Process of Convergence and Language Shift: A Case Study of the Kudumbis of Kerala

1.  Introduction:

            The present paper discusses a few aspects of linguistic convergence and language shift among the Kudumbis, a Konkani speaking linguistic minority settled in Kerala.  They call this language as `Kudumbi'.  This group has a history of four centuries in the land of Kerala .  Kudumbis and other Konkani speaking groups like Gowda Saraswath Brahmins, Vaisyas and Sonars have migrated from Goa during the later half of the 16th century due to the religious persecution of the Portuguese and settled down at first in three places viz., Mancheswaram (Cannanore district), Cochin (Ernakulam district) and Purakkad (Alleppy district) along the costal line of Kerala in 1562 AD1.  Later they shifted to the interior areas of Kerala.  The Travancore Archaeological records show that the Kudumbis settled in Trivandrum were brought from Goa in the 18th century by Marthanda Varma, the Raja of Travacore to provide `beaten rice' to the palace.  Still they are continuing the same work and the surrounding Malayalis call them as "idiyammar" (those who beat) because of this profession.  1961 census records the language spoken by Kudumbis under two heads; Kudumbi (7840) and Mooppan (473).  Now the total Kudumbi population in Kerala is over 12,0002. 

            Linguistic convergence quite often takes place when two or more speech communities maintain prolonged contact within abroad field of communication and there can be cross currents of cultural diffusion also.  Kudumbi speech community has been in prolonged contact with the Malayalis in diverse areas of communication.  The alternate use of these languages in various domains in day to day communication, there is a possibility that features of each of these systems tend to diffuse into the other system.  Though the linguistic barriers to diffusion are not absolute, in this situation of extensive bilingualism, even the grammatical system can be affected.  Extreme cases of such language contact situations may result in the formation of a single underlying grammar for the language in contact as in the case of the Kupwar village study3. From the studies of such diffusion processes some striking cases of grammatical borrowing were revealed even among genetically unrelated languages.  As Emeaneau (1974) points out, generally lexical items are borrowed most frequently and in certain cases borrowing can extend to all other aspects of the language system, phonological, grammatical and syntactic.  In Kudumbi situation, the minority group is learning the language of the majority.  Generally the preservation or displacement of the ancestral language would depend upon the socio-economic conditions of the minority community which comes into contact with the majority community.  The Kudumbis belong to the lower socio-economic group where most of the people are labourers.  The group provides an interesting paradigm of the nature of convergence and language shift within the Konkani speaking caste groups each having a different relation to the dominant culture.  In this situation the convergence is uni-directional and is towards the majority language.  The younger generation is getting more and more educated and there has been an increased contact with the dominant group and as a result a transitional stage is noticed and the language is losing its force.  They themselves are disowning their language and claiming Malayalam as their mother tongue due to various socio-political reasons.  This would be an instance of the loss of the ancestral language in a lower socio-economic group by the conscious effect of the community itself.

2.  Convergent features in Kudumbi:

            An attempt is made here to know a few convergent features identified in Kudumbi with the Malyalam structure, in the phonological, grammatical and lexical levels.  In all these levels the convergence is towards the majority language, Malayalam.

2.1. Phonological level

            In the phonological level, one could find a number of phonemes of Malayalam in the phonemic inventory of Kudumbi.  The presence of alveolar stop / t /, palatal nasal / n / palatal lateral / l / and dental nasal / n/ in the Kudumbi speech reflect the influence of Malayalam on Kudumbi which are not available in Konkani.  As in Malayalam, the difference between alveolar and dental nasal, is maintained very clearly in Kudumbi.  Further, the homorganic clusters such as /nc/ /nt/ are present in Kudumbi due to these Malayalam phonemes.  The labio dental fricative /f/ also identified in Kudumbi which may be due to the influence of colloquial Malayalam.


