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To Be or Be Differently

Posted by on February 14, 2021

The two senses of the verb TO BE

Before resuming the conjugation of the verb asonk in the next post, picking up from where we left off a while ago, I would first like to double down on the difference between the two distinct Konkani versions of the verb to be, underscoring the fact that although, in matters grammatical, Konkani is very similar to Marathi, here is an instance wherein it parts ways with the latter in a loud manner and aligns itself with the two Iberian languages instead, Portuguese and Spanish.

When we use the verb to be in English, we are generally unaware of its flavours in the different contexts it is used in. For instance, take the two sentences: “I am in Goa”, and “I am a man”. The verb am in both the sentences seems to be identical: in both cases it is the present tense of the verb to be. However, if you give a second thought to the connotations of the word in the two sentences, you may realize that the word am in the first sentence has a temporal flavour, associated with becoming, whereas the same word am in the second case clearly has existential nuances that are associated with being. Perhaps it isn’t so obvious in English, but in Konkani the two usages are as different from each other as chalk and cheese, though they flow naturally and spontaneously on the tongue of a native Konkani speaker.

Let me illustrate my point by translating the above two sentences into Konkani. The Konkani version of “I am in Goa” is simply a matter-of-fact translation from the English: “Hanv Gõyam asam.” But if you use the word asam when trying to translate “I am a man”, it would sound as if you are in a human evolutionary stage! For Hanv monis asam (=I am a man) would almost suggest that you are a man for now, but tomorrow you may become …who knows what? … perhaps a cow or monkey?

How then should you say “I am a man” in Konkani? In the present tense you would do a neat job by just omitting the verb itself!! Thus: Hanv monis. That’s it. Omitting the verb altogether after the subject is tantamount to asserting that manhood is an integral part of the subject in the sentence, i.e., of me. Doesn’t it bring to mind the biblical definition of God: I AM WHO AM?

Portuguese or Spanish speakers, however, will have no problem understanding this, because they too have almost an identical pair of verbs corresponding to the two variants of the verb to be, viz., estar and ser, and the usage of these verbs is also almost the same as in Konkani, the verb estar standing for something more temporary in nature, i.e., asonk, while ser suggests a permanent state of the subject in the sentence.

Having now established the distinction between the two senses in which the verb to be is used in Konkani, particularly in the present tense, we shall continue, in the next section, with the conjugation of the verb asonk.

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