Konkani is not a dialect of Marathi - 3

Part 3 of "O concani não é dialecto do marata", by Mgr. Sebastião Rodolfo Dalgado, in Heraldo, Pangim, Goa, Year IX, No. 2570, 13 February 1917, p. 1)


Since Konkani is not a dialectal variant of Marathi, would it at least be a dialect, in the sense that it originated from the Marathi in ancient times?

It seems that for expert philologists there, the assertion is almost an axiom, which admits of no discussion. There are writers who declare it; there are Marathists who swear by it; there are many obvious analogies between one speech and the other. What more can one want?

But there are also many analogies between Gujarati and Marathi. Therefore, one is a dialect of the other! There are many points of contact between Portuguese and Italian. Therefore, one has derived from the other! There is almost no Arabic word that is not used or cannot be used in Persian. Therefore, both languages ​​belong to the same family, Semitic or Aryan! Konkani also seems to have similarities with Gujarati, Hindi, Sindhi, Bengali, Oriya, Punjabi, Kashmiri. Therefore, it is a daughter of them all! I do not know if it was for this reason that someone has said that she is almost a “daughter of Marathi”, or if because she has not yet fully emerged from her mother's womb.

It would in fact be surprising if there were no similarities between the sister languages; they ​​would not be from the same family. But partial similarity does not necessarily explain derivation or affiliation. Much more is needed for that. English has many French and Latin words and phrases, and nobody till date has thought of including it among the Romance languages. A language that spreads over a vast area, by absorption, colonization or conquest, naturally and unwittingly produces regional changes that can be easily understood. With the passage of time, they move away further and further from the prototype, to the point of becoming unintelligible as a whole. They then change from mere dialects to languages in their own right. However, they never substantially lose their kinship with the mother language or with others of the same origin. They are like water flowing from the same source by different channels.

But it is one thing to be a sister and another to be a mother; what is good enough for the former is not good enough for the latter. Sisters are content with the broad strokes; a daughter demands that the mother give a reason for her existence.

In the first ardour of enthusiasm, produced by the discovery of Sanskrit by the Europeans, it was believed that the said language was the mother of Greek, Latin and others languages of Europe. But soon it was found that it did not satisfactorily explain the phonology and morphology of like languages, which had phonemes (short e and o) and more primitive forms. It was then acknowledged that only the elder sister had the key to the resolution of various linguistic problems. And it was concluded that there might be another language without historical monuments from which Sanskrit, Iranian, Greek, Latin, Celtic, etc. have derived. The existence of the Indo-European or Proto-Aryan is now an established and inescapable point, by the principle of causality.

I have no doubt that this is Greek to several of my enlightened countrymen. A Sanskrit scholar asked me how one might explain the opposition by the Hindus of Goa (whose progress has of late been praised) to the introduction of the Sanskrit chair at the Goa Lyceum, whereas they should have been more committed! I had to contend with regret that the real reason would be the fallacy or patravôll of the Marathi chair, and the opponents some kind of young Turks who try to jump, as they say in Konkani, over the herb plants: tsannyânchím jhâdám uddunk. For I have always regarded the Hindus as staid people, and I would not ascribe to them such foolishness.

(Published in Revista da Casa de Goa, Series II, No. 25, Nov-Dec 2023, pp. ___)

Konkani is not a dialect of Marathi - 2

Part 2 of "O concani não é dialecto do marata", by Mgr. Sebastião Rodolfo Dalgado, in Heraldo, Pangim, Goa, Year IX, No. 2570, 13 February 1917, p. 1)


‘Dialect’ is a rather vague and ambiguous word.  It is taken in several senses, the two most common being: tenuous grammatical and vocabulary variants of the same language within its area, derivation, usually immediate, from one idiom to another.

Every living language is subject to changes, big or small, in time and in space. Only dead languages are immutable. The greater the vitality and the wider the area of a language, the more the changes of one kind or another that it undergoes.

The lack of homogeneity and cohesion of a people, the climactic and physiological differences, the diversity of the social environment, the proximity of other languages are other factors of modification. Some call that corruption or degeneration, while others more appropriately call it evolution or expansion.

