Learn Tulu – Part 1

Learn Tulu Language

Tulu Introduction

Tulu language is one of the five Dravidian languages of South India (Pancha- Bhasha, others are Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam). The four major languages spoken today are dominantly spoken in their respective states (Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala), whereas Tulu is spoken in a small niche, mainly in coastal Karnataka and Northern Karala (Kasaragod district). About 2.5 million people speak Tulu and call it their mother tongue. Tulu is currently spoken by three to five million native speakers in the world. Native speakers of Tulu are referred to as Tuluva or Tulu people. Tulu nadu is a region where many languages are spoken. While Kannada is the official state language, different ethnic communities in Tulu Nadu speak different languages. Tulu, derived from proto-Dravidian is the predominant language spoken by Hindus of various castes and by the Jains of Tulu Nadu. Konkanasthas and Catholics speak two variants of Konkani. Muslims speak a language of their own that is derived from Tulu as well as Malayalam. Tulu is the primary spoken language in Tulu Nadu, a region comprising the districts of Udupi and Dakshina Kannada in the west of the state of Karnataka and Kasaragod taluk of Kerala. Apart from Tulu Nadu, a significant emigrant population of Tuluva people is found in Maharashtra, Bangalore, Anglosphere, United States, and the Gulf countries. Non-native speakers such as the Konkani-speaking Mangalorean Catholics, Gowda Saraswath Brahmins, Karhade Brahmins, Havyaka Brahmins and Daivajnas, as well as the Beary people in Tulu Nadu are generally well-versed in the language.

There are about 24 Dravidian languages recognized by linguists. Of these the five languages in the South developed into major languages. Tulu is the only developed language that has not received the recognition it is due. However, Tulu language with its near extinct script has been generating much enthusiasm amongst the linguists, as it is now believed to be one of the oldest Dravidian languages.

Separated early from Proto-South Dravidian, Tulu has several features not found in Tamil–Kannada. For example, it has the pluperfect and the future perfect, like French or Spanish, but formed without an auxiliary verb.


Learn Tulu Script

Apart from Kannada script, Historically Tulu Brahmins used Tigalari script mainly used to write Sanskrit, but some Tulu works are available.
The Tulu language has lost its prominence as a major language. Lack of serious literature in Tulu language has also hampered its claim as a language to be taught in educational institutes. Though it is certain that most of the literature has been lost because of difficulties in preserving palm leaf scrolls, the earliest literature available is from the 15th century. This indeed is a much later work than the language itself, which is thousands of years old. There was also some confusion regarding the script of Tulu language, which closely resembles Malayalam. It was thought that priests from Tulu Nadu went south to Kerala to perform and learn Agama Sastra rituals, where they jotted notes borrowing the Malayalam alphabets. This was the prevailing thought of many researches although now there is a consensus that Tulu language possessed its own script before Malayalam script existed. Perhaps the reciprocal is true that the Malayalam script developed from Tulu script as the language predates Malayalam by more than a thousand years. The priests who went south are now credited with carrying mantras written in Tulu script to Kerala. Like Tamil and Malayalam, Tulu script is derived from the Grantha* script.

The earliest piece of literature, Tulu Mahabharata is from the 15th century written in Tulu script. Another manuscript that was discovered Tulu Devimahatme, a prose work like the Mahabharata, is also from the 15th century. Two epic poems written in 17th century namely Sri Bhagavata and Kaveri have also been found. Madhvacharya’s eight matts established in Udupi in the 13th century were centers of Tulu literature during his lifetime and thereafter. However, very little of this has survived. So it is not inconceivable (as it is claimed) that Madhvacharya himself did all his writings in the Tulu script. Other inscriptions discovered are Sanskrit mantras transliterated in Tulu script. It appears as though the Brahmins used the script mainly for this purpose.

In the first half of 19th century the German missionaries undertook a renaissance of the language. Unfortunately, they published Tulu literature and materials related to Christianity in the Kannada script as they had established printing presses in that language in Mangalore. In addition the German missionaries also produced Tulu lexicon and Tulu-English dictionary. They are also credited with transcription of Tulu folklore, Tulu proverbs and works on spirit worship in Tulu Nadu. Printing material in the Kannada script led to further disuse of the original Tulu script. By late 19th century Tulu script became remote and was endangered. Today there are no books or literature in the Tulu script and there are only a handful of Tuluvas who can read the script.

