BM Srikantaiah (Part 3) - Language Reforms and Traditional Scholarship


It was not uncommon for B.M. Srikantaiah and me to have conflicts of opinion. Our views differed on several issues. Discussions and debates arose on topics related to grammar, vocabulary, improvisation of letters, borrowing from other languages and on difference of ideals in literature. We often had such discussions when we managed to make time to sit together for an hour while attending literary conferences or in other similar situations. We usually shared a room whenever we went to conferences and getting into heated debates was also one of the attractions there. Debates would go on past midnight.

Our questions would be such as these:

“How do you prove that the poet of Ramayana has not stolen from Iliad?”

“How do you argue that Homer did not get influenced by Ramayana?”

“Why should Ajax be converted as Aśvatthāma? Why cannot he remain as Ajax?”

“Why should Prometheus be called Mātariśvā? Why can he not be called Uṣarbudha?”

Without aiming at conclusion, we would debate just for the sake of it. Incidents such as “ಇವಳ ತೊಡಿಗೆಯವಳಿಗುಡಿಸಿ” (making her wear the other’s clothes”). Sub-stories and derision also occurred during such discussions.

Experiments with Word-forms

In my opinion, the most important topic among the several discussions that transpired between Srikantaiah and myself was the one related to Kannada Grammar. After much debate, we jointly made certain decisions.

  1. Among the various pronunciations such as ‘ನಡಸು’, ‘ನಡೆಸು’, ‘ನಡೆಯಿಸು’, ‘ನಡಿಸು’, both of us ought to use ‘ನಡಸು’. Not that the other pronunciations were wrong. For certain reasons, ‘ನಡಸು’ was convenient.
  2. Similarly, among ‘ಬರೆಯಿಸು’, ‘ಬರಿಸು’, ‘ಬರೆಸು’, we ought to use ‘ಬರಸು’. This was from the point of view of convenience.
  3. 'ಕಡಮೆ' was supposed to be used. ‘ಕಡಿಮೆ’ could be defended. However, 'ಕಡಮೆ' (since it is pronounced as 'ಕಡ') was more convenient.
  4. English words could be used fearlessly, in the same way that Urdu and such other words are used in the Kannada language.
  5. Jargons that came from English could be used on an as is basis and if they were technical terms, they could be used in their original form. For instance, court would be court; Electricity would be electricity; helicopter would be helicopter; London would be London. We would not have any objection if synonyms could be prepared in Kannada or Sanskrit for such words and used. This was optional. The important feature for us was, convenience – ease of meaning, ease of pronunciation and ease of script.
  6. Although many words in Kannada appear to be wrong from the point of view of grammar, due to popular usage over an extended time, they have been convenient for usage in contexts. Such improper usages are plenty even in English. But English grammarians have accepted them as sturdy indefensibles. This principle is worth emulating for Kannada speakers too.
  7. We should try to increase our vocabulary as much as possible but not reduce it. How would it be enough for our daily activities if we keep rejecting words on the basis that they are wrong or impure or rustic or foreign? We need to adopt a generous view even with respect to language.

Srikantaiah’s lecture “ಕನ್ನಡ ಮಾತು ತಲೆಯೆತ್ತುವ ಬಗೆ” is useful even to this day. I beg the Kannada enthusiasts to note the topics worthy of consideration in that lecture.


I remember writing to Srikantaiah when a small collection of poems namely, “Hoṅganasugaḻu (ಹೊಂಗನಸುಗಳು)” was published. At that time, he was elsewhere. He informed me that he felt happy by my words. I cannot recall what exactly I had written. However, this was my opinion, in sum: “You have made several new experiments. Your poems relflect the brightness and glow of your scholarship and observation of contextual propriety. However, due to their simplicity, a few uncivilized people may get misled and think that it is an easy task. You have side-lined a few well established rules. Only those who have the knowledge of ancient literature would be capable of doing that. If others go on violating rules, it may be harmful to the language and literature. We need not be slaves of the old rules. New vocabulary which is compatible with new feelings and new ideas is essential. However, those who do it should be masters of Literature and should have an objective mind. My statement ought to be applied even to rules of grammar. People like you who have analysed the ancient literature, edicts and the linguistic practice of different provinces and have mastered the style of the English literature are the real mentors. If those who follow them, attempt to write without earning such kind of refinement, such works cannot get the same charm as “Honganasugalu”.

This is my opinion even to this day.

Reformation of Script

Another situation where conflict of opinion arose between B.M. Srikantaiah and me was with respect to reformation of script. His argument was that certain symbols that have been in vogue in the Kannada alphabet were unnecessary and by dropping them or reforming the script, it would be convenient for the typewriters as well as printing machines. He indicated his view in a page in “Kannada Baavuta” thus: “ಏರಿಸಿ ಹೇರಿಸಿ ಕನ್ ನಡದ  ಬೀವ್ಉಟ” etc.