Literature can stereotype a particular form of speech and limit its spontaneity; but it cannot totally prevent its development.

So, it is precisely these phonetic and morphological, and sometimes syntactic and lexicological, variations that constitute dialects in a linguistic space. Their differences in time are known as "phases".

The Portuguese language is regarded as uniform throughout the continental territory. This does not preclude dialectal peculiarities of varying importance in different provinces or districts. Such particularities have been the object of scientific study in modern times, by philologists of the calibre of Dr José Leite de Vasconcelos.

The Konkani language too (so disparaged for this reason) has similar province and class related varieties. Bardez speech is not identical to that of Salcete, nor is the speech of Sawantwadi the same as that of Kanara.

If such a flaw is of major significance, as some philologists there take it to be, other more cultured languages are not exempt from it. Italian has more than twenty dialects, remarkably differentiated; French, at least fifteen, and modern Greek, more than seventy.

But then again, it is evident that such dialects do not destroy the unity of the language. They are like petals of the same flower, like leaves of the same branch. And hence, those who speak different dialects follow each other without any difficulty, when they converse, and they easily understand common literature. The opposite is true of languages and their literatures.

Now, since Cunha Rivara it has been repeated that it is easier for a Portuguese to understand a Castilian than for a Goan to understand a Maratha, and vice-versa. And nonetheless, there are still enlightened spirits in Goa who are not convinced of this palpable truth nor do they wish to do a check for themselves, which is easy to access. They are content – I am not sure if for erudition or for convenience – to rely on the opinions of various authors, not all of them recommended for competence in the matter. Some are foreigners, who have learnt Konkani superficially; others have lived in times when glottology and dialectology made little progress. And they were all were fascinated to note the analogies, but failed to justify the discrepancies.

I can say from experience that I could more easily understand Italian by its likeness to Portuguese than I could colloquial Marathi by its similarity to Konkani. On my first trip to Europe, on an Italian steamer, an Englishman had me as his interpreter to communicate with the cabin boys on board.

And my observation matches. There is no need to pile up supporting facts.

In Portugal there are no schools teaching Castilian nor is Portuguese taught in Spain, as they consider it pointless. The Portuguese read Spanish literature as easily as the Spaniards read Portuguese literature. Among the not many books that a parish priest of Perném had, I saw one of sermons in Spanish, of which he had neither a grammar nor a dictionary. And it was not for show that he had the book.

It would indeed be interesting to know how many of the Christians who attended the Marathi school at our lyceum and graduated would be able to communicate easily in Marathi and translate books without undue aid of a dictionary. And how many of those who praise the vastness and the amenity of its literature are delighted to read it regularly?

All this is clear as daylight, and needs no further demonstration. In any other place this would suffice to establish in principle that Konkani is not a dialect of Marathi, in the sense of its slightly divergent form. But what would be incontestable truth to others, in Goa quite unsurprisingly finds astute opponents, who by hocus-pocus seek to prove that white is black.

It is not without reason that Tavernier wrote in 1676 (Voyages, 1712 edition, III, p. 159): "As for trials, they never come to an end; they are handled by the canarins, natives of the country who practice the professions of solicitors and procurators, and there are no people in the world more cunning and subtle."

Similarly, a very meticulous judge of the Supreme Court told me, not many months ago, that libels from India, besides being longwinded and confused, were not much commended for legal erudition but rather abounded in petty objections and twists to muddle up the truth and obfuscate the law. What the cradle bestows only the tomb takes away.

There are yet those who even grudge Konkani the status of a dialect, calling it simply a "corruption of Marathi". But what is not corrupt, in some sense or other? We ourselves have been corrupt since our first parents’ prevarication. Omnis caro corruperat viam suam, says the Scripture about the antediluvian people. And that we did not get any better after the catastrophe is indicated by events unfolding before our eyes.

