Konkani is a name given to a group of several cognate dialects spoken along the narrow strip of land called Konkan, on the west coast of India. This is, however, somewhat an over-generalisation. Geographically, Konkan is defined roughly as the area between the river Damanganga to the north and river Kali to the south; the north-south length being approx. 650 Kms. and east-west breadth about 50 Kms., going unto 96 Kms. in some places. Major part of Konkan is in Maharashtra and naturally, most people in the area speak some dialects of Marathi. But the language spoken in Goa and further south in coastal Karnataka and in some parts of northern Kerala has its distinct features, and is rightly identified as a separate language called Konkani.

The total number of Konkani speakers seems to have remained remarkably stable for over a century. This is borne out by the census reports over the years.
Census 1891: 1.565 millions
Census 1971: 1.523 millions
Census 1981: 1.584 millions
Census 1991: 1.760 millions
The state wise breakup of Konkani speakers in 1971, 1981 and 1991 is available.

Census 1971Census 1981Census 1991
Goa 556396 incl.Diu, Daman,Guj*.36.5460000437.8860262634.23
Karnataka 57511137.7764073840.4570639740.12
Maharashtra 27704818.2021221413.4031261817.76
Kerala 800005.251009346.37640083.64
Gujarat & Others 34129*2.24301731.90749584.25
Total 1522684100.01584063100.01760607100.0

Konkani speakers are mostly multilingual (68.4% as calculated from the data reported in 1981 census) since they have to learn other languages for educational and other official purposes: Marathi in Maharashtra and to some extent in Goa, Kannada or Tulu in Karnataka, Malayalam in Kerala and English in all the areas. Earlier under the Portuguese rule, many people learnt Portuguese language but they quickly switched over to English after the liberation of Goa. The literacy level in Konkani speaking areas was claimed to be higher than the national average ( 57% people in Goa were literate according to the 1981 census), but the overall literacy level in India as a whole seems to have gone up in recent years.

It is claimed that Konkani originated in Goa and spread into the neighbouring parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala where Konkani speakers from Goa, particularly the high class Brahmins, migrated after the Portuguese arrived. The Portuguese conquered the central portion of Goa in the first half of the sixteenth century. This consists of the taluks of Bardes and Tiswadi to the north of the river Zuari and the taluks of Saxtti and Marmugao to the south. They called this area Velhas Conquistas (old conquests). The peripheral portions of Goa consisting of all the other taluks were conquered in the latter half of the eighteenth century and were called Novas Conquistas (new conquests). The migrations of the Konkani speakers therefore must have taken place in several waves and this could perhaps be the reason for the dialectal variation in Konkani. In the Hortus Indicus Malabaricus of the seventeenth century, there is evidence of Konkani Brahmins settling down in Cochin (Malabar), the same time as some others moved to South and North Kanara and Ratnagiri districts. The Portuguese called the language of the natives mainly as Lingua Canarim, but sometimes also as Lingua Konkana, Lingua Konkani, Lingua de Goa etc. In any case, Konkani neither had a single standard name nor could it be seen as a monolithic language. Konkani never was a language of a single homogeneous community, but of a heterogeneous group, including Brahmins and non-Brahmins of various castes. Differences, however, remain in the speech of Brahmins and non-Brahmins among both the major religious groups viz. Hindus and Christians.


Konkani belongs to Indo-Aryan (IA) family of Indo-European family of languages. It forms the southern most tip of the IA languages and borders with the Dravidian languages viz. Kannada, Tulu and Malayalam. Taking into account, all the major features of Konkani, it can definitely be assigned to the south-western group, and is most closely related to Marathi within this group. There is also a hint of some affiliation to the central group, especially Hindi. Like Marathi and Gujarati, the other members of the south-western group, Konkani has preserved the old Indo-European arbitrary three-gender system and the ergative construction. In commonality with the eastern Indic languages, however, Konkani has lost the length distinction in the high vowels. From the evidence available, it seems certain that both Marathi and Konkani evolved from Old Indo Aryan (OIA) through Maharashtri Prakrit and Maharashtri Apabhramsha, the Middle Indo Aryan (MIA) languages. Konkani retained some of the archaic features of its precursors while Marathi lost them. Several words and collocations found in the earliest Marathi literary works like Dyaneshwari (13th century) are no more used in Marathi, but are still well prevalent in Konkani of modern times.

