Tulu has been classified as a Southern Dravidian language, like Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam, all of which are considered to have been originated from a Proto-South Dravidian base. Linguists consider that from a branch of Proto-South Dravidian Tulu and Koraga languages evolved or developed.
However, available data and studies suggest that Koraga (and other similar tribal) languages and cultures prevailed in the Karavali and in parts of southern India well before the advent of Dravidian languages proper, such as Tulu, Tamil and Kannada, even though they (the former) were subsequently modified and evolved after absorbing some of the features of Dravidian languages in the due course. Thus it is possible that Koraga and other similar tribal languages in their original form represent an earlier generation of languages that prevailed in this land. However in the race of evolution many of the tribal languages have receded in their prominence or have been weakened and erased ultimately.
South Dravidian Languages
The inter-relationship among the South Dravidian languages is interesting. All the three South Dravidian languages could have evolved simultaneously and contemporaneously, mainly through oral literature, even though Tamil has been regarded generally as the oldest because of the presence of ample ancient literatures dating back to the Sangam period. Tulu also had its own contemporaneous Sangam period as evidenced by the presence of oral literature like the legends of Siri, preserved by the oral form of pāDdana genre. Early Kannada also probably had similar oral forms which unfortunately may not have been preserved or documented after the introduction of written formats.
Tulu and Kannada have an intimate relationship evidently since the early centuries of Common Era. Tulu chieftains and soldiers migrated and found occupation with Kannada Kings in hey days. Thus old Kannada and medieval Kannada shared cultural aspects with common words, grammar and script.
Tamil and Tulu apparently had limited lingual interactions after the passage of Early Sangam period, after fourth or fifth century CE. However, they were closer to each other culturally in the early centuries of CE and period before that. Tamil Sangam literatures have documented appreciation of the merits of contemporaneous Tulu Kings and soldiers. Tulu has retained some of the old Dravidian words it shared with Tamils without alteration even after its hegemony with Kannada. Let us take for example the Tulu word kanDani.
Tulu (kanDani) shares the key word for husband with the Tamil (kanDan) which differs from the Kannada (ganDa) equivalent. [ D pronounced as in Dog]. Check the equivalent versions in some of the southern Indian languages:
Tulu = kanDani, kanDane
Kannada = ganDa.
Kota = ganDa.
Telugu = ganDa
Koraga =( kor), koraga
It can be seen that Tamil and Tulu shared the common word ‘kanDan’ during the history. The original kanDan in Tulu modified into ’kanDani’, ‘kanDāni’ or ‘kanDane’ etc. The equivalent Kannada, Kodagu, Telugu, (also Kota, Havyaka) version is ‘ganDa’ [or ‘ganDu’=male.] which is a case of transition of consonants ka.>ga. This ka.>ga. replacement could have been a general regional variation in the pronunciation of the words or an evolutionary feature. In case this was a regional variant then it may suggest the pattern of movement and migration routes of the early Dravidian tribes (Fig 304).
The -an suffix for masculine indicative tag prevalent in Tamil was also common in early Tulu as well as in Kannada. In Tulu it has been retained as a vestige in lineage names like Anchan, Kanchan, Maindan, Salian, etc. In some cases, the early –an became –anna as in Bangeranna, Kuberanna, Taburanna, Sundaranna etc. The lineage tag in Tulu –annāya ( for example, Saliannaya, Bangerannaya, etc) and –āya (for example, Pejattāya, Kukkillāya etc) was also evolved from the early –an suffix.
Tulu-Koraga: Dravida relations
Historical reconstructions and indirect evidences from the study of ethnonyms suggest that Koraga and other tribes had inhabited the Karavali well before the arrival of Tulu immigrants. In other words, the Koraga and other tribal languages predated the Tulu language proper. In such a situation effect of transition of predominantly prevailing language in the region to the newly introduced (and eventually dominated) language has to be visualized and understood. Thus Tulu language appears to have evolved and grown by adopting some of the words and features of the tribal languages that existed previously in the terrain. Similarly the original content and structure of the pre-existing languages, such as Koraga were apparently modified eventually as a consequence of invasion of the new Tulu language in the area. This event could have happened somewhere around ca.700-500 BC or later.( This kind of give and take of amalgamation and transition of languages appears to have happened all over southern India especially in the case of Tamil Kannada, Telugu etc..)
It is interesting that Koraga do not have equivalent of the word kanDan or kanDani .In Koraga language the term ‘Koraga’ itself represents a man or husband.(This is the general case with many of the tribal languages wherein the name of the tribe means either man or human being or husband.). The Koraga tribes now are prevalent only in parts of the Karavali, but earlier these tribes or their equivalents pervaded all over southern India. Note that another word for husband in Tamil is ‘koruntan’. Wherein the prefix ‘kor’ clearly appears to have been borrowed during the early Tamil phase from the precursor language of Kor, Koraga or its equivalent.
Tulu shares many words with Early Tamil like, for example, ill (=house), bākil (=door), unakal (=dried), oode (=place), okkel (=farming), kaTTa (=difficulty), tārage(=star), tingol=(moon), tirey (=wave), parel (=piece), pugar (=praise), puncha(=group), poli (=light) etc.