The word Lexicon, which is being used in the English language from the year 1603 onwards, seems to go back, in its origin, to ancient Greek and is derived from the noun for ‘word’ and the verb ‘to speak’. The Oxford Universal Dictionary explains it as “a word-book or dictionary; chiefly a dictionary of Greek, Hebrew, Syriac or Arabic.” A lexicographer is, therefore, a writer or compiler of dictionary or dictionaries. ‘Dictionary’ is described in the Encyclopaedia Britannica as “a book listing words of a language, with their meanings in the same or another language, usually in alphabetical order, often with data regarding pronunciation, origin and usage.” In one of its Latin forms (Dictionarius, a collection of words) this term was used in the year 1225 by an English scholar, John Garland, as the title for a manuscript of Latin words to be learnt by heart. It may be of interest to note that the words in this book were arranged not in alphabetical order, but in groups according to the subject.


In the Sanskrit language we have works like Vaidika Nighantu, Amara Kosam, Amarapada Parijatam, Medini Kosam, Viswa Prakasika, Yadava Nighantu, Vyjayanti Nighantu and so on. The names of about 200 of them are mentioned, though only 20 are said to be available. All of them are in the form of mnemonic verses and are learnt by rote in childhood by the students of that language. As in Sanskrit, so in Telugu, there are extant quite a few Nighantus (dictionaries) written by the ancient scholars. All of them seem to follow in the footsteps of their Sanskrit precursors. Jayanti Ramayya Pantulu, in his preface to the first volume of the Suryaraya Andhra Nighantu(1936), mentions ten of them. They are:   


Samba Nighantu by Kasturi Ranga Kavi

AnndhraRaltatnakaram by Pydipati Lakshmana Kavi

Andhra nama Sangraham by the same author.

Andhra nama Sesham by Adidam Sura Kavi

Venkatesa Andhram by Ganapavarapu Venkata Kavi.

Desiya Andhra Nighantu by the same poet

Andhra padakaram by Sri Raja Thyadi pusapati Veerapa Raju

The Kanaams (verses) of Pregadapu

The Seesams (another form of verse) by Chowdappa and

Andhra Bhasha Arnavam by Nudurupati Venkata Kavi.


The last mentioned in the list (viz. the Andhra Bhasha Arnavam) is considered by some scholars as about the best of the lot, being the most comprehensive. All these books are also composed in verse form, as an aid to memory and are, in fact, committed to memory like the Vedas by the Hindu scholar and the multiplication tables by the school boy. Though they sometimes give the different meanings (nanarthas) of a word (with suitable examples), it will be more accurate to describe them as collections of synonyms than as dictionaries in the modern sense of the term. As such, they are not very useful to the reader for ready reference, when he is in doubt about the exact connotation of a word. They are also not arranged according to the alphabetical order. (Among the Sanskrit Nighantus, the Kesava Nighantu follows the Aadyakshara Niyama, the Viswa Nighantu follows the Antyakshara Niyama and the Medini Nighantu follows the Aadyantaakshara Niyama). They are all strangers to the strictly alphabetical order of words, that we know of, which is borrowed from the English and other Western lexicographers.


The first Telugu dictionary produced by an Indian author to have made a favourable impression on Western scholars in India is Mamidi Venkataraya’s Andhra Deepika, completed in 1816. Venkataraya lived in Masulipatam. Though a merchant by profession, scholarship was his first love. He is also the author of a good Sanskrit-Telugu Dictionary called the Sabdartha Kalpatharu, which runs to more than 1,600 pages. It has been reprinted very recently (1961). Referring to his substantial work, William Brown says, in this preface to a Grammar and vocabulary of the Gentoo Language(1817): “The assistance of this man in the compilation of both grammar and vocabulary has been of the greatest advantage.” William Brown’s concise Telugu English Dictionary, written in 1807, was first printed in 1818. It was reprinted about 14 years ago, after a lapse of 137 years. A. D. Campbell makes the following reference in his book of Grammar: “Mamidi Vencaya, the author of the Andhra Dipica, an excellent dictionary of Telugu, has in his preface to this work, introduced a concise analysis of the language.” Campbell who was Collector of Bellary in 1824, published his dictionary in 1821, the first of its kind in Telugu, to be designed according to the alphabetical order. Another dictionary, by one J. C. Morris, was published by the governing board of the Fort St. George College between 1835 and 1839. It does not seem to be available now.


