Telugu (English: /ˈtɛlʊɡuː/; తెలుగు [t̪el̪uɡu]) is a Dravidian language native to India. It stands alongside Hindi, Englishand Bengali as one of the few languages with official primary language status in more than one Indian state; Telugu is the primary language in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and in the town of Yanam (Puducherry), and is also spoken by significant minorities in Karnataka (8.81%), Tamil Nadu (8.63%), Maharashtra (1.4%), Chhattisgarh (1%), Odisha (1.9%), the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (12.9%). It is one of six languages designated a classical language of India by the Government of India.
Telugu ranks third by the number of native speakers in India (74 million, 2001 census), fifteenth in the Ethnologue list of most-spoken languages worldwide. It is one of the twenty-two scheduled languages of the Republic of India.Approximately 10,000 pre-colonial inscriptions exist in the Telugu language and totally there are 15,000 inscriptions in Telugu language.
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Locations of Trilinga Kshetras
The speakers of the language call it “Telugu”. The older forms of the name include Teluṅgu, Tenuṅgu and Teliṅga.
The etymology of Telugu is not certain. Some historical scholars have suggested a derivation from Sanskrit triliṅgam, as in Trilinga Desam, “the country of the three lingas”.
Atharvana Acharya in the 13th century wrote a grammar of Telugu, calling it the “Trilinga grammar” (Trilinga Śabdānusāsana). Appa Kavi in the 17th century explicitly wrote that “Telugu” was derived from Trilinga. Scholar Charles P. Brown comments that it was a “strange notion” as all the predecessors of Appa Kavi had no knowledge of such a derivation.
George Abraham Grierson and other linguists doubt this derivation, holding rather that Telugu was the older term and Trilinga must be a later Sanskritisation of it. If so the derivation itself must have been quite ancient because Triglyphum, Trilingum and Modogalingam are attested in ancient Greek sources, the last of which can be interpreted as a Telugu rendition of “Trilinga”.
Another view holds that tenugu is derived from the proto-Dravidian word ten– “south” to mean “the people who lived in the south/southern direction” (relative to Sanskrit and Prakrit-speaking peoples). The name telugu then, is a result of ‘n’ -> ‘l’ alternation established in Telugu.
Telugu Talli Bomma, the personification of Telugu language in AP.
According to the Russian linguist M. S. Andronov, Proto-South-Dravidian languages split from the Proto-Dravidian language between 1500 and 1000 BC. According to linguist Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, Telugu, as a Dravidian language, descends from Proto-Dravidian, a proto-language. Linguistic reconstruction suggests that Proto-Dravidian was spoken around the third millennium BC, possibly in the region around the lower Godavari river basin in peninsular India. The material evidence suggests that the speakers of Proto-Dravidian were of the culture associated with the Neolithic societies of South India.
A legend gives the Lepakshi town a significant place in the Ramayana — this was where the bird Jatayu fell, wounded after a futile battle against Ravana who was carrying away Sita. When Sri Rama reached the spot, he saw the bird and said compassionately, “Le Pakshi” — ‘rise, bird’ in Telugu. This indicates the presence of Telugu Language during Ramayana period.
There is a mention of Telugu people or Telugu country in ancient Tamil literature as Telunga Nadu (Land of Telugu people).
It has been argued that there is a historical connection between the civilizations of ancient southern Mesopotamia and ancient Telugu speaking peoples.
Prakrit Inscriptions with some Telugu words dating back to 400 BC to 100 BC have been discovered in Bhattiprolu in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. The English translation of one inscription reads, “gift of the slab by venerable Midikilayakha”.
Dated between 200 BCE – 200 CE, a Prakrit work called Gāthā Saptaśatī written by Sathavahana King Hala, Telugu words like అత్త, వాలుంకి, పీలుఅ, పోట్టం, కిలించిఅః, అద్దాఏ, భోండీ, సరఅస్స, తుప్ప, ఫలహీ, వేంట, రుంప-రంప, మడహసరిఆ, వోడసుణఓ, సాఉలీ and తీరఏ have been used.
Certain exploration and excavation missions conducted by the Archaeological Department in and around the Keesaragutta temple brought to light number of brick temples, cells and other structures encompassed by brick prakara wall along with coins, beads, stucco figures, garbhapatra, pottery, Brahmi label inscriptions datable to 4th – 5th C.A.D. On top of one of the rock-cut caves, an early Telugu label inscription reading as ‘Thulachuvanru’ can be noticed. On the basis of palaeography, the inscription is dated to 4th – 5th century A.D.
