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A glimpse of the Konkani language

Glimpses of the Konkani Language at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century. (2 Volumes), 2017 by L A Rodrigues gives one an understanding of the development of Konkani during the medieval times

Augusto Pinto


The author of ‘Glimpses of the Konkani Language at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century’ is L A Rodrigues who taught Portuguese at one of Goa’s first post-liberation colleges – Dhempe College of Arts and Science, Miramar. It contains facsimile copies of a series of papers published in the Boletim de Institute Menezes Braganza between 1978 and 1989.

The production of the volumes is a little clumsy in that the facsimile articles have corrections in the author’s hand. Perhaps this was done to account for changes in views in subsequent research.

Each volume of the book consists of seven papers each. In these papers Rodrigues studies various manuscript sources which have been preserved at Central Library in Panaji. Many of the manuscripts were vocabulary lists which were compiled by Portuguese priests although Rodrigues also uses other sources such as carved inscriptions on monuments and works in Marathi.

Of the important manuscripts studied one was a compilation of Konkani vocabulary by a group of anonymous Jesuits in the second half of the sixteenth century. This was followed by and expanded by Fr Diogo Ribeiro in 1626.

What Rodrigues does is to compare vocabulary lists from sources from around the 16th century and compares pre-Portuguese Konkani words with those that were introduced after the Portuguese entered Goa in order to show how Konkani “got perverted”.

Rodrigues’s approach does indeed show how Konkani evolved but there is a basic flaw in his linguistic theory. While the word lists are descriptive, the sparse commentary that accompanies these lists is irritatingly prescriptive and disapproves of the developments that occurred because of the Portuguese.

Rodrigues seems to believe in a ‘pure’ form of language, in this case the Konkani language. This belies the notion that language is a means of communication that continually evolves.

Nowadays there is wide agreement that there is nothing like a primordial, unchanging language. As the linguist Ray Jackendoff points out: “Languages change gradually over time, sometimes due to changes in culture and fashion, sometimes in response to contact with other languages” although “the basic architecture and expressive power of language stays the same”.

Hence, Rodrigues’ attempt to show us how Konkani got “bastardised” or “perverted” after the Portuguese entered Goa in the 16th century goes against the basic principles of language development.

In the first eponymous chapter in Volume I, he makes lists of Konkani words which are derived from Portuguese and juxtaposes them with Konkani words which have the same meaning and which were used before the Portuguese came to Goa. Doing this determines how much Portuguese influenced Konkani.

Rodrigues’ distaste for the changes that occurred to Konkani due to the Portuguese influence would probably extend to influences of Arabic before the Portuguese; and Marathi and Kannada and English, and the culture of the geographical areas of places where Konkanis migrated. However, if one discounts this criticism, the book gives a wealth of information of how meanings and pronunciations of Konkani changed during the sixteenth century.

To give just a few instances, Rodrigues shows that the word that means ‘blessing’ in Konkani was during the time of the priests’ vocabulary was pronounced ‘asrivad’ but by the time Ribeiro collated his vocabulary it became ‘asrvad’ whereas in more recent times it is pronounced ‘asirvad’. Or he shows how the meaning of ‘mhoinddellem’ which denoted ‘a banana for frying’, changed later to ‘mhoiddekellem’ – ‘a banana grown in the village of Moira’. While Volume I has a foreword by Tanaji Halarnkar, editor of the Konkani Encyclopedia, who justifies Rodrigues’ opinion that Konkani was superior to Portuguese, the second volume has a foreword by Rocky Miranda who taught Historical and Indo-European Linguistics at the Department of Linguistics, University of Minnesota, USA who gives an overview of the book.

For a general reader who wants to understand the development of Konkani in medieval times, the book may be interesting. It will certainly help philologists who have an understanding of modern linguistics with its wealth of data of sixteenth century Konkani.

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