Remembering Rev Kittel who gave Kannadigas their first Kannada-English dictionary

First Published 31, Oct 2017, 9:10 PM IST
reverend ferdinand kittel first kannada english dictionary basel mission lexicographer
  • Reverend Ferdinand Kittel, a native of German, richly contributed to the development of Kannada
  • He brought out the first Kannada-English dictionary in 1894 with 70,000 words
  • Although he came here on a Missionary work, he fell in love with Kannada and worked tirelessly to develop the language

Have you ever cared to observe a tall, dark statue of a man near Mayo Hall junction? The man gave Kannadigas their first Kannada-English dictionary in 1894, and he was a German!

Reverend Ferdinand Kittle who came to India as part of the German missionary was so enamoured by Karnataka and the language that he chose to side-step from his primary work of spreading Gospel and richly contributed to the development of the language. The result was the 1,758-paged dictionary of 70,000 words! This is considered an unparalleled work in any Indian language by a foreigner.

Born in East Frisia, German in 1832, Kittel was sent to India in 1853 when he was just 21. He landed in Mangaluru as a priest to work with Basel Mission. He also spent a couple of years in Basel Mission in Dharwad. He fell in love with the language and spent his hours in learning it, its dialects and styles to become the celebrated lexicographer of Kannada.

In fact, this did not go down well with his Mission authorities as he travelled along the breadth and length of the state to know the language. But Kittel was so dedicated to his work that today, Kannadigas are indebted to him for bridging the gap between Kannada and English. The dictionary not just lists out the meaning of Kannada words in English but also provided with treasures and even idioms.

He also enriched the language with his other books - 'A Grammar of the Kannada Language: Comprising the Three dialects of the language', translations of poems, carols, besides books on Hindu rituals, Gods, reports The Hindu. Not many know that he also wrote for the first ever Kannada daily 'Mangalore Samachara' also.

Ferdinand passed away on December 18, 1903, in Germany.

It is hard to comprehend that a foreigner worked so tirelessly and selflessly to enrich a language that was so foreign to him. Today, Kannada language has got its due with the Classical tag and has received seven Jnanpith awards - highest literary award in India. On this day of Karnataka Rajyotsava, let us spare a moment to remember Kittel who gave us the lingual and regional identity.