Languages of Goa

About

Goa is a tropical paradise that lies on the west coast of India bathed by the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. It is unique in many ways but mostly due to its history and geography that have left an indelible mark on its people for generations.

Having been ruled by the colonial Portuguese for over 450yrs (as compared to the rest of India that was ruled by the British for 250yrs) there is still visible a distinct Portuguese / European flavor that has permeated all aspects of Goa’s life including its food, religion, language, festivals, dances and of course names. This becomes apparent as soon as you cross the border to Goa from India or elsewhere.

This unique blend of Indian and Portuguese culture is to a large extent what makes Goa and the “Goan” unique. Also unique is the fact that it is one of the few colonies that India (an ex- colony itself) liberated in 1961 and this set the stage for reclaiming history.

Today at the dawn of the “age of Information Technology”, as Goa enters the new millennium, it has plenty to write about in terms of achievements, some examples being- the highest per capita income in India, the highest per personal savings rate in India, the lowest infant mortality rate in India, one of the highest literacy rate in India and one of the highest standards of living as compared to the rest of India.

Language of Goa

Konkani, is an Indo-Aryan language belonging to the Indo-European family of languages and is spoken on the western coast of India. It has approximately 3.6 million speakers. It is one of the official languages of India and is the official language of the Indian state of Goa. It is a minority language in Karnataka and northern Kerala (Kasaragod district).

Konkani is member of southern Indo-Aryan language group, most closely related to Marathi. It retains elements of the old Indo-European language structure and shows similarities with both western  as well as Eastern Indo-Aryan languages .

Appellations

It is quite possible that Old Konkani was just referred to as Prakrit by its speakers. Reference to the name Konkani is not found in literature prior to 14th century. We have first reference to the name Konkani in the abhanga 263,of the 14th century Marathi saint poet, Namadeva(1270–1350). Konkani has been known by a variety of names: canarim, concanim, gomantaki, bramana, goani. It is called amchi bhas (our language) by native speakers and govi or Goenchi bhas by others. Learned Marathi speakers tend to call it Gomantaki.

Origin and History of Konkani language

The origin and history of Konkani language has best been defined by Krishnanad Kamat, here’s what he had to say.

The Aryans who migrated to India familiarized themselves in North India and established several languages based on the local influence. Depending on their geographical dispersion you can categorize two distinct groups. Punjabi, Rajasthani, Gujarati, and Hindi evolved from Prakrit of Magadha and Sindhi Maithili, Assamese, Bengali originated from Shouraseni Prakrit. Konkani belongs to the second group, and hence some scholars regard Bengali or Assamese as the mother of Konkani language. However, in reality the three are siblings of the same (now nonexistent) intermediary language. The arguments on the matter continue to generate a lot of response among linguists. Some historians argue that it was the language of Aryans who came further south to the Konkan, and hence the name Konkani. The most important point to note here is that Konkani is first seen in the Konkan area. Early adopters used the Brahmi script, but eventually due to the local influence, Nagari  (aka Devanagari) was used for the benefit of much larger audience.

The Konkanis who settled in Goa engaged in creative literature and defined grammar for the language. Meanwhile, the Portuguese were land hungry and had started occupying the Indian west coast. They invaded the land of Gomanthak (Goa) and started harassing the Konkanis. These religious fanatics wanted to fill the entire universe with followers of Jesus Christ and forced their own language, customs, and religion on the residents. They even passed a law banning Konkani. In fact, they burned all the Konkani literature available at the time in 1548 A.D. The Konkanis became cultural orphans. The foreigners burnt alive the Konkanis who did not accept Christianity and forcefully converted the weaker sections of the society. They even changed their names to Christian names. So to preserve their identity the Konkanis had to migrate to different parts. This is the single most reason why Konkani has so many dialects; those who went to different parts of India were influenced by their local languages. In Vengulra, Sawantavadi, and Ratnagiri, they adopted Marathi, and Malavani was formed. In south and north Kanaras, Konkani language was influenced by Kannada, and in Kerala, the Malayalam words were integrated to the language.

In spite of persecution, the Konkanis hung on to their culture and the Portuguese thought it was better for them to learn Konkani in order to convert the Konkanis. They called Konkani the language of the Brahmins, language of the Kanarese, language of Goan Brahmins, etc.

If one has to see the diversity of today’s Konkani language, one should travel the Indian west coast. In Mumbai, they speak in Marathi accent whereas in Konkan, they stretch the words so that no outsider can understand! The Hindus of Goa liberally use the Portuguese words whereas the Christians use it as if it’s a Portuguese dialect. There are different names for the different dialects. People of Ratnagiri origin and Konkan Brahmins speak Chitpawani that is influenced by Marathi. People of Konkan speak Malavani and Goans speak Gomantaki. Tippu Sultan arrested the Christians of west coast, and transferred to Mysore as prisoners of war, and forcefully converted them to Islam. Their descendents speak Konkani with a mixture of Urdu in parts of Mysore, Coorg, and Srirangapattanam. In general, the Konkanis are skilled in multiple languages. They tend to accept other languages into their own rather than be inconvenience to others. Although originally Konkani was the language of Saraswat Brahmins, many have adopted it as their mother-tongue. Sonar (Suvarnakar), Serugar, Mestri, Sutar, Vani, Devali, Siddi, Gabeet, Kharvi, Dalji, Samgar, Nawayati, etc. are some of the communities who speak Konkani.

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