We are beginning to break through the language barrier a little each day here in Maharashtra as we finish our fifth week of Marathi classes. Three times a week we meet for two hours with Gita, a Elementary Teacher who was trained in English-speaking Convent schools for her entire education. Marathi is not her first language, but she had to learn it when she married Pravin 22 yrs ago. She says it took her 12 years to master the language, but since it is not her first language she has an idea of what it takes to learn it as an adult. She primarily teaches English to children, so she is interested in languages and how best to teach languages.
We are her first Westerners, and maybe adults as well, so she is having to adjust to our desires and needs. Dewa (Dahvee) does not want to sit on the floor as it hurts his knees. I like sitting on the floor for it made of tile and offers some refreshing coolness in the heat of the day. She is most comfortable sitting on the floor as are most Indian people we have met. Chairs are uncommon. This has impacted our instruction in that Dewa is higher than the teacher. Also he is an older male, and women have to reduce their contact with men, although they would tell you this is not so. It is just in the culture. So we have had to take this into consideration when participating in the instruction. Dewa can be left out if we don’t make a point to include him. Things one takes for granted can become a challenge to overcome.
We started with learning to hear, pronounce, write, and read the 12 vowels. With each letter, she assigns about five words to memorize. Now we have begun to learn the 24 consonants. Last weekend went to the beach for two nights. Along the way we were able to read the mileage signs and the name of our destination. Made us feel we are learning something. On the way home, we played a game with our two drivers. We spoke the Marathi words we knew, hoping that we could pronounce them correctly and they would recognize them. Their challenge was to interpret it correctly into English. The four of us got the pleasure of practicing our language skills with each other. I think we probably pronounced 80% of the words correctly.
Yesterday a woman came up to me saying “Aunti, Aunti.” I turned around to meet a woman I had seen the night before in the Nityananda Temple. I asked her for her name in my limited Marathi, but I must have gotten it right, for she told me her name. It always feels exhilarating when somebody speaks back to you. They light up to realize that you just spoke to them in Marathi. Of course, then they go on to speak so rapidly you don’t stand a chance to answer. This is when I have to pull out the standard phrase, “Me Marathi bolto nay,” which means I don’t speak Marathi. This too usually gets a laugh out of everyone. One person told us it will take us 4 years to learn Marathi. Neither Dewa nor I ever became fluent in Spanish and only speak like children, but it has always opened doors for us that we can do that much. Maybe in the next six months we will be able to have some little conversations with our neighbours.
India is a land of many languages and so it is very common that everyone speaks two to four languages. Here in Maharashtra, Marathi, Hindi and English are most common. A lot of the Indian people we meet are from a different state, and that means their first language is from their home state, and Hindi, Marathi and English are added on later. Actually, I feel a lot of admiration for these people who can speak four languages and it inspires me to make the effort to learn Marathi as well.
We learned the other day that Marathi is a derivative of Sanskrit. Here is what Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia had to say:
Marathi (मराठी Marāṭhī) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Marathi people of south western India. It is the official language of the state of Maharashtra. There are 90 million fluent speakers worldwide. Marathi is the 4th most spoken language in India and the 15th most spoken language in the world. Marathi is the oldest of the regional literatures in Indo-Aryan languages, dating from about AD 1000.
Marathi is estimated to be more than 1300 years old, evolving from Sanskrit through Prakrit and Apabhramsha. Its grammar and syntax derive from Pali and Prakrit. In ancient times, Marathi was called Maharashtri, Marhatti, Mahratti etc.
Marathi written in Devanāgarī and Modi
India , Israel and Mauritius
Marathi speaking population is found in United States, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Netherlands, Canada, UAE, South Africa, Israel, Pakistan Singapore, Germany, UK, Australia & New Zealand
Maharashtra, Goa, parts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Sindh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu
Total 90 million speakers70 million native, 20 million second language
15 (native)15 (combined)
§ Southern Indo-Aryan
Devanagari script, Modi script (traditional)
Official language in
India (State of Maharashtra, Union territories of Daman-Diu) and Dadra Nagar Haveli
Maharashtra Sahitya Parishad & various other institutions
Marathi is spoken in India, Mauritius and Israel. Marathi is also spoken by emigrant Maharashtrians worldwide, especially in the U.S. and Europe.