Telugu at The University of Chicago
With over 76 million speakers, Telugu is the third most widely spoken language in the Republic of India and the thirteenth most spoken language in the world. Telugu is one of the 22 languages granted official status by the Government of India and is also regarded as the official language of the southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In recent years, Telugu has also been classified as one of India's classical languages. Although Telugu is primarily spoken in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, numerically significant minorities of Telugu speakers exist in the neighboring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Chhatisgarh. Large diasporic communities of Telugu speakers can also be found in North America, Australia, the United Kingdom, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
At present, Telugu is the most popularly spoken Dravidian language. It is also notable for its historical relationship with Sanskrit, with over 70% of its lexicon derived from Sanskrit. Notably, Telugu preserves consonant and vowel sounds which have been largely lost in Sanskrit's daughter languages like Hindi or Bengali. Telugu has also been significantly influenced by Persian, Urdu, and English. Telugu is written with a syllabic script derived from Brahmi and is closely related to the Kannada script.
Telugu's textual heritage offers a voluminous archive that encompasses a diversity of literary genres. Its medieval and early modern genres include creative translations of Sanskrit epics and Hindu puranic literature, sophisticated treatises on various Indic sciences, highly original works of erotic and religious poetry, and lively folk songs and narratives. Telugu is also of special interest for its rich collection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century local histories (kaifiyats) and for its centrality in the classicized musical (Carnatic) and performance (Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi) arts of southern India. The twentieth century saw the flourishing of prose genres like the novel and short story in Telugu as well as vital traditions of politically engaged poetry (Socialist, Feminist, Dalit). Telugu also attracts scholars for its prolific film industry (surpassing the Hindi film industry in output), its rapidly expanding print market, and its growing presence on the internet.
Today, the University of Chicago is one of the few institutions in the United States committed to offering regular courses in Telugu. In their depth and breadth, the University's collection of Telugu textual materials is simply unrivaled. COSAS hosts bi-weekly screenings and discussions of Telugu films that are well attended. Students of Telugu at the University of Chicago have come from a wide variety of disciplinary and methodological backgrounds. In recent years, Telugu students have worked on topics related to philology, linguistics, history, religious studies, anthropology, ethnomusicology, and performance studies. They have consistently successful in securing FLAS, AIIS, and Fulbright awards to enhance their language competency and carry out their research objectives in South Asia.