Unique dictionary covering 4 Dravidian languages ready

Unique dictionary covering 4 Dravidian languages ready

Malayalam-Kannada-Tamil-Telugu lexicon is set for a November 1 release

The dictionary of Dravidian Languages has about 1.25 million words.

Little did 82-year-old Njattyela Sreedharan know that his immense interest in reading and learning new words would one day help him compile a dictionary covering four languages.

His unique work, titled ‘Dictionary of Dravidian Languages’, effectively connects Malayalam with Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. 

A class 7 dropout, Sreedharan toiled for 25 years to put together a dictionary with entries in the four Dravidian languages.

Published by the Kerala Senior Citizens Forum and priced at Rs1,500 and running into 900 pages, the dictionary is being officially launched on November 1 in Thalassery, Kerala, and will be available online. November 1 is celebrated as Rajyotsava in Karnataka. 

None of this was easy, says Sreedharan. After he dropped out of school, Sreedharan spent most of his time studying and teaching at the adult-literacy centres. While studying language, he focused on writing style, grammar and colloquial usage.

His love of languages grew deeper after he got a job as a blueprinter in Kerala Public Works Department. “It is here that I met Dr T P Sukumaran, a professor at Nirmalagiri College. He suggested the idea of compiling a dictionary of colloquial words in Malayalam,” he says.

Since Sreedharan was already familiar with Malayalam and Tamil, he thought of learning the other two major Dravidian languages — Kannada and Telugu — and compiling a dictionary.

Travel for learning

He had learnt Tamil when he worked in a beedi factory, and Kannada from his colleague Govinda Naik and writer-friend C Raghavan.

“To learn Kannada, I travelled to Mysore and stayed there for several weeks for research. An officer at the District Agricultural Farm, Taliparamba, Eshwaraprasad Rao and his wife Seethamma, helped me learn Telugu. I later travelled to Nellore in Andhra Pradesh and interacted with language experts and writers to learn Telugu,” Sreedharan told Metrolife.

 He plunged into work on the dictionary full-time after his retirement in 1994. “I would write from 6 am to 10 pm every day for several years. I wouldn’t interact with anybody or even stir out till my task was complete,” he recalls. 

1.25 lakh words

How does the dictionary work? “For each Malayalam word, you find a corresponding word in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. For words with several meanings, all meanings are given in the three languages. This way there are about 1.25 million words in this unique dictionary,” Sreedharan says.

 It was Bengaluru-based civil engineer-turned-filmmaker Nandan who first spotted Njattyela Sreedharan. Nandan is fluent in Kannada, Tamil and Telugu, besides Malayalam. “I was looking for such a dictionary connecting all four languages. But I couldn’t find one. This is the only detailed dictionary connecting the four languages,” he says.

A dictionary published by The Regional Institute of English in Bengaluru does attempt to cover the four languages, but it has very few words, he says.

To buy a copy of the dictionary, contact P Kumaran on 98954 10120.

Documentary honour

Engineer-turned- filmmaker Nandan’s 60-minute documentary, ‘Dreaming of Words,’ is about Sreedharan’s 25-year effort to compile a dictionary. It is currently doing the rounds at the several film festivals and will be soon available online. Nandan feels the dictionary serves communication and encourages comparative study of our languages. “Even though we have a lot of languages in India, our knowledge of our neighbouring states and cultures is poor. This dictionary not only helps cultural exchange, but also preserves these languages, among the oldest in the world,” explains Nandan.