PAPERS IN INDIAN LINGUISTICS  
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Social Aspects and Dynamics of Convergence
Susheela Thomas

Convergence in terms of its direction, extent and type is not uniform, though it is a universal phenomenon occurring in most of the contact situations.  The dynamics of convergence depends upon the type of contact-situations.  The deciding elements of convergence in such contact-situations are both linguistic and social.   The linguistic determinants of convergence can be language-specific and language-independent as well.  Scholars have discussed the linguistic determinants of convergence at length.  Annamalai (1978) brings out the typological constraints of the language-specific factors and of the general linguistic mechanism.  The present paper deals with the social aspect of it.

            Nadkarni's article (1975) explains as to how Konkani an Indo-Aryan language spoken in North Kanara and South-Kanara converges with the dominant majority language Kannada.  The incorporation of the interrogative pronoun in place of the relative pronoun in the pronominal type of relative clause in Konkani has been examined here Nadkarni (1975) discusses the various mechanisms involved in this specific convergent change and Annamalai (1978) points out the typological constraints involved in the process.  I'm not going into the details as they don't come under the scope of the present paper.  The fact that the same use of interrogative pronoun has been found in Urdu spoken in Andhra Pradesh (Khader Mohidin 1978) raises other important questions as to whether this is due to a language-independent general linguistic mechanism as has been stated by Annamalai (1978) or, whether it's due to convergence occurring in similar contact-situations.

            Three major kinds of contact situations where convergece occurs have been observed in the Indian context.  They are as follows:

i) in the geographically contiguous border areas.

ii) in cases of immigrant groups.

iii) in cases of tribal groups.

The most significant aspect of language-contact in the above mentioned contact-situations in India as has been pointed out and discussed by Emeneau and other scholars as well as the languages belonging to different language-families co-exist and have been in contact for centuries with the result that linguistic similarities are found even in genetically unrelated languages due to the diffusion of linguistic features across genetic boundaries.  The temporal impact of the phenomenon of language-contact on the Indian languages has been studied by Emeneau.  He focused on such a phenomenon in detail and came out with his notion of "Linguistic Area" which "includes languages belonging to more than one family, but showing traits in common which are found not to belong to the other members of (at least) one of the families" (1956:16).  The temporal impact of Sanskrit on the languages in India due to the contact of these languages with Sanskrit in particular, has been pointed out by J.D. Singh (1977).  According to him, the role of Sanskrit in promoting Pan-Indian linguistic traits is quite significant.  This being the over-all picture of language-contact in India .

Let us move on to the specific language contact situations.  There has been quite a few studies of the second type of the contact-situations where the immigrant groups have been in constant contact with the dominant majority groups.  Studies of Saurashtri in Tamil Nadu, (Pandit 1972), the Mapilla Malayalam in South Kanara , (Susheela Upadhayaya, 1971) and Konkani spoken by the Saraswat Brahmins in North and South Kanara (Nadkarni 1976) are some of the examples.

The present paper restricts the discussion on the social aspects of convergence in the first kind of contact situations, i.e. at the linguistic boundaries.  Further, the discussion is based on the available studies-mainly the study in Kupwar by Gumperz (1971) at the border of Karnataka and Maharashtra and the study in Kasargod by the author at the border of Karnataka and Kerala.  An attempt is made to compare the two situations which might in turn provide with a better insight into the relationship between the socio-cultural, political setting and the degree and direction of convergence in the two cases.

When two or more languages are in prolonged contact in a geographically contiguous area, two types of changes are observed, they are :

i) Each of the languages may converge towards the other language, the degree of convergence differing from situation to situation.

ii) The respective language systems may merge together to give a new system which is different from each of the systems, but show considerable degree of inter-translatability among the languages in contact.

