KANNADA STUDIES: HISTORY
A community of people speaking a particular language has no choice but to become introspective about the nature of their language. Language is a dynamic and complex phenomenon, which is always in confrontation with external and internal influences. Various tensions generated by societal changes have their own impact on the processes that are taking place. However, these issues emerge into the limelight only when they are discussed in a threadbare manner by divergent scholastic groups.
Kannada language has faced many challenges during its long history. These confrontations and the outcomes are documented in many literary and knowledge based texts of Kannada. More often than not, many of these processes are not vocalized. However, they are to be discerned by an examination of the choices made by artists and scholars.
‘Kavirajamarga’ a tenth century Kannada treatise on poetics, confronts many problems that were crucial at that juncture and makes bold and long-lasting decisions. The author takes up the conflicts between the standard language and its dialects and concludes that the version spoken in an area demarcated by certain boundaries is the essential core of Kannada. (ಕನ್ನಡದ ತಿರುಳ್) He is in favour of an inclusive policy with respect to Sanskrit. He advocates the use of vocabulary, prosodic forms and figures of speech and themes taken from Sanskrit in addition to indigenous items. Naturally, this step resulted in an enrichment of Kannada. But it resulted in a gradual erosion of the native Dravidian elements of Kannada. This also meant an adoption of the models provided by Sanskrit in order to delineate and analyze issues connected with Kannada. This loss of identity becomes evident if one looks at the situation in Tamil which has consistently adopted an exclusive policy whether it is Sanskrit, English or Hindi.
However, there is a dichotomy between the choices made by the poets and the scholars with respect to the issues connected with language. Usually, scholars have selected the paths suggested by Sanskrit even when they are confronted with concurrent realities. But many of them likeNagavarma-2 and Keshiraja have noticed the situations that were prevalent, even though they have not put the seal of approval on the phonemic and morphological changes that were taking place. Spoken language was often derided as ‘grAmya’. (Rustic) Great poets such as Pampa and Nagachandra forged unique modes of expression suited to their times. Vachanakaras of the 12th century deviated from the norm by spurning rigid prosodic forms, cliched figures of speech and a vocabulary replete with Sanskrit words. Poets such as AnDayya, nayasEna harihara, purandaradAsa, kanakadAsa, kumAravyAsa and lakshmIsha followed suit by their decisions regarding the use of Sanskrit words.
Now, we venture in to a brief account of the directions that ‘Kannada Studies’ have taken in the backdrop of the canvas provided so far. The major concerns of the scholars have been the antiquity of Kannada, historical evolution of the language, construction of a descriptive grammar for Kannada, geographical and social dialects, issues related to Kannada-Sanskrit, Kannada-English and Kannada-Hindi confrontations, evolution of the Kannada script and the development of material that facilitates pedagogy in the medium of Kannada.
There are certain attitudinal differences between the approaches suggested by traditional scholars and modern scholars. Of course, the term ‘traditional’ in this context includes many scholars who have had excellent training in modern linguistic methods. There is an element of conflict between the plurality of linguistic communities and the monistic hegemony of the ‘standard’ language involved here. It is hard to inculcate qualitative changes in the pedagogic practices that are supported by established classes/castes. The ‘correctness’ or otherwise of a particular usage becomes more important than the socio-economic reasons that prompt such errors. A dispassionate analysis of the grammatical rules that find fault with such usages may reveal that they are based on Sanskrit grammar.
Antiquity of Kannada, which was a major pursuit during the former half of this century, is now put on the backburners. Scholars have accepted the evidence provided and the conclusions that were arrived at. However, an undue reliance on the references to the language in other written texts has distorted the issue. A language might have existed for centuries without any written documents and without any explicit references in other texts. One has to take into consideration the long centuries of transition from the proto Dravidian to the proto Kannada. D.N. Shankara Bhat and S. Settar have taken some positive steps in this direction.