            / t / occurs as geminated in word medial position

            e.g. / tetta /                               `wrong'

                  / kattĔ/                               `paddy'


            /n/ occurs word initially and medially

                 /nerE/                                  `line'

                /pa:nə/                                  `leaf'

/n/ occurs word medially with homorganic stop

              /konjƏli/                                   `handful'

              /mullanni/                                 `raddish'

/ l / occurs intervocalically

              /palƏ/                                       `fruit'

              /taalcĖ/                                    `depth'

/f/ occurs word initially

              /faaryƏ/                                   `wife'

              /fuulr/                                       `flower'

              /faati/                                       `back'

The loss of phonological features of Konkani is attested in Kudumbi due to the influence of Malayalam.  Nasalization and aspiration are clear features in Konkani but are almost lost in Kudumbi.

Loss of aspiration :

Eg.              Konkani                                  Kudumbi              

                   ph > f           phaati      faati        `back'

                   bh > b          bhaabdu   baabdu    `cart'

                                      bhaat       baat        `paddy'

                   dh > d          dhuuy      duuyi       `wash'

                   jh > j            jhoodu     joodu       `storm'

                   gh > g          ghood      good       `house'

                   mh > m        mhoovu   moovu     `honey'

                   nh > n          nhaa        naa         `both'       

Loss of nasalization :              

                   Konkani                    Kudumbi  

                   muyi                          muuyi      'ant'

                   coddu                        cou         `child'

                   addE                          adde       `beam'

                   olle                            olle         `big'           

2.2. Grammatical level

              Many convergent features are identified in grammatical level.  The grammatical suffixes of Malayalam are being used in Kudumbi.

2.2.1. Number

              One of the striking features of grammatical convergence is the use of Malayalam plural suffixes in Kudumbi.  Three plral suffixes /kanri/ (M) /kaar/, /gale/ (M) /Kal/ and /maara (M) /maar/ are identified in Kudumbi speech.  The occurrence reflects the Malayalam pattern and the direction of convergence is towards Malayalam.

              Malayalam has the plural suffix /kaar/.  Kudumbi uses the same marker with slight phonemic alternation.

              Kudumbi                        Malayalam              

              kuuttəkaari                     kuuttu kaar    `friends'

              totto kaari                       toottakkaar    ` gardner '          

The plural marker /kal/ of Malayalam has been taken to Kdumbi as /galƏ/  

              Konkani          Kudumbi                    Malayalam  

              haat-Ə              haat.galə               kayakal    `hands'

              diis-Ə            diisu.galə                 divasankal  `days'

The plural marker /maar/ of Malayalam is being used a /maaə/ in Kudumbi.  

              Konkani          Kudumbi                    Malayalam  

                                      Puut-maarə         putranman              `sons'

              bəyni.y             boyni maarə       sahoodarimaar       `sisters'

              baayl-ə             baayl-maaə           pennunnal              `women'


The loss of the Konkani plural marker / y  / is attested in Kudumbi.  The neuter gender plural marker is optional in Malayam.  Kudumbi has taken the same pattern.

              Konkani                        Kudumbi                      Malayalam

              Boylaccogaadiyə             boyia gaadi                kaalavandi

                                                                                    `bullock cart'

              cear kud-ə                      caarikudu                  naalu muRi

                                                                                    `four room'

2.2.2. Case suffixes

              A few Malayalam case suffixes are attested in Kudumbi.


              The accusative case suffix ne/e of Malayalam is being used in Kudumbi in the place of /-ni/, the accusative suffix in Konkani.  

              Konkani                        Kudumbi                     Malayalam

              Putta-ni                          putta-ne                    putrane `son' (acc.)

              Paksiyā-ni                       paksi-ne                    paksiye `bird' (acc.)  


The genitive case marker ude of Malayalam is being used in Kudumbi.


              Konkani                        Kudumbi                              Malayalam

              rukhaa-lē                         rukhaa-de                          marattinte `of tree'


/kƏ/ is the dative case marker in Konkani.  Kudumbi uses the Malayalam dative case suffix /nu/.  

              Konkani                        Kudumbi                        Malayalam

              RaamaakƏ                     raaman                     raamanu `rama (dat)

              SiitaakƏ                          siitaau                       sittakku `sita (dat)


The Malayalam locative case marker /-il/ is found in Kudumbi speech.              

