Colonialism leaves a lasting impact on the socio-cultural, ideological and emotional fabric, even decades since its end in a place once subjected to colonial rule. One such marker of this colonial legacy is encoded in the language of the place, both in terms of languages which have gained a status of prestige over others, and the other languages who attempt to remain relevant. The pattern of the rise and fall of the socio-political importance of native languages vis-à-vis colonialism is unique to the geo-political, religious, cultural and economic concerns of that population. To have a unified theory that attempts to understand linguistic colonization and its long-term effects is reductive and absolutist.

Instead, we must look at individual languages that have been exposed to colonialist prejudices and their tangible ramifications, especially in (the end of) their use for educational and official purposes, and see how their forms and functions have changed over generations, becoming quite unrecognizable to its centuries-old self and defying co-option by a singular theory of language revival in the postcolonial era.

This paper focuses on the post-post-colonial era and addresses the reality of a linguistic situation, where combating colonial remnants of language or thought or culture emerges as an utterly insignificant concern for many of the speakers of a language and whose engagements with their native language largely derives from personal motivations.

Why Konkani?

Konkani was standardized by Portuguese missionaries in order to expedite their conversion processes. It had been inferred that a good deal of Konkani literature was incinerated and a law which banned the use of Konkani and Nagari scripts was enacted. The Romi Lipi script made an entry with the publication of Doutrina Crista by Thomas Stephens in the early 17th century. This was a catechism of the Christian Doctrine arranged in the form of a dialogue and prepared for teaching children. The Portuguese encouraged Marathi over Konkani, however Konkani ceased to ebb away. The Konkans who refused to embrace Christianity escaped the clutches of Portuguese rule and settled elsewhere, where they maintained their Hinduism and adopted the Devanagari script.

Konkani is still widely prevalent in Goa and, in that context, is nowhere on the road to extinction. And while it has official status in the state of Goa, it is a prominent language in parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala. These regional dialects are vastly different and often lead to miscommunication.

Ironically, in regions like Mangalore and Chitrapur, in spite of Kannada reigning over most domains, Konkani has survived through generations. The pressing need amongst several locals in Goa to revive Konkani arises out of the narrowing domains in which it is used. English-medium education is highly sought after while most primary level schools are Marathi-medium rendering Konkani a spoken language, thus doing very little to nurture literature in Konkani. Konkani’s rich lexicography remains hidden beneath the cloak of English supremacy.

This paper also looks into the two distinctive varieties of Konkani spoken within Goa that flourish in a post-colonial Goa only to announce the divide between the Hindus and the Catholics, the ones whose ancestors succumbed to the Portuguese Inquisition and the ones whose ancestors fled. This divide significantly influences electoral politics in Goa.

Language Endangerment

In many places across India, the languages with a minority status are considered to be merely dialects or corrupt variations of the standard, dominant language used in the region, and may sometimes also face the danger of extinction of usage. In this post-colonial situation, the designation of official status to one or two languages simultaneously creates a hierarchy that devalues the status of the other native languages spoken in that region or country.

The Ethnologue has, through extensive study of language data, come up with a list of factors which may be used to assess whether a language is endangered.

They are:

• The speaker population

• The ethnic population; the number of those who connect their ethnic identity with the language (whether or not they speak it)

• The stability of and trends in that population size

• Residency and migration patterns of speakers

• The use of second languages

• The use of the language by others as a second language

• Language attitudes within the community

• The age range of the speakers

• The domains of use of the language

• Official recognition of languages within the nation or region

• Means of transmission (whether children are learning the language at home or being taught the language in schools)

• Non-linguistic factors such as economic opportunity or the lack thereof

The Ethnologue states that “Such factors interact within a society in dynamic ways that are not entirely predictable but which do follow recognizable patterns and trends. The general scholarly consensus, however, is that the key factor in gauging the relative safety of an endangered language is the degree to which intergenerational transmission of the language remains intact.”

In this article, Konkani is examined as a language spoken in many varieties and in many regions. Furthermore, introspection regarding whether Konkani is an endangered language as a consequence of its exposure to three kinds of linguistic colonialisms over the centuries is also explored. Lastly, the presence of a written script and literature of the language and how that influences the status of a language in the eyes of its speakers is also examined.

Konkani Findings and Analysis

We designed an online survey targeted at people who live or have lived in Goa, irrespective of their Konkani proficiency levels. The objective was to analyse attitudes towards Konkani and to ultimately arrive at a synchronic conclusion as to where Konkani stands in the backdrop of endangerment.

When asked – “In a situation where you had to speak in Konkani with somebody who speaks a different variety of Konkani, what did you end up doing?”, 50 % answered- “Detect a few familiar words or phrases and assume what she/he is saying.” 38.46% of the responses answered- “Identify the difference in the Konkani dialect by noticing the borrowed vocabulary from another language. For example: Mhak Got instead of Zana (I know) or Ugdas instead of Yaad (Remember).”

