Koraga is a Dravidan language spoken by about a thousand Koragas of the South Kanara district, Mysore, southern India. The exact number of its speakers is not known because, the census authorities have been treating it as a dialect of Tulu and hence they have not given it a separate counting. The sketch of its three distinct dialects given in the present monograph makes it abundently clear that Koraga is a distinct language of the Dravidian family and is only remotely connected to Tulu.
The existence of this extremely interesting Dravidan language was noted by scholars way back in 1880s, but it had failed to attract any further attention later on. Mr. H. A. Stuart, in his report for the 1981 census (Madras), had treated it as a dialect of Tulu and the following comments were offered by him in this connection:
“The Koragas are an uncivilized tribe of South Canara, who live chiefly by basket-making. The caste returns show 4,355 of them, but only 1,768 have returned Korage as their parent tongue. The Acting Collector of South Canara, Mr. Vernor Brodie, writes of them as follows:-
“Koragas are an aboriginal race. In their intercourse with other people they speak Tulu, but it is believed they speak a separate language at home quite unconnected with any other main language. No one, however, seems to have been able to learn the language up to this as they will not impart any knowledge of it to others or even talk it in their presence’.
“This unwillingness to give information regarding their language is also noticed in an account of the Koragas given in the Madras Christian College Magazine for May 1886. Subsequently, however, Mr. BRODIE obtained for me some good vocabularies of the dialect, and in forwarding them he said:-
“Though the language appears to have affinity to the other Dravidian lanuages, especially Tulu, yet it is not greater than what exists between Tulu and Canarese or between Malayalam and Tamil. It would, therefore, seem to be more correct to show the language as an independent Dravidian language than as a dialect of Tulu or other language.’
“After Mr. BRODIE left the district, I obtained another and larger vocabulary, and from the large number of Tulu words in it, I thought it best to show the language as a dialect of Tulu. I do this with great diffidence, as I have no knowledge of Tulu, but further investigation is necessary to justifiy the addition of another member to the Dravidian family”.
As had been pointed out by Mr. STUART, the Koragas are one of the most backward communities of South Kanara. Extremely dirty in their habits, they are kept away by the people of all other communities in this district. They manufacture baskets, cradles, winnowing baskets, etc. for their living, and also collect firewood and honey from nearby forests. They sell to the Muslim traders the hide, bones and horns of dead animals which they obtain from the villages. They also find employment with municipalities and village panchayats as scavengers and sweepers.
Their language is divided into a number of distinct dialects which are separated from one another by both geographical and social factors. The present monograph includes short sketches of three of them, which probably represent the three major dialects of this language. Informants were obtained for Onti from Udipi, for Tappu from Hebri, and for Mudu from Coondapur. Ande, its fourth dialect, was found to be midway between Tappu and onti, and the dialect spoken in Mangalore appeared to be very similar to Onti. A detailed study of areas north of Coondapur however, may revels additional dialects for this language.
Comparison of these three distinct dialects of Koraga has revealed that the close similarity existing between Onti and Tulu on the one hand, and Mudu and Kannada on the other was because of strong bilingual interference rather than any close genitic relationship. All the speakers of Mudu are bilinguals in Kannada, and all of Onti in Tulu. This state of affairs must have existed for the last thousand or more years, and as a result, Mudu had closely followed Kannada for many of its recent sound changes, in addition to heavily borrowing vocables from it, and Onti had followed Tulu in a similar fashion. The influence of these local languages on dialects of Koraga is so strong that a separation of retained features from borrowed ones is hard to make in them.
This has also made it difficult to understand the exact, relationship that exists between Koraga and the remaining Dravidian languages. Whatever similarity Koraga shows with the local languages could easily be explained as due to bilingual interference. However, since points of such similarity are too many, once they are discarded as borrowings, one is left with practically nothing for genetic comparison. This, of course, is the usual difficulty one has to face while studying the native speech of bilingual communities.
The following are some of the conspicuous grammatical features of Koraga which clearly indicate a closer affinity for Koraga with the North Dravidian (NDr) languages, Kudux, Malto, and Brahui and carry it away from the neighbouring South Dravidian languages.
1. The past tense suffix is k g kk in Koraga. EMENEAU considers k ‘past’ to be a NDr. Innovation
2. Non-past (present) suffix is n in Onti and Mudu and n nn n in Tappu. Kudux, a NDx. Language also has n ‘present’ occurring in III person plural (masculine-feminine) form and in verbal nouns.
3. Onti has an imperfect suffix o which may be compared with the Kudux future suffix o which, again, is said to be a NDr innovation.
4. The gender-number distinction found in third person finite forms of verbs in Koraga is identical with that prevalent in Kudux: feminine goes with neuter in the singular and with masculine in the plural; and no form indicating the neuter plural.
5. Onti does not add the plural suffix to irrational nouns: an identical situation exists in Kudux.
6. Other interesting features of Koraga are (i) the perfect suffix a a: (ii) the locative suffix t (iii) relative past participle e (iv) root tar with its restricted sense of ‘to give to I or II person’, and (v) the simplicity of its past stem derivation which, it is said, would be unusual for a SDr. Language.
Whatever be its genealogical placing, the importance of Koraga for the comparative study of Dravidian languages conld not be over-emphasized.
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