In case of Kupwar, the second type of convergence has taken place where a single underlying grammar could be drawn for the languages in contact-Kannada, Indo-Aryan  Marathi and Indo-Aryan Urdu are remarkably identical in phonology, syntax and semantics, but differ only in morphophonemics.  But the findings in Kasargod reveal that such far-reaching changes as in the case of Kupwar have not taken place in the case of Kannada spoken here i.e. the variety of Kannada used for inter-group communication in Kasargod has been least influenced, though it is used quite frequently in various situations.  On the other hand, the variety of Malayalam used for inter-group communication in Kasargod has been converged more towards Kannada and Tulu (Thomas, Susheela 1980).  Thus, convergence seems to be more or less unidirectional in this case unlike in Kupwar.

This is mainly due to the difference in the socio-cultural and political setting in the two cases, which has resulted into difference in the attitude and social relations of the respective language speakers towards the other language speakers in these areas.  These factors also have a direct bearing on the different kinds and degree of linguistic influence of one language on the other, in the two cases.  It might be rewarding to compare the two settings to have a clear understanding of the two situations and to arrive at reasonable conclusions.

Let us take up the situation in Kasargod at first.  Here the majority of the language speakers consist of Kannada (Dravidian), Malayalam (Dravidian), Tulu (Dravidian), and Konkani (Indo-Aryan) speakers, though altogether there are about twelve languages spoken in this area.  The Malayalam speakers constitute 50.56 per cent of the total population.  The bulk of the Malayalees are the Muslims called the `Mapilas'.  Tulu speakers are about 22.73 per cent; Kannada speakers are about 12.23 per cent, Konkani speakers are 2.84 per cent and the rest of the speakers constitute about 11.64 per cent of the total population.  (For the language-wise break up and for the description of the Kannada speaking community (See Thomas, Susheela 1980).

            The situation in this boundary of Karnataka and Kerala seems to be unstable in terms of the status of the languages in contact, Kasargod was part of South Kanara under Madras presidency before the reorganization of State in 1956 and thus, Kannada was the dominant language there.  There were only Kannada medium schools and a very few Malayalam medium schools were run by the Muslims.  After the reorganization, Kasargod was merged with the Kerala State , where the official language was Malayalam.  Parallel Malayalam medium classes have been introduced step by step where there were only Kannada medium schools earlier.  There are a number of bilingual schools in Kasargod where both the medium exist.  These schools function as the main locations of language contact.

            A very important and interesting trend has been noticed recently in case of the Malayalam speakers in Kasargod, that is the Malayalees (except the Muslims) who used to send their children to the Kannada medium schools have switched over to Malayalam medium schools.  As a result, the enrollment of the Kannada medium students in the government bilingual schools of Kasargod is becoming less and less and many sections in the Kannada medium had to be closed down.  This particular group of Malayalees might also be acting as carriers of linguistic traits from Kannada into Malayalam.  This being the situation in schools, let us study the situation in the other domains.  There is a strict separation of public and private life.  The respective variety of the Mother-tongue is used in the domain of  home in case of each of the mother tongue groups.  The language(s) used for inter-group communication in the Kasargod town are mainly Malayalam and Kannada.  The use of Malayalam is becoming more and more in the recent times.  This is more so in the market places.  All the three languages i.e., Kannada, Malayalam and Tulu are used for inter-group communication in Manjeshwar towards the North of Kasargod which is nearer to the South Kanara border of the Karnataka State and, it is only Malayalam in Bedadaka towards the South which is nearer to the Hosdurga Taluk of Kerala.  When the Tulu, Konkani and Kannada speakers meet each other, the language used for inter-group communication is Kannada since Kannada has been the culture language for the Tulu and Konkani speakers also.  They have been studying through the Kannada medium even after the reorganization which reflects upon the attitude of these speakers towards Malayalam and Kannada.

