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Kannada vs. Tamil: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on October 28, 2023
Kannada and Tamil are distinct Dravidian languages spoken in South India, each with unique scripts and linguistic traditions.

Key Differences

Kannada is the language spoken primarily in Karnataka, India, with its own unique script derived from the ancient Brahmi script. Tamil, spoken in Tamil Nadu, India, and by significant populations in Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Malaysia, is one of the world’s oldest living languages and has its own distinct script.
Linguistically, Kannada has various dialects spoken throughout the state of Karnataka, reflecting influences from other Indian languages. Conversely, Tamil, recognized as a classical language, maintains a more traditional form in its literature compared to its colloquial usage.
In terms of script, Kannada characters are rounded due to the influence of palm leaf writing in ancient times, while Tamil script is more angular. Both scripts have their own sets of characters and are syllabic in nature, with vowels and consonants.
Culturally, both Kannada and Tamil have rich literary histories dating back centuries, with classical texts, poetry, and modern works. However, the literary traditions vary, with Tamil literature influenced significantly by its long-standing trade connections and its classical status.
Phonetically, there are differences too. Kannada has a total of 49 phonemes, 34 of which are consonants, while Tamil has 12 vowels and 18 consonants. Though both languages share some sounds due to geographical proximity, they are distinct in their phonetic inventory.

Comparison Chart

Geographical Usage

Primarily Karnataka, India
Tamil Nadu, India; Sri Lanka; Singapore; Malaysia


Kannada script
Tamil script

Literary History

Rich, with ancient texts and modern literature
Extensive, influenced by trade and classical status


49 phonemes, including 34 consonants
30 phonemes, including 18 consonants

Classical Recognition

Yes, by the Government of India
Yes, globally recognized

Kannada and Tamil Definitions


Recognized as a classical language of India.
The Kannada script is unique and beautiful.


Recognized internationally as a classical language.
UNESCO has honored Tamil as a classical language.


The language of the Kannadigas, with its own script.
Kannada literature has a rich heritage.


Has its unique script, distinct from other Indian scripts.
Learning the Tamil script is challenging but rewarding.


Known for its significant contribution to Indian culture.
Kannada cinema, also known as Sandalwood, is popular in India.


An ancient Dravidian language spoken in Tamil Nadu, India, and other countries.
He learned Tamil from his grandmother.


Has multiple dialects influenced by neighboring regions.
People from coastal Karnataka have a distinct Kannada dialect.


Spoken by millions globally, creating a vast diaspora.
Tamil communities enrich multicultural societies worldwide.


A Dravidian language spoken in Karnataka, India.
She speaks Kannada fluently.


Boasts a rich literary tradition that spans over two millennia.
Tamil poetry from the Sangam era is renowned.


The principal Dravidian language spoken in the Indian state of Karnataka.


A member of a Dravidian people of southern India and northern Sri Lanka.


A Dravidian language spoken in southern India


The Dravidian language of the Tamil.


Of or relating to the Tamil or their language or culture.


Of or pertaining to the Tamils, or to their language.


One of a Dravidian race of men native of Northern Ceylon and Southern India.


A member of the mixed Dravidian and Caucasoid people of southern India and Sri Lanka


The Dravidian language spoken since prehistoric times by the Tamil people in southern India and Sri Lanka


Of or relating to a speaker of the Tamil language or the language itself;
The Tamil Tigers are fighting the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka
Tamil agglutinative phrases


Are Kannada and Tamil similar linguistically?

They're both Dravidian languages but have distinct scripts, phonetics, and grammar.

Which regions primarily use Kannada?

Mainly in Karnataka, India.

Which language has a longer recorded history?

Tamil, recognized as one of the world's oldest living languages.

Where is Tamil predominantly spoken?

Tamil Nadu in India, and by significant populations in Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Do Kannada and Tamil share script similarities?

No, both have unique scripts with different character sets.

What is unique about Tamil literature?

It's ancient and influenced by the region's trade and classical status.

How many phonemes are there in Kannada?

There are 49, including 34 consonants.

Are there different dialects in Kannada and Tamil?

Yes, both languages have various dialects influenced by regions and cultures.

Are these languages taught globally?

Yes, particularly in regions with significant Indian diaspora populations.

How many people speak Kannada?

Roughly 40 million as a first language.

Is Kannada influenced by other languages?

Yes, neighboring Indian languages and cultures.

What about the phonemic structure of Tamil?

Tamil has 30 phonemes, including 18 consonants.

Do Kannada and Tamil have classical status?

Yes, both are recognized as classical languages.

Are there famous literary works in Kannada?

Yes, like the writings of Pampa, Ranna, and Kumaravyasa.

Any renowned authors in Tamil?

Yes, such as Subramania Bharati and Kalki Krishnamurthy.

Does Tamil have a global cultural influence?

Yes, significantly through cinema, music, and literature.

Are there significant communities of Kannada speakers outside India?

Yes, including in the USA, Canada, and the UK.

Is there a film industry in Kannada?

Yes, it's known as Sandalwood.

How many global Tamil speakers are there?

Estimates suggest around 70 million.

Are there international Tamil festivals?

Yes, Tamil culture is celebrated globally, especially Thai Pongal and Chithirai Festival.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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