Conversations with Bengali and Assamese speakers, who belong to much larger states (area and population-wise), have revealed that geographical parameters have seldom been a constraint in maintaining conversations in their respective native tongues. This reflects a relatively more polarizing impact of colonialism on Konkani.

The next question was a corollary of the first, which asked them which language they would be most likely to switch in the event of not comprehending the speaker’s variety of Konkani. 77% would resort to English and 15% to Hindi, indicating that most Goans either conform to a class consciousness where English is only the language of the elite or latently reject the imposition of Hindi by the nation-state.

Objecting to a political speaker who insisted on speaking in Hindi, leaving many Goan citizens clueless, Chenelle Rodrigues said that- “If it’s not Konkani, you can only appeal to the locals in English.” Her reaction can be proved false as there does exist a population that would understand more Hindi than English, but her reaction represented the anti-Hindi sentiments prevalent amongst majority of the Goans.

Rampant tourism has also led to a transformation in the Goan identity. Hindi was once seen as the harbinger of chaos and had garnered a bad reputation among the locals. However, in an attempt to make a quick buck, locals have resorted to learning Hindi thereby, integrating into the stereotypical Indian ecology, as Goa’s post-colonial charm is slowly fading away and driving away foreign tourists.

Apart from the tourists, the proliferation of migrant labour has opened up a whole new domain where Hindi is the sole language of contact. This trend has overshadowed the dominance of English. However, on the other hand, swathes of locals aspire to migrate to Europe after registering for a Cartão Do Cidadão.[1] These aspirations demarcate a clear departure from habitually speaking Konkani in order to master English and succeed overseas.

Madhavi Sardesai gingerly highlights this trend in Mother Tongue Blues- “There is a growing tendency among the ‘practical’ minded parents to provide English medium education to their children right from the primary level, because they feel English is the actual pottaachi bhas, ‘language of stomach’, and that Konkani alone will not lead one to greener pastures. And while regular demands are made by Konkani protagonists to make Konkani the pottaachi bhas, at least at the official level, i.e., to make the active knowledge of Konkani a necessary prerequisite for obtaining government jobs, the government somehow seems to lack both inclination and will.”

Revisiting the script imbroglio, the volatile politics isn’t merely a farce that it’s often made out to be because there seems to be a genuine rift between those who are more at ease reading Konkani in the Devanagari script (38.46%) and those reading in Romi Lipi(34.62%). What’s interesting is that considering that Konkani is only taught in Devanāgarī script, many would rather choose a Konkani article in Romi Lipi. This hints at a subliminal aversion towards Sanskritization of Konkani.

A legitimate reason to cling on to Konkan pride, one that transcends the realm of identity politics, is that it conforms to neuter gender. “Chedu” which meant ‘child’ and now has come to mean ‘girl’.[2] It retains neuter agreements. In the same online survey, more that 80% were ignorant of this property in Konkani. On another note, if Konkani is treated as less of a minor language and all of its loanwords are treated as synonyms for one another, its literature could be enhanced manifold. The ultimate result would be a more unifying code rather than one that segregates dispersed communities from one another.

Diasporas with roots in Chitrapur Math, Karnataka observe a ritualistic event exclusively for the youth. Teenagers brought up in multiple cities gather at Shibirs (camps centred around prayer and socializing). Initially strangers, the youth forge relationships and find comfort in one another by striking conversations in Konkani. Similarly, the Siddi tribe in Yellapur, Karnataka (African slaves who escaped the Portuguese rule and settled down in various parts of India) have till now had no difficulty in propagating Konkani as the mother tongue. “Kannada is used in official domains but at home, it’s only in Konkani that we speak,” said Mohan Siddi, the head of the Siddhi Trust.


When a language exists in so many varied forms as a direct result of colonisation, it develops a kind of resilience that ensures its survival in forms that may or may not be mutually unintelligible between speakers of its different varieties, yet sustains a unity of ethnic identification and cultural memory that connect that language with the speakers’ historical roots.

This chameleon-like existence of Konkani not only defies co-option under the rubric of one language, but also makes it difficult to quantitatively or qualitatively analyse its status as an endangered language based on the criteria mentioned in the Ethnologue.

This leads us to the question of whether the categories listed there suffice to analyse the unique situation of languages like Konkani, or whether in order to have Konkani fit into the mould suggested by the Ethnologue, its different varieties should be identified individually as separate languages. Finally, this brings us to the question of language and identity, and demonstrates a very post-post-colonial instance of a speech community identifying with each other as members of the same ethnic group across regional and linguistic borders, thus undercutting, in part, some of the ramifications of colonialism on the Konkani speaking community in India.

[1] It is the new National Identity Card issued by the Portuguese government to its citizens. The Portuguese Consulate at Goa now issues it to all Portuguese Nationals residing in Goa.

[2] Gender by Greville G Corbett

This article is authored by Enakshi Nandi, who completed her PhD from the Centre for Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India  and Noel Mark Sequeira who is an Independent Scholar. This was first posted on FEL XX Conference on Language Colonization and Endangerment: Long-term Effects, Echoes and Reaction. The publication is available here.

Categories: PostsScholarship

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x