Many words for one… in Romi Konkani

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FREDERICK NORONHA

Some books are more equal than others, or so it seems at least in Goa. That would have been fine, had it not been for the arbitrary basis on which such value is judged. Recently, I’d argued elsewhere that we in Goa judge the worth of a book based on such extraneous factors as where the book is published, and by whom. This seems to be more important to us than the contents of the book itself, and how this could be beneficial back here itself.

Given our strange form of Goan inverted racism, the further away a book is published from home, the more seriously it is taken. Yet, if we have some printed work which is deeply relevant to us, we would most probably end up ignoring it.

Recently, I happened to reach to the book release of Utrak-Utram. The book’s unusual name and unpretentious cover hides behind itself a thesaurus for the Konkani language. If not mistaken, this is the first of its kind in the language. It was published earlier this year by the Dalgado Konkani Akademi, the small but active academy of the letters promoting the otherwise-orphaned Roman-script Konkani.

While this is not a dictionary, and only links similar Konkani words under each entry, one can easily get a sense of the meaning, even if you know a little of the language. For instance, you can get the gist when you read the first entry which is: abalar – akanjar, bejar, kaurem-baurem, nervoz, oxant, perturbad, pikar, uchamboll.

From abalar to zupnni (dayem, zot, zum, nangor), there are a whole lot of words in this book. Being a simple, spoken language, Konkani sometimes shows signs of struggling to get the right term for some words or concepts. But, that is true even of powerful languages like German when it tries to deal with, say, the lingo of computer software.

On the other hand, Konkani shows its richness in the rustic setting it has grown, and probably in other fields too, where its strengths are lying unknown to most and waiting to be discovered.

It might not strike one that there are a number of synonymys dealing with the Konkani concept of business: negos, dhondo, karbhar, merkasi, ud’deg, ud’deg-dhondo, vepar, vepar-dhondo, vevhar, or vevsai.

This is just a tiny sampling….

Writing in the preface, littérateur and dramatist Tomazinho Cardozo makes the case for a Konkani thesaurus. He says that Roman-script Konkani writers can often be found using the same words repeatedly in their writing. This is because, he believes, they lack the treasury of a varied vocabulary.

That could well be the case. Konkani has long been used as the language of last choice, specially in the written world. More so in the case of Roman-script Konkani, it has been largely abandoned by the elites and kept aside merely as a language for those who have no other choice.

At one time, in the not so distant past, tens of thousands found this a useful language and script. One which they used to write letters to Bombay. Or to pick up the news, in simple language (often with the tough words explained within brackets), from newspapers like Cine Times or magazines like the Gulab.

Today, the writers who had a tenacious fan following, like Reginald Fernandes of Siolim or Caridade Damaciano Fernandes of Aldona, lie mostly forgotten and wholly unread. If it wasn’t for individuals supporting the Roman-script Konkani cause, their names would have been just distant

memories.

But once the former readers of the Roman-script version learnt other languages, many opted out of reading it. As it is, the elites of Goa itself have long chosen languages like English or Marathi, and earlier Portuguese, and, because of the government support, to some extent Devanagari Konkani.

Despite all its shortcomings, Roman-script Konkani has been a more democratised tongue. Its entry barriers are low, it prefers to use a simple vocabulary, and it is not snooty in terms of who it allows to become its writers and littérateurs.

The Mid-Day in Mumbai had a report by Anju Maskeri, which noted that “Konkani gets its own thesaurus”. It noted that the compiler of this book, Michael Fernandes, was a former bakery chef.

His story is interesting in other ways too. He could not find a dictionary at the Jack of All Stall in Mumbai. This small outlet has long been known to promote Konkani products, from its location in the Gloria Church compound at Byculla. Set up by the D’Souzas in the early 1950s, it was once known as an outlet which seriously promoted the culture of Goa.

Fernandes, as the Mid-Day tells us, went in 2006 to pick up a dictionary. He could find none, and was baffled. So despite being neither a grammarian nor an academician, he went about picking up whatever Konkani periodicals and books he could lay his hands on.

In the book, its compiler outlines the difficulty he had, not knowing how to ensure his work saw the light of day, and not knowing anyone in the field. Linguists in the field did help after he made the initial contacts; these include veterans like Pratap Naik SJ, Premanand Lotlikar, and the well-informed Professor S M Borges.

After 13 years of carrying the dream with him, at the age of 63, Fernandes (of Cumbharjua in Goa and Mira Road East in Mumbai) could get together the first thesaurus. Its title Utrak Utram could be translated as ‘Many Words For One’. It contains almost one lakh Konkani words.The book has been edited by Vincy Quadros.

Referencing some of the entries suggests that the compiler was open to words of all origins that have entered Konkani.

Recent attempts to ‘purify’ the language of its ‘foreign’ elements could only impoverish the language.

Hardbound, it is priced at `495, and available (probably at a discount) at the DKA, at the old Education Department building, on Panaji’s 18th June Road.

A venture of this kind deserves good wishes….