            There is a section of Malayalees in Kasargod who have come recently from the Southern parts of Kerala for employment purpose.  They speak only Malayalam which is nearer to the standard variety.  More and more contacts with these Malayalam speakers and the introduction of Malayalam as the medium of instruction might have a standardizing effect in the long run on the Kasargod dialect of Malayalam.  The Malayalee Muslims of Kasargod speak mostly Malayalam though the, males, among them have a receptive knowledge of Kannada also.  The females among the Muslims are largely monolinguals: `But all the Kannada, Tulu and Konkani speakers have at least' a receptive knowledge of Malayalam also; Konkani and Tulu speakers are largely bilinguals.

            In the government offices, Malayalam and English are used more frequently.  The help of an interpreter is sought when there is a difficulty in communication.  Government circulars are mostly in Malayalam and English.  Lawyers speak Kannada, Malayalam, Tulu and English frequently.  But the Court proceedings are mostly in Malayalam.  The lawyers will help in case there is a difficulty in communication.  In the mass-contact-programmes, where the Govt. officials meet the public, the different language-speakers se their respective mother-tongues which are in turn translated into Malayalam for the Govt. officials and vice-versa, if there is difficulty in understanding.  The above discussion brings home the fact that more than one language is used for daily interaction outside the domain of home in Kasargod.

            As far as trade is considered, most of the trade-relations are with the Mangalore city in South Kanara .  Mangalore is nearer to Kasargod when compared to the other cities of Kerala.

            In the case of Kupwar, Sangli, the district headquarter is only 3 miles away from the village.  It is about 7 miles away from Karnataka border.  There are only Marathi and Urdu medium schools in this place, and most of the village-residents study through Marathi medium.  The Marathi speaking population in the village consist of land-less labourers and untouchables.  The Kannada speakers are the land owning Jains and the Lingayat crafmen.  The Urdu-speaking Muslims are also land owners.  There are also some rope-makers residing in the village, who speak Telugu.

            The language used for inter-group communication in Kupwar is mainly Marathi.  Though the Karnataka border is only seven miles away from the village, there seems to be less business-contact with the Kannada speaking population living there and though there are Kannada medium schools across the Karnataka border, most of the village people seem to be literate in Marathi.  Thus, when compared to Marathi, Kannada is used in less number of domains outside the home domain in Kupwar.

            In Gumperz's view, Marathi serves as a socially neutral code since it is neither the home-language of either of the socially dominant groups, nor the home-language of a vast majority of local residents.  Nevertheless, all three local varieties of the languages are used, when a Kannada speaking Jain has Urdu and Marathi speaking employees in his work group; In such situations, there is mutual influence of the languages on each other in the area.

            Since various factors seem to be balancing each other, regular and frequent interactions among the local residents have not led to the `Triumph' (to use Gumperz's term) of one language over the other.  The fact that the residents have their own neighbourhood and local norms and values require strict separation between private and public spheres, also contribute to the mainteance of the languages in Kupwar.

            If prestige was the only crucial factor in a contact situation in accordance with the principle of upward mobility, the socio-economically less prestigious Marathi speaking population should have aspired to imitate the socio-economically prestigious land-owning Kannada speaking population of the village, especially their speech habits, thereby resulting in more and more use of Kannada for daily interaction and inter-group communication.  However, it must be remembered that prestige is not the only deciding factor in the use of language in a particular social setting.  The functional utility of a language might turn out to be more important in the use or non-use of a particular language.  This has happened in the case of Marathi of Kupwar.  This explains the norms governing the choice of Marathi in various domains outside the domain of home.  It is used quite frequently in trade, since village products are sold regularly in the Sangli market.  Thus, there is business-contact with the Marathi speaking population outside the village.  Even the Kannada speaking Jains are reported to be switching between Marathi and Kannada while discussing business matters.  Bi/(multi) lingualism has been maintained in this village and almost all the local persons are bi/ (multi) linguals here.  These aspects of social setting also explain why Marathi has been influenced less as compared to Kannada and Urdu.  Urdu has been influenced to the maximum degree.