It is, however, with the monumental work of C. P. Brown that we really enter the modern age in Telugu lexicography. His three dictionaries, the Telugu-English Dictionary (1852), the English-Telugu Dictionary (1853) and the Dictionary of the Mixed dialects and Foreign words used in Telugu (1854) mark the watershed between the tradition of learning by rote and the practice of thinking for oneself, between the scholastic method and the scientific attitude to language and literature. Brown was more than the traditional lexicographer of popular imagination, who is apt to be a rather dreary, cloistered soul, cut off from the main currents of life. He was a poet and literary critic, editor and translator, grammarian and philologist, linguist and classical scholar, and many other things besides. He helped to reform the Telugu script and make printing popular in Telugu. He was really a many-sided genius. He was, essentially, a student of life.


A rapid glance at his early life would give us an idea of the equipment and outlook he brought to the exacting task of dictionary-making. Charles Philip Brown was born in Calcutta in 1798, the son of the Rev. David Brown, who was provost of the East India College at Fort William. In his early years he had, with his innate flair for languages, picked up some knowledge of Bengali, Hindustani, Persian and Sanskrit. While still in his early teens, on the death of his father, he had to leave for England, where he had a good grounding in Greek and Latin, besides a close familiarity with French. He was quite well read in the masters of English prose and verse from the Bible, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton to Johnson, Scott and Byron, the last of whom was his close contemporary. It is reported that he knew the whole of the Bible, Shakespeare and Milton, almost by heart. He was about 20 when he entered the Civil Service under the East India Company and reached Madras, which had then as its Governor Sir Thomas Munro, one of the far-seeing British rulers of the day. Brown did not know a word of Telugu or Tamil or any other South Indian language when he landed in Madras.


To tell the story in his own words: “On leaving college, i. e., presumably the Fort William College at Calcutta, in the year 1820 I was sent by Sir Thomas Munro, then Governor, to a Telugu district and was obliged to learn the language of the populace. I was employed for more than 12 years, chiefly as a magistrate, among the Telugus and soon began to frame a vocabulary of the expressions which daily occurred in conversation or correspondence. I had intercourse with all classes, from the learned pandit or Raja to the illiterate prosecutor or prisoner. Tradesmen, doctors, hunters and sailors, poets and painters all became my instructors, as they fell in my way. Gradually, I was encouraged to study the easier authors and subsequently the better poets. In their writings, I obtained solutions of many difficulties in grammar and idiom; and though the task occupied several years I think the object was worth the trouble of attainment.”


Feeling the need for explanatory commentaries for the classics of Telugu poetry he was studying, he employed learned men to frame them for him in their native Telugu, in the easy simple dialect which could be understood by the man in the street and the foreign reader. During his fairly long stay at Masulipatam as a District Judge, Brown collected around him a band of pandits, well-versed in Sanskrit and Telugu, to read the classics with him and guide him in understanding them properly, to settle the text, add the exegesis, and get them ready for the press. This group of scholars, maintained at his own expense, was popularly known as Brown’s College. (It may be mentioned here that Brown was a bachelor and literature, for him, was a jealous mistress. The bulk of his earnings, amounting to Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000 a month, which may be worth about ten times the sum in the present money, were devoted to scholarly pursuits, on the purchase of rare manuscripts, on payment to copyists, on the maintenance of local scholars and so on).