The first word in Telugu language, “Nagabu”, was found in a Sanskrit inscription of the 1st century B.C at Amravati. Telugu words were also found in the Dharmasila inscription of Emperor Ashoka. A number of Telugu words were found in the Sanskrit and Prakrit inscriptions of Satavahanas, Vishnukundins, Ikshwaks etc.
According to the native tradition Telugu grammar has an ancient past. Sage Kanva was said to be the first grammarian of Telugu. A Rajeswara Sarma discussed the historicity and content of Kanva’s grammar written in Sanskrit. He cited twenty grammatical aphorisms ascribed to Kanva, and concluded that Kanva wrote an ancient Telugu Grammar which was lost.
Main article: Early Telugu epigraphy
The period from 575 AD to 1022 AD corresponds to the second phase of Telugu history, after the Andhra Ikshvaku period. This is evidenced by the first inscription that is entirely in Telugu, dated 575 AD, which was found in the Rayalaseema region and is attributed to the Renati Cholas, who broke with the prevailing custom of using Sanskrit and began writing royal proclamations in the local language. During the next fifty years, Telugu inscriptions appeared in Anantapuram and other neighboring regions.
Telugu was more influenced by Sanskrit and Prakrit during this period, which corresponded to the advent of Telugu literature. Telugu literature was initially found in inscriptions and poetry in the courts of the rulers, and later in written works such as Nannayya’s Mahabharatam (1022 AD). During the time of Nannayya, the literary language diverged from the popular language. It was also a period of phonetic changes in the spoken language.
The third phase is marked by further stylization and sophistication of the literary language. During this period the split of the Telugu and Kannada alphabets took place. Tikkana wrote his works in this script.
The Vijayanagara Empire gained dominance from 1336 to the late 17th century, reaching its peak during the rule of Krishnadevaraya in the 16th century, when Telugu literature experienced what is considered its Golden Age.
Telugu script on Copper plates, Eastern Chalukya, 10th century AD.
Delhi Sultanate and Mughal influence
With the exception of Coastal Andhra, a distinct dialect developed in the Telangana State and the parts of Rayalaseema region due to Persian/Arabic influence: the Delhi Sultanate of the Tughlaq dynasty was established earlier in the northern Deccan Plateau during the 14th century. In the latter half of the 17th century, the Mughal Empire extended further south, culminating in the establishment of the princely state of Hyderabad State by the dynasty of the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1724. This heralded an era of Persian influence on the Telugu language, especially Hyderabad State. The effect is also evident in the prose of the early 19th century, as in the Kaifiyats.
In the princely Hyderabad State, the Andhra Mahasabha was started in 1921 with the main intention of promoting Telugu language, literature, its books and historical research led by Madapati Hanumantha Rao (the founder of the Andhra Mahasabha), Komarraju Venkata Lakshmana Rao (Founder of Library Movement in Hyderabad State), Suravaram Pratapa Reddy and others.
The 16th-century Venetian explorer Niccolò de’ Conti, who visited the Vijayanagara Empire, found that the words in Telugu language end with vowels, just like those in Italian, and hence referred it as “The Italian of the East”; a saying that has been widely repeated.
In the period of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries saw the influence of the English language and modern communication/printing press as an effect of the British rule, especially in the areas that were part of the Madras Presidency. Literature from this time had a mix of classical and modern traditions and included works by scholars like Gidugu Venkata Ramamoorty, Kandukuri Veeresalingam, Gurazada Apparao, Gidugu Sitapati and Panuganti Lakshminarasimha Rao.
Since the 1930s, what was considered an elite literary form of the Telugu language, has now spread to the common people with the introduction of mass media like movies, television, radio and newspapers. This form of the language is also taught in schools and colleges as a standard.
Telugu is one of the 22 languages with official status in India.
The Andhra Pradesh Official Language Act, 1966, declares Telugu the official language of the state that is currently divided into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. This enactment was implemented by GOMs No 420 in 2005.
Telugu also has official language status in the Yanam district of the union territory of Puducherry.
Telugu, along with Kannada, was declared as one of the classical languages of India in the year 2008.
The fourth World Telugu Conference was organized in Tirupati in the last week of December 2012 and deliberated at length on issues related to Telugu language policy.
Telugu is the third most spoken native language in India after Hindi and Bengali.
Telugu is also the most spoken Dravidian language in the world.
Telugu is the 3rd most spoken Indian language in the U.S after Hindi, and Gujarati as of 2017.