Konkani – The Language

Konkani is one of the 22 languages officially recognized by the Government of India. While a tentative figure of 350 languages is generally quoted for the Indian subcontinent, the French geo-linguist, Roland Breton claims that there are only 125 languages in India. Taking its name from the “Konkan” coast.

Konkani boasts over 2 million speakers. It belongs to the south western branch of Indo-Aryan languages. Principally based on classical Sanskrit, the evolution of Konkani can be traced from its origins in early Primitive Indo-Aryan through Middle and New Indo-Aryan, all the way to modern vernacular forms.

Pastoral tribes from Central Asia crossed the mountain ranges of northern India in the 2nd millennium BC, bringing their languages with them. Early Indo-European languages evolved into Sanskrit. The world’s first phoneticians were Sanskrit grammarians. Panini and Patanjali had already written lexicons of Sanskrit long before the Christian era. By 500 BC, Prakrits (common forms of speech) were widespread. By the middle of the 1st millennium AD, these forms of speech had changed to “Apabhramsas” (“decayed speech”). Between AD 1000-1300, the rudiments of modern Indo- European vernaculars were in place.

Historically, Konkani has been a spoken language, with comparatively little literature. Our ancestors are said to have come down from the banks of River Saraswati in Kashmir, southward to Goa, by way of Bengal. A severe drought is supposed to have been the main cause of this uprooting of our forefathers. Konkani still shows resemblance to Bengali. It is most like Marathi in its etymology.

Konkani, like Hindi has the following sounds:

13 “svara” (vowels) and 36 “vyanjan” (consonants)

The vowels are: a, aa, i, ee, u, oo, ri, ay, ai, o, au, ung, aha;

Consonants (articulations sounded in connection with a vowel) are arranged in 5 “vargas” (classes) in a scientific order according to the organs of speech used to produce these sounds, beginning with those situated at the very back of the throat, proceeding through the mouth and ending with the lips. The 2nd and 4th unit in each series are aspirates.

The 5 “jibhamulya” or gutturals (sounds produced in the throat by contact between the base of the tongue and the soft palate) are:

k, kh, g, gh, unga

(The “unga” may be compared with the sound of ‘n’ in “song”)

The 5 “talavya” or palatals (sounds produced by the surface of the tongue arching toward the hard palate) are:  

ch, chh, j, jh, nya

The 5 “murdhanya” or cerebrals (sounds produced with the tip of the tongue drawn back into the dome of the palate) are:

[soft] t, th, d, dh, n

(The ‘t’ here may be compared with the way it is used in French)

The 5 “dantya” or dentals (sounds produced by the tip of the tongue and the root of the teeth) are:

[hard] t, th, d, dh, n

(The aspirated “th” is similar to the way we say “T” in English and the “n” is close to how we say ‘n’ in words like “stunt”)

The 5 “osthya” or labials (sounds produced using the lips) are:

p, ph, b, bh, m

(The aspirated “ph” is the way we use “P” is English)

Besides these sounds there are 5 “antahasta” or semi-vowels (half-vowels produced by articulating the vocal cords):

y, r, l, v

5 “usman” or sibilants (uttered with a hissing voice):

[hard] ksh, [soft] sh, s

1 “visarga” or aspirate (sound produced by the full emission of breath): h

According to the notable linguist, Dr. S.M. Katre (“The formation of Konkani”, Poona, Deccan College, 1966) a typical Konkani sentence consists of a subject and a verb. e.g. Tho manishu ghara vatta (That man goes home)

Like its sister languages (such as Marathi), there is a general word order but no hard and fast rule.

e.g. The following sentences all mean “Where is the string ?” – Dori khayin assa ? Khayin assa dori ? Assa khayin dori ?

(Dori = String/Rope, Khayin = Where, assa = is)

Sometimes the meaning of a sentence can change depending on which word is stressed.

Adjectives agree in number and gender with the noun they qualify. eg. “Thambdi Choli” (red blouse; feminine; singular) or “Dhave Ghode” (white horses; masculine; plural).

Many nouns derived from Sanskrit end in “u” (masculine) or “a” (neuter). Examples of the former include “Devu” from the Sankrit word “Devah” for God and “mhoru” from the Sanskrit word “mayurah” for peacock. Examples of the latter include “Phala” derived from “Phalam” for fruit and “uddaaka” derived from “udakam” for water.

Konkani has been written in many scripts like Devnagiri, Kannada and Malayalam. The Roman alphabet has been used for communication in Konkani in Goa since the 16th century. However, most Konkani speakers are familiar with the Devnagiri script dating back to early forms of Sanskrit.

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