It was while he was engrossed in the study of the Telugu version of the Mahabharata that the idea of a Telugu-English Dictionary grew on him and held him in its grip till the end of his life. For the difficult words in the text, his learned assistants used to give him the meaning, in colloquial Telugu, or Sanskrit, or Hindi. But very often, the Pandit, schooled only in the traditional method, would give him totally different and even contradictory meanings to an expression, without being able to convince him about it in a logical manner. “The pandit was a sound scholar”, he noted, but not accustomed to construing.” In this task of settling the correct meaning and usage, and the exact connotation of words, he received little or no help from the Sanskrit and Telugu lexicons, obtaining in his time. He was, to some extent, satisfied only with Mamidi Venkayya’s Andhra Deepika which was a distinct improvement on the ancient Nighantus. But, he says, “The Deepika gives a mere selection of words used in Telugu Poetry. The ordinary Telugu of common life is but slightly noticed.” Referring to the other Nighantus, which had served his purpose in some way or the other, Brown comments: “The Andhra Bkasha Arnavam is a vocabulary of synonyms in verse. This and five more similar works have been re-arranged alphabetically at my desire. All the native vocabularies are deficient in verbs, whereas verbs are the most delicate and peculiar parts of the language.–The Karkambadi Nighantu is an alphabetical glossary, framed at my desire: it contains all the words found in the Andhra Nama Sangraham, in the Andhra Nama Sesham, in the Venkatesa Nighantu and in the Samba Nighantu.–The Orangallu Dictionary is alphabetically arranged, and is a supplement to Mamidi Venkayya’s Andhra Deepika; it is anonymous, and probably is the work of the same author,” He also mentions the Andhra Bhasha Bhushanam, another vocabulary of synonyms in verse. Among the Sanskrit dictionaries, Wilson’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary proved very useful to him.


In compiling his own dictionaries, Brown proceeded on the new scientific basis common to European methods of lexicography. The words were all arranged according to the alphabetical order, so familiar to us now, convenient for easy reference and suitable for printing. In the words beginning with consonants, he, however, chose to follow the varga pattern, i. e., grouping them together as follows: Ka, kha, ga, gha, cha, chha, ja, jha, ki, khi, gi, ghi and so forth. This method, which he adopted to facilitate the change of Parusha into Sarala in certain combinations, did not find favour with his successors in the line. He shifted the emphasis from the mechanical listing of synonyms to a lucid and intelligent explanation of their meaning. Not only the literal meaning and etymology, but the usage, grammar and syntax and pronunciation (when necessary) are given, wherever possible. For Usage he drew from the language of life as well as from the language of books. He did cite the Kavi prayoga where available, including, in the process, Vemana and Saivite poets like the author of the Prabhu-lingaleela hitherto not quite accepted as respectable references by the orthodox pandits and tradition-bound scholars. He also made ample use of personal conversation and private correspondence, legal petitions and judicial records. (Incidentally, he did not hesitate to include even certain unprintable vulgarisms, which formed part of the colloquial speech of his day.) This was a revolutionary step, which marked the first shot in the battle which was to end in the victory of spoken Telugu as a medium of literary expression a century later.


The Telugu-English Dictionary is a substantial volume of over 1,300 closely printed pages, followed by its little companion, a Dictionary of mixed dialects and Foreign words (especially of Hindi, Urdu and Persian origin). The English-Telugu Dictionary is a work of almost equal size, learning and earnestness of purpose. All of them were published by the society for promoting Christian knowledge. The sallies of wit and strokes of humour that brighten the pages of these monumental works present the author to the modern reader as the veritable combination of a latter-day Johnson and a Telugu Fowler born before his time. He expected them to be revised or superseded by the work of succeeding generations. But neither his expectations nor ours have been fulfilled so far. Even now, his works are not quite out of date, though out of print for more than seventy-five years. They need to be reprinted in toto as they are without any tinkering or tampering by present-day Telugu scholars who seem to specialse in ‘editing’ or ‘revising’ such voluminous reference books of the last century, at the rate of four to five rupees per page!


In the last century, the only considerable dictionary, which had come out after those of C. P. Brown, is the Sabdaratnakaram compiled by Bahujanapalli Sitaramacharyulu and first published in the year 1885 and reprinted a few years ago by the Christian Literature Society. It was a tour de force, as the author had worked on it, almost single-handed, for nearly 25 years. It is a standard work and had obviously made selective use of Brown without any acknowledgment. It follows a strictly alphabetical order in the arrangement of words and gives the Kavi prayoga to most of them, excluding all the expressions from spoken Telugu which had not received the literary stamp of approval by the accepted poets. Paravastu Chinnaya Suri, the author of the Telugu grammar Bala Vyakaranam who is the idol of the traditionalists and the bete noire of the modernists, is believed to have worked on a dictionary of his own, but could not complete the project. The Andhra Deepika by C. Ranganayakulu Chetti, a concise dictionary of less than 500 pages, was published in 1895. Towards the end of the 19th century, Prof. T. M. Seshagiri Sastri of the Presidency College had planned the preparation of a philological dictionary of all the four South Indian languages and another relating to Hindi and Sanskrit, but was snatched away before he could see them through.


