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Understanding what went into Konkani

Frederick Noronha

Edited by Olivinho Gomes
Dalgado Konkani Akademi, Panjim, 2010, pp. 228, Rs. 190.00


Take a dazzling Asian commercial entrepot, add to it a brief spell of Muslim rule, Portuguese conquest, and the early arrival of the Gutenberg printing press here. What emerges is Romi Konkani writing, built by early missionaries to Goa who used diacritical marks to make this ‘exotic’ language easier to pronounce, a language which incidentally also got damaged by subsequent colonial rulers. Romi Konkani refers to Konkani written in the Roman script. Konkani itself, today one of India’s official languages, is the southernmost Indo-European language in India linked without a break to the northernmost Indo-European tongue of Norwegian. Scholars like Jose Pereira—who has authored 24 books himself in theology, history of art and architecture, Goan and Konkani culture, language and music—suggest Konkani might have arisen around the end of the 10th century, got standardized in the early 16th century and the grammar of Konkani was first prepared in 1563. Konkani has had regional and caste variants. Since 1987, when Goa got Statehood, Konkani was accepted as the official language (with priviledges to Marathi)—but in the Devanagari script. Of late, this has led Romi Konkani writers to feel they are being discriminated against. Recently, Romi Konkani writers, many of whom belong to the minority Catholic community, revitalized their ‘Dalgado Konkani Akademi’, and undertook publishing of more books in the Roman script. This, in brief, is the setting for this publication. The first European power to land on Asian soil left behind a rich and varied linguistic heritage. But this heritage was also hotly contested, controversial and mixed, and sometimes suspected or disliked. Goa got the printing press the earliest in Asia, and what was meant to be a gift to ‘Christian Ethiopia’ got stuck—via a storm—in Goa itself. That was as far back as in 1556! Some facts might be surprising even today: The first printer (using the Gutenberg press) in Asia was a Spaniard who worked from the College of St. Paul in the colonial city of Goa. After two books in Portuguese, the third was in Konkani—Doutrina Christam, a Christian doctrinal guide published way back in 1556. Accidents of history, and the peculiarities of colonialism here have strongly shaped the Goan experience on language and culture too. The 1556 text was, an European catechism authored by a Goan seminarian, Andre Vaz, who was later to become the first ordained Goan Catholic priest in 1558. Vaz is also credited with ...

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