All the classic literature discovered thus far are written only in one of the four dialects of the language, namely the Brahmin dialect. The dialect spoken by Brahmins in the southern part of Tulu Nadu is used in these manuscripts. The priests belonged to a sect of Tuluva Brahmins called the Shivalli Brahmins. (Only the Shivalli and the Sthanika sects in Tulu Nadu spoke the Brahmin dialect.) Tulu script was used by these Brahmins

to write mantras. The Brahmin dialect also has imported many Sanskrit words into its dialect and lexicon. The Common dialect, which is spoken by the non-Brahmin class, was not used in writings of Tulu. However, the Common dialect is used in many of the folk songs, proverbs and riddles. The folk songs called the Paaddanas are treasures reflective of the rich culture of Tulu Nadu. They also allow a glimpse into the society of Tuluva people. These were never written down and have been passed on through generations as oral traditional songs.

The Language and its Dialects

Research in Tulu language and script has been sorely lacking. In 1856 Robert Caldwell undertook a systematic study of the Tulu language with his monumental work, “A Comparative Grammar of Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages.” Caldwell called Tulu one of the most developed Dravidian languages. In 1872 J. Bigel wrote, “Grammar of The Tulu Language.” Then in the 20th century S. U. Panniyadi and L.V. Ramaswamy Iyer published more books about its grammar. These authors contended that the language was well developed, and was one of the earliest off-shoots of proto-South Dravidian language, with many dialectal variations. (Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada also were derived from it, whereas Telugu was derived from proto-Central Dravidian). There is renewed interest in the language as evidenced by the fact that many universities both in India and abroad are promoting more research of Tulu language. Rashtrakavi Govinda Pai Research Center in Udupi has encouraged such research. Dr. D.N. Shankar Bhat and Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya have been doing commendable, ongoing research in the field.

From Encyclopedia Britannica


Different regions within Tulu Nadu developed its own dialect of the language. The language developed with various dialects and peculiarities, unimpeded by the proximity of the regions. Five main such geographical divisions with dialectal variations can be seen.

1. Southwest: comprising of Kasargod District of Kerala
2. Southeast: Includes Sullia and Kodagu
3. South Central: comprising of Puttur, Belthangady and Bantwal
4. Northwest: area including Mangalore and Udupi
5. Northeast: includes Karkala.

Other languages have influenced some of the dialects in these regions. Thus Malayalam may have influenced Tulu in the Southwest (Kasargod), whereas in other areas Kannada has influenced it. The differences in the society also influenced the dialects. Brahmins developed their own dialect influenced by Sanskrit that they were proficient in. Four main social dialects have developed.

1. Brahmin Dialect
2. Jain Dialect
3. Common Dialect and
4. Harijan/Tribal Dialect

Brahmin Dialect – spoken by Shivalli and Sthanika Brahmins – is the language used in writing the few classical literature discovered thus far. They also borrowed Sanskrit words and pronunciation of words. Even the local Dravidian words were enunciated with retroflex words (unusual in Dravidian languages, where non-retroflex sounds are used).

Jain Dialect – spoken by the Jains in the northern part of Tulu nadu. They have a distinct dialect where the initial t and s have been replaced by letter h. As an example the word tare (head) is pronounced as hare. Saadi (path) is haadi.

Common Dialect – is spoken by the majority of people (non-Brahmins) of Tulu Nadu, and is the dialect of commerce, entertainment and art. It is the language of the Paaddana. It is subdivided into more than five groups as spoken by Bunts, Billavas, Mogaveeras, Gowdas and Kumabaras etc. Due to the similarity in these dialects, they are grouped under the common heading of Common Dialect or Common Tulu. The borrowed Sanskrit words in this dialect are invariably altered to a non-retroflex sound unlike in the Brahmin dialect where the words are pronounced just as in Sanskrit.

