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04 Oct

About Telugu Language

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Introduction

Swaagatam - Welcome

Telugu (తెలుగు) belongs to the South Central branch of the Dravidian language family. It is spoken by close to 70 million people in India, primarily in the state of Andhra Pradesh. It is also spoken in Bahrain, Fiji, Malaysia, Mauritius, United States, Singapore, United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. The Telugu-speaking population of the world, including second languages speakers, is estimated to be Southern India maparound 75 million people (Ethnologue).

Status

Telugu is one of the 22 official languages and 14 regional languages of India. It is the official language of the state of Andhra Pradesh. It also has official language status in the Yanam District of the Union Territory of Pondicherry.

Although Telugu is the dominant language in Andhra Pradesh, the state also has sizable populations of speakers of KannadaMarathiOriya, and Tamil. Telugu has not achieved universal acceptance as a lingua franca in the state due to a variety of reasons, including lack of teachers, confusion between classical and colloquial standards, and the dominant role of English among the educated elite, and its role as the exclusive medium of post-secondary education.

Dialects

Spoken vs. written
There is a considerable difference between the spoken and written forms of Telugu. Spoken Telugu has many regional dialects, while the written form remains relatively uniform. Until the 20th century, Telugu was written in an archaic style very different from the everyday spoken language. During the second half of the 20th century, a new written standard emerged based on the modern spoken language.

Regional
Telugu has many regional dialects which are usually divided into several major groups:

  • East, including Srikakulam and Visakhapatnam
  • South, including Nellore, Ongole, Cuddapah, Kurnool, Chittoor and Anantapur
  • North, including nine different varieties
  • Central, including Guntur, Krishna, East Godavari and West Godavari.

Standard Telugu is based on the speech of educated speakers of the Central dialect.

Social
Colloquial Telugu varies depending on social status. Thus, urban varieties of Telugu as spoken, for instance, in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, and used in popular movies, have many borrowings from HindiUrdu, and English. The speech of educated speakers is characterized by code-switching between Telugu and English. There are also a number of social varieties depending on caste or class. The language of the high castes is more influenced by Sanskrit than the language of the lower castes. There are several distinct social dialects— Brahmin, non-Brahmin, and Untouchable.

Structure

Sound system
The sound system of Telugu has many similarities to the sound systems of other Dravidian languages.

Vowels

  • Telugu has 2 sets of 5 vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. Each set consists of one short and one long vowel. Vowel length distinguishes between otherwise identical words. In the table below, vowel length is indicated by a macron over the vowel.
  • There are two diphthongs /ai/ and /au/.
  • Telugu is characterized by vowel harmony which requires that the vowels in suffixes be the same as root vowels, i.e., all front or all back.
 
Close
i, ī
 
u, ū
Close-mid
e, ē
 
o, ō
Open  
a, ā
 

Consonants
The consonant system of Telugu is similar to that of other Dravidian languages. It is characterized by the following features:

  • a contrast between plain and aspirated stops, both voiceless and voiced, e.g., /p – pʰ, b – bʰ/. Aspirated stops are produced with a strong puff of air accompanying their release.
  • a contrast between apical and retroflex consonants, e.g., /t/ – /ʈ/. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth;
  • Consonant clusters are permitted mostly in initial and medial positions. There are no clusters in final position.
  Labiodental Glottal
Stops plain voiceless
p
 
t
ʈ
c
k
 
  voiced
b
 
d
ɖ
ɟ
g
 
  aspirated plain
 
ʈʰ
 
voiced
ɖʰ
ɟʰ
Fricatives  
f
 
ʂ
ç
 
h
Nasals
m
 
n
ɳ
ɲ
ŋ
 
Tap    
ɾ
       
Laterals    
l
ɭ
 
     
Approximants  
ʋ
.xx  
j
   
  • /ʈ, ɖ, ʂ, ɳ, ɭ/ are retroflex consonants with no equivalents in English
  • /c, ɟ/ have no equivalents in English
  • /ʂ, ç/ have no equivalents in English
  • /ɲ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /ʋ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /j/ = y in yet

Stress
Stress in modern Telugu is fixed on the first syllable of a word.

