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Updated: August 14, 2012 03:39 IST

Gentle colossus of Indian linguistics

P. L. Vishweshwer Rao
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Bh Krishnamurti. Photo: Special Arrangement
Bh Krishnamurti. Photo: Special Arrangement

Bh Krishnamurti firmly believed that the mother tongue was the best medium of learning and instruction

The late Prof. Bh Krishnamurti, the world-renowned linguistics scholar had no passion in life other than language and linguistics. He was researching and publishing till his last days. Such is his contribution to the field of linguistics that no student of linguistics in any part of the world can get by without referring to Prof. Krishnamurti’s treatises. Perhaps since his work was in a field that is not mainstream in general discourse, he did not get enough recognition in his country for his pioneering work. But there was no dearth of recognition from people and institutions that recognised and appreciated his scholarship. He was elected Corresponding Fellow of the prestigious Royal Society of Edinburgh, UK. He is perhaps the only Indian scholar to get visiting and resident fellowships from as many as a dozen leading universities of the world including Princeton and Stanford. He taught in the United States, Japan, China, Australia and Russia apart from India. He published an astounding 100-odd papers in international journals and 2 5 books. Far from seeking the limelight, Prof. Krishnamurti positively shunned it. His awe-inspiring achievements sat lightly on him.

He was one of the first scholars of linguistics in India. Born on June 19, 1928 in Ongole of Prakasam district in Andhra Pradesh, he went against the trend in the 1940s of pursuing Commerce and English and opted to study Telugu at the Andhra University, Visakhapatnam. He went on to complete a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in 1957 at the young age of 27. His thesis, “Telugu Verbal Bases,” published by the University of California Press went on to become a reference book on Telugu language and linguistics. His Modern Telugu Grammar published by the Oxford University Press is a textbook for students of the Telugu language. His study of the tribal language Konda (or Kubi) grammar is regarded as a guide par excellence for language researchers.

While working in the U.S. in the 1960s, Prof. Krishnamurti ran into the then Vice-Chancellor of Osmania University, D.S. Reddy, who was visiting the U.S. Greatly impressed by the young scholar who had already published two books and four original papers on Dravidian Linguistics, Dr. Reddy offered the scholar the post of professor with the promise to set up a department of Linguistics at OU. Thus, Prof. Krishnamurti became the youngest person in the history of OU to be made a professor at the age of 34. He set up the department of Linguistics in 1964 when the subject was not even heard of. He moulded it into a globally known centre of excellence, guiding and grooming the next several generations of scholars of linguistics.

For regional languages

Prof. Krishnamurti was deeply committed to the mother tongue as being the language of learning and schooling. He believed that the emphasis on English as a medium of teaching was misplaced, and that learning in a foreign language inhibited the full potential of students. Not learning in our mother tongue, he believed, inhibits our creativity, cuts us off from our roots and affects our personality. One of the reasons for India not fully realising its potential was its blind belief in the English language as a deliverance. He was deeply worried that a people’s greatest possession, their mother tongue, was in danger of being lost especially in India.

But he was no doomsday soothsayer for Indian languages. He believed the best way to protect our languages was by taking appropriate policy decisions by encouraging the regional language medium of teaching. The best way to safeguard and promote our languages and to build up the job potential of a large number of people would be to promote the use of computer software in Indian languages. He wanted the ‘vicious link’ between English as the medium of instruction and employment to be broken by using regional language software.

Apart from holding several important positions at OU, Prof. Krishnamurti had the distinction of serving as the vice-chancellor of the Central University of Hyderabad for seven years, the only VC in that university to get a second term. But no position distracted him from pursuing Dravidian linguistics that remained his first love. Prof. Krishnamurti’s magnum opus was The Dravidian Languages published by the Cambridge University Press as part of its language series in 2003. This book, which is a comparative study of grammatical features of 26 Dravidian languages, replaced Caldwell’s 150-year old A Comparative Grammar of Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages as a comprehensive and authoritative source of reference on the Dravidian languages.

The passing away of Prof. Krishnamurti in the early hours of August 11 at the age of 84 in Hyderabad has drawn to a close an era of brilliant scholarship that he strode as a colossus.

(The writer is professor and Head, Department of Communication and Journalism, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, and former Principal, University College of Arts and Social Sciences, Osmania University, Hyderabad.)

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Great Man!

from:  Divya Adusumilli
Posted on: Aug 15, 2012 at 18:51 IST

The article pays a right tribute a great linguist. The versatility of knowledge apart Prof. Bh Krishnamurti has left indelible mark in the field of research. The posterity will be immense benefited from the same.

from:  HDash
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 22:37 IST

First of all, Thank you Hindu for focussing in these type of news and persons. "One of the reasons for India not fully realising its potential was its blind belief in the English language as a deliverance." -- These words from the so-authoritative source/author should be taken during policy making and decisions. Our country is full of scholars,thesis and very less political will to execute. English is just a language,is not a tool for acheivement. To do anything worth while in literature,education or any field - imagination and will to pursue is the MOST important.

from:  Satish
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 21:47 IST

Great Scholar whose contribution to Comparative Dravidian Linguistics and Telugu Language Studies was monumental. His work in Dravidian earned him a stature with Robert Caldwell and Murray B. Emeneau and he came to be regarded internationally among the greatest of Indian linguists. He was the first Indian scholar to be accorded the Honorary Memerbership of the Linguistic Society of America. He was always willing to debate ideas even if they came from the most junior students. He mentored many Indian linguists. As a senior professor and educational administrator, he also made important contributions to the development of Linguistics as a subject in Indian universities. He will always be remembered with gratitude and admiration.

from:  S.N. Sridhar
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 18:06 IST

Language is the instrument of not only communication but also should
become a store of knowledge, basis of culture and guarantor of values
and religion. Language is not static but dynamic. So state governments
have to understand the dynamics of language and institute policies to
keep the language dynamic. Or else languages will ossify and be
forgotten. Look at the eastern languages of chinese, japanese and korean
and emulate them. Language also unites people of a country.

from:  Raman Manian
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 17:01 IST

It was pleasant to read this magnificent article, Thanks to the Hindu for a well documented text about Prof. Krishna Murthy and his achievements.

from:  Sai
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 15:02 IST

Thank you The Hindu for publishing an article about this man. This man
was right about giving importance to the mother tongue languages but I
wish he would have understood that this article I just read is in
English, all languages are important, but I totally agree with him about
the importance of the medium of instruction being the mother tongue, and
I do have a solution to the problem.

from:  Sarasan Se
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 05:49 IST

RIP, Prof. Krishnamurti. As a proud father of a 20 year old linguist, I pay my respects to you and hope to read your book on Dravidian languages soon. Language, unfortunately has been hijacked by politicians and I sure would like to know what a linguist says about South Indian languages.

from:  Jagadisan Shivakumar
Posted on: Aug 14, 2012 at 03:55 IST
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