If by corruption is meant deviation from the original type, Portuguese, French and Italian are corruptions of colloquial Latin, just as Latin, Greek and Gothic are corruptions of the Proto-Aryan. Gujarati, Hindi and Bengali are corruptions of Sanskrit, or, strictly speaking, of archaic Prakrit languages, just as Sanskrit and Iranian are corruptions of the Indo-European language, which in turn would be a corruption of some other idiom. Corruption of languages is coeval with, if not earlier to, the tower of Babel. However, what to laypersons in the matter appears to be corruption, to those who know is actually evolution.

Of course, Marathi is an exception, for apparently it is in a class apart among the languages of India and the world. A native philologist regarded her as a "beloved daughter of Sanskrit" as though he had witnessed her mother’s caresses; some other decrees her to be Goa’s “national” language, as though this territory were a nation or now under Bhosale rule. Another raises it to the status of a vernacular language – of “our language”, to the Goans! But by what name is Konkani known in the country’s speech? one may ask a child. Certainly not Konkanni bháx, for to the Christians konknnó means “gentile”, and konknni bháx would mean “language of the gentiles”.

And when the Hindu litigant says, ‘Aga Sinhor Dijembargador tó artig âmkam duvârún am’che bhâxent sáng ga’ – which language is he referring to?

Nor is there lack of those who think that Marathi, by its own resources, can express all abstract ideas – a phenomenon that no other living language of India or of Europe can boast of. And I, in my indigence, would give one hundred rupees as a prize to whoever showed me some ten pages of a book of science or of high literature written exclusively using Marathi words – dexajas.

Konkani is not a dialect of Marathi - 1

Part 1 of "O concani não é dialecto do marata", by Mgr. Sebastião Rodolfo Dalgado, in Heraldo, Pangim, Goa, No. 2570, 13 February 2017. Translated from the Portuguese by Óscar de Noronha.

It is not a “Byzantine general’s problem”, as it might appear at first glance, to check whether Konkani is a language or a dialect. For it does matter if Portuguese be a mere modality of Castilian or an autonomous language. Being a mother or a sister is not the same, whether in sociology or in philology, just as it is not the same whether Portuguese be a daughter or a sister of French or of Russian.

It is a subject of capital importance both scientific and practical. A daughter carries on her mother’s existence in law, is entitled to her assets and is sure to resemble her in essential and characteristic features. It is in relation to her mother that she may be considered an improvement or a deterioration, more pure or less pure. Evidently, it is not so with her sister.

All glottologists acknowledge that it has been of utmost value to ascertain that Sanskrit is not the trunk but only a branch of the Indo-European family. Max Muller (Science of Language, 1890, I. p. 194) states: “It was exactly this necessity of determining distinctly and accurately the mutual relation of Sanskrit and the other members of the same family of speech, which led to such important results, and particularly to the establishment of the laws of phonetic change as the only safe means for measuring the various degrees of relationship of cognate dialects, and thus restoring the genealogical tree of human speech.”

For some time now, much has been magisterially written to the discredit of the ill-fated Konkani language; she has been cannily smeared with such dark colours, and exposed to public scorn as being such a horrendous monster, that I believe it opportune to know, clearly and without gimmicks, if she really deserves such treatment.

It is true that the subject has already been dealt with, quite exhaustively, by competent people, especially Dr Gerson da Cunha (The Konkani Language and Literature) and Ramachandra Gunjicar (Sarasvati mandala).

But, from the looks of it, they have not been read or duly studied by many who repeat what they have said about Konkani. Or else, we would not hear so much nonsense laced with disconcerting remarks.

It is also our generally accepted policy that money spent on the purchase of books is a waste. And with regard to Konkani, almost all Goans possess a magical mastery given that they have learned to babble it away on their mother’s lap! If some admit that they fall short, yet argue and come up with far-fetched doctrines, they do so out of false humility.

I do not propose to treat the matter at great length; it would take much time and space. I will gather what others have put forth and indicate the main topics leading to further research by a person well-meaning and eager to learn, that rara avis, if there is any.

(First published in Revista da Casa de Goa, Lisbon, Series II, No. 24, Sep-Oct 2023, p. 15)