Grammar
Like other Dravidian languages, Telugu is agglutinative, i.e., it adds suffixes to roots, one after another, to form words and to express grammatical functions. There is no absolute limit on the length and extent of agglutination in Telugu. This can result in very long words. Like all agglutinative languages, Telugu uses post-positions rather than prepositions.

Nouns
This class of words includes common nouns, proper names, pronouns and adjectives. They are inflected for the following categories:

  • cases: nominativeaccusativelocative, and vocative.
  • two numbers: singular and plural.
  • three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.
  • five declensions
  • absence of articles
  • Personal pronouns are marked for person, case and number. Gender is marked only in the third person singular.
  • 1st person plural can be inclusive, i.e., include both speaker and addressee, e.g., manamu ‘we inclusive’ or exclusive, i.e., exclude addressee, e.g., mēmu ’we exclusive.’
  • 3rd person plural pronoun is used as a respectful form of address
  • Demonstrative pronouns are differentiated by considerations of proximity/remoteness as well as by levels of respect towards the referent.
  • Adjectives are not inflected for number, gender, or case.

Verbs
Telugu verbs consist of a root followed by various suffixes indicating mood, tense, causality, negation, person, number and gender which follow each other in a prescribed sequence. Verbs agree with their subjects in gender, number and person. Subject pronouns are normally dropped since the information about the subject is carried by the verb itself. Verbs have the following distinguishing features:

  • two numbers: singular and plural
  • three genders: masculine, feminine, neuter
  • three persons: 1st, 2nd, 3rd
  • two voices which are not equivalent to the active-passive or reflexive-nonreflexive division of voices in Indo-European languages
  • three simple tenses (present, past, and future) marked by simple suffixes, and a series of perfectives marked by auxiliary verbs
  • a special verb paradigm in which a negative-tense marker is suffixed to the verb stem forming a negative tense
  • four moods which indicate whether the action of the verb is unreal, possible, potential, or real
  • transitivity and intransitivity
  • attitude expressed by auxiliary verbs to show the speaker’s feelings towards an event expressed by the verb, e.g., pejorative opinion, antipathy, relief, etc.

Word order
The standard word order in Telugu is Subject-Object-Verb. However, other orders are possible because Inflectional endings take care of keeping clear grammatical relations and roles in the sentence. There are special markers for topic (what the sentence is about, or old information) and focus (new information). Constituents with old information precede constituents with new information, or those that carry most emphasis. Modifiers usually precede the words they modify.

Vocabulary
The basic vocabulary of Telugu is Dravidian in nature. In addition, Telugu has a significant number of words of Sanskrit and Prakrit origin. It is considered to be the most Sanskritized of the Dravidian languages, especially when it comes to the formal, standardized variety of the language taught in schools and used by the government and in Hindu religious practices. Colloquial Telugu varies depending upon region and social status. Thus, urban varieties of Telugu as spoken, for instance, in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, and used in popular movies, have many borrowings from HindiUrdu, and English. The speech of educated speakers is characterized by code-switching between Telugu and English.

Like other Dravidian languages, Telugu also uses compounding and reduplication to form new words.

Below are a few Telugu words and phrases in romanization.

Hello. Namaskaaram.
Good bye Vastamu
Thank you. Dhanyavaadaalu.
Please Daya chesi.
Sorry. Khamintsandi.
Yes Avunu.
No. Ledu.

Below are Telugu numerals 1-10.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
okați
rendhu
múdhu
nálugu
aidhu
áru
yédhu
yenimidi
tommidhi
padhi

Writing

Written materials in Telugu date from 633 AD. Telugu literature begins with an 11th-century translation of the Sanskrit classic Mahabharata. Until the second half of the 20th century, Telugu was written in a classical style that was very different from the spoken Language. During the second half of the 20th century, a new written standard emerged based on modern spoken Telugu.

Telugu is written with a syllabic alphabet in which all consonants have an inherent vowel. Diacritics, which can appear above, below, before or after the consonant, indicate change to another vowel or suppression of the inherent vowel. The script was developed from the Brahmi script. The shapes of Telugu letters closely resemble those of Kannada. They have rounded shapes because in ancient times writing was done by carving on palm leaves with a sharp point. Sharp angles would have torn the leaves. Telugu is written from left to right.

Below is a sample of Telugu script

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