The legacy of the Portuguese in Kerala remains in a dialect still spoken by a few in Vypeen. TANYA ABRAHAM meets Hugo Cardoso, researching the subject

It was years ago that the Portuguese came to India, in the 16th century, setting foot in Kerala and in time making Cochin their base. Traces of the Portuguese rule exist in the architecture of the many ancient buildings that have withstood the change of time. Long after they have left, their language exists here, in a corrupted form, five centuries later. Not just in traces of a few words but as a language as a whole.

Creole

Hugo Cardoso, a linguist conducting research on the subject, from the University of Amsterdam, explains, "It is what we call Creole, a mixture of two or three languages that ultimately produces a new language from various aspects." He explains that Indo-Portuguese, a Creole of the real Portuguese language, exists in Vypeen spoken amongst the Anglo-Indians of the region.

Great influence

"It is interesting, especially that it has lasted all these years. In a place like Goa or Diu it is only natural that Portuguese would have a strong influence on the language spoken, or that it would be spoken as a language itself due to their existence till the early 1960's. But the fact that it continues to be spoken in Kerala is definitely a strong indication of the large influence the Portuguese had on the land," explains Hugo.So it was quite interesting for him to be greeted with the words `Quilai tem saude' which means how is your health or simply how are you, whilst visiting a home in Vypeen, as part of his research. This enhances the fact that language is very much a part of people's lives. Like in the case of William Rozario who grew up speaking Indo-Portuguese and continues to do so fluently, just like his parents and their parents, and his friends who together once chatted and joked in the language, including singing songs at dinner parties. "Unfortunately, there are only a few people left here in Kochi who speak the language, I would say two or three, for it is a dying dialect."

Earliest form

Hugo continues that there is every chance it is the earliest form of Creole of the Portuguese language in India. "We do find them in various parts of the country, including Mangalore and Maharashtra, but the reason that the Portuguese first arrived in Kerala allows us to conclude that Malayalam would have infiltrated into Portuguese creating a new dialect that would have been carried to other parts of the country and further modified according to their local language."

Malayalam influence

Although Hugo explains that the language spoken in Vypeen is really Portuguese, it is the grammar that has been influenced by Malayalam and to a certain extent the creation of the sentences as well. "And so in a community of `Anglo-Indians' (Eurasians are termed thus in India) in Vypeen, it remained their first language for generations until recently when English became a more easily accepted form of speech." And as for nearby Fort Kochi, he explains that he did not meet anybody who speaks Indo-Portuguese, except few who recall some words.

Closed community

Hugo reasons, "I presume this is because of the mixed community of the region, while Vypeen largely remained a closed community unaltered by new culture and peoples."But it is verbally vanishing, an end to perhaps another era. Few have inherited the speech and very often, when it has little use, it tends to wither into oblivion. As for those like Rozario and his friends they revel in the uniqueness of their special tradition, as in the customary hymn in Portuguese to `Our Lady, the mother of Jesus' this Lent season.

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