My Journey Learning to Love An Endangered Language

*Written by Kanchan Naik, Founder and former Editor-in-Chief of The Roar

Tuka purche katir tugel naav naa ashilen 

ithe maları tuka kasal naav dyuche 

chelduaa naav ditahachee, 

sunen ka ani gudde ka 

I belong to my mother tongue the way it belongs to its demise, an instinctual but no less tragic linguistic prophecy. Konkani lies along the interlingual axes of Kannada, Marathi, and Tullu, all Indo-Aryan languages with speakers sprawled across the Indian subcontinent. My language blends the endless bickering of Goan fish markets with the spiraling hymns of Udupi temples, a hybrid creature born along the ever-changing boundaries of South Asian communities. 

A daughter of a diaspora, I fuse the Western and South Asian pieces of myself to forge my own sense of Americanism. My mother and I cultivate California poppies and sugandhi lilies in the backyard, our oddly cosmopolitan temple a home to bronze Ganeshas as well as a leather Bible and a menorah. The intersectionality, therefore, of my language serves as a furtive source of pride. Konkani taught my tongue to contort across sixteen diphthongs and alternate between three distinctions of formality, guiding me through both Call of Duty rivalries with my brother and nostalgic phone conversations with my grandparents. My language and I reconcile differences and bridge boundaries — both of us masters in the art of integration.

In 2018, Konkani was declared an endangered language by UNESCO. My native tongue borrows and is borrowed, but is slipping away from my culture altogether. I could not bear to think that Konkani would become an orphan in my mouth, its powdery intonation lost to South Asian households. 

The pain came tumbling out onto paper, where I wove Konkani and English into poetry. Translation was a difficult craft, as my choices in language could distort my words altogether. But learning to reconcile the differences between my inner voices brought me closer to a visceral, unfiltered part of myself. I realized that I loved watching Konkani seep into the pores of my poetry, which was as subject to evolution as the language itself. 

My love for Konkani is stubborn and sad and spirited, the way a sea-torn sailor clings to a sinking ship. On some days, my language dissolves into its Brahmanized predecessors; on others, English trickles into its core. But if there’s anything that this tangled, anarchic mother tongue has taught me, it’s that both Konkani and I are fighters. I am me and my language, and coiled within every language is the choice to sustain it. While there’s a quixotic pride in staying loyal to Konkani, I know that these 36 consonants, 5 semi-vowels, and 3 sibilants have a little more life in them. I belong to my mother tongue — whether it outlives me or not. 

Tuka purche katir tugel naav naa ashilen We did not have a name to bury you with
ithe maları tuka kasal naav dyuche?because what name would we give you?
chelduaa naav ditahachee,  sunen ka ani gudde ka children are to be named, dogs, and mountains
ani tugel aatma vairi ek ek shabdaach vazan aasaand your soul the weight of every syllable
ani tugel haath itle deeg zalen ke shabdaka mel dharlaa your arms outstretched in our every epithet. 
Tugel pankhachi roochi aamgel jibbe padmakshi ghetle We tasted your feathers against the backs of our tongues,  
aami aanga amgel shanti aani naava otoo rabtaleencheeunable to bury you, unable to exhale your ghost.

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