Adventures in Code Switching: Navigating a Multilingual Office & Home

My Fellowship host organization, Video Volunteers (VV), has community correspondents spread across India, from Gujarat to West Bengal and from Jammu & Kashmir to Goa. While content on VV’s main website is almost entirely in English, and videos have English subtitles, the organization maintains a series of state-specific Facebook pages that are all in the predominant regional language.[1] This enables VV’s stories to be accessible to both international, English audiences as well as regional viewers.

At the main office in Goa, most day-to-day conversations took place in a mix of Hindi and English. Or, as some would say, “Hinglish.” And while most of the staff hailed from parts of the country outside of Goa, there was also some Konkani (Goa’s local language) thrown into the mix. Members of our training and mentoring team, as well as video editor and producers, frequently communicate with community correspondents who are more comfortable in their regional languages than in English or Hindi (if not from one of the “Hindi heartland” states). In a normal day at work, it wasn’t uncommon for me to overhear upwards of five or six languages being spoken.

Working in this multilingual environment, I would often need to read through database entries or watch videos that were exclusively in Hindi. Without this ability, I would have been unable to do a large part of my work, saving the expense of constantly troubling colleagues for translations. At the same time, I learned a great deal of conversational and colloquial Hindi both through work and through frequent banter with friends and colleagues from office. While I had taken three years of formal Hindi classes in college and had visited India for shorter stints twice before, I had never become truly comfortable operating in Hindi until this past year. I was incidentally tasked with writing English subtitles for two of our Hindi productions. Outside of classes, I had never had to do formal translation work in a real-world setting.

On the other hand, Hindi is not the regionally-native language of Goa. Locals speak Konkani, another Indo-European language descended from Sanskrit and sharing some similarities with Hindi. Marathi also holds some sway in the northern half of the state near Maharashtra, with some Kannada influence further south. Konkani itself is not limited to Goa, and is commonly spoken along the Konkan coast from Maharashtra down through the Mangalore region of Karnataka. Despite having a relative small community of an estimated 11 million speakers, Konkani has a profoundly diverse array of dialects and variations in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation, and accent.[2] It is intimately tied to the region, and it is the medium through which a smorgasboard of local arts forms, music, and culture are expressed. It is also a language in threat of extinction: the number of recorded Konkani speakers has declined between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses.[3]

Goa Airport in Konkani, Hindi, and English
The entrance to the Goa airport features Konkani first, followed by Hindi then English.

Despite spending ten months in Goa, I had a hard time picking up on Konkani, as do most outsiders. The few words and phrases I learned were generally met with slightly-confused amusement or appreciation. Yet, living in Goa made me appreciate the importance of preserving languages, as well as the true linguistic diversity of India. Due to the huge numbers of tourists and transplants from Russia, even some signage and menus in Goa are written in Russian.

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[1] For state-specific pages, see: Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal , Bihar , Kashmir, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand,

[2] Kamat, Krishnanad. “The Origins of the Konkani Language.” Konkani Heritage Album, 6 Jun. 2019. Retrieved from http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/konkani/konkani.htm

[3] “Konkani Sees Sharpest Drop in Speakers Across Country.” Times of India  (29 Jun. 2018). Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/konkani-sees-sharpest-drop-in-speakers-across-country/articleshow/64792344.cms

Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Connor is a graduate of Princeton University with a degree in Politics and a minor in South Asian Studies. After completing a summer language program in Urdu at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Lucknow, he returned to India in 2017 as an intern at the Center for Experimental Social Sciences in Pune. By serving as a Clinton Fellow with Video Volunteers in Goa, Connor is eager for the opportunity to work full-time in the social development field in India. After completing the Fellowship, Connor hopes to attend graduate school in order to continue pursuing a career in research and international development.

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