Telugu language

Native to India
Region Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Yanam and neighbouring states
Ethnicity Telugu people
Native speakers
75 million (2007)[1]
L2 speakers: ca. 5 million (1997–1999)[2]
  • Southern

    • South-Central
      • Telugu languages
        • Telugu
Telugu alphabet (Brahmic)
Telugu Braille
Official status
Official language in

 India in the following states and union territories:

Language codes
ISO 639-1 te
ISO 639-2 tel
ISO 639-3 tel
Glottolog telu1262  (Telugu)[3]
oldt1249  (Old Telugu)[4]
Linguasphere 49-DBA-aa

Telugu is native to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Yanam and pockets of neighbouring states

Telugu (English pronunciation: /ˈtɛlᵿɡ/;[5] తెలుగు telugu, IPA: [t̪el̪uɡu]) is a Dravidian language native to India. It stands alongside Hindi, English, and Bengali as one of the few languages with official status in more than one Indian state;[6] it is the primary language in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and in the town of Yanam, Puducherry. It is also spoken by significant minorities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry, and by the Sri Lankan Gypsy people. It is one of six languages designated a classical language of India by the Government of India.[7][8] Telugu ranks third by the number of native speakers in India (74 million, 2001 census),[9] fifteenth in the Ethnologue list of most-spoken languages worldwide[10] and is the most widely spoken Dravidian language. It is one of the twenty-two scheduled languages of the Republic of India.[11]

In loans from Sanskrit, Telugu retains features, especially in the pronunciation of some vowels and consonants, that have subsequently been lost in some of Sanskrit's daughter languages, including Hindi and Bengali.[12]


The etymology of Telugu is not known for certain. It has been documented by historians to have been derived from trilinga, as in Trilinga Desa, "the country of the three lingas". According to a Hindu legend, Shiva descended as a linga on three mountains: Kaleswaram in Naizam, Srisailam in Rayalaseema and Bhimeswaram in Kostha; these marked the boundaries of the Telugu country.[13][14]Srisailam in Kurnool District on the banks of Krishna River was the first capital of Trilinga Desa and was ruled by the divine ruler Andhra Vishnu. Sri Krishnadevaraya visited his temple in Srikakulam (Krishna District), which is about 50 km from Vijayawada and paid homage to the deity. It was here that Raya wrote the literary classic, Amuktamalyada at the order of the Lord Andhra Vishnu who had said "Des Bhashalandu Telugu Lessa" (Telugu is the greatest among the state's languages") and ordered Sri Krishnadevaraya to adopt Telugu as the official language of his province.

There is another view that tenugu is derived from the proto-dravidian word ten[15] (which means south) to mean "The people who lived in the south/southern direction". This seems likely because there are similar names to other dravidian languages : baDaga, koDagu, vaDugar ( a name for the telugu-speaking people given by people in Tamil Nadu, meaning : People who are in the north (relatively)). The name telugu then, is a result of 'n' -> 'l' alternation established in Telugu.[16]


According to the Russian linguist Andronov, Telugu split from Proto-Dravidian languages between 1500 and 1000 BC.[17][18]

Earliest records

Locations of Trilinga Kshetras

Inscriptions with Telugu words dating back to 400 BC to 100 BC have been discovered in Bhattiprolu in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh.[19] The English translation of one inscription reads, "gift of the slab by venerable Midikilayakha".[20][21][22]

Post-Ikshvaku period

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).[23] 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.

Middle Ages

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.[24] Tikkana wrote his works in this script.

Vijayanagara Empire

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.[23]

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: Sultanate rule under the Tughlaq dynasty had been established earlier in the northern Deccan during the 14th century. In the latter half of the 17th century, Mughal rule extended further south, culminating in the establishment of the princely state of Hyderabad by the Asaf Jah dynasty in 1724. This heralded an era of Persian/Arabic influence on the Telugu language, especially among the people of Hyderabad. The effect is also evident in the prose of the early 19th century, as in the Kaifiyats.[23]

In the princely state of Nizam, Andhra Jana Sangham was started in 1921 with the main intention of promoting Telugu language, literature, its books and historical research led by Madapati Hanumantha Rao (Founder of Andhra Jana Sangham), Komarraju Venkata Lakshmana Rao (Founder of Library Movement in Hyderabad State), Suravaram Pratapareddy and others.

