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Number of Speakers: 69,666,000 or more

Key Dialects: See below

Geographical Center: India

There are about 69,634,000 speakers of Telugu in India (1997 IMA). The total population in all countries is 69,666,000 or more. The total population of speakers including second language speakers is about 75,000,000 (1999 WA). The language is also spoken in Bahrain, Fiji, Malaysia (30,000), Mauritius, Singapore (300), UAE (120,000).

Telugu belongs to the South-Central group of the Dravidian family of languages. It belongs to the Telugu sub-group together with Chenchu, Savara, and Waddar, which are all languages spoken in the Andhra Pradesh state of India.

Telugu is not a uniform language over the whole territory where it is spoken as a vernacular. On the basis of vocabulary studies (Krishnamutri, 1998) it has been established that there are four regional dialects in Telugu: East, including the Srikakulam and Visakhapatnam districts, South with Nellore, Ongole, Cuddapah, Kurnool, Chittoor and Anantapur, North with nine different Telangana districts, and Central with Guntur, Krishna, East Godavari and West Godavari. Standard Telugu is almost identical with the speech of the educated middle and upper class of the Central dialect. Informal Telugu speech style differs from formal speech as well as formal written styles. Diglossia is characteristic of Telugu. The greater part of Telugu literature consists of poetry and is written in a dialect, which differs widely from the colloquial form of the language.

The Aramaic script was brought to India in about A.D. 326 possibly by the descendents of Alexander of Macedonia. Aramaic became the international script of that time and was adopted by the people of the northwestern India in the form of Kharosthee. The Nanda kings at Pataliputra adopted a script inspired by it for all their official communications. From this the Braahmee (or Brahmi) script and eventually modern-day Devanagari developed. Telugu and other south Indian language scripts descended from the Braahmee.Telugu is a syllabic language. Similar to most languages of India, each symbol in Telugu script represents a complete syllable with the syllabic form created by the use of a set of basic symbols, a set of modifier symbols and a number of modification rules. There are eighteen vowels, thirty-six consonants, and three dual symbols in the alphabet. The language is written from left to right.

Telugu is an inflected language. Telugu nouns are inflected for number (singular, plural), gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and case (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, vocative, instrumental, and locative). They are divided into three declensions depending on their endings and eight classes of irregular forms (Brown, 1981). There are two types of pronouns, personal and adjectival (the language has no relative pronouns), which inflect similarly to nouns with the addition of person inflection (1st, 2nd, and 3rd). The Telugu adjective is not inflected for number, gender, or case. Its comparative and superlative forms are constructed periphrastically with the addition of degree words. The principal parts of the verb morphology are the root, the infinitive, and the participles. There are three conjugations of Telugu verbs, each containing several classes of verbs. The five different verb forms (Present, Past, Aorist, Future, and the Imperative) are formed with the addition of personal affixes with some particles. The passive voice is compounded with the addition of the auxiliary verb ‘to fall’, the middle voice with the addition of ‘to take’ and the causal voice with the addition of the auxiliary ‘inçu’. Verbs are also inflected for number and person. There is a negative verb form that is derived from the verb root by adding certain affixes. Telugu is a Subject-Object-Verb word order language. However, word order is flexible depending on the emphasis placed on specific elements of a structure. Focused elements appear initially in the sentence. Telugu is an elliptical language allowing for expressions to be omitted when their meaning can be deduced from the context. Questions are denoted with the use of the affix ‘ā’ attached to the focused element of the question.

Telugu is the dominant Andhra Pradesh state language, but there is also a sizeable population of Kannada (519,507), Marathi (503,609), Oriya (259, 947), and Tamil (753,484) speakers. Krishnamutri states that “Telugu as a medium has not yet become popular for various reasons: lack of employment opportunities, no clear state policy on preferences, psychological barrier of the teachers, confusion between written classical standard and modern colloquial standards, and English being retained as a medium at the postgraduate level”. (Krishnamutri, 1998, p. 29). This picture illustrates the condition in which a large number of indigenous languages find themselves in the postcolonial landscape. Although a number of proposals have been made for further development of the language, tension between speakers of different dialects or languages and the domination of English in educated circles make the growth of Telugu a difficult task.

Telugu split from Proto-Dravidian between 1500-1000 BC. It became a distinct language by the time any literary activity began to appear in the Tamil lands. Native Telugu place and people names appear in an inscription of the 2nd century A.D. The first datable Telugu inscription dates from A.D. 575. From the beginning of the 11th century diglossia becomes a characteristic of the language with the split between the literary and colloquial dialects. At the end of the 15th century the first popular literature started emerging, including ballads, and songs. Colonialism introduced prose as a popular form. The first printing press was established in Madras, in 1806, and from then on an educated colloquial variety with occasional mixtures of classicisms was used as the literary written form of the language. During the first two decades of the 20th century there was a debate over the choice of styles of the language used in school education. The classicists managed to promote their idea of a conservative based on the archaic forms language, and modern prose was forbidden in the school textbooks. However, in 1937 the first Telugu daily newspaper started publishing editorials in modern standard Telugu. Telugu was adopted as the official state language by the Andhra Pradesh Legislature in 1966 and a number of autonomous institutes such as the Telugu Akademi were established. The Official Language Commission made a number of recommendations for further development and modernization of the language in 1977.

Campbell, G. L. 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, Vol. 1 -2. London and New York: Routledge.

Charles, Philip Brown. 1981. A Grammar of the Telugu Language. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Grimes, B. F., ed. 1992. Ethnologue, Languages of the World. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

Krishnamutri, Bh.. 1998. Language Education, and Society. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Linguistic Society of America. 1992. Directory of Programs in Linguistics in the United States and Canada. Washington, DC.

Ruhlen, M. 1987. A Guide to the World's Languages, Vol. 1: Classification. London: Edward Arnold.

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