Tulu is a language spoken in the area situated on the West Coast extending from the northern part of the undivided Dakshina Kannada district (now this part belongs ot the Udupi District) of Karnataka state up to the Kasargod Taluk (on the northern part) of the Kerala State. In ancient times this region was called Tulunaadu (the Tulu country) and the people whose mother tongue is Tulu are called the Tuluvas.
Tulu language belongs to the Dravidian group of languages that are spoken mainly in South India. Linguists enumerate about 24 Dravidian languages spread mainly in South India and some parts of North India and also in a few areas of Pakistan. Among a couple of dozens of Dravidian languages a few have evolved into major ones and have produced innumerable literary works for the last two thousand years. These works can stand par with other literary works of the world both in quality and quantity. Such developed languages of the Dravidian family are called as Major Dravidian languages. They are mainly five in number viz. Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Tulu and Malayalam. Thus attention may be drawn upon the fact that Tulu language is also one among the five major Dravidian languages. These five major Dravidian languages together are called as ‘Pancha Dravida BhashegaLu’.
Unfortunately the significance of the Tulu language was note recognised until Rev. Caldwell brought out his monumental work called ‘A comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages’. In this prestigious work he justifies that ‘Notwithstanding its want of a literature, Tulu is one of the most highly developed languages of the Dravidian family.’ It was this appraisal that opened the eyes of the lingusts towards Tulu and made them to give due respect and recognition to it as one of the important and developed Dravidian languages.
Tulu is spoken by about 2.5 million people. The major number of Tulu speaking population is found, in dense, in the coastal area of Karnataka state. Equally good number of Tulu speakers can be seen all over India and also in other parts of the World, mainly in Gulf countries and in U S A.
The Tulu Script ( See Tulu Lipi)
Tulu, one of the major Dravidian languages, also possesses a script. This script is generally called the Tulu Script. But a strong misconception prevails among a major number of people regarding the existence and prevalence of this Script. They, due to want of knowledge, hole the opinion that Tulu script never exists and the so called Tulu script is not Tulu one but Malayalam script. Though the subject of Tulu script is found to be controversial, it is very clearly proved by scholars, who are will versed in Tulu and Malayalam language and literature, that it is the Tuluvas who contributed a script for Malayalam which has no script until the Tulu Brahmins’ arrival in Kerala. In fact, the present Malayalam script is nothing but the modified Tulu script.
The Tulu Brahmins were wri;ting the Vedic ‘mantras’ in Tulu script. When they went to Kerala for performing ‘poojas’ in temples they took this script to Kerala and used to write everything in this script. As Malayalam has been evoled as an independent language almost one thousand five hundred years after Tulu bifurcated from the Proto-Dravidian, it is foolish to argue that age-old Tulu language borrowed a script for its own from Malayalam language, which is very younger to Tulu.
The Tulu inscription and the ancient literary works in Tulu that are available now were all written down in this script. We have, at present, before us the ‘Tulu Mahabharata’ ascribed to the 13th century, the ‘Tulu Bhagavata’ and ‘Kaveri’ belonging to the 17th Century and a prose work ‘Tulu Devimahatme’ ascribed to the 15th Century and a few other literary works in Tulu. All these have been written down in Tulu script. Apart from this, until recently the Tulu Brahmins used to write the Vedic mantras in this script only.
But unfortunately, the Tulu script is gradually vanishing. Predominance of the Kannada language, lack of public instruction in Tulu language etc. are some of the reasons for the Tulu script to lag behind. It is to be noted that the introduction and establishment of the modern printing press by the German missionaries in Mangalore in the 19th Century and their trial of printing the Tulu writings in Kannada script is the major reason for the Tulu script to go behind the scenes. The Kannada script ably occupied the place of the Tulu script by the first half of the 19th Century. At present, Tulu writing is carried exclusively in the Kannada script only.