One language in five scripts

Print edition : February 02, 2018

Konkani flourishes along the West coast of India, the Konkan, from Maharashtra, North and South Kanara in Karnataka and parts of Kerala. Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi also have Konkani-speaking populations. The history of Konkani reflects the geography of the space the speakers inhabit, as also the script used to express themselves.

There were forced migrations compelled by the exigencies of livelihoods and trade , the earliest being to Kerala in the 12th century. This was followed by a second wave after Alauddin Khilji invaded Goa in 1294. The 16th century saw an exodus of Hindus fleeing Portuguese persecution.

The language is now used by a population spread over four states : Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. Konkani is written in Devanagari, Kannada, Marathi and Malayalam.The clergy still publishes Konkani periodicals in the Roman script in Goa and Mangalore. This wide regional span as well as the frequency of change in ruling powers (Muslims first, then the Portuguese who actually outlawed the language) led to Konkani often being called the “fugitive” language.

Although it is the language of a minority in three large states and spoken by everyone in Goa, it is only since 1961 that the Konkani speaker has been free to take charge of his destiny, and use his mother tongue as a language of power. A leading writer in Konkani, Pundalik Naik, said, “Konkani has had a long history of neglect, suppression and struggle”. The Konkani-English translator Vidya Pai says, “Growing up in North India I was always confounded by the question ‘What are you? Where are you from?’ So I would mumble, ‘I’m Konkani…’ And at once someone would exclaim, ‘What’s that?? Madrassi?’”

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