Colonial period

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";[25] a saying that has been widely repeated.[26]

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 Kandukuri Veeresalingam, Gurazada Apparao and Panuganti Lakshminarasimha Rao.[23]

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.

Post-independence period

  1. Telugu is one of the 22 official languages of India.
  2. The Andhra Pradesh Official Language Act, 1966, declares Telugu the official language of the state that is currently divided into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. This enactment was implemented by GOMs No 420 in 2005.[27][28]
  3. Telugu also has official language status in the Yanam District of the Union Territory of Puducherry.
  4. Telugu, along with Kannada, was declared as one of the classical languages of India in the year 2008.
  5. The fourth World Telugu Conference was organized in Tirupati city in the last week of December 2012 and deliberated at length on issues related to Telugu development
  6. Telugu is the third most spoken native language in India after Hindi and Bengali.


There are three major dialects: Telangana dialect, laced with urdu words, spoken mainly in Telangana, Andhra dialect spoken in Khammam district of Telangana and costal districts of Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema dialect spoken in the four Rayalaseema districts of Andhra Pradesh.[29]

Waddar, Chenchu, and Manna-Dora are all closely related to Telugu.[30] Dialects of Telugu are Berad, Dasari, Dommara, Golari, Kamathi, Komtao, Konda-Reddi, Salewari, Vadaga, Srikakula, Vishakhapatnam, East Godaveri, Rayalseema, Nellore, Guntur, Vadari and Yanadi.[31]

In Karnataka the dialect sees more influence of Kannada and is a bit different than what is spoken in Andhra. There are significant populations of Telugu speakers in the eastern districts of Karnataka viz. Bangalore Urban, Bellary, Chikballapur, Kolar.

In Tamil Nadu the Telugu dialect is classified into Salem, Coimbatore, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai and Madras Telugu dialects. It is also spoken in pockets of Virudhunagar, Tuticorin, Tirunelveli, Madurai, Theni, Madras(Chennai) and Thanjavur districts.

Geographic distribution

Geographic distribution of Telugu immigrants in light blue, Telugu is native to dark blue.

Telugu is natively spoken in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and Yanam district of Puducherry. Telugu speaking migrants are also found in the neighboring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, some parts of Jharkhand and the Kharagpur region of West Bengal in India. At 7.2% of the population, Telugu is the third-most-spoken language in the Indian subcontinent after Hindi and Bengali. In Karnataka, 7.0% of the population speak Telugu, and 5.6% in Tamil Nadu, where it commonly known as Telungu.[32]

Telugu diaspora numbers more than 800,000, with the highest concentration in United States, Central New Jersey; as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Bahrain, Canada (Toronto), Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Myanmar, Ireland, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom (London), as well as other western European countries, where there are also a considerable Telugu diaspora.


Telugu words generally end in vowels. In Old Telugu, this was absolute; in the modern language m, n, y, w may end a word. Atypically for a Dravidian language, voiced consonants were distinctive even in the oldest recorded form of the language. Sanskrit loans have introduced aspirated and murmured consonants as well.

Telugu does not have contrastive stress, and speakers vary on where they perceive stress. Most place it on the penultimate or final syllable, depending on word and vowel length.[33]


Telugu features a form of vowel harmony wherein the second vowel in disyllabic noun and adjective roots alters according to whether the first vowel is tense or lax.[34] Also, if the second vowel is open (i.e., /aː/ or /a/), then the first vowel is more open and centralized (e.g., [mɛːka] 'goat', as opposed to [mku] 'nail'). Telugu words also have vowels in inflectional suffixes that are harmonized with the vowels of the preceding syllable.[35]

Vowels – అచ్చులు acchulu
ఇ i ఈ iː ఉ u ఊ uː
ఎ e ఏ eː ఒ o ఓ oː
æː అ a ఆ aː

/æː/ only occurs in loan words.

Telugu has two diphthongs: ఐ [ai] and ఔ [au].


