Roots of Konkani

The origins of Konkani language from the historic viewpoint are very interesting. 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, Rajastani, 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 parent 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 (a.k.a. Devanagari) was used for the benefit of much larger audience.

The first striking reference was to the Kokna tribals, also known as Kokni, Kukni or Kukna. They were the original inhabitants of the Konkan.

They speak Kokni – an Indo-Aryan language at home and Marathi with others.

They are concentrated in Nasik, Thane and Dhule. In Gujarat, their major concentration is in Valsad and Dang districts. In Dadra and Nagar Haveli, the Kokna are distributed in 60 villages. In recreating the history of Konkani, very little attention has been paid to these original inhabitants of the Konkan, their tribal lexicography and Kokni sociolinguistics. It is possible that their ancestors were the first settlers of the Konkan and most probably the seeds of the modern Konkani language are hidden in their ancient speech. We don`t have even hundred words from Kokni language of the Koknas and this shows the absolute intellectual poverty of our scholars to go beyond the present boundaries of Goa, before exclaiming `Goa-as the heartland (mulpeeth) of Konkani sanskriti.`

Konkani (Devanagari/Marathi) is derived from the Sanskrit language, and includes a significant vocabulary derived from various Dravidian languages. It started as a vernacular of Sanskrit, with the inevitable introduction of new words and phrases. It has been relatively free of influence of other language with the exception of words from the Portuguese (particularly in areas of Goa), some Kannada and Marathi. Konkani is not a dialect of Marathi and it has been established that when the Konkani language had reached maturity, the Marathi language was in its developmental stages.[1].

The Konkani language is spoken widely in the Konkan region consisting of Goa, south coastal Maharashtra, coastal Karnataka and Kerala, each region having a unique dialect and pronunciation style. The language was brought to these areas by Hindu Konkani speakers fleeing the Portuguese inquisition of Goa during the early years of Portuguese rule.

In Maharashtra, the Gamits are mostly distributed in the Mumbai division. They speak Konkani (not Kokna) and use the Devanagari script for written communication. In Karnataka, the Gamit including all the subgroups are notified as scheduled tribes. There were just 34 of them in 1981. Perhaps this Konkani speaking tribal group is already extinct in Karnataka.

The Siddhis, Kokna and Gamit together account for a million Konkani/Kokna speakers outside Goa. This is ethnographically a substantial population because there are only a million Konkani speakers in Goa. Kokna and Gamit are proto-Australoid people which means their arrival in peninsular India dates 50-60 thousand years back. They must have settled in the western ghats of the Konkan including Goa before migrating to other places. This is puzzling because after descending from the Vindhyas, below the Narmada-Tapti valley and after trekking an unknown and hazardous territory to reach Konkan and Goa, they had to reverse this journey after establishing tribal settlements and occupying these peacefully for thousands of years. What were their fears, impulses and compulsions which made them refugees and strangers in their ancient homeland?

There has been always sibling rivalry amongst Konkanis and the Marathis. The Marathis have condemned Konkani as, “.. a branch of Marathi; it has neither script nor literature; it is not a language.” But, history has established that even when Konkani language had reached maturity, the Marathi language was not even born. There is an inscription written in Konkani dated 1187 A.D. whereas even the earliest Marathi manuscripts are of 16th century. It is no surprise that when poet Jnaneshwar wanted to create his masterpiece Jnaneshwari, he had to take up study of Konkani which was very prevalent (1209 A.D.) After 16th century both Marathi and Konkani have taken their own developmental course and it is natural that today they appear as two separate languages.

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.

If one has to see the diversity of today’s Konkani language, one should travel the Indian west coast. In Bombay, 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. In Karwar and Ankola (locate), they emphasize the syllables, and in Kumta-Honavar, they use consonants in abundance. The Konkani spoken by Nawayatis of Bhatkal is very melodious with smearing of Persian. People of South Kanara do not distinguish between nouns of Kannada and Konkani, and have developed a very business practical language. They sometimes add Tulu words also. The Konkani of Kerala is drenched with Malayalam, and the Konkanis of north Karnataka add Kannada verbs to Konkani grammar. The city-bred use a plenty of English. To write Konkani, Kannada, Nagari, Roman, Arabic, and Malayalam scripts are used and this way, Konkanis declare themselves as members of world family (Vishwakutumbi). There is no other language with a possible exception of Sanskrit that a language is written in so many scripts.

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. This has served the community well as their migration from Goa to Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra was easy. During the Maratha rule, Konkani families who migrated to Madhya Pradesh speak only Hindi. Sometimes I wonder if this is indeed a blessing or a shortcoming. Hindus of Goa are arguing that only works written in Nagari be recognized as Konkani literature whereas the Christian brethren want acceptance of Konkani works in Roman script. Konkanis of Karnataka consider works of Konkani in Kannada script is most authentic and superior to all others. While Konkanis of Kerala are confused on which script to use, the Konkanis elsewhere are wondering which position to take.

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