Rare Kannada-Latin dictionary, reborn after 161 years

Mon 26 Dec 2016

Did Father Jean-marie Auguste Bouteloup greet his congregation in 1851 with “Salve, Bengalori!”?

We will never know but thanks to the self-effacing polyglot, linguist and lexicographer’s efforts some 160 years ago, we can translate the phrase as “Greetings, Bengaluru’ or ‘Bengalori’ as it was referred to by the early European missionaries. These missionaries took it upon themselves to master Kannada and compiled dictionaries in an effort to reach out to the local people.

Two forgotten lexicons of historic and linguistic importance — a Kannada-to-Latin and a Latin-to Kannada dictionary, compiled by Catholic priests of the Paris Foreign Mission Society in the mid-19th century — were found in the archives of St. Mary’s Basilica, the oldest church in Bengaluru.

The Kannada-Latin Dictionary or Dictionarium Canarense-Latinum: ad usum Maissurensis Catholic Seminarii for the use of the Mysore Catholic Seminary, is believed to have been compiled by Father Bouteloup in 1855. The Latin-Kannada dictionary — Dictionarium Latino-Canarense — was compiled a few years later, in 1861, by Etienne Louis Charbonnaux. These tomes remain the only two dictionaries that translate directly between Kannada and Latin. Both mention Bengaluru as “Bengalori”, the place where they were printed.

While the Latin-Kannada dictionary was reprinted by the Akhila Karnataka Catholic Christara Kannada Sangha in 2010, the Kannada Catholic Priest’s Conference of Karnataka, in collaboration with Christ School and College, has now republished the Kannada-Latin dictionary after 161 years.

“The main motivation behind the publication of the new edition is to preserve the unique work for posterity. Indeed this non-profit investment is the Catholic community’s service to Kannada language,” said C. Marie Joseph, who along with Fr. A. Thomas and Raphael Raju, has taken keen interest in releasing the second edition of the dictionary.

The scholars who compiled the Kannada-Latin and the Latin-Kannada dictionaries have not mentioned their names. “Auguste Bouteloup did not flaunt his own name or attest his name to any of his works, including the Kannada-Latin dictionary. Instead, he preferred to put his Bishop’s name. But, the authorship has been deduced from Church records.” Mr. Joseph said.

Fr. Bouteloup became rector of Bengaluru’s St. Joseph’s Seminary in 1851. Having learnt printing technology, he started the Catholic Printing Press with the help of Bishop Charbonnaux. Having realised that the local language was crucial for communication, he decided to publish the dictionaries.

The Kannad to Latin edition of 1,008 pages in demy 1/8th size was printed and published in 1855. The book soon became famous and has been mentioned in British and Russian catalogues. Inspired by this dictionary, Bishop Charbonnaux compiled the Latin-Kannada dictionary.

When asked about the relevance of Kannada-Latin dictionary, Mr. Joseph admits that it has “little utility value” in present times. However, it would prove a valuable document for students of theology, language and history, he said.

On why this second edition could not be be revised and reprinted using language and fonts more accessible to a modern reader, Mr. Joseph said: “The first edition is in folk Latin. A revision would require the efforts of scholars proficient in Latin and Kannada and be time consuming. We don’t have that kind of resources. Hence we are bringing out photo-copied version of the first edition.”


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