Similarly, a historical survey of the language on the basis of the evidence provided by literary texts and inscriptions has its own pitfalls. This approach divides the history of Kannada in to four stages namely ancient old Kannada, (pUrvada haLagannaDa) old kannada, medieval Kannada and modern Kannada. There is no one to one correspondence between the literary styles chosen by writers and the dialects that are contemporary to them. Texts are composed in old Kannada and medieval Kannada at the same point of time. For instance 12th century has given birth to ‘vachanas’ by the veerashaiva saints which are written in a language which is decidedly medieval and many poets who have succeeded them have chosen to write in old Kannada. The same situation prevails even with respect to the use of geographical and social dialects. Obviously, the documents that we are using with utmost confidence do not really reflect the true nature of the historical realities or dialectical heterogeneity of Kannada.
Resorting to the resources found in languages such as Sanskrit, English and Hindi has constituted a point of debate for long. Scholars have shown a distinct bias towards Sanskrit even in this issue. Sanskrit words are supposed to enrich Kannada where as usage of English words, particularly in the written texts is deemed as an assault on the purity of Kannada. The opinion is divided on the point, whether one should use the borrowed words as they are or they should be modified based on the internal rules of Kannada. This boils down to a choice between ‘tatsama’ (original form) and ‘tadbhava’ (modified form)
Of late, the medium of instruction has become another focal point in the context of Kannada Studies. Obviously, this is an emotionally loaded issue. Prolonged debates have ensued between the supporters of Kannada/ mother tongue medium and English medium. Political decisions are not really based on scientific data and the latter do not always consider societal realities. Agitational methods have proved be at loggerheads with governmental policies. Complex issues like this are bound to present problems in a pluralistic society.
A major share of Kannada Studies is usually preoccupied with literary topics. Elements such as style, prosody, figures of speech and use of dialects in literary texts are discussed ad infinitum as though they are matters of life and death. Other issues like language policy and language planning recede to the background. This situation is patently unilateral and unhealthy. Unfortunately, there is a yawning gap between the serious work undertaken by a few scholars and the academic/pedagogic situation that prevails in the state. We have provided a list of important publications that have focused on the study of Kannada as a language and a cultural phenomenon. A perusal of different entries on individual topics could provide more information and resources.
1. ‘History of Kannada Language’, by R.Narasimhachar, 1924.
Kaipidi’ by B.M.Srikantaiah and T.S.Venkannaiah (Relevant sections) 1936, Kannada
3. ‘kaNmareyAda kannada’, by Sham. Ba. Joshi, 1933, Dharwar. (ಕಣ್ಮರೆಯಾದ ಕನ್ನಡ)
4. ‘kannaDada nele’, by Sham. Ba. Joshi, 1939, Dharwar.
Madhyama Vyakarana’, T.N.Srikantaiah, 1939,
6. ‘Kannada Bhasheya Charitre’ by Pra.Go. Kulakarni, 1957.
7. ‘Kannudiya Huttu’ by Sham. Ba. Joshi
of Kannada’ by R.C.Hirematha, 1961,
9. ‘Kannada: Descriptive Grammar’ by S.N. Sridhar, 1990, Routledge.
10. ‘‘Kannadakke Beku Kannadadde
Vyakarana’, D.N.Shankara Bhat, 2000, Bhasha Prakashana,
11. ‘Kannada Jagattu-ardha shatamana’ by K.V.Narayana, 2007, Kannada Vishvavidyalaya, Hampi.
12. ‘Vyakaranashastrada Parivara’, N. Ranganathasharmaa, 2002, Rashtrakavi Govinda Pai Samshodhana Kendra, Udupi.
13. ‘Kannada Bhasheya Kalpitha Charitre’,
D.N.Shankara Bhat, 1995,
14. ‘A Generative Grammar of Kannada, AK Ramanujan - 1962 -
15. ‘‘Kavirajamarga mattu Kannada Jagattu’ by K.V.Subbanna, 2000, Akshara Prakashana, Heggodu.
16. ‘Shangam Tamilagam Kannada Nadu-Nudi‘
S.Settar, 2007, Abhinava,
17. ‘A Bibliography of Karnataka Studies’,
vol. 1, edited by T.V.Venkatachala Shastry, 1972,
18. ‘A Bibliography of Karnataka Studies’,
vol. 2, edited by T.V.Venkatachala Shastry’, 1998,