An Elementary grammar of Coorg Language
Captain Robert Andrews Cole
Wesleyan Mission Press
Year of publication
Captain Robert Cole was born and educated in Madras, where his father Maj. Gen Robert Cole Sr., was a doctor in the army. Captain Cole’s first posting in Coorg was in March 1865 to step-in when the incumbent, William Hobart Kerr, took ill. Captain Cole was a young officer with a flair for languages. He was fluent in Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. On his arrival in Coorg, he took an instant liking to the place and the people.
Astonishingly, Captain Cole found that Coorgs living in remote villages could not understand Kannada! In order to effectively communicate with them, he started learning Kodava language. His knowledge of South Indian languages helped him pick up the nuances of Coorg dialect, and soon he was able to interact with Kodavas in their own lingua franca. He then went about learning the language in-depth. His task was quite tough since none had codified the language and put it in writing. Since the language had no script, the job was even more challenging. Captain Cole continued his pet project even during intervals when he was posted outside Coorg.
His extensive interaction with the Coorgs finally resulted in his seminal 136-page book ‘An Elementary Grammar of the Coorg Language’ published by the Wesleyan Mission Press in 1867. In the Preface to the book, he recounts his impression of Coorg, and Coorgs. He was fascinated by the bracing weather of the place.
In order to help him, his colleagues and successors to communicate with locals, he made extensive tables – Travel Talk – translating English sentences to Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Coorg language.
Captain Cole mentions the help he received from department clerk Belliappah, in compiling the book. Mr C.P.Belliappa guesses this gentleman to be Maneypanda Belliappa, one of the early batches of educated Kodavas, who later became the Assistant Commissioner of Coorg. Captain Cole dedicated this book to Lewin Bentham Bowring Esq., who was the then Commissioner of Mysore and Coorg. Captain Cole endeared himself to the people of Coorg. He also wrote another important book titled, “A Manual of Coorg Civil Law”. During his tenure, he tried to unravel the secrets of the Dolmens found in some parts of Coorg. In appreciation of Captain Cole’s yeomen services, an emerging town at the time in South Kodagu was named after him as Colepet. However, over the years, Colepet got merged with present day Ammathi.
Captain Coles’s wife, Pauline McCally, sadly died during his posting in Coorg. She was buried in St. Mark’s Church, Fort, Madikeri. On promotion as a Major, he was appointed Superintendent, Inam Settlement, Mysore. As a Colonel, he was with the Madras Staff Corps. He rose to the rank of Major General by the time he retired and returned to England. He died in 1907.
Belliappa C.P., “An Elementary grammar of Coorg Language”, Star of Mysore.