India is a country of rich cultural diversity where 22 officially recognised languages and over 1650 dialects are spoken across 29 states and 7 union territories, as in 2019. The 2011 Census of India last listed 1369 ‘mother tongues’, however, our country has been a witness to a great number of tongues over the centuries. One such distinctive and culturally rich language is Konkani.
The Konkan lands form your stereotypical idea of a tropical Indian paradise with gorgeous sun-kissed beaches, coastal winds and an assortment of ethnic culinary creations with a touch of western India. From Goan curries and prawn pickles to coconut-based seafood delicacies and free-flowing beer, the Konkanis have surely taught India how to eat, drink and make merry. We are now going to dive into exploring a little about the language of the Konkani people: the ethno-linguistic community who are inhabitants of the Konkan Coast around Karnataka, Kerala, Goa and Maharashtra, and who speak the Konkani language.
The what, the where, the how many
Konkani, an Indo-Aryan language found under the Indo-European family of languages, is the official language of the Indian state of Goa as well as one of the 22 officially recognised languages of the Indian Constitution. It is spoken by the Konkani people living along the western coast of India, and interestingly, this language is said to belong to the same group as Bengali and Assamese.
Also known to be one of the most influenced languages, it borrows a significant number of words from Kannada, Marathi, Tulu, Hindi, Turkish and Portuguese – the level of adulteration possibly being anywhere between 15% and 20%.
Other fun facts
While the spectrum of Konkani speakers is spread along Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and a few pockets of northern Kerala, apart from the many Konkanis who have migrated to other countries, not at all other Konkani languages enjoy an official status. With the exception of Marathi-Konkani and Goan-Konkani, most are considered to be a dialect of one of the larger local languages. Needless to say, Goan-Konkani is the official language of the Indian state of Goa.
Did you also know that Konkani is the only Indian language that can be written in 4 scripts? Yes, that’s right, 4 scripts: Devanagari, Roman, Kannada and Malayalam.
Threat factors & the way ahead
Unfortunately, there is one eminent potential threat of eventual extinction: Konkani is spoken by merely 7.5 lakh people in Goa. And if literature is what is supposed to keep a language alive, then the Konkanis were never really able to develop theirs. For this, you can blame the radical changes their society constantly underwent. At first, it was the advent of Buddhism and then came the Greeks, followed by the Arabs and the Turks. The threat from the Marathas and the Portuguese monarchs always loomed large, not even to mention the persecution of Konkani around the Middle Ages.
In fact, in a news article as recent as October 2019, Goa University announced that they want to digitise and transliterate their texts into Konkani, in order to bridge the linguistic and literary gap among the Konkani speakers. They will use the ‘Konkanverter’, which was developed by the World Konkani Centre at Mangaluru, to convert the existing text to a Konkani script. “The study explores the possibility of having a cross-orthographical readership of Konkani using Konkanverter, which will not only increase readership and production of literature, but also help create Konkani digital archive”, said the university’s website.
The next time you are in Goa, you might want to surprise some of these warm, hospitable people by placing your order in Konkani and saying, ‘Mhaka ek beer jai’ and see the difference you make!
Content curated & SmartRead by: Team Vernac
Author: Alifya Thingna