Typologically, Konkani is a synthetic/ inflectional language. Like Sanskrit and most major Indian languages, Konkani shows a rich inflectional character, and has a well developed case system for nouns and conjugation system for verbs.

As stated earlier, Konkani is the language spoken predominantly in Goa, the districts of North Kanara, South Kanara and Udupi in Karnataka and the northern areas of Kerala. It is not a monolithic language and in fact, shows amazing variation along the geographical lines and caste lines, but the different varieties remain mutually intelligible. The variation in Konkani is actually a subject of special attention and is to be dealt with separately in the later chapters. Since Goa is the only area where Konkani is spoken predominantly and enjoys the status of the official language, the variety of Konkani primarily considered here is the Goa Konkani.


Konkani remained a non-literary language for most part in its history. It was primarily used as a language of oral communication. For writing purposes, people generally used one of the major literary languages of the neighbouring areas such as Marathi or Kannada. The Goan Hindus use the Nagari script in their writings while the Goan Christians use the Roman script. The Saraswats of Karnataka use the Nagari script in North Kanara district and the Kannada script in Udupi and South Kanara. Malayalam script is used in Kerala, but now there is a move to use the Nagari script. Konkani thus has a unique distinction of being written in four different scripts

In Goa, the Nagari script has been adopted as the official script for Konkani. This has some practical advantages. It is the script of some of the major Indian languages with rich literary tradition: Marathi, Hindi and of course Sanskrit. Because of the introduction of Hindi as the National language, and in many case as a language of wider communication, the Nagari script is being readily accepted by the new generations of literate Konkani speakers in all the regions


An early reference to the language Konkani by its name is found in Sant Namdeo’s Gatha Gaulan 263 (late 14th century). It is commonly averred that before the advent of Portuguese there was a flourishing Konkani literature in Goa. Unfortunately, there is no trace of it today because it was destroyed by the Portuguese inquisition which commenced by their ruling from 30th June 1541. When the Portuguese came in the early 16th century, they were quite zealous in imposing their religion and culture on the native population, and used coercion to spread Christianity. Initially some of the missionaries made considerable effort to study the local language, Konkani, as they considered it essential in their proselytizing activities. These missionaries wrote grammars and dictionaries of Konkani – the earliest among any modern Indo-Aryan language. The earliest available grammar of Konkani, Arte de Lingoa Canarim written by Thomas Stephens (Thomaz Estevao to the Portuguese), an English Jesuit, was published in 1640. Other Konkani grammars and dictionaries written around that time are available only in manuscripts. An early Portuguese-Konkani bilingual dictionary, Vocabulario da Lingoa Canarim, was compiled by Diogo Ribeiro in 1626, which gives a commentary on the customs and religious beliefs of the local Konkani people. Thomas Stephens and Rebeiro also wrote books on the doctrine of Christianity.

In spite of such noteworthy initial contributions, the Portuguese did great disservice to Konkani when they later attempted to suppress the language. In 1684, the viceroy, Francis de Tavora, was persuaded by some of the clergy to issue a decree requiring all the people in Goa to learn Portuguese language so that “ in course of time, the Portuguese idiom would be common to one and all, to the exclusion of the mother tongue”. It was argued that if the Christians used only the Portuguese language they would then be cut off from the Konkani speaking Hindus and their Hindu religious influence. The Portuguese inquisition in Goa suppressed many native customs of the Christian converts which it regarded as pagan. The 1736 edict of the Goa inquisition even forbade singing “either publicly or in private” of joyous songs called vovios ( songs in the vhovi meter) which were customarily sung on the occasion of marriages. In 1745, Archbishop de Santa Maria went to the extent of ordering that native Christians who did not know Portuguese should not be allowed to marry at all. The viceroy, D. Manuel de Portugal e Castro, through a circular in 1831, ordered all the teachers and professors to teach only Portuguese language to the students and to forbid the use of their vernacular in the schools. During the subsequent years of Portuguese rule, Konkani remained a neglected language in Goa. Cunha Rivara, the chief secretary to Portuguese government in Goa, tried to revive interest in Konkani. In 1857, he published the second edition of Thomas Stephens’ Konkani grammar under the title Grammatica da Lingoa Concani and in an introductory article therein he wrote a ‘Historical essay’ documenting the plight of Konkani in Goa. He wanted to introduce teaching of Konkani in primary schools but his efforts did not succeed.