The table below illustrates the articulation of the consonants.[36]

Telugu consonants
Bilabial Labiodental Denti-
Retroflex "Palatal" Velar
Plosive tenuis /p/pa /t̪/ta /ʈ/ṭa /t͡ʃ/ca /k/ka
voiced /b/ba /d̪/da /ɖ/ḍa /d͡ʒ/ja /a/ga
aspirated* /pʰ/pha /t̪ʰ/tha /ʈʰ/ṭha /t͡ʃʰ/cha /kʰ/kha
breathy voiced* /bʱ/bha /d̪ʱ/dha /ɖʱ/ḍha /d͡ʒʱ/jha /ɡʱ/gha
Nasal /m/ma /n̪/na /ɳ/ṇa
Fricative* /f/ /s̪/sa /ʂ/ṣa /ɕ/śa /x/ha
Approximant central /ʋ/va /j/ya
lateral /l̪/la /m/ḷa
Flap /r̪/

*The aspirated and breathy-voiced consonants occur mostly in loan words, as do the fricatives apart from native /s̪/.


Main article: Telugu grammar

The Telugu Grammar is called vyākaranam (వ్యాకరణం).

The first treatise on Telugu grammar, the Andhra Sabda Chintamani, was written in Sanskrit by Nannayya, considered the first Telugu poet and translator, in the 11th century AD. This grammar followed patterns described in grammatical treatises such as Aṣṭādhyāyī and Vālmīkivyākaranam, but unlike Pāṇini, Nannayya divided his work into five chapters, covering samjnā, sandhi, ajanta, halanta and kriya. Every Telugu grammatical rule is derived from Pāṇinian concepts.

In the 19th century, Chinnaya Suri wrote a simplified work on Telugu grammar called Bāla Vyākaranam, borrowing concepts and ideas from Nannayya's grammar.

Sentence రాము బడికి వెళ్తాడు.
Words రాము బడికి వెళ్తాడు.
Transliteration rāmu baḍiki veḷtāḍu
Gloss Ramu to school goes.
Parts Subject Object Verb
Translation Ramu goes to school.

This sentence can also be interpreted as 'Ramu will go to school', depending on the context, but it does not affect the SOV order.


Telugu nouns are inflected for number (singular, plural), gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter) and case (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, vocative, instrumental, and locative).[37]


Telugu has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter.


Telugu pronouns include personal pronouns (the persons speaking, the persons spoken to, or the persons or things spoken about). Indefinite pronouns, relative pronouns (connecting parts of sentences) and reciprocal or reflexive pronouns (in which the object of a verb is acted on by the verb's subject).

Telugu uses the same forms for singular feminine and neuter gender—the third person pronoun (అది /ad̪ɪ/) is used to refer to animals and objects.[38][39]

The nominative case (karta), the object of a verb (karma), and the verb are somewhat in a sequence in Telugu sentence construction. "Vibhakti" (case of a noun) and "pratyayamulu" (an affix to roots and words forming derivatives and inflections) depict the ancient nature and progression of the language. The "Vibhaktis" of Telugu language " డు [Du], ము [mu], వు [vu], లు [lu]", etc., are different from those in Sanskrit and have been in use for a long time.


Sanskrit influenced Telugu of Andhra and Telangana regions for about 1500 years; however, there is evidence that suggests an older influence. During the period 1000–1100 AD, Nannaya's re-writing of the Mahābhārata in Telugu (మహాభారతము) re-established its use, and it dominated over the royal language, Sanskrit. Telugu absorbed tatsamas from Sanskrit.[40]

The vocabulary of Telugu, especially in Telangana state, has a trove of Persian–Arabic borrowings, which have been modified to fit Telugu phonology. This was due to centuries of Muslim rule in these regions, such as the erstwhile kingdoms of Golkonda and Hyderabad (e.g., కబురు, /kaburu/ for Urdu /xabar/, خبر or జవాబు, /dʒavaːbu/ for Urdu /dʒawɑːb/, جواب).

Modern Telugu vocabulary can be said to constitute a diglossia because the formal, standardized version of the language is either lexically Sanskrit or heavily influenced by Sanskrit, is taught in schools, and is used by the government and Hindu religious institutions. However, everyday Telugu varies depending upon region and social status.