Harijan and Tribal Dialect – is spoken by the Mera, Mansa, Harijan and Tribal classes. They closely resemble the Common dialect though in the South they still have maintained their distinction. The sound c replaces the sounds t, s, and c of other dialects. Hence tare is care and saadi is caadi. Onasu (meal) is pronounced onacu. Non-retroflex words are pronounced with retroflex in this dialect. New words like baanaaru (Brahmin), jeerklu/jeerlu (children), dekke/meere/korage (husband) and dikkalu/meerti/korappolu (wife) are also found in this dialect.

There is a common perception that there are only two kinds of Tulu dialects, namely Brahmin and Common. Dr. P Kekunnaya suggests studying the language in four different dialects by combining both geographical variations in the dialects and the different social dialects. Hence the divisions studied are:

1. Sb: Brahmin dialect of Southwest, Southeast and South Central region.
2. Sc: Common dialects of the same regions in the South
3. Nb: Brahmin dialects of Northwest and Northeast.
4. Nc: Common dialects of the same regions in the North.

Some of the differences in the words and sounds used by the Brahmin dialect and the Common dialect in the Northern regions have disappeared or are nearly imperceptible now. However, in the Southern regions, the differences are more commonly maintained and are more apparent.
In a casual or serious discussion on Tulu language, a question often crops up, right from the experts to laymen. That is whether Tulu has a script ? If ‘yes’ whether it is a form of Malayalam script?

The reasons for such a question are:

1. Tulu literature written in Tulu was, for long, not available (now Tulu classics in Tulu Script are discovered)

2. Tulu script was mainly used by Brahmins for writing Mantras. So others were not exposed to the script.

3. Tulu was not a medium or subject of formal school education. So Tulu script did not figure in school curriculum.

4. The similarity between Tulu and Malayalam scripts.

5. And, mainly because of the use of Kannada script for Tulu by German missionaries during the early stages of printing of Tulu works.

Tulu Language and Script

Language and Script are two different entities. The relation between a language and a script is neither ‘original’ nor ‘fixed’. Any language can be written in any script. That is how, there are about twenty scripts in the world for thousands of languages. Having or not having ‘own script’ is neither a status nor any impediment for a language. One of the prime language of today, English doesn’t have its own script. It uses the Roman script. So called ‘Divine language ‘ (Devabhasha) Sanskrit is written in Nagari script. Nagari is employed by Marathi, Hindi etc. English or Sanskrit can be written in Nagari or Kannada scripts. Name boards, letterheads etc use this type of writings. The words like English, railway, bus, paper, engineer are English words written in various scripts. “I speak English” can be written in many scripts and the meaning is same. So also, sentences of any language in any script. Language and Script are not inseparable. Script is like mirror. It can reflect any image

tulu-script & learn tulu

A script called Tulu is used in Tulunadu for centuries. All Tulu classics discovered recently are in Tulu script, and som in other scripts. This Tulu script was being used by Brahmins. Till recently they were using it for writing Mantras, for accounts etc. Since hundreds of years, Tulu Brahmins were going to Kerala Temples for priestly work (called ‘Shanti’ Services). They took the Tulu writing with them to Kerala thus they carried the Tulu script to Kerala. Malayalam had not developed a script of its own by that time. The upper castes and classes of Keralites started close contacts with the Tulu Brahmins and hence they adopted the Tulu script, and later adopted it to what is now called the Malayalam script. (This has been proved in detail by Vidwan P V Puninchathaya in ‘Tulu -Nadu-Nudi’).

Tulu as a language branched off from Dravidian (Mula Dravida), language, at least a thousand years earlier to Malayalam. So it is unlikely that a language much younger gave a script to an older language. Actually, probably Malayalam as an independent language was yet to be evolved, when Tulu had its own classical literature. So Tulu could not borrow a Malayalm script, simply because it did not exist. What existed was a Tulu Script, later taken by Malayalam. Another important proof of its antiquity is that the pundits (‘mathadhipatis’) use only Tulu for their signature since the begining of Matha tradition, despite the high status of Sanskrit in Mutts. Neither Sanskrit nor Kannada, but Tulu script is the official script of the Mutts in Tulunadu. Hence, it is a script evolved in Tulu area, that was later adopted for Malayalam. Hence it is Tulu script, and not Malayalam script nor Tulu-Malayalam script. To call Tulu script as Malayalam is both wrong and unfortunate.