            An analytical examination of the socio-cultural and political setting in the two contact situations as above explains as to why there is a difference in the type extent and direction of convergence in the two situations.  In case of Kasargod, the convergence has been largely unidirectional, whereas in the case of Kupwar, the three systems have merged together to give a new system (as discussed earlier) with the result that the Kannada, Marathi and Urdu spoken in Kupwar are substantially identical in phonology, syntax, semantics (Southworth, Apte, 1974).  One could expect even Kannada ofKasargod to have changed considerably due to the contact of Malayalam for the following reasons.

i)  Kannada had been in prolonged contact with Malayalam for a long time due to geographical contiguity.  This prolonged contact should have had considerable effect on the structure of the language.

ii)  Since Malayalam became the official language, and the language of instruction and administration, it was expected that it would be used more in day to day interactive situations and in more and more domains with the result that the structure of other languages especially that of Kannada would influenced considerably due to the influence of Malayalam.  

            One of the main reasons as to why the Kannada speakers have been able to keep the two systems apart, even with the increased use of Malayalam in the recent times could be due to the fact that Kannada was the only medium of instruction at schools for a long time in the area.  This had a standardizing effect on the language with the result that the Kannada used for inter-group communication, which in the conscious speech, has been very much nearer to the written variety.  This also explains as to why Marathi in Kupwar has been influenced least when compared to Urdu and Kannada.  In the case of Marathi, Kupwar, it is the language of instruction, the language of inter-group communication and is used a neutral code too.

            The fact that the Muslims who form the majority of the Malayalam speakers in Kasargod are mainly either businessmen or fisher-men and that most of their trade relations have been with Mangalore of South Kanara in Karnataka, explains as to why Malayalam has been influenced more by Kannada and Tulu.  An analogous situation is responsible for the Kannada of Kupwar being influenced by Marathi, the trade-language

            Thus, it follows from the above discussion that the language of instruction, the language of trade, the language of inter-group communication which is mostly conscious speech, when compared to the language of intra-group communication and functional utility and the duration of contact are very crucial in a socio-cultural setting in determining the degree and direction of convergence.

            Another major factor which needs to be examined, is the degree of mutual adaptation within the social net-work in the contact situations.  Due to the political situation, the degree of mutual adaptation among the different language speakers in Kasargod seems to be less when compared to that of Kupwar.  This is mainly due to the fluidity in the status of the languages in contact in Kasargod due to the changed political situation.  This has give rise to a negative feeling among the Kannada, Tulu and Konkani speakers of this area that Malayalam has been imposed on them.  This is further depended and manifested by the intermittent eruption of the movement.  This is reflected in the fact that they opt for Kannada as the medium of instrution, inspite of  the fact that learning through Kannada medium puts them in a disadvantageous position within the State.

            In the absence of such a political situation, an altogether different picture is depicted in case of Kupwar where the socially prestigious group and the less prestigious untouchables show mutual adaptation within the village.  This explains as to how the contact situation in a disputed border differs from that of the undisputed one and the corresponding difference in the degree, extent and the directions of convergence.  Thus, there is a direct co-relation between the social aspects and the dynamics of convergence.  Further studies in this direction might provide us with a better understanding of the typological constraints of the social situations in relation to the dynamics of convergence.

Foot-Notes :

  1. The language used for intra-group communication is not discussed here as this is not comparable to the Kupwar situation.
  2. The author's study in Kasargod is restricted only to the Kannada, Malayalam and Tulu speakers.
  3. The socio-cultural and political setting has been discussed in my earlier paper, "special characteristics of the minorities and majority at the border of linguistic states and the need for language planning.
  4. A cross-section of the different mother-tongue speakers in class X, VII & V of three different schools in Kasargod viz., a bilingual school, an exclusively Kannada medium school and an exclusively Malayalam medium school was given and explained in the earlier paper mentioned in additional data has been  collected  during  my  subsequent field work from  all  the  classes  of  about  twenty schools.  I am  grateful  to  Dr. Thampuran for helping me to collect this data.
  5. During my field work, the informants were of the opinion that learning through the Kannada medium would not fetch them jobs either in Karnataka or in Kerala.