Arabic Influence on Konkani

October 20, 2020

A media release appeared on this portal a few days ago titled “SAC to conduct online certificate course E-Konkani Bhaas & Culture”.

It is noteworthy indeed that St Aloysius College (Autonomous) as well as many institutions and individuals put in a fair amount of effort in keeping Konkani alive in the literary arena.

As we all know, a language does not remain constant. It changes all the time.

Many common-use terms of one time-period naturally go out of fashion after a while and may be considered archaic by people of another generation. Conversely, a colloquial term of yesterday may transform itself into a literary word today.

In the case of Konkani, An English-Konkani Dictionary by the Italian Jesuit AFX Maffei is a very good example of seeing the changing nature of words and expressions over a century. That magnificent work was published in 1883. Yet, in fewer than 140 years, a large number of Konkani words found in the dictionary have disappeared altogether from the vocabulary of the population.

Every language, over time, adopts many foreign words. These adopted words may either be discarded after some time, or become fully absorbed into everyday use. The gradual localising of the foreign words is so subtle that the speakers are likely to wholeheartedly reject the notion that such words actually belonged to a distant language rather than recognise them as such.

The Konkani-speakers are no exception to these practices.

As someone who took up Hindi at the University-level, and learnt the rudiments of Urdu, Latin, Greek and French in parallel during teenage years, I progressed to acquire some skills in Arabic years later. After spending years learning Arabic, I cannot claim much proficiency in the language. It is indeed a hard nut to crack.

Arabic – or more precisely the group of languages, spoken and written, that come under the Arabic umbrella – belongs to the Semitic family of languages. I spent several years learning the language as I was researching some information on early Christianity for a book I intended to write. If the reader is not aware, the Formal Arabic (MSA) is derived from the Quranic Arabic, considered very close to Aramaic, the language Jesus supposedly conversed in.

But why not become adept at Greek instead, considering that much of what we know of early Christianity was written in (Koine or ancient) Greek? True, most of the early Christian (or heretic) manuscripts – whether canonical gospels, non-canonical texts or heretical writings – that we have today are in Greek. The Septuagint Old Testament, translation to which took place under the patronage of Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285–247 BC), a non-Israelite, in Alexandria is also in Greek.

As an aside, Philadelphus was a son of Ptolemy I Soter, a leading general (and reportedly a half-brother) of Alexander the Great and served in the latter’s campaign in India. After the death of Alexander, Soter seized control of Egypt, and then went on to enhance the trade with the West Coast of India by establishing the Alexandria and Socotra trade hubs.

The Israelites may have chosen Greek for the written texts, but their culture was still Israelite. I use the term Israelite to encompass all the 12 tribes, one of which was the tribe of Judah (i.e. Jewish people). Israelites then were culturally very close to Arabs of northern Arabia. As already stated above the Quranic Arabic and Aramaic are considered extremely close languages.

A side-effect of my learning Arabic was the accidental discovery of more than 100 Konkani words which would have derived from Arabic – either directly, through Persian, or some other intermediary language. Indeed, there are a few Kannada and Tulu words as well.

Let us look at the following four Arabic-origin words used in Konkani currently:

Sawaal (question)

Zawaab/zaap (response)

Barkaat (blessing, hope of receiving salvation)

Birmot (needs mercy)

It is virtually impossible to know when the first two became part of Konkani. These two are not only part of the everyday language, but have managed to obliterate entirely the use of the original Indo-European terms for the purpose.

The third word barkaat is used very differently by Konkani Catholics and Muslims. With the former, the word is used more as a colloquial term, typically as a negation. For example: ‘taaka barkaat naam’, to mean ‘he is damned to a life in hell / he has no hope of receiving salvation’.

The Muslim Konkani speakers likely use the word like other Muslims, with its Arabic baraka meaning: blessing.

But the word barkaat is in its Persianised form (both in spelling and the sound). The Persianised Arabic words commonly have the ending consonant of ‘t’. This suggests that the original Arabic word entered Konkani through the interactions with Persians.

The Arabic word baraka has existed in the Semitic culture and thought since perhaps the time of Moses, if not earlier. From the Christian perspective, at least, the concept of being saved by the Messiah (i.e. Christ) is associated with the term.

When an Arab prays blessings of the Almighty on his friend, he might say baarak Allah feek – in formal Arabic. In a dialect, it is common to hear Allah baarak fee. The equivalent Hebrew word is brakhot which also means blessing.

The fourth word birmot is clearly derived from the Persianised Arabic word b-rahmah (lit. with mercy). This Arabic word is a very ancient one. It has been found on the pre-Islamic inscriptions in Yemen where it was associated with the Almighty. The word entered the Konkani vocabulary most likely during the 1784-1799 period when our forefathers were the guests of Tipu Sultan Mysore.

Although my main work is yet to be finished, I have compiled a booklet titled Influence of Arabic on Konkani. The booklet may be considered work-in-progress, as more information will be added over time. The booklet is free for reading and distribution, and is available at

Hopefully, when the work is eventually completed, it could form a tiny part of the study material of future students of Konkani, as an aid to expand their view of the language.

