Hermann Gundert

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Hermann Gundert (1832)

Rev. Dr. Hermann Gundert (Stuttgart, 4 February 1814 – 25 April 1893 in Calw, Germany) was a German missionary, scholar, and linguist, as well as the grandfather of German novelist and Nobel laureate Hermann Hesse. Gundert compiled a Malayalam grammar book, Malayalabhaasha Vyakaranam (1859), a Malayalam-English dictionary (1872), and contributed to work on Bible translations into Malayalam. He worked primarily at Tellicherry on the Malabar coast, in Kerala, India. Gundert also contributed to the fields of history, geography and astronomy.[1]


Though as a child Gundert was obstinate and presumptuous, his personality is said to have changed after his sister's death when he was about 13. In 1831 he obtained a doctoral degree in philology from Tübingen. and then a Doctor of Philosophy from Switzerland.[2]

Trip to India[edit]

He left Germany at the age of 22 for missionary work in Calcutta (Kolkata) India. While travelling in the ship he mastered Bengali, Hindustani and Telugu. Instead of Calcutta he reached Madras (Chennai) in 1836. There he learned Tamil. He worked in Chittor and Tirunelveli. While he was there he published a book in Tamil. Then he joined the Basel Mission and went to Mangalore for missionary work. But on his way to Mangalore he passed through Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram) and had an audience with His Highness Sree Swathi Thirunal Maharaja, the ruler of Travancore. Most probably it was here he heard Malayalam for the first time.[2]

In Kerala[edit]

In 1838 he reached Mangalore but by April 1839 he moved to Illikunnu near Thalassery. At first when he moved to Illikunnu he was interested only in spreading the Gospel among others. Then he was a school inspector for two years in Malayalam-Karnataka region. At Illikunnu he lived for 20 years.[2]

While he was there, Malayalam language was taught by Ooracheri Gurukkanmar from Chokli, a village near Thalassery.


In 1839, the year in which he moved to Thalassery, he married Eulia de Bova, whom he had known for many years.[2]

Scholarly work[edit]

At first when he moved to Illikunnu near Thalassery, he was interested in spreading the Gospel among others. During this period he published around thirteen books in Malayalam including a translation of the Bible, Old Testament from Hebrew and New Testament from Greek.[2] The archives of information he collected from Tellicherry are kept in the Tübingen University, Germany and were collected and compiled by the scholar Dr.Scaria Zacharia as Thalassery Rekhakal.[3]

In Kerala, he took a deep interest in the local culture and the Malayalam language, attempting a systematic grammar of the language. This was one of the prominent non-Sanskrit-based approaches to Indic grammar. Gundert considered Malayalam to have diverged from Proto-Tamil–Malayalam, or Proto-Dravidian. Apart from the early inscriptions found on copper and stone, Gundert traced Malayalam to the Rāma Charitam, a poem predating the Sanskrit alphabet.[4]

Gundert is held in high regard to this day among linguistic experts in Kerala for the high scholastic aptitude exhibited in his work. His dictionary has been described as "monumental" in a review of the work on Dravidian languages.[5]

Herman Gundert Statue near Thalassery Stadium


Year published Title Description
1843 Keralolpathi Origin of Kerala
1845 Pazhancholmala String of Malayalam proverbs
1851 Malayala Bhasha Viyakaranam Malayalam Grammar
1860 Paathamala First school text in Malayalam
1868 Kerala pazhama 33 years Keralite history from Vasco da Gama's arrival in 1498
1872 Malayalam-English Dictionary
1879 Malayalarajyam Geography of Kerala
1847 June Rajya Samacharam Newspaper, News of the Kingdom
1879 October Paschimodayam Magazine, Rise of the West

Other contributions[edit]

  1. He was the one who introduced the punctuation marks, full stop (.) comma (,) semi colon (;) colon (:) and question mark (?) into Malayalam language.
  2. Malayalam-English Dictionary. He returned to Germany in 1859. There he took ten more years to complete the Malayalam-English Dictionary. (1872)[2] A number of words in this dictionary are not in use these days. But this is a priceless treasure for those who study the development of Malayalam.

Last days[edit]

Herman Gundert Statue near Thalassery Stadium - June 2010

He spent his working years at Calw. During this time he published in German four publications including a children’s newspaper. In 1855 his wife had died. Even before that his son Samuel Gundert died. Suffering from dropsy, Dr. Gundert was bed ridden by 1890, and on April 25, 1893, he died.[2]

Though Gundert came to Kerala as a missionary, he is remembered today mainly for his literary contributions. In the city of Thalassery (Tellicherry), he has been honored with a statue. The bungalow in which he used to live is now the home of the Nettur Technical Training Foundation (NTTF).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Achatiyum Aadyakaala Pathramaasikakalum"(Printing,Early Newspapers and Magazines).Madhyamangalum Malayalasahithyavum(Media and Malayalam LiterartureKunhukrishnan,K.Sivasankaran,M.K et al.Thiruvanathapuram:State Institute of Languages,2000.[clarification needed]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Malayalam-English Dictionary, by Dr. Herman Gundert, 1872. Ed. 3, Published by Sahythia Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangham, Kerala, 2000. Biography. Pages 7-11
  3. ^ Skaria Zakharia, ed. Thalassery Rekhakal. Kottayam: DC Books. 
  4. ^ Hermann Gundert, "Preface", A Malayalam and English Dictionary, p. iii. Mangalore, C. Stolz for Basel Mission Book Tract Depository and London, Trubner (1872). Google Books, on line.
  5. ^ p. 18, Bhadriraju Krishnamurti. 2003. The Dravidian Languages. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77111-0.

Further reading[edit]

  • Frenz, Albrecht (1979). "IX All India Conference of Dravidian Linguists". Calicut. pp. 9–15.  |chapter= ignored (help)
  • Frenz, Albrecht (1993), "Gundert as a Man", in K. K. N. Kurup and K. J. John, eds., Legacy of Basel Mission and Hermann Gundert in Malabar, Calicut, pp. 9–32 
  • Frenz, Albrecht and Scaria Zacharia (1993). Dr. Hermann Gundert and Malayalam Language. Kottayam: Centre for Kerala Studies. 
  • Jenkins, Paul (1998), "Gundert, Hermann", in Gerald Anderson ed., Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillan, pp. 270–271 
  • Malayalam-English Dictionary, by Dr. Herman Gundert, 1872. Ed. 3, Published by Sahythia Pravarthaka Sahakarana Sangham, Kerala, 2000. Biography.

External links[edit]