              Konkani                        Kudumbi                     Malayalam

              renaant                           kaadilu                      kattil `in forest'

              pondaakƏ                       pondeelu                   cuvattil `down'

2.2.3. Formation of fractions

              In Konkani, Fractions are formed by the preposition of allomorphs of/ardhƏ / `half'.  In Kudumbi speech, fractions are formed by post-posing the allomorph of /ardhƏ / `half' as in Malayalam pattern.

Eg:          Konkani                        Kudumbi                         Malayalam

              Savaayi                          eekk-kaalu                     onneekal `1 '

              Sarayi d                          dooni-kaalu                    rantee kal `2 '

              PavnƏdooni                    dooi-mukkalu                 randee mukkal `2 '  

2.2.4.      Compound verbs

A few verbs are identified in the Kudumbi speech which are taken from Malayalam.

tornu kari                          torakkuka                  `to open'

jooli kari                            jooli ceyyuke             `to work'

tiirtƏ kari                          tiirkkuka                    `to finish'

2.3 Lexical level

The lexcon of Kudumbi speech reflects a number of borrowings from Malayalam.  Two types of lexical borrowings are attested in this situation 1) word along the meaning is borrowed without phonological changes. 2) word along with the meaning is borrowed with phonological changes.

1) without phonological changes

          eg. Kalukkoolu      `rafter'

              olukku              `flow'

              colali                `epilepsy' etc.

2) with phonological changes

              Kudumbi          Malayalam

              saapu               saspam   `curse'

              val Ə                `anklet'

              guudo               kuutu      `cage' etc.

It is observed that when certain words are borrowed from Malayalam they accept the word according to the general morphological pattern of the language.  When proper nouns are borrowed it is found that they make it either masculine/feminine.

              Kudumbi          Malayalam

              Meese (fem.)   meesa (neu.)         `table'

              Val Ə (mas.)    vala (neu.)             `anklet'

A few items are found borrowed to Kudumbi with semantic changes also.

              vattam              `square'                 vattam        `circle'

              muudavu          `fog'                      mudd          `cloud'

3. A few obdrvations on cultural diffusion :

          Close contact and intermingling of societies having different traditions cause cultural diffusion.  The Kudumbi community in Kerala has a 400 years tradition in the land and a positive and receptive attitude towards the Kerala culture and many of the aspects of it have become a part and parcel of their day today life.  Other Konkani communities like GSBs in Kerala have their own temples and their culture is highly related to these institutions.  In this domain,, they preserve their language also.  The Kudumbis do not have their own temples and they are sharing the temples of Malayalis and have accepted the Kerala system of worshiping Serpant God, Bhadrakali etc.  The other Konkani communities still keep in touch with their oldest Kuladevata temples in Goa while the Kudumbis are not aware of their oldest temples and they do not have any contact.  In food habits also we can observe a wide difference between Kudumbis, and other Konkani speaking groups in Kerala. Kudumbis have accepted all the food habits of Keralites and the use of house-hold articles confined to Kerala culture.  In the observation of festivals we can notice this wide difference between Kudumbis and GSBs.  GSBs observe the festivals like `Yugaadi', Yariyalpurnima' `Ganesh Chaturthi' etc, all of them are unknown to Kerala culture.  While the Kudumbis do not observe any of these festivals but are confined to the Kerala festivals like `Onam', `Vishu' etc. and have an appreciation towards these festivals.  Earlier the Kudumbis community has some peculiar system of wearing dresses (especially women).  Now they have rejected this and Kudumbi women wear clothes like other Malayali women.  The other Konkani speaking communities do not inter marry with Malayalis, while Kudumbis have accepted intercaste marriages with Malayalis in certain places and have adopted the Kerala Hindu system of marriage.  Generally kinship terms would be preserved in the language even after a great loss of the structural pattern.  Other Konkani speaking communities are preserving all of their kinship terms while the Kudumbis have adopted many of the terms from Malayalam like `amma' (mother) `aliya' (brother-in-law) ceettan/annan `brother, naattun (sister-in-law) maama (uncle) etc.  In personal names also a wide difference can be seen between GSBs and Kudumbis.  GSBs have their own personal names (with surnames like Bhat, Mallya, Kini, Pai, Kamat etc.)  While Kudumbis are accepting the personal names of Malayali Hindus.  These factors of cultural diffusion are highly related to the linguistic convergence and language loss among this linguistic minority.