I request the reader to provide any feedback and/or comments. If the reader volunteers to translate the booklet to Konkani (in various scripts), that would be most appreciated. Due credit will be given to the translator(s).




By Bert Naik
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Comment on this article

  • Hafsah Faquih, Thane, India

    Mon, Nov 22 2021

    Glad to have come across this article. I’d like to volunteer to translate the booklet.

  • Bert Naik, Melbourne, Australia

    Wed, Oct 21 2020

    Thank you, Victor.

    It appears that Tipu employed Persian as the court language, but his administration - under 1st Diwan (Prime Minister) Purnaiah - continued to be in Kannada. The tax collectors during the period were supposedly Shivalli/Havyaka Brahmins.

    Purnaiah was fluent in Persian. Many Persian words would have entered Kannada (and Mangalorean Konkani) during the period of Purnaiah's administration - which continued for several years after Tipu's death.

    Thank you for the words you have mentioned. The very first Arabic/Persian word I picked up was also from a Panchayat office (my father was the President): 'Lagaytu'.

  • Bert Naik, Melbourne, Australia

    Wed, Oct 21 2020

    Thank you Joseph, Austin, Adolf, ME Rodrigues and Vinson.

    I have now added some more words to the Version 0.2 of the document (draft). Some of these are non-Arabic-origin Persian words. As we all know, Persian, a relative to the north Indian languages including Konkani, served as an administrative language in India for centuries. I believe even the Marathas employed Persian for the purpose.

    ME Rodrigues, the book you mentioned will be very useful in my research. A search for Betal Prakashan did not yield any results on the organisation. Would you know where one could get hold of a copy of the book (regardless of the script)? Any details on the matter would be very helpful.

    Vinson, what you have mentioned sounds very promising indeed. Living in Kuwait and speaking the local dialect would have exposed you to many more words than what I have covered in the booklet. The goal is to eventually include - in tafseel (thank you Joseph) - all the Arabic-origin and Persian words that have crept into Konkani over the centuries. I expect the eventual book to be periodically revised as newer information is uncovered.

  • Victor Alvares, Mangalore

    Wed, Oct 21 2020

    Ladai seems to be a common word in Arabic, Konkani and Tulu.

    I went to my panchayat office for some document in which the word BIN is very commonly used. It means SON OF both in Arabic and kannada. I am sure that it was imported from Arabic.

    Similarly, the panchayath documents display the wird KOM which means WIFE OF. I don't know if it is same in Arabic.

    Very interesting fact is that christian Konkani speakers address our father as BABA and Arabs also call their father as BABA,

  • Vinson Vaz, Kadri, Mangalore/Kuwait

    Wed, Oct 21 2020

    I totally agree with your interpretation Bert and Austin too. I was in awe myself when I heard , learnt and managed to speak Arabic when my mother tongue was Konkani. I have observed the correlation and almost apt references to many many words in Hindi, Konkani and other languages and dialects with Arabic. I have been exposed to most of the common references to legal words and common words to Hindi. I have been compiling new words with close matched references in Arabic (Pronunciations) which caught my fancy for myself, which I shall share with you Bert and hope it may come in handy.

    Great work and I am looking forward to reading your booklet. All the very best!

  • Rodrigues M E, Mangalore

    Wed, Oct 21 2020

    A lot of references of Persian/Arabic influence on Konkani language can be found in the below-mentioned book:

    Konkannachem Apostolik Kristanvponn. Rendered into Kannada script by A.A. Saldanha. Dabul, Bombay: Betal Prakashan, 1960.

  • Adolf Lobo, Urwastores / Dubai

    Wed, Oct 21 2020

    Great job on Konkani, informative and unique concept of research........👍

  • austin, m

    Tue, Oct 20 2020

    These words were brought into the Indian language by the Arab traders we can find them in kannada also Kannoon-kanoonu/law, nagad-nagadu/cash, raza-rajaa/leave, daakhlo-daakhale/record, namuno-namoone/style, khaas-khaaasa/private-special, dastavez-dastaveju/document, daftar/office, dukhaan/shop, batwado-batawade/distribution, thapaal-thappalu/post. It was surprising for me to find these words in Arabic when I came to gulf. which all along I had though were kannada konkkanni worlds. An interesting word in English was Tamarind which was actually Arabic Tamar(Date) Hind(India) Date of India

  • Joseph F. Gonsalves, Bannur / Puttur Mangalore

    Tue, Oct 20 2020

    ಕೊಂಕ್ಣೆಂತ್ ತಫ್ಸೀಲ್ ಮ್ಹಳ್ಳೊ ಸೊಬ್ದ್:
    ಉರ಼್ದು, ಆನಿಂ ಅರಬಿಕ್ ಭಾಶೆಂತಯೀ ತಶೆಂತ್ ಮ್ಹಣ್ತಾತ್.
    ತಫ್ಸೀಲ್ ಮ್ಹಳ್ಯಾರ್ ವಿವರ್ or in detail.

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