Writing system

The name Telugu written in the Telugu script
Main articles: Telugu script and Telugu Braille

Telugu script is written from left to right and consists of sequences of simple and/or complex characters. The script is syllabic in nature—the basic units of writing are syllables. Since the number of possible syllables is very large, syllables are composed of more basic units such as vowels (“achchu” or “swaram”) and consonants (“hallu” or “vyanjanam”). Consonants in consonant clusters take shapes that are very different from the shapes they take elsewhere. Consonants are presumed pure consonants, that is, without any vowel sound in them. However, it is traditional to write and read consonants with an implied 'a' vowel sound. When consonants combine with other vowel signs, the vowel part is indicated orthographically using signs known as vowel “maatras”. The shapes of vowel “maatras” are also very different from the shapes of the corresponding vowels.

The overall pattern consists of sixty symbols, of which 16 are vowels, three vowel modifiers, and forty-one consonants. Spaces are used between words as word separators.

The sentence ends with either a single bar । (“purna viramam”) or a double bar ॥ (“deergha viramam”). Traditionally, in handwriting, Telugu words were not separated by spaces. Modern punctuation (commas, semicolon, etc.) were introduced with the advent of print.[41]

There is a set of symbols for numerals, though Arabic numbers are typically used.

Telugu is assigned Unicode codepoints: 0C00-0C7F (3072–3199).[42]

Number system

Telugu has its own digits, as shown below. However, these are not in common use.

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
sunna (Telugu form of Sanskrit word śūnyam) okaṭi reṁḍu mūḍu nālugu aidu āru ēḍu enimidi tommidi


Main article: Telugu script
Wall painting at a shop in Telangana, India. It first shows the painted party symbols of all the major political parties in the region during the nationwide elections in India in 2014. It also has a Telugu inscription showing availability of political flags, banners, caps, badges and other election material.

The Telugu script is an abugida consisting of 60 symbols – 16 vowels, 3 vowel modifiers, and 41 consonants. Telugu has a complete set of letters that follow a system to express sounds.[43]

Telugu has full-zero (anusvāra) ( ం ), half-zero (arthanusvāra or candrabindu) (ఁ) and visarga ( ః ) to convey various shades of nasal sounds. la and La, ra and Ra are differentiated.[43]

Telugu has .CH and .JH, which are not represented in Sanskrit. Their pronunciation is similar to the s sound in the word treasure (i.e., the postalveolar voiced fricative) and z sound in zebra (i.e., the alveolar voiced fricative), respectively.

Consonants – hallulu (హల్లులు)

Telugu Gunintalu:
క కా కి కీ కు కూ కృ కౄ కె కే కై కొ కో కౌ క్ కం కః
ఖ ఖా ఖి ఖీ ఖు ఖూ ఖృ ఖౄ ఖె ఖే ఖై ఖొ ఖో ఖౌ ఖ్ ఖం ఖః


Main article: Telugu literature

Telugu literature is generally divided into six periods:

In the Telugu literature Tikkana was given agraasana (top position) by many famous critics.

In the earliest period there were only inscriptions from 575 AD onwards. Nannaya's (1022–1063) translation of the Sanskrit Mahabharata into Telugu is the earliest piece of Telugu literature as yet discovered. After the demise of Nannaya, there was a kind of social and religious revolution in the Telugu country.[44]

Tikkana (13th century) and Yerrapragada (14th century) continued the translation of the Mahabharata started by Nannaya. Telugu poetry also flourished in this period, especially in the time of Srinatha.

During this period, some Telugu poets translated Sanskrit poems and dramas, while others attempted original narrative poems. The popular Telugu literary form called the Prabandha evolved during this period. Srinatha (1365–1441) was the foremost poet, who popularized this style of composition (a story in verse having a tight metrical scheme). Srinatha's Sringara Naishadham is particularly well known.

Annamayya, Annamacharya(1408-1503) Popularly Kown as PADHA KAVITHA PITAMAHAA(పద కవితా పితామహా). He had a great influence on Telugu language,his prodigious literary career earned him a place among the all-time greats of Telugu literature.His wife, Timmakka, had written Subhadra Kalyanam, and is considered the first female poet in Telugu literature.

