Konkani, A dialect? NO!

by Derick Pinto

The other day, a Maharashtrain friend of mine remarked, "Konkani is a dialect of Marathi. That is why Konkani does not have its own script." This set me thinking. I am a linguist and I am interested in language and linguistics. So I found me asking myself as to whether Konkani is a dialect of Marathi or an independent language by itself.

After giving much though to the issue, I arrived at the following conclusion: If tongues were to be graded on a scale of 1 to 10, with a full fledged language like Hindi, Marathi, etc. placed at 10 and any dialect at 5, Konkani would find its place at 7.5; Not 5, hence not a dialect and not 10 hence not a fully developed language. Why so? Why could Konkani not become a fully developed language? The reasons are obvious. People used Konkani only for oral communication but when it came to writing, the people in pre-Portuguese Goa wrote in Marathi. During the Portuguese regime, the Christian converts used Portuguese for written communication, while the Goan hindus continued to use Marathi. As a result of this, the development of Konkani suffered a set back. Hence, 7.5 instead of 10. But definitely not 5 (a dialect).

Having or not having a script is not the criterion in deciding whether a tongue is a dialect or an independent language. Even English (bestowed with the honour of being an international language) had to borrow the Roman script from Latin. Russian and other Slav languages has no script till St Cyril formulated for them the Cyrillic Alphabet (being a mixture of Greek and Roman scripts) And for those who are ignorant, Konkani has not one but 5 scripts – Roman, Devanagari, Kannada, Malayalam and Arabic! Because Konkani is spoken all along the Konkan coast which lies in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala besides Goa. It is difficult to adopt any one of these scripts for Konkani because in each state, Konkani imbibes the accent and the vocabulary peculiar to that state/region which can be denoted only in that script e.g.

The e sound cannot be denoted in Devanagari which is possible in Roman (e) or Kannada scripts.

Coming to the vocabulary, as Konkani is one of the several daughters of the mother language Sanskrit, there are bound to be similarities as there are in Hindi / Marathi / Gujarati / Punjabi, etc. or Bengali / Odia / Assamese etc. So this cannot be considered to be a ground for labeling Konkani as a dialect of Marathi. Even the syntax among most Indian languages is more or less similar. Hence, it is safe to conclude that while Konkani may not be as advanced as Marathi, it is not as underdeveloped to be considered a mere dialect.

Talking about choosing a script for Konkani, it is pertinent to recall that Kemal Pasha of Turkey changed the script of Turkish from Arabic to Roman. According to him, both Turkey and Turkish would develop if Roman script was adopted. The outcome is history. Personally, I feel the same holds for Konkani in Goa too. And I am not saying this because I am a Goan or Catholic but because circumstances so warrant. 450 years of Portuguese rule, using the Roman script for writing Konkani, the language's pronunciation and accent modified over the centuries makes it difficult for us now, to be writing in the Devnagari script. And believe me, if Konkani is to develop, it will do so only if the Roman script is adopted. While on this, special mention must be made of the valuable contribution made by the Vauraddeancho lxtt in the development of the Konkani language.

To write Konkani in the Roman script was taught to us by the Portuguese. Hence, they followed the Portuguese (Latin) rules of orthography (spelling) eg. Using 'c' or 'qu' instead of 'k', 'x' for 'sh', the grave, cedilla, circumflex and tilde accents and avoiding 'w' and 'y'. Some newspapers like the 'Goa Times' circulating in Bombay used this style of spelling. Eg. 'Conn' instead of 'Konn', 'quitem' for 'kitem' so on. The Vauraddencho lxtt adopted certain rules for spelling Konkani words and this, consistently over the years or decades. This consistency has given a certain stability to Konkani orthography. It is widely accepted, recognized and used eg. in liturgical works by the Church, etc. and for this standardization, the Vauraddeancho lxtt deserves a big award from the Konkani speaking people for its valuable contribution to the development of konkani by giving a definite shape, a regularised spelling for Konkani's vocabulary. A contribution over the years, consistently and unstinted. Editors may come and go, but the crystallization has set in and this makes the paper stand out with authentic spelling.

But there is a flip side too. Over the years, the vocabulary has undergone a drastic change. Try comparing an issue of the newspaper of the 1970's with one of today. While the spelling (orthography) has standardised, the language has become more and more marathisized. Authentic Konkani words have come to be replaced by marathi derivated eg. 'fikir' instead of 'usko' 'Khali' for 'rito', etc. and this pains a true lover of the Konkani language. Agreed, we need to develop Konkani, but in this way? Do we have to konkanise marathi words and use them? And then when an onlooker reads this, he is bound to get the impression (like my Maharashtrian friend) that Konkani is a dialect of Marathi and that it does not have its own full-fledged vocabulary to express ideas.

I would like to end this piece by telling those who do not know that the eminent linguist, Dalgado, who is accredited with compiling the first Konkani dictionary, had, after much research, come to the conclusion that "Concanim nao e o dialecto de Marathi". He knew be


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