Kannada Script
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Kannada script
Time period
5th century–present[1]
Parent systems
Sister systems
ISO 15924Knda, 345
Unicode alias
[a] The Semitic origin of the Brahmic scripts is not universally agreed upon.

The Kannada script (IAST: Kanna?a lipi) is an abugida of the Brahmic family,[2] used primarily to write the Kannada language, one of the Dravidian languages of South India especially in the state of Karnataka, Kannada script is widely used for writing Sanskrit texts in Karnataka. Several minor languages, such as Tulu, Konkani, Kodava, Sanketi and Beary, also use alphabets based on the Kannada script.[3] The Kannada and Telugu scripts share high mutual intellegibility with each other, and are often considered to be regional variants of single script. Other scripts similar to Kannada script are Sinhala script[4] (which included some elements from the Kadamba script[5]), and Old Peguan script (used in Burma).[6]

The Kannada script ( ak?aram?le or var?am?le) is a phonemic abugida of forty-nine letters, and is written from left to right. The character set is almost identical to that of other Brahmic scripts. Consonantal letters imply an inherent vowel. Letters representing consonants are combined to form digraphs ( ottak?ara) when there is no intervening vowel. Otherwise, each letter corresponds to a syllable.

The letters are classified into three categories: ? svara (vowels), vyañjana (consonants), and ? y?gav?haka (semiconsonants).

The Kannada words for a letter of the script are akshara, akkara, and ? var?a. Each letter has its own form (? ?k?ra) and sound (? ?abda), providing the visible and audible representations, respectively. Kannada is written from left to right.[7]


The Kannada script derives from the Old Kannada script,[8] which evolved around 10th century as the continuation of the Kadamba alphabet of the fourth century.[9] This evolved from the ancient Brahmi script of the third century BCE.

Halmidi Inscription Replica

This is debated as recent excavation has led to Talagunda inscription of 370 AD[10] to be the oldest available. Over the centuries some changes have been made to the Kannada script. These changes consist of:

  1. Modification of existing glyphs: In the early Kannada script, no orthographic distinction was made between the short mid [e, o] ?, ? and long mid [e:, o:] ?, ?. However, distinct signs were employed to denote the special consonants viz. the trill [r] ? the retroflex lateral [?] ? and the retroflex rhotic [?] ? found only in South Indian languages, by the 5th century.[dubious ][the transcriptions contradict themselves]
  2. Introduction of new characters: Kannada script includes characters like [ç] ?, [?] ?, [r?:] ?, [l?] ?, [l?:] ?, [e?] ?, [o?] ?, [am] , [ah] , and mah?pra characters like [k?] ?, [] ?, [t] ?, [d] ?, [t] ?, [d] ?, [] ?, [] ?, [p?] ?, [b?] ?. The introduction was done so that Sanskrit (and loanwords into the Kannada language from the donor language Sanskrit) could be written using the Kannada script.

These changes have facilitated the use of the Kannada script for writing many of the literary Indic languages, including Sanskrit.

Obsolete Kannada letters

Archaic n in Kannada script .
Historical form of representing in Kannada script.

Kannada literary works employed the letters ? (transliterated '?' or 'rh') and ? (transliterated '?', 'lh' or 'zh'), whose manner of articulation most plausibly could be akin to those in present-day Malayalam and Tamil. The letters dropped out of use in the 12th and 18th centuries, respectively. Later Kannada works replaced 'rh' and 'lh' with ? (ra) and ? (la) respectively.[11]

Another letter (or unclassified vyanjana (consonant)) that has become extinct is 'nh' or 'inn'. Likewise, this has its equivalent in Telugu, where it is called Nakaara pollu. The usage of this consonant was observed until the 1980s in Kannada works from the mostly coastal areas of Karnataka (especially the Dakshina Kannada district). Now, hardly any mainstream works use this consonant. This letter has been replaced by (consonant n).[]

Kannada script evolution

The image below shows the evolution of Kannada script[12] from prehistoric times to the modern period. The Kannada script evolved in stages:

Proto-Kannada -> Pre-Old Kannada -> Old Kannada -> Modern Kannada.

The Proto-Kannada script has its root in ancient Brahmi and appeared around the 3rd century BC. The Pre-Old-Kannada script appeared around the 4th century AD. Old-Kannada script can be traced to around the 10th century AD, whereas Modern-Kannada script appeared around the 17th century AD.

Vowel letters

There are thirteen vowel letters (? svara) (14, if we consider obsolete vowel ?).

Brahmi script, Kanheri Caves
Letter Diacritic ISO notation Letter Diacritic ISO notation
? N/A a ? ? ?
? ? i ? ? ?
? ? u ? ? ?
? ? ?/r? ? (obsolete) ? ?/r
? ? e ? ? ?
? ? ai
? ? o ? ? ?
? ? au

When a vowel follows a consonant, it is written with a diacritic rather than as a separate letter.


The Y?gav?ha (part-vowel, part consonant) include two letters:

  1. The anusvara: (a?)
  2. The visarga: (a?)

Another two Y?gav?ha used in Sanskrit, but present in Kannada script, are known as Ardhavisarga:

  1. The Jihvamuliya: ?
  2. The Upadhmaniya: ?

Consonant letters

Two categories of consonant letters ( vyan?jana) are defined in Kannada: the structured consonants and the unstructured consonants.

