He mirrored Kannada to Kannadigas

He mirrored Kannada to Kannadigas

Ferdinand Kettle Kittel Nighantu. (File Photo)

In the early-19 century, a man of German descent visited India on a mission and was fascinated by the Kannada language so much that he decided to dedicate his life to it. Today, his name might be in oblivion in his motherland, but he holds an eminent spot in the Kannada literary world.

He is Ferdinand, known for his work Kittel Nighantu, a comprehensive Kannada-to-English dictionary considered a versatile and authentic source of knowledge to this day. 

Formative years

Born in 1832, he had an affinity towards languages and was well-versed in English, Latin, Greek, French and Hebrew beside his German.

At 17, he discontinued studies to explore his spiritual leaning. His enthusiasm for knowledge was recognised by the British government and in 1853, he was appointed as a Christian missionary and sent to India, to Mangaluru.

To propagate the principles, he realised early on that he would have to learn Kannada and converse with the locals. And thus began his new journey.

It’s said that within a few months, he was fluent in achha Kannada.

He was also eager to learn about regional cultures and traditions and understand everyday life. While working in Mangaluru, Dharwad and Madikeri, he started research into the language, and with his inquisitiveness, he even got hold of Tamil, Telugu, Tulu and Sanskrit. But Kannada continued to be his favourite.

He wrote articles for the local journals. He composed poems for children and authored academic textbooks. He contributed several literary works in Kannada, which now can be segregated as textual criticism, Biblical publications, translations of some prominent literary works, and indeed the renowned dictionary.

That being said, his journey was not always smooth. When the Basel Mission heard about his deviation from the religious obligation, Kittel was transferred to a remote territory in the Nilgiris, from where he returned to his homeland. But his aspiration brought him back to India later on.

He traversed the state. With assistance from native scholars, he analysed the linguistic prospects of Kannada. He scrutinised its old and new versions, and also the spoken and written variants. By visiting public places and markets, he articulated with the masses and gathered over 70,000 words.

Ferdinand Kittel is renowned for his editing of Shabdamanidarpana, a book on Kannada grammar which was printed just when the printing press was initiated in India.

Eventually, his hard work and persistence spanning 24 years came to fruition.

In 1894, Kittel Nighantu was published. The lexicon presents the original word, its pronunciation and meaning in Kannada, with the equivalent English word and meaning. There are amusing proverbs and idioms, too. 

Although Kittel Nighantu is not the first of its kind, it’s considered the ‘first standard Kannada-to-English dictionary’ due to its unique features.

It’s said that Kittel’s pretentious works had laid the stepping stone to the renaissance of modern Kannada. 

Also appealing is the insight into cultural attributes by means of illustrations.

His work is known worldwide as well. In admiration, he was bestowed a doctorate degree by Tuebingen University of Germany. Beyond that, he will forever dwell in the hearts of Kannadigas. A statue of Kittel on M G Road in Bengaluru commemorates his glory. As D R Bendre, a celebrated Kannada poet, had expressed, Ferdinand Kittel was the man who strived to mirror Kannada to Kannadigas.

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