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Konkani: Language of the fishermen

Brief Description

It is an Indo-Aryan language and includes a significant number of loan words derived from various Dravidian languages. It has influences from many other languages including Portuguese, Kannada, Marathi and Perso-Arabic.

The word "Konkani" is used to describe both a language of the Indian subcontinent and a group of people. The word is derived from "kum", meaning Mother Earth and "Kana", meaning 'dust' or 'atom'. Thus, Konkani would mean "a part of Mother Earth". This appellation could well describe the hardy people of the Konkan region, who are primarily farmers and fishermen.

Regions where spoken

The Konkani language is spoken widely in the Western Coastal region of India known as Konkan. This consists of Konkan division of Maharashtra, Goa, Canara (coastal Karnataka) and some pockets in Kerala. Each region has a different dialect, pronunciation style, vocabulary, tone and sometimes, significant differences in grammar.

The Census Department of India, 1991 figures put the number of Konkani speakers in India as 1,760,607 making up 0.21% of India's population. It ranks 15th in the list of Scheduled Languages as per strength. The figures of 2001 census are not yet public. A very large number of Konkanis stay outside India, either as expatriates or citizens of other countries (NRIs). Determining their numbers is difficult. Ethnologue puts the number of Konkani speakers at 7.6 million (estimated).

Development & Spread

The Konkani people trace their history as far back as the fourth millennium BC. With their population concentrated in Mangalore, south coastal Maharashtra, north coastal Kerala and northern Karnataka, they share their name with the coastline and the language they speak. At present, Konkani is the official language of Goa where the Konkani people are thought to have settled around the 11th century AD.

Konkani began its evolution as a vernacular form of Sanskrit and showed little traces of influence of any other language till around the 16th century. Around then, the Portuguese Empire had defeated the Bijapur kings and established a strong foothold in the Konkani region. In the year 1560, the notorious Goa Inquisition was initiated in and around Goa. The Inquisition remains one of the most brutal episodes in Indian history and resulted in the exodus of a significant proportion of the local Goan populace to the closely located safe zones of present-day Maharashtra, coastal Kerala and Karnataka (an area where the Portuguese influence did not reach). However, the uniqueness of the Konkani language and culture seemed to be a lost cause. Konkani, a traditional Devanagari script was propagated under the Roman script thanks to the forceful influence of the Portuguese in Goa.


The problems posed by multiple scripts and varying dialects have come as an impediment in the efforts to unite Konkanis. The decision to use Devanagari as official script and Antruz dialect has met with opposition both within Goa and outside it. The critics contend that Antruz dialect is unintelligible to most Goans, let alone other Konkanis, and that Devanagari is used very little as compared to Roman script in Goa or Kannada script in costal Karnataka. Prominent among the critics are Konkani Catholics in Goa, who have been at the forefront of the Konkani agitation in 1986-87 and have for long used the Roman script including producing literature in Roman script. They are demanding that Roman script be given equal status to Devanagari.

In Karnataka, which has the largest number of Konkanis, leading organizations and activists have similarly demanded that Kannada script be made the medium of instruction for Konkani in local schools instead of Devanagari.

At present no single script or dialect can claim to be understandable or acceptable to all sections. No serious efforts have been made to achieve a consensus on this issue. The lack of a standard dialect which was acceptable to all has meant that, at many times Konkanis interact with other Konkanis in other languages.

Source: www.bhashaindia.com, www.censusindia.net, www.ethnologue.com

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