Structured consonants

The structured consonants are classified according to where the tongue touches the palate of the mouth and are classified accordingly into five structured groups. These consonants are shown here with their IAST transcriptions.

voiceless voiceless aspirate voiced voiced aspirate nasal
Velars ? (ka) ? (kha) ? (ga) ? (gha) ? (?a)
Palatals ? (ca) ? (cha) ? (ja) ? (jha) ? (ña)
Retroflex ? (?a) ? (?ha) ? (?a) ? (?ha) ? (?a)
Dentals ? (ta) ? (tha) ? (da) ? (dha) ? (na)
Labials ? (pa) ? (pha) ? (ba) ? (bha) ? (ma)

See place of articulation for more information on tongue positions.

Unstructured consonants

The unstructured consonants are consonants that do not fall into any of the above structures:

? (ya), ? (ra), ? (?a) (obsolete), ? (la), ? (va), ? (?a), ? (?a), ? (sa), ? (ha), ? (?a), ? (?) (obsolete).

Consonant conjuncts

The Kannada script is rich in conjunct consonant clusters, with most consonants having a standard subjoined form and few true ligature clusters. A table of consonant conjuncts follows, although the forms of individual conjuncts may differ according to font.

Consonant conjuncts with ? (ra)

Of special note is the sequence concerning the letter ? (ra). Unlike other letters, the conjunct form is written second even if it is pronounced first in the sequence.

For example, the /rna:/ in the word Karnaka (?) is written ? rather than .

Consonant conjuncts with nasal consonants

The nasal consonants ? (?a), ? (ña), ? (?a), ? (na), and ? (ma) are usually written as an anusvara ? when preceding another consonant rather than a consonant conjunct.

For example, the /?g/ in the word Be?garu () is usually written rather than ().

Pronunciation of letters

Writing order


Written Kannada is composed of akshara or kagunita, corresponding to syllables. The letters for consonants combine with diacritics for vowels. The consonant letter without any diacritic, such as ? ka, has the inherent vowel a ?. This is called d?rgha. A consonant without a vowel is marked with a 'killer' stroke, such as k. This is known as hrasva.

Diacritic Vowel letter d with vowel diacritic Pronunciation
- (?, a) ? /da/
? - /d/
? (?, ?) /da:/
? (?, i) [note 1] /di/
? (?, ?) /di:/
? (?, u) /du/
? (?, ?) /du:/
? (?, r?) /dr?:/
? (?, r) /dr?:/
? (?, e) /de/
? (?, ?) /de:/
? (?, ai) /dai/
? (?, o) /do/
? (?, ?) /do:/
? (?, au) /dau/
? (, a?) /dã/
? (, a?) /dah/
  1. ^ This diacritic has the form ? when combined with other consonant letters.
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? --

The formations shown boldface above are seldom used in the normal course of the language.


The decimal numerals in the script are:

Kannada numerals English numerals
numeral name numeral name
? sonne () 0 zero
? ondu (?) 1 one
? era?u (?) 2 two
? m?ru (?) 3 three
? n?lku () 4 four
? aidu () 5 five
? ?ru () 6 six
? u () 7 seven
? en?u (?) 8 eight
? o?battu (?) 9 nine
hattu () 10 ten


Several transliteration schemes/tools are used to type Kannada characters using a standard keyboard. These include Baraha[13] (based on ITRANS), Pada Software[14] and several internet tools like Google transliteration, Quillpad[15] (predictive transliterator). Nudi, the Government of Karnataka's standard for Kannada Input, is a phonetic layout loosely based on transliteration.

In popular culture

Due to its resemblance to an eye and an eyebrow, the Kannada letter ? ?ha is used in the "look of disapproval" (displayed as "?_?"), a popular emoticon used to convey disapproval or contempt.[16] Similarly, the akshara rr?a has been used in emoticons to represent a monocle, while ? tha has been used to represent a tearing eye.


Kannada script was added to the Unicode Standard in October, 1991 with the release of version 1.0.

The Unicode block for Kannada is U+0C80-U+0CFF:

Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+0CBx ಿ
U+0CFx  ೱ   ೲ 
1.^ As of Unicode version 12.0
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also


  1. ^ "Kannada, Stone inscriptions". Archived from the original on 25 June 2013. Retrieved 2014.
  2. ^ Campbell, George L. (6 November 1997). Handbook of scripts and alphabets (1st ed.). Routledge, New York. pp. 84-5. ISBN 978-0-415-13715-7. OCLC 34473667.
  3. ^ Cardona, George; Jain, Dhanesh (2007). The Indo-Aryan Languages. Routledge. pp. 804, 805. ISBN 978-0-415-77294-5.
  4. ^ "Romanization, Sinhala (Sinhalese) Script" (PDF). KAMALAKAR. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 September 2010. Retrieved 2009.
  5. ^ "Ancient scripts, hala". Retrieved 2009.
  6. ^ "Telugu & Sinhalese script similarities". Retrieved 2009.
  7. ^ A Grammar of the Kannada Language. F. Kittel (1993), p. 5
  8. ^ "Old Kannada". Retrieved 2009.
  9. ^ "Kadamba". Retrieved 2009.
  10. ^ "Kannada inscription at Talagunda may replace Halmidi as oldest". Deccan Herald. 12 January 2017.
  11. ^ Rice, Edward. P (1921), "A History of Kannada Literature", Oxford University Press, 1921: 14-15
  12. ^ "Kannada script Evolution". Official website of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, India. Classicalkannada.org. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 2008.
  13. ^ "Baraha - Free Indian Language Software". baraha.com.
  14. ^ "Pada Software - For Indic Scripts". pada.pro.
  15. ^ "QuillPad - Typing in Kannada has never been easier". Quillpad.in. Archived from the original on 4 November 2008. Retrieved 2008.
  16. ^ "Browser Extension of the Week: Look of Disapproval". Maximum PC. Retrieved 2013.

External links

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