Tulu is now disappearing in Tulu country and has established itself in Kerala. This, like many, is a paradox. So Tulu script has become a daughter of the in laws, and in-law of the motherland. The use of Kannada for Tulu is the reason for this peculiar situation. The modern Tulu writings are using Kannada script. So it is natural that Tulu script is not likely to be revived for writing Tulu.

Of course, the languages do share a common ancestor. They all evolved from Proto-South-Dravidian, but Tulu separated earlier on, unlike Malayalam which separated from Tamil only recently. Having said that, Tulu does share a lot of similarities with Malayalam. Of course, a casual traveller to Mangalore or someone having a Tulu friend is not going to notice it.

For example, Tulu has [ɯ]-like vowel (or schwa /ə/) as a phoneme, generally occurring word endings. Malayalam has that as well, usually represented by the virama character, and it is possible to transliterate into other languages like including Tamil or Devanagari or Roman scripts but the native pronunciation in those languages is not the same.

The declension of a noun in Malayalam is quite similar to Tulu and if the underlying noun is similar, it should be easy for a native Malayalam or Tulu speaker to grasp the meaning. See for example, the declension of a word mara (meaning tree, which is by the way same in both languages).

mara————a tree—————>maram
marata———-of a tree————>marathinde
maroku———-to a tree————>marathinodu
maronu———-a tree (object) m—->arathinu
maroṭu———-in a tree————>marathil

I am using only singular for simplicity. But you wills ee that plurals are similar in their usage of the kul sound in Tulu ex: marokuḷu and gaL in Malayalam marangaL consistently in all the verb declensions.

On close introspection, you will find many words that are almost same as that of Malayalam (and other Dravidian languages). But they might be lost to a non native listner when not spoken at a slower pace. For example words like ill (home, Malayalam, illam); kaadu (forest, kaad, in Malayalam), naam (I, naan, in Malayalam), tinu (to eat, tinnuka, in Malayalam, though kazhikkuga is more common in Malayalam), paalu (milk, paal, in Malayalam, unlike haalu in Kannada).

Does it mean a Malayalam speaker can easily understand spoken Tulu? Not really unless he / she has a keen interest in languages and is a very keen listener. But it will be easier than a native Hindi speaker trying to do it.

Tulunadu is culturally similar to Malabar

1. Here are some similarities in cultures:
Bhoothakola in Tulunadu and and Theyyam in Malabar.
Tharavadu is common both in Tulunadu and Malabar. In Tulunadu its called “Guttu House”
Snake worship in Kavu in Malabar – Nagaradhane in Tulunadu.
Eating boiled rice both in Malabar and Tulunadu.
Celebration of Ugadi on the same day of Vishu(other part of Karnataka celebrate it on a different day). Tuluvas will say that “Bisu” Parba(festival)
Concept of Mahabali and flower bed(Onam in Kerala) and Diwali in Tulunadu).
Kanji (rice gruel) in Malabar and Ganji in Tulunadu
According to Hindu mythology Kerala and Tulunadu was created by Parashurama, both Malabar and Tulunadu believe this mythology.

2. Here are the similarities in caste systems:
Shetty in Tulunadu : Nair in Kerala
Poojari(Toddy Tappers) in Tulunadu: Ezhava or Thiyyas in Kerala
Shettigar(Weaver Community) in Tulunadu : Saliya or Chaliya in Kerala.
Korager(Dalits) in Tulunadu : Korovor or koror in Kerala

3. Here are the similarities in some of the words:
Tulu language – Malayalam
Yaan – Njaan
Enk – Enikk(Enkk in Malabar)
Nikk – Ninakk(Ninkk in Malabar)
Barppundu – Varunnundu
Poppundu – Ponnundu(Malabar)
ullaru – ullathu
Ponnu – Pennu
Aanu – Aanu
Puthar – Peru

When Kannada kings ruled Tulunadu, they imposed Kannada culture and Language on Tuluvas. So that Tulu spoken now a days was highly influenced by Kannada. Even Malayalam script was adapted from Tulu script. It is proved beyond doubt that Tulu had a script of its own. Tulu has given a script to Malayalam. Because of the use of Kannada for Tulu by German missionaries, the use of Tulu script declined. Most Tuluvas know Kannada. So they can easily use Kannada script for Tulu. Script and language are adoptable to each other. So with a few modifications, Kannada can be used for Tulu also. Any language can use any script. It is in question of usage and practices. However we should not forget that Tulu had its own script, and should at least know about it.

