The first printed book in Kannada

A Grammar of the Kurnata Language written, printed and published by William Carey, 202 years ago in 1817, is the first ever printed Book in Kannada. The book was printed in the Missionary Press, Serampur, Kolkata. Manohara, of Bengal origin, formulated the Kannada fonts for this book. In that sense this book has a historical significance of being the first ever printed book in Kannada. William Carey was a professor of Sanskrit, Bengali and Marathi, in Serampur, Kolkata.

Two Kannada speaking persons namely Bharataramana and Subbaraya, assisted Carey in the learning of Kannada. The English part of the book was printed in the Letter Press whereas Kannada was printed in the Litho Press. . Alphabetically those Kannada letters resemble the present Telugu script, but they are actually old Kannada letters. Even the second printed book in Kannada by John Mckerrell in 1820, A Grammar of The Carnatica Language, resembles Carey’s book. The first printed book completely in Kannada is Bible translated into Kannada by John Hands. In fact by about 1790, Kannada documents of different departments of the then Mysore Government were being printed in the Serampur Printing Press where John Gilchrist with his colleagues formulated the Kannada fonts. Incidentally, the Mysore Government established the Government Press in Bangalore in 1815, which started printing work in Kannada and English.

William Carey was a British Christian missionary of London Order and he was an eminent doctor. He was one of the greatest professors and knew several languages such as Kannada, Telugu, Punjabi, Oriya, Bengali, Marathi, Burmese, Chinese etc. He is the author of the Bengali Dictionary and Marati Dictionary and he wrote Grammar in several Indian languages. He was born on August 17, 1761 and lived upto 62 years and died June 9, 1834. He was a social reformer, cultural anthropologist and a translator. He was the founder of Serampur College and Serampur University, the first degree awarding University of India. Carey wrote this Kannada Grammar book, although he never visited Mysore State. Prof A.V. Navada, a scholar in Old Kannada and an authority on Shastra Literature, and Dr. B.V. Mahidasa have brought out this book for Kannada University, Hampi, in a beautiful way, in 2018. Kannadigas should remain grateful to them.

In old Kannada there are four Kannada Grammar works written by three authors. The most ancient available book of Kannada till date, Kavirajamarga of Srivijaya, 850 A.D. which is a Kannada work on Poetics, contains some grammatical elements of Kannada language partially. But Nagavarma’s (1150 A.D) Karnataka Bhashabhushana, is the first-ever Kannada grammar work written in Sanskrit deals with Kannada grammar in its entiriety. He has also written Shabdasmriti in Kannada, wherein he has given the concepts of Kannada grammar in Kandapadya verses. The most popular Kannada grammar of old Kannada is Kesiraja’s ( 1275 A.D) Shabdamanidarpana, where all the concepts are in kandapadya verses. Bhattakalanka (1604 A.D) wrote Shabdanushasana, a Kannada grammar work in Sanskrit. Hence Nagavarma, Keshiraja and Bhattakalanka are known as the Trimurtis, the triad of Kannada grammar. All the above said works are in verse form and the authors have never used prose anywhere in their books.

Thus for the first time in the history of Kannada literature, a grammar book was written in Kannada and English prose. Carey writes about Kannada phonemes and morphemes, never deals with the syntax of Kannada language. Also for the first time this book deals with Kannada grammatical aspects in the backdrop of modern philology. Carey’s work contains 145 demi pages and it is written in four sections. Of Letters, narrates about the Kannada alphabets and compounding of the Kannada letters, known as Kagunita and Dvitva. Section 2 contains 17 chapters and he makes 83 observations about nouns. He accepts that there are only three genders - Masculine, Feminine and Neuter Genders as told by the old Kannada Grammarians. Carey classifies Nouns as Proper Names and Common Names. He classifies Common Names as Names of things, names of relationship. Generic terms, Verbals and Abstract substantive. This is really interesting. Section 3, Of Verbs,contains thirty chapters which includes a list of Roots with Observations on Irregular Verbs. He observes that Kannada has four types of verbs and seven kinds of tenses. He never refers or deals with the procedure and methodologies of Kannada letters becoming silent or a new letter finding a place or a letter substituting another in the three sandhis of Kannada, ie, Lopa, Agama and Adesha sandhis. This book has some keen observations about Kannada Grammar. We should not forget that he is writing a Grammar on Modern Kannada of his time and that too for the first time. Naturally, it has several short comings too regarding pronunciation, script etc. In its own limitations it is a valuable book.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 10:36:39 PM |

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