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Flirting with Konkani

Photograph taken around 1986 of the first public meeting at Azad Maidan, Panjim when goans from all over the State turned out to demand Konkani as the official language.Goa, the land of beaches, adventure sports and old churches is also the state whose official language is almost 2000 years old. Konkani in Goa is like French in France, though not as notorious as the latter. But enough to say that almost everybody in Goa speaks Konkani and in different dialects. However, despite the predominance of Konkani, you will also find a sizable portion of the population speaking Marathi (Konkani's greatest competitor), Hindi, English and few among the elite who hang on dearly to their lingua franca - Portuguese!

Actually it is very interesting to note that Konkani wasn't declared as a National language until very recently in 1987. And Konkani has no original script either, they use the Devanagiri, Roman or Kannada scripts. The Goan Gaud Saraswath Brahmins use the Devanagiri script while the Goan Christians use the Roman script. Now Konkani is not spoken in Goa alone but in most parts of the Konkan coast. Mangalore and its surrounding areas in Karnataka has large number of people speaking Konkani and these people generally use the Kannada script.

Konkani was born from the ancient language - Shouraseni Prakrit. Shouraseni Prakrit developed from the regional interactions of the Aryans, who have contributed greatly to several Indian languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Assamese etc. It is believed that some of the Aryans moved South and settled in the Konkan region. Initially, they used the Brahmi script but the script was later discarded for the more popular Devanagiri, which was more understood by the locals there. So Konkani did have a script. Then what happened? How did it degenerate from a scripted language to a scriptless one? Well, most reasons point out to the unfavourable political conditions in Goa.

It is believed that Konkani literature did flourish once upon a time and even its grammatical structure was compiled. But this favourable conditions changed with the taking over of Goa by the Portuguese. The Portuguese hell bent on their evangelising mission, not only persecuted the Goan Hindus and Muslims, but also actively tried to wipe out Konkani. And persecuting was very much medieval in nature - inquisitions, burning at the stake, torture etc. In such a terrifying climate, one would have assumed that Konkani would have completely wiped out. But like the human spirit, human culture too has perseverence. The Konkanis clung onto their culture and language despite conversions to Christianity. Eventually the Portuguese realised the futility of their ways and incorporated Konkani in their evangelisation through translating Bibles and other religious literature into Konkani. This didn't go too well with some who eventually opted to the use of Marathi, the language of the neighbouring state. All these conditions were definitely not favourable for its literary development.

Well, that was its history. Today Konkani can boast of several dialects. There are some dialects where you can see the influences of Urdu, Kannada, Malayalam and in some cases Persian as well. Konkani continues to strive even today. Despite being the state's official language, Marathi is the medium of learning. One hopes that soon Konkani will regain its lost glory, though its achievements to date are not any less awesome. It has striven through centuries, and today, it is one of the National languages of India.

Mischelle Rebello

Photo Courtesy Lui Godinho

Sources:
http://www.vi-jyot.com/konkani-net/lingua/lingua.html
http://konkani.hypermart.net/history.htm
http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/konkani/konkani.htm

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