How Konkani Won the Battle for 'Languagehood'

Bhat, Vivek Madhusudan, Malshe, Milind

Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T.), Bombay, India


How Konkani won the battle for ‘Languagehood’

The language situation in India is quite complex with over a billion people, twenty official languages and hundreds of spoken varieties. In spite of such linguistic diversity, however, the country has always been culturally united and multilingualism has been a norm, not a deviation.

After India’s independence in 1947, the process of formation of linguistic states was started as it was thought that people, through their own language, can educate and equip themselves better to deal with the lower levels of administration and judiciary. This, however, led to a controversy as to what constitutes a language and how it is to be distinguished from dialects. Speakers of many dialects wanted to emphasize their identity as speakers of independent languages.

Speakers of Konkani were in the forefront of such agitations. Konkani was since long considered to be a dialect of Marathi – a dominant language spoken in one of the largest states of India viz. Maharashtra. The total number of Konkani speakers was comparatively very small and it was not a majority language in any of the states. Voices of the few Konkani protagonists therefore had remained subdued for a long time.

After liberation of Goa from the Portuguese rule in 1961, there was a proposal to merge Goa with the neighboring state of Maharashtra. A large section of the Goan population justified it saying that Konkani was only a dialect of Marathi and states in India were anyway organized on a linguistic basis. 'Marathists' relied on mutual intelligibility, similar vocabulary and grammatical structure of the two languages as also the fact that Konkani was rarely used in writing. Those opposed to merger joined the issue saying that Konkani had developed quite independently from the middle Indo-Aryan languages and mere paucity of literature cannot deprive a language of its status. Merits of the arguments apart, the problem could not be solved by linguistic considerations. Therefore in 1967 a referendum was held in Goa and it went against the merger proposal.

Once the status of Goa as an independent entity was established, the Konkani protagonists made conscious, institutionalized efforts for development of Konkani and to promote writing in Konkani. Sahitya Akademi (Academy of letters) recognized Konkani as one of the literary languages of India (1976). Konkani was introduced as an elective language in schools and at the University. In 1987, Goa was accorded the status of a full-fledged state of the Indian Union and Konkani was accepted as the official state language. In 1992, Konkani was included in the eighth schedule of Indian constitution as one of India’s national languages.

The people’s wish thus triumphed. The exciting journey of Konkani to ‘languagehood’ was complete. The present paper proposes to trace that journey.


Miranda, Rocky 2003, ‘Konkani’ in George Cardona and Dhanesh Jain (eds.) The Indo-Aryan Languages, London and New York: Routledge.

Pereira, Jose 1971, Konkani: A Language, dharwad: karnatak University.

Number of Words: 489

Session: Paper session
Planning/Policy 10
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 14