The Lakshmi Narayaneeyam by Kotra Lakshminarayana Sastri of Karapa, on the model of Sabdaratnakaram was brought out in 1907 and some years later it was expanded into four volumes by Kotra Syamala Kama Sastri of the same place under the title of Andhra Vachaspatyam in 4 volumes. The major work (in lexicography) to be undertaken in this century is the Suryaraya Andhra Nighantu, named after its patron, the Maharaja of Pithapuram, under the auspices of the Andhra Sahitya Parishat. Its initial planning was done by its first editor, Vedam Venkataraya Sastri. The first volume was produced under the general supervision of Jayanti Ramayya Pantulu, a competent scholar, though a traditionalist to the core. It contains many Sanskritised words and word compounds not found in Sabdaratnakaram. It is an ambitious work in several volumes (now six) whose utility cannot be minimised, though it has defects which were pointed out by Gidugu Ramamurthi Pantulu and others like Deepala Pitchayya Sastri. The Vavilla Nighantu in three volumes, (of which 2 have come out) is a kind of mixed bag which leans heavily on its predecessors, without much of original research work. The English-Telugu and Telugu-English dictionaries by Sankaranarayana, who cannot forgive Brown for supplying him with all the material to borrow from, smacks too much of the Bazaar notes got ready for under-graduates (eager to mug up for the annual examinations) to be accepted as a standard book of reference.


Among the smaller dictionaries of this century, the one from Telugu to English completely in the Roman script by A. Galletti,’ a talented member of the Indian Civil Service, (published in 1935) is likely to come in handy for foreigners. Like Brown, Galletti lays the accent on spoken Telugu. His is an experiment full of possibilities. Sabdardha Chandrika, compiled by Mahakali Subbarayudu and Ramachandra Vidyarthi Kosam by P. Sriramulu Reddi are designed for schools. The Vidyardhi Kalpataru, and the Sabdardha Deepika by Suryanarayana Sastri and the Dachepalli Nighantu are single-volume editions. The Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi has, in the last few years, brought out a number of good reference books tike Telugu Sametalu (proverbs), Padabandhaparijatamu (book of phrases), Vruttipada Kosam (dictionary of occupational terms) and the concordance of Nannaya and Nannechoda, all of which may provide the material for a comprehensive, all-purpose dictionary suitable for the common reader and the academic scholar alike.


As far as dictionaries from Telugu to other Indian languages are concerned, I am aware of at least two relating to Hindi–one by K. Satagopachari and the other published by the Hindi Prachar Sabha. The Sabdartha Chintamani by Tadikonda Timmareddi Desai (1906) gives the Urdu meanings for Telugu words. I have not so far come across any dictionaries worth mentioning from Telugu to any of the other South Indian languages. There is quite a lot of ground to be covered in the cultural interflow of this part of India, south of the Vindhyas. A dictionary of all the South Indian languages will be a significant step in this direction. As the project might be too ambitious or unwieldy for individual scholars and private publishers, the Southern universities could think of taking it up in collaboration, in the spirit which they had shown in the past, as, for example, in the setting up of the Southern Languages Book Trust. In this connection, the useful work done in the Madras University on the preparation of the Dravidian cognates could well be taken advantage of in the compilation of an authoritative dictionary of the four languages.


Language, like life, is ever moving and changing, taking in new elements and discarding or transforming the old at every stage. Words are not like flies in amber or butterflies in a glass case. Men of vision like C. P. Brown have always been hoping that this change and vitality would be amply reflected in the dictionaries by a lively contact with the current modes of speech. In the preface to his father’s dictionary, R. Galletti looked forward to the day when a Dictionary of Modern Telugu Usage (on the model of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage) would come into being, “establishing a norm and encouraging men of genius to use the tools most fitted for their work.” He wrote (1935): “Perhaps, inspiration will be lacking while the Telugu nation is in tutelage; but when the full tide of inspirataion begins to flood the land, it is surely the common people, the people of the villages, who should hear and applaud. It is their language that must be used.” It is only by continuing the work of such enlightened savants and dedicated scholars that we could pay our debt of gratitude to them.