Learn Tulu – Advantages of learning Tulu

1. Tulu is the oldest and living language on our planet.
2. It is a natural language. There is a direct link between the sound and signs; it is phonetic.
3. “TULU IS CLOSE TO HEART” This is common belief of every Tulu speaker ie Clear in speech, perfect in pronunciation, sharp in memory, rapid in thinking,logical in analysis, rational in understanding, accurate in expression and communication.
4. “Tulu is not spoken its always sung”, sentence structure is flexible, articulate in conversation, polite in behavior. The declensions and the conjugations have a wide range.Hence every student has more freedom in composing sentences
5. There aren’t many punctuation marks found in Tulu script.
6. It is systematized and perfected. Its alphabets are impeccably arranged.
7. They are easy to remember and help in memorizing textual stanzas which explains why the oral tradition of Indian wisdom is so popular and long-standing in the entire world.
8. Tulu itself has written rules of grammar, phonetics, etymology and epistemology.
9. It is the language of the most ancient Indian scriptures belonging to various faiths.
10. There is logic in its sound system, and a natural continuity in its word-making as well as sentence-making.
11. For writing Tulu language, any comprehensive alphabet can be used and vice versa.
12. Tulu is computerized long before the computers came in use.
13. Freedom in using Tulu language because of “No syntax”. This means that even a beginner can proceed with words as one.s thoughts
14. Thanks to its phonetic scripts, there is an easy-flowing, natural and logical way to proceed while learning this wonderful language or to write any language Adaptability & Flexibility – Same sentence can be said in a variety of ways.
15. Tulu is universality. It can do all functions, – scriptural (holiness), technical(precision and derivative power) and romantic (resourceful and flowery style)etc
16. Tulu is economy. Any lengthy expression could be put in brief in Tulu.

Ancient History of Tulunadu

Tuluva Empire Emblem

TULUNADU is known as Parashurama Srushti. Parashurama is the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu. This incarnation was born in human form as the fifth and youngest son of Jamadagni and Renuka. The word Parashu means axe and rama, this incarnation is named as Rama with axe. His main purpose was reportedly to rid the planet of wrongness, especially formed by powerful kings who mistreated their status. Once his mission was accomplished he with permission of sea god he created a land Land arose to the extent he had thrown his axe to create a land known as Tulunadu. People of Tulunadu use his axe as symbol to represent Tulunadu.T his symbol has 2 headed axe which is guarded by 2 mighty tigers. Tulu Nadu is a region which comprises the district Kasaragod taluk of Kerala, Udupi and South Canara district & Koppa, Sringeri, Mudigeri & Sakleshpura Taluks in state of Karnataka.

Historically, Tulu Nadu included the two separate lands of Haiva and Tuluva. The Ballal Kings of Sullia had ruled this area around 1100 years back. Madhvacharya in the 13th century built the eight monasteries (Matha) in Udupi. During the rule of Vijayanagara Tulu nadu was administered in two parts – Mangaluru Rajya and Barakuru Rajya. Tulunad was the original homeland of the dynasty that founded the Vijayanagar Empire based in eastern Karnataka. Tulu Nadu was governed by feudatories of the Vijayanagara Empire until the 17th century. The longest reigning dynasty of Tulu Nadu was the Alupas. The Alupas, however, were independent and their subordination was nominal at best. They ruled until the Vijayanagara kings totally dominated the Tulu Nadu from 14th to the 17th centuries. The region became extremely prosperous during Vijayanagara period with Barkur and Mangalore gaining importance. After the decline of the Vijayanagara Empire, the Nayakas controlled much of Tulu Nadu. Seemerajya [feudatories] was very prominent in Tulunadu .Hence Tulunadu did not fall directly under any outside Kings .Thus one can find small forts everywhere in Tulunadu .Though most of the fort have vanished in morden days ,we can still find few of them.

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