The Ramayana poets may also be referred in this context. The earliest Ramayana in Telugu is generally known as the Ranganatha Ramayana, authored by the chief Gona Buddha Reddy. The works of Pothana (1450–1510), Jakkana (second half of the 14th century) and Gaurana (first half of the 15th century) formed a canon of religious poetry during this period. Padakavitha Pithamaha – Annamayya, contributed many original Telugu Paatalu (Songs) to the language.

The 16th and 17th centuries is regarded as the "golden age" of Telugu literature. Krishnadevaraya's Amuktamalyada, and Pedhdhana's Manucharithra are regarded as Mahaakaavyaas. Sri Krishnadeva Raya stated in his work Amuktamalyada that, Sri Andhra Vishnu (Srikakuḷandhra Mahaviṣhṇu), the earlier Telugu King of Krishna river region (whom later the people believed was an Ansh of Lord Vishnu), appeared to him in his dreams and stated that : "Desa bhashalandu Telugu Lessa" meaning "Telugu is the best among the languages of the nation". Telugu literature flourished in the south in the traditional "samsthanas" (centres) of Southern literature, such as Madurai and Tanjore. This age is often referred to as the Southern Period. There were also an increasing number of poets in this period among the ruling class, women and working class who popularised indigenous (desi) meters.

With the conquest of the Deccan by the Mughals in 1687, Telugu literature entered a lull. Tyagaraja's compositions are some of the known works from this period. Then emerged a period of transition (1850–1910), followed by a long period of Renaissance. Europeans like C.P. Brown played an important role in the development of Telugu language and literature. In common with the rest of India, Telugu literature of this period was increasingly influenced by European literary forms like the novel, short story, prose and drama.

Paravastu Chinnayya Soori (1807–1861) is a well-known Telugu writer who dedicated his entire life to the progress and promotion of Telugu language and literature. Sri Chinnayasoori wrote the Bala Vyakaranam in a new style after doing extensive research on Telugu grammar. Other well-known writings by Chinnayasoori are Neethichandrika, Sootandhra Vyaakaranamu, Andhra Dhatumoola, and Neeti Sangrahamu.

Kandukuri Veeresalingam (1848–1919) is generally considered the father of modern Telugu literature.[45] His novel Rajasekhara Charitamu was inspired by the Vicar of Wakefield. His work marked the beginning of a dynamic of socially conscious Telugu literature and its transition to the modern period, which is also part of the wider literary renaissance that took place in Indian culture during this period. Other prominent literary figures from this period are Gurajada Appa Rao, Viswanatha Satyanarayana, Gurram Jashuva, Rayaprolu Subba Rao, Devulapalli Krishnasastri and Srirangam Srinivasa Rao, popularly known as Mahakavi Sri Sri. Sri Sri was instrumental in popularising free verse in spoken Telugu (vaaduka bhasha), as opposed to the pure form of written Telugu used by several poets in his time. Devulapalli Krishnasastri is often referred to as the Shelley of Telugu literature because of his pioneering works in Telugu Romantic poetry.

Viswanatha Satyanarayana won India's national literary honour, the Jnanpith Award for his magnum opus Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu.[46] C. Narayana Reddy won the Jnanpith Award in 1988 for his poetic work, Viswambara. Ravuri Bharadhwaja won the 3rd Jnanpith Award for Telugu literature in 2013 for Paakudu Raallu, a graphic account of life behind the screen in film industry.[47] Kanyasulkam, the first social play in Telugu by Gurajada Appa Rao, was followed by the progressive movement, the free verse movement and the Digambara style of Telugu verse. Other modern Telugu novelists include Unnava Lakshminarayana (Maalapalli), Bulusu Venkateswarulu (Bharatiya Tatva Sastram), Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao and Buchi Babu.

Telugu support on digital devices

Telugu input, display, and support was initially provided on the Windows platform. Subsequently, various browsers, office applications, operating systems, and user interfaces were localized for Windows and Linux platforms by vendors and free and open source volunteers. Telugu-capable smart phones were also introduced by vendors in 2013.[48]

See also


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  2. Telugu at Ethnologue (14th ed., 2000).
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Telugu". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
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  5. Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  6. Schools, Colleges called for a shutdown in Telugu states
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  34. Wilkinson (1974:251)
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