My argument was that this was not only unnecessary but also inconvenient. A long-standing practice in itself is a convenience. Starting a new practice by supplanting the old one is not an easy task. Adapting something new which is different from the old, is a tedious exercise. With this tediousness, the enthusiasm of the student may get diminished as well. More time would be needed to read a book printed in the new format of the script. Would the reward be proportionate to such consumption of time? Typewriters and monotypes were manufactured by English architects for their language. If such architects are born as Kannada speakers and they use their intelligence for Kannada, then machines appropriate for Kannada alphabets can be designed by them.

This was my counter argument.

The reformation of printing machine has been going on for the last thirty years. Typewriters and monotypes have been manufactured for scripts such as Arabic, Devanāgarī, Tamil, Telugu that have difficult and complex alphabets just as Kannada has. More complex scripts such as Chinese and Japanese have got their own typing machines too. These have been brought out for Kannada as well, and several newspapers and magazines employ them for their regular use. In this manner, the efforts of B.M. Srikantaiah with respect to reformation of script had to stop.

The Place of Traditional Scholars

Several conflicts that had arisen between Srikantaiah and me remained unresolved till the end. One such dispute was regarding the recognition and respect to be accorded to the traditional scholars of Kannada and Sanskrit.

This was Srikantaiah’s argument: There is no need for having two classes of scholars i.e., traditional scholars and those who have got university education. This would be inconvenient.  Our Education Department and University should encourage new type of scholars such as M.A. graduates. Universities need not encourage traditional scholars greatly as the M.A. graduates produced by the university would have studied Kannada as well as Sanskrit. Even Ph.D and D.Litt graduates would have earned considerable knowledge in Kannada and Sanskrit. Appointing such persons as teachers and lecturers in schools and colleges would be more useful. These scholars from the unviersities, with their background in sicne and exposure to English system of education will be able to teach well, bringing the best of both of the worlds. This work cannot be done by our traditional scholars. They are only masters of words. They may only teach grammar and pompous construction of words. Traditional scholars are not competent enough to translate sentences from English and science books to Kannada and to translate from Kannada to English. This is because, they do not understand English. If one were to say – let traditional scholars continue and along with them, let M.A. & Ph.D graduates also be hired – it would be impractical to think that employment can be created to both classes. More money would be required. There would be clashes between the two classes. Viewed from that perspective, it would be better to retain only one class of scholars as employees in schools and colleges. That class is of M.A. and Ph.D. graduates.

I opposed that argument in the following manner: the roots of our language are in the ancient literature. Its sophistication lies in its grammar which is self-complete.  People who are not well versed in grammar can neither teach Kannada nor Sanskrit well. The scholarship of M.A. and Ph.D. graduates cannot be considered to be at par with the traditional scholars. (All M.A. and Ph.D. graduates are not T.N. Srikantaiah and D.L. Narasimhacharya). People like Prof. Hiriyanna too have conceded to the fact that traditional scholarship is essential.  Usually, the mastery of a B.A. graduate over English literature would be same as his mastery over Kannada literature and these days, that is also rare. It is the same with regard to M.A. and Ph.D graduates as well. Kannada and Sanskrit are ancient languages. The grammar of those languages would be very hard to comprehend for those who lack flow of thought. Our traditional scholars – i.e., the ones that have actual ability in that – ought to be classified as “Specialists”. Therefore, it is necessary to conserve this traditional class by leaving no stone unturned. A rule may be imposed that scholars working in High Schools and Colleges ought to be proficient in English at least at a level corresponding to matriculation. It would not be very hard for them to gain that much of knowledge. They would then be capable of teaching translation too. Most importantly, we need an understanding of tradition of the languages and literature. Traditional scholars would generally know this. If M.A. and Ph.D. graduates also possess this knowledge, let them also get jobs. However, it is not necessary to create a competition between the two classes.

This objection remained unresolved. In the meantime, the traditional scholarship started dwindling. How many traditional Kannada scholars are present in the Kannada state today? Those who are sincerely interested in this subject may contemplate on this, if they have an authority to bring things under control.

Time is a major factor which plays its role in all these matters and time cannot be brought under our control. Time demonstrates which party is truthful and which party has quality in all matters that are subject to debate. A moment’s decision, a day’s decision or a year’s decision cannot be a decision relevant to all times. The pros and cons get unravelled on their own, as the world gains experience. Currently, the importance of traditional literary scholarship is coming to light.


To be continued....

This is the twenty-second essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 3) – Sahityopasakaru. Thanks to Kashyap Naik for his thorough review. Edited by Arjun Bharadwaj.



Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Vaishnavi Naik is a practicing advocate at Bangalore. She has deep interest in music, fine arts, and literature. She is a singer and is presently learning Hindustani Classical Music.

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