The making of Telugu

COLONIALISM, ORIENTALISM AND THE DRAVIDIAN LANGUAGES: K. Venkateswarlu; Routledge, 912 Tolstoy House, 15-17, Tolstoy Marg, Connaught Place, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 695.

COLONIALISM, ORIENTALISM AND THE DRAVIDIAN LANGUAGES: K. Venkateswarlu; Routledge, 912 Tolstoy House, 15-17, Tolstoy Marg, Connaught Place, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 695.   | Photo Credit: Scanned in Chennai R.K.Sridharan


The indigenous language of Andhra was independent of Sanskrit, says the author

Telugu is not rooted in Sanskrit and belongs to the family of Dravidian languages with its own unique roots and history. This in essence is the argument of the author, who retired as Professor of Political Science and Public Administration, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam.

“Professor Venkateswarlu's object is to explain why Telugu was the site at which the Dravidian idea emerged, and he finds the answer in features of the grammars of Telugu that influenced Ellis. The Dravidian proof required two things: a showing that languages of South India were not derived from Sanskrit, in spite of a large number of Sanskrit loan words in them, and that they are related to one another. In essence, Professor Venkateswarlu argues that the apparatus of language analysis in the grammars of Telugu showed that the indigenous language of Andhra was independent of Sanskrit, and Ellis gave this a comparative dimension,” historian Thomas R Trautman, writes in the foreword.

The book is based on writings of a number of scholars. The author delves into archives and mines details that have been ignored by many subject specialists.

Some of the leading lights in linguistics did not take the pains to cross check and verify facts available about the concept of Dravidian language family and based their arguments on a wrong foundation, he writes. He is pained by the cavalier observations of Bh. Krishna Murti, a giant in the field of Dravidian and Telugu linguistics, in his magnum opus, Telugu Verbal Bases: A Comparative and Descriptive Study on Andhra Dhatumala. Andhra Dhatumala or Andhra Dhatupata was originally written by Vedam Pattabhirama Sastry, head Sanskrit and Telugu master at the College of Fort St George (1812-20), and the first Headmaster of Telugu, the University of Madras, Paravastu Chinnayya Suri, a grammarian of repute, had made a handwritten copy of the book for his personal library. In the 20th century Andhra Sahitya Parishat of Kakinada located the copy of Suri and printed it and did not mention the author. Krishna Murti in his works did not try to locate the original author and referred to it as a work whose authorship was disputed.

Venkateswarlu's interest in Telugu philology was a spin-off from his interest in the organisation of competitive examination for permanent employees of the East India Company, a tradition which has been carried by the successive governments including those of post-Independence India. While studying material in the Tamil Nadu State Archives, Chennai, on FW Ellis, a civil servant of the East India Company and chairman of the board overseeing the College of Fort St. George and a scholar of South Indian languages, he met historian Thomas R Trautman. Venkateswarlu and Trautman got to discuss the ‘Dravidian Proof' written by Ellis.

The book carries forward Venkateswarlu's study of Ellis and the role of College of Fort St. George and its Indian scholars in Telugu philology. Venkateswarlu systematically establishes, citing well researched works, that Telugu is formed from its own roots and has no connection to Sanskrit or other South Indian languages.

While lauding the role of the institution of the College of Fort St George, the author has clearly spelled out the reason why the college was set up — to further the administration of the colonial territories by the imperial powers. However, the institution developed its own character which helped it evolve into a major centre of academic excellence.


He underlines the importance of the study and says: “The construction of the concept of the Dravidian language family was a watershed in the study of Indian history and linguistics. It radically altered the study and interpretation of Indian civilisation. South India, slowly but steadily, emerged as a distinct cultural entity and its imprint on the making of Indian culture was marked out. In fact, the proposition that Indian civilisation was a synthesis of diverse sources of cultural heritage gained momentum and legitimacy after the advent of the concept of Dravidian language family.”

The author blames the politics of the academia for the inadequate information on some of the seminal works. He cites the example of rivalry between CP Brown and his teacher AD Campbell which led to Campbell's works being neglected by later generations of students of Telugu language. At the same time he acknowledges the immense scholarship and contribution of CP Brown.

The author establishes, from published sources, that Telugu was the language of the people of Andhra region and that it had developed over 1,500 years prior to historic times. It was independent in origin, a Dravidian dialect. He writes: “Its development took shape in a multilingual environment of various tribal dialects … It developed its own identity and became a cultural unifying force or a link for the cultural and economic integration of the people of Andhra region ... ”

The book will be useful to anyone who is interested in learning about the people of the region of Trilinga Desa or the Andhra Pradesh in modern India and the origin of the language. The book briefly establishes the importance of the region and its people in socio-economic political development of South India.

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