Heritage Konkani of Kerala: Language Contact and Change

Authors: Reshma Jacob (Christ University, India)
Speakers: Reshma Jacob
Strand: Language Contact and Change
Session Type: General Session


Valdes (2000), in the context of Mexican immigrants in the United States of America, defined Heritage Language (HL) as a language that is spoken by immigrants. It is a linguistic scenario in which a language, which once used to be primary and native, becomes a secondary language. Heritage Konkani speakers (HKS) of Kerala[1] are people who migrated from Goa to Kerala during 13th to 16th century (Mallaya 1994). Military campaign by the Mughal ruler Alla-ud-din Khilji and Portuguese inquisition of Goa led to the massive migration of Konkanis to various parts of India. While many migrated to Bombay and Karnataka, to escape the compulsory conversion to Christianity by the Portuguese, some migrated to Kerala.

Heritage Konkanis of Kerala belong to different castes namely Gowda Saraswat Brahmins, Saraswat non-brahmins, Konkan Sonars, Vaishya Vaniyar and Kudumbi. Though they started migrating to Kerala in the late 13th century, the Gowda Saraswat Brahmins, members of the upper caste, remained as a closed community until the 20th century, which helped them to maintain their language to a certain extent. Whereas the rest of the communities belonging to scheduled caste/tribe are on the verge of losing their mother tongue as a result of language contact and various power dynamics. This paper will analyse the current language situation of the heritage Konkani community in Kerala, the extent of phonetic change as a result of language contact and the role of caste in language preservation and endangerment in a multilingual society.

Keywords: Language Contact, Minority language, Caste and language, Heritage Konkani.