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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 35 August 17, 2019

On Local Language

Monday 19 August 2019, by Eduardo Faleiro

At the time of the conquest of Goa by the Portuguese, in the early sixteenth century, Konkani and Marathi were the languages prevailing here. Authors differ in their opinion as to whether both languages were written or Marathi alone was the literary language and Konkani, the spoken language. Noted Goan historian Pandurang Pisurlenkar observes:

“If the language spoken in Goa is Konkani, the literary language of the Goan Hindus is traditionally Marathi. Cunha Rivara and Mons. Sebastiao Rodolfo Dalgado believed that there was literature in Konkani language and that it was destroyed by the Portuguese due to religious intolerance. We may, however, note that the Portuguese territory of Goa, before 1763, consisted only of the Old Conquests namely Tiswadi, Salcete and Bardez; the rest of the same territory was not under the Portuguese rule. It is therefore logical that had there been any book or document written in this language it would have been found in the New Conquests. The truth is that there are no vestiges whatsoever of the existence of a Konkani literature before the conquest of Goa by the Portuguese. There was certainly literature in Goa but written in Marathi and Sanskrit.” (Goa Pre Portuguesa attraves dos escritores lusitanos dos seculos XVI &XVII, pp 49 et seq) 

Fr. Antonio Pereira remarks: “Marathi was the hieratic language of Goa though not understood by the masses for whom Konkani was more familiar and homely, ‘lingua da terra vulgar’, the popular language of the place.” After the Portuguese conquest, foreign missionaries wrote Konkani in the Roman script. “As a rule the majority of the books of the Jesuits and Franciscans in prose are in Konkani and those in poetry are in Marathi”. (The Makers of the Konkani Literature, p. 11)

Other writers hold a different view. Prof. Lourdino Rodrigues says: “today we know with incontestable evidence that Goa had a Konkani version of Ramayana and Mahabharata in the 16th century and Konkani was a so highly developed language that its vocabulary was richer than Portuguese and Marathi.” (Pre-sixteen century Mohabharat Adi Porv, p. XI)

The first significant publication in Konkani by a Goan during the Portuguese rule was “Udentechem sallok” (Lotus of the East), a fortnightly published from Pune by Eduardo Bruno de Souza, in 1889. It was in Roman script. The first theatre “Italian bhurgo” of Lucasinho Ribeiro was staged in Bombay in 1892. In 1904, Joao Agostinho Fernandes staged his theatre “Bhattkara” and his wife Regina Fernandes became the first lady to act in a theatre.

The first Konkani novel “Kristanv ghorabo” was written by Eduardo Bruno de Souza and published in 1911. Konkani in Roman script was kept alive by Goan Catholics who migrated to Bombay and other parts of India and who had studied the script in the Portuguese primary schools at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. The reason, according to Mons. Dalgado, was that whilst the Portuguese were intolerant towards the local languages, the British administration would promote them.

“The British administration, far from persecuting and ostracising the native languages, assumes as one of its main duties to open schools everywhere and provide generous grants to private schools for their teaching, to stimulate in every way the attendance of the students, to use these languages in the preparation for higher studies, to promote text books so that even rough dialects are written.... and this does not harm the propagation of the English language quite on the contrary... Look at the Goan community in Bombay which is more in contact with the British administration and with the intellectual activities of its subjects; it has for the last several years, periodicals in the mother tongue, literary publications, mostly translations or adaptations as it always happens in the initial stages and even dramatic productions which are appreciated by those who do not know or know only superficially European languages.” (Dicionario Portuguez-Konkani, pp. XIV-XV)

Konkani literature in Devanagari script was promoted by Vaman Varde Valaulikar (Shenoi Goenbab) in the early twentieth century. It gained impetus after liberation and more so after the enactment of the Official Languages Act. The Official Languages Act was enacted in 1987. It is intended to achieve greater unity and harmony among our people and to strengthen our common cultural heritage. If in the process of implementing the Official Languages Act any section of the population feels aggrieved, such complaints should be examined sympathetically.

School education is intended mainly to provide a suitable career, economic and social status and better prospects in life. India is today among the fastest growing economies in the world. Economic success of a nation leads to cultural assertion. In emerging India it will be necessary to be fluent in at least two Indian languages including Hindi, for success in the mainstream economy and society. English is at present the main international language. In this globalised world, proficiency in English is also important.

There is no reason for any language controversy in Goa. If differences do arise the protagonists of Marathi and Konkani in Devanagari and Roman scripts should together find a solution. They should approach the Government whenever necessary. Institutions such as the Central Institute of Indian Languages are also available for advice.

The author is a former Union Minister who is now based in Goa.

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