Narayana, a standard variety emerges from a merger of many small modules rather than the other way round. This involves the policy of retention and relinquishments depending upon social and political factors.



1.      ‘History of Kannada Language’, R.Narasimhachar, 1924.

2.      ‘Kannada Kaipidi’ by B.M.Srikantaiah and T.S.Venkannaiah (Relevant sections) 1936.

3.      ‘Kannada Bhasheya Charitre’ by Pra.Go. Kulakarni, 1957

4.      ‘Kannada Bhasheya Svaroopa’ K.M.Krishna Rao, 1968.

5.      Kannada Bhasheya Kalpitha Charitre’, D.N.Shankara Bhat, 1995.

             6.   ‘Kannada Jagattu: Ardha Shatamana’, K.V.Narayana, 2007, Kannada University, Hampi.


Links: 1. [PDF] 1 An apparent sprinkling of Altaic words in a Dravidian language ...


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