As a result, Konkani remained mostly a language of oral communication among the familiars, and failed to develop as a literary language. It is apparent from the near-absence of Konkani literature until the 19th century that Konkani at no time enjoyed the status of being a medium of education or a court language. There was, therefore, no binding force which could evolve one standard variety, and Konkani remained fragmented into several dialects. Yet, books and periodicals started appearing in the major dialects like Goa Hindu, Bardes Christian and Karnataka Christian dialects in the 19th and early 20th century. The first All India Konkani Conference was held in Karwar in 1939 to instill a feeling of solidarity among the Konkani speakers and resolved to strive for language standardization and development of a single script (Nagari) which would help giving an impetus to the literary efforts. It urged the British government of India to provide Konkani as a medium of instruction in primary schools in the majority Konkani speaking areas and to appoint a committee for preparing Konkani text books etc.

Even after the Portuguese were expelled from Goa in 1961, Konkani did not get much impetus for development. It had been a long pending debate whether Konkani be regarded as a separate language or a mere dialect of Marathi and the linguists remained divided on the issue. In Goa – the only area where Konkani had a potential of achieving a dominant status – a large population, particularly Hindus, regarded Marathi as their literary language and favoured merger of Goa with Maharashtra, since the states in India were anyway organized on the basis of language. However, the referendum held in 1967 went against the merger proposal and the status of Goa as a separate political unit was assured. The Sahitya Akademi (academy of literature) recognized Konkani as a literary language in 1976. Konkani was introduced as an elective subject up to 12th grade in the schools in Goa. The University of Mumbai approved introduction of Konkani at the university level in 1980. After the establishment of a separate university in Goa, a chair for Konkani was instituted and a post-graduate programme in Konkani was introduced. A number of institutions also came up in Goa for promoting the language. In February 1987, Konkani became the official state language of Goa through the official language act which states that “The official language for all or any of the official purposes of the union territory of Goa shall be Konkani. Marathi will also be used for all or any of the official purposes”. Thus Marathi was assured virtually the same status, but it was not declared a second official language. Finally in 1992, Konkani was included in the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution as one of the national languages.

In spite of all this, however, the current situation remains uncertain. The main reasons for this are:

  1. The language loyalty among the Konkani speakers is still weak. Goa Christians, earlier during the Portuguese regime, educated their children in Portuguese language. After the liberation in 1961, they were in the forefront of the Konkani language movement. And yet, they all chose to educate their children in English.
  2. Konkani has only a shaky foothold in schools. It is introduced as a medium of instruction in some primary schools, but the number of such schools and the number of students are ever declining. In 1985-86, the number of Konkani medium schools was 10 (students 314), Marathi medium schools 1004 (students 73514) and English medium schools 578 (students 46036).
  3. But probably the greatest problem of Konkani is the variety of literary dialects, each having only a very small readership. With a population of fewer than 2 millions, Konkani cannot afford such fragmentation and the publishers find it difficult to even recover the cost of publishing the writings in Konkani.
  4. Since Konkani is a minor language, Konkani schoolchildren have relatively greater need of learning some of the major Indian languages. The need to master several literary dialects of their mother tongue in addition would be an undue burden on them.


Copyright CIIL-India Mysore