4.  Language shift :

          Language maintenance/shift and acculturation among the linguistic minorities in Indian situation can be basically ascertained on the greatest psychological, social and cultural distance kept by these immigrant groups from the institutions, processes and values of the dominant society.  And this separatism or closeness can be seen which is reflected by the indices of socio-economic status of the immigrant community.  Being in the lower socio-economic  class, there are several factors involved in the process of language shift among the Kudumbis.  Contact in the field of education or schooling is an important factor in maintaining the ancestral language.  While in many of the states in India , there are facilities for minority children to learn their mothertongue atleast upto the primary level.  But this group has no such facility.  Kudumbi children are studying in Malayalam medium and it is observed that the older generation who do not have their formal education in Malayalam use mother tongue in the domain of home while the children studying in Malayalam medium show a high tendency to speak Malayalam even at home. In child-hood, a child learns to speak Kudumbi and Malayalam simultaneously from parents and neghbourhood respectively and he is forced to use Malayalam in most of the domain. Since the Malayalam speaking communities never speak Konkani, the Malayalam, Kudumbis learning is in no way affected or influenced.  On the other hand, they learn Kudumbi from their own community which is under constant influence of Malayalam.  So, this influence of the domiant language is being transmitted from generation to generation with an acceleration and the result is the loss of the ancestral language.  The functional utility of the language seems to be a crucial factor among many of the factors which lead to extensive bilingualism and language shift.  The urge to compete with people of the dominant language and to improve their economic conditions for acceptability and upward mobility, the learning of the regional language becomes essential, which leads to extensive bilingualism and finally to language shift.  Other factors like non-standardization of the language (mother tongue) lack of supporting institutions for the upliftment of the language, economic instability, lack of common orthography, lack of use in mass media, feeling of inferiority about their own language etc. are some of the causes of language shift among the Kudumbis.  The language tables of census of 1951, 1961 and 1971 do not show much increase in the population of Konkani speaking communities in Kerala.  The main reason for this is that the Kudumbi community is consciously giving their mother tongue as Malayalam.  Since they belong to the lower socio-economic group, they are trying to get themselves included in the official list of `scheduled caste' of Kerala, the changing of social linguistic identity (with political influence also) through organized compagins is leading to the loss of the ancestral language and finally language shift, giving way to the dominant language in their day to day communication.

Foot Note:  

1.  Travancore State Archieves records

2.  Information received from All Kerala Kudumbi Association

3.    Gumperz, 1971.  

       Bhattacharya, S. (1975)

              Linguistic convergence in the Dravido,

              Munda culture area. ISDL. 4.2.  

        Fishman J.A. (1971)

              Language in socio cultural change

              Stanford U. Press.  

        Gumperz J.J. & Wilson R. (1971)

              Convergence and creolization: A case study from the Indo-Aryan

              Dravidian Border in India .  

        Katre S.M. (1964)

              Formation of Konkani  

              Konkani Bhasha Prachar Sabha (1979)

              "Souvenior of the All India Konkani Sahitya Parishat , Cochin 12th  Session held on 11-12 Feb. 79.  

        Pandit, P.B. (1972)

              India as a sociolinguistic area

              University of Pune , Pune.  

        Southworth F.C. & Apte M.L. (ed) (1974)

              Contact and convergence in South Asian Languages, IJDL. 3.1.  

        State Archives Dept.

              "The Konkani Community in Kerala"


              Testimonium in Konkani in Nagari Script

              1675 A.D. `(Reprint from Hortus Indicus

              Malabaricus by Van Rheede.  

              Susan, Gal (1979)

              Language shift (social determinants of Linguistic

              Change in Bilingual Austrian.

Newyork: Academic Press.  

Weinriech, U (1953)

              Languages in contact. Newyork.  

Celophon: The author is thankful to Dr. M.V. Sreedhar for

            His comments during the preparation of this paper.