Sunday, February 04, 2007

The position of Tulu language

According to linguists, Tulu language branches the earliest from Proto-South-Dravidian-I family. In relation to migration route of Dravidian speakers colonizing South India this can be attributed to Proto-Tuluvas moving along the coastal line whereas Proto-Tamil-Kannada clan spreading inland Karnataka along Krishna river (then moving along Tungabhadra river and finally along Kaveri reaching Tamil Nadu) from SD-I family.

But when I look at various communities of Tulu region I really wonder if that was the case. Consider the case of Bunts, erstwhile landowning community. The majority of Bunts have surname "Shetty". Shetty or its variants Setty, Chetty in South Indian society is the title of merchants. However, Bunts were typically considered as cultivators and never merchant community. In my opinion, changes in socio-political situation might have led many members of this community to cease their trading activities.

The western coast had an active trading relationship with Romans and Semites(probably Chinese too) dating as back as 2000 years. It has been observed that in Kerala society generally merchants from East coast(Tamil Nadu) migrated to North Kerala region and engaged in trading activities. What about Tulu region just north to it?

Considering the position of Tulu language in Dravidian language tree, I would envisage a situation where merchants from Telugu region(Godavari region) migrating to coastal Karnataka region. As time passed and trading activities came down, these Shettys, remained only as landowners. The migration of Shettys(and other people) belonging to SD-II family probably occurred before interior Karnataka region was occupied or Proto-Kannada-Tamil region was still confined to Krishna river region. Of course, this requires a mature Proto-SD-II cultural region in Godavari basin long before Kaveri region (Tamil) . Probably, around 1000-1500 BCE. I don't think this situation impossible considering Proto-Dravidians were already a civilized community by the time they reached South India. Of course, South Indian culture was an amalgamation of Dravidian, IA, Semitic and Austro-Asiatic elements from the beginning.

Note: I believe both IA and Dravidian speakers, had they been only wheat eaters, might have faced tribalization in tropical South India. Michale Witzel et al. argue that the word for "rice" in Dravidian languages is a borrow from either IA or Austro-Asiatic. So, it is highly possible that Dravidian speakers might have been at a greater risk of tribalization as wheat does not grow in South India(if I go by Jared Diamond).
However, this theory requires Tulu being part of SD-II family(which includes Telugu). Probably, it's a mistake including it in SD-I family. I think Tulu might have been part of Telugu family but for the influence of SD-I family it has become a separated, but curiously unrelated, branch in that family. I mean linguists start with Proto-Tamil-Kannada and not with Proto-Tulu-Kannada.

Probably, we can check this further by population genetics. If 30-40% of male lineages in this region belongs to Haplogroup R2(my clan) just like coastal Andhra(Godavari basin) then we can confidently say the male migration to this region was from SD-II family and Tulu should be part of Telugu family. Of course, we have to also look for all those Roman(R1b), Pre-Islamic Semitic (E3b, J1) lineages among Tulu castes.

1 comment:

Ravi Mundkur said...

Your views on Tulu language are interesting.However I have observed that proto Tulu and Kannada evolved and developed together during early Christian era and became independent languages later.Old Kannnada and Tulu are closely related.Kannada because of patronage of major kings grew into a well evolved language whereas Tulu remained mostly in its early stage because lack of support and patronage from major kings.For the same reason Tulu script did not evolve except in certain geographical pockets and restricted to certain professionals.
Besides, available circumstantial data suggests that early (proto?) Tulu and Kannada tribes travelled from northern India to present coastal Karnataka.One branch(especially early Kannada tribes) migrated towards Sirsi-Banavasi region and settled there. In support of this statement note that earliest(about 4 Century AD) recorded Kannada kingdom Kadambas were established at Banavasi, Uttara Kannada district.Then onwards Kannada language and kingdoms spread widely from Kaveri to Godavari as cited in Kavi Raja Marga. Similarly evolution of (early)Tulu and early Kannada was coeval as can be demonstrated by similarity of Tulu and Old Kannada words.
Influence of Telugu on Tulu may be of later date. Vijayanagara kings were ruling Kannada and Telugu areas in 13th century AD. And possibly during this period a considerable number of Telugu people must have settled in west coast.Several Telugu place names retained even today in Tulunad( ie Tulu speaking areas are interesting to note. Place names like Manchi,Rayi,(Manchakal),Dongara keri etc are suggestive of Telugu influence.These words have no other meanings in Tulu ( except the word Manchakal).
2.Regarding the surname Shetty it is derivative of Shreshty or the Jain merchant.Historical data, especially works of late Dr Gururaja Bhat, suggest that there has been episodes of conversions between Jain and Bunt communties in Tulunad.This and other several comman surnames in Jains Nad Bunts are suggestive of episodes of Jain >Bunt and vice versa conversions.