Once considered to be only a spoken language with no script, December 11 will go down in history as the day when efforts to revive Tulu achieved a milestone.
The first Tulu-Malayalam dictionary written by Professor AM Sreedharan was released on Sunday at the Vishwa Tuluvere Ayano (Global Tulu Fest) held in Badiyadka in Kerala‚Äôs Kasargod district.
The dictionary, published by NBS Publications, has nearly a lakh Tulu words translated into Malayalam, spread across 600 pages.
Tulu is now spoken in the regions of Udupi, Mangaluru and parts of Kasargod - once known as Tulu Nadu. Prof Sreedharan observes that Tulu has close similarities with Malayalam but that unlike Malayalam which has 51 letters, Tulu has only 49. The Malayalam letters of 'Ra' and 'Zha' are not present in Tulu.
The supremacy of Kannada during the times of Tipu gradually sidelined Tulu - one of the 7 Dravidian languages - says AM Sreedharan. According to him, there are nearly 16 lakh native speakers of Tulu spread across the country.
For the 56-year-old, who is the Director of Neeleshwaran branch of Kannur University and Head of Department of Malayalam, bringing out the dictionary is nothing but an effort to revive one of his two mother tongues.
"Tulu is a dead language. Once people were unaware that Tulu had a script. It was only in recent years that the script of this strong language was re-discovered. My aim is to dwell deep into the language and revive its literature," he said.
It took Prof Sreedharan four years to compile the dictionary, which involved field visits to collect the words and observe the customs and traditions of the people. He relied on the Kannada lexicon brought out by a university in Kerala.
Prior to this, he released a Byari-Malayalam dictionary in 2012. The language of Byari is spoken in parts of Mangaluru, with nearly 90,000 native speakers at the time.
It was after the release of the Byari-Malayalam dictionary that he won the Byari Sahitya Award and the Kerala Sahitya Award and Prof Sreedharan was encouraged to continue his pursuit.
Prof Sreedharan recounted the 2006 interview he had given prior to joining the college as Director.
"The panelists asked me what my share of contribution would be, and I told them that my efforts will be directed at reviving the forgotten Dravidian languages. And today, I have fulfilled my promise," he says.