Irula language

Native to India
Region Tamil Nadu
Ethnicity Irulas
Native speakers
200,000 (2003)[1]
Tamil script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 iru
Glottolog irul1243[2]

Irula is a Dravidian language spoken by the Irulas who inhabit the area of the Nilgiri mountains, in the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, India.[3] It is written in the Tamil script.


The language was first described and classified by indologist Kamil Zvelebil, who in 1955 showed that the Irula language is an independent Southern Dravidian language akin to Tamil, particularly Old Tamil, with some Kannada-like features. Before that, it was traditionally denied or put to doubt, and Irula was described as a crude or corrupt mixture of Tamil and Kannada.

According to a tentative hypothesis by Kamil Zvelebil, a pre-Dravidian Melanid population that forms the bulk of the Irulas anthropologically, adopted (or perhaps was forced to adopt) an ancient pre- or proto-Tamil dialect, which was superimposed almost totally on their native (pre-Dravidian) speech. This new speech-form then became the basis of the Irula language, which must have subsequently been in close contact with (and hence influenced by) the other tribal languages of the Nilgiri area as well as with the large surrounding languages such as Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam.


The tables present the vowel[4] and consonant[5][6] phonemes of Irula.


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e o
Open a

All ten vowels are centralized by certain neighboring consonants. They are then transcribed [ï ë ä ö ü], etc., but may be closer to [ɨ ɘ æ ɵ ʉ].


Phonemes marked with an asterisk appear only in Zvelebil (2001, p. 157).

Bilabial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɳ ŋ
Stop/Affricate pb t*d* ʈɖ kg
Fricative v ɳ
ʝ* j
l m
Rhotic r

Notes and references

  1. Irula at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Irula". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Perialwar (1979), p. 1.
  4. Perialwar (1979), p. 55.
  5. Perialwar (1979), p. 57.
  6. Zvelebil (2001), p. 157.


  • Perialwar, R. (1978), A Grammar of Irula, Annamalai University 
  • Perialwar, R. (1979), Phonology of Irula with Vocabulary, Annamalai University 
  • Zvelebil, Kamil V. (2001), "Irula Phonological System", Nilgiri Areal Studies, Charles University in Prague, Karolinum Press, ISBN 80-7184-945-6 

Further reading

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