Which South Indian language.....
Which language of South India should I learn and why? I have family friends that speak Kannada but I’m not sure it’s likely I’ll see them again. Which is Dravidian and which helped build up the early civilization the most? Why do you like the language? I love Hindi but I plan to learn a 2nd Indian language probably Dravidian
Kannada is a Dravidian language. "Dravidian" is the designation of a language family, not an individual language.
The most commonly spoken Dravidian languages are Telugu (తెలుగు), Tamil (தமிழ்), Kannada (ಕನ್ನಡ), Malayalam (മലയാളം), Brahui (براہوئی), Tulu (ತುಳು), Gondi and Coorg. There are three subgroups within the Dravidian language family: North Dravidian, Central Dravidian, and South Dravidian, matching for the most part the corresponding regions in the Indian subcontinent.
From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dravidian_people
All the four major Dravidian languages (Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam) have their own rich history and long literary traditions. In fact, all four of them have been accorded the classical language status by the Government of India. That said, when talking about early civilization, Tamil is perhaps more similar to the common ancestor language than its siblings.
I can speak Tamil and Kannada quite fluently and based on my experiences, I'll list down some factors that you might want to consider.
Ease of learning:
In my personal opinion, Kannada and Telugu are easier to learn than Tamil and Malayalam in terms of grammar and pronunciation, with Kannada holding a narrow lead. This is especially true if you already know an Indian language like Hindi. Mastering Malayalam pronunciation is pretty tough until you become used to it.
Secondly, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam have a large vocabulary that comes from Sanskrit. So, you'll find a lot of words that're shared between these languages and Hindi, especially in formal speech. Modern Tamil has some Sanskrit vocabulary but not nearly as much.
In addition, the Tamil script works a little differently than other Indic scripts. For example, there are no aspirated consonants (like ख, घ). Also, voiced and unvoiced consonants are represented by a single letter -so, both क and ग would be written क and you'd figure out how to pronounce it in a certain word based on certain rules. This greatly brings down the number of letters in the script (though it does have a couple of letters not present in Hindi as well) and depending on how you look at it, it makes it either the easiest ('to learn') or the hardest ('to gain reading proficiency') of the four scripts.
One point to mention here is that all four of these languages exhibit a high degree of diglossia (even more so than Hindi) which is to say that there is a large difference between the vernacular and formal/written forms. So, while the points I've mentioned about ease of learning are true for learning the languages formally, they are not necessarily true for picking up the vernacular forms through immersion.
As for number of speakers, Telugu has the highest and Malayalam has the lowest but these numbers are mostly driven by the speakers within India. Tamil is perhaps the most spoken outside India with it being spoken by a significant number of people in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and a few other South East Asian countries. In the Middle East, Malayalam speakers would outnumber the other three. In the West, Tamil (both the Indian and Sri Lankan varieties) followed by Telugu would have a greater number of speakers with Kannada a distant third. This means that are a lot more resources (books, youtube videos etc) for learning Tamil and Telugu than Kannada and Malayalam.
In terms of movies, all four languages have their own film industries. My knowledge here is very scant because I don't watch a lot of Indian movies but AFAIK there is a large output in Tamil and Telugu followed by Kannada. Malayalam is known for its arthouse film scene of low budget but highly rated cinema.
As regards music, Carnatic music, one of the two subgenres of Indian classical music has historically had most of its songs in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. Apart from that, each language has its own folk music traditions.
The Dravidian language that you want to learn would depend on where you live, your profession and the individuals that surround you.
For instance, as @vinay92 was saying, if you live in North America(United States and Canada) you would find Tamil and Telugu speakers. In Southeast Asia, a prominent number of Tamil speakers exist and it's either recognized as an official language, like in Singapore, or taught as a second/third language. And as for the Middle East, there are countless number of Malayalam speakers that reside there.
One thing also to take into consideration is that English is such a dominant and influential language that most of the vocabulary in Indian languages have changed due current foreign trends and culture. Native speakers, especially those who live in the major cities, often swap out words from their languages and replace it with an English word. This is often done with verbs too. This means that you don't have you worry about learning too much about the vocabulary but do keep in mind that it is useful to have an extensive, mental word bank to choose from.
Another note about current culture and the languages is that they have CHANGED. So most of the content you would find would only be found in literature and not actual everyday to day speech. Which means you've only actually learned how to read proficiently, not speak. Personally, I would not recommend speaking the "Shakespeare" era of the language, but this would make one look like a very knowledged person. This would especially apply to Tamil as I have experience.
And back to answering your question, Tamil is the oldest language when compared with the other three. I know Tamil but I find Telugu interesting because of the sounds found in the language.
However, the decision is up to the individual to choose a language to learn.