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Nineteenth-Century Language Ideology: A Postcolonial Perspective

Title:Nineteenth-Century Language Ideology: A Postcolonial Perspective
Author:Revathi Krishnaswamy
Publication:Interventions: International Journal Of Postcolonial Studies / Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group
Enumeration:Vol. 7, No. 1 pp. 43 - 71 , March 2005
Abstract:Conceived as both a critique of and a contribution to the field of language ideology, this paper seeks to challenge the continued equation of Europe and linguistic theory by restoring the Indian component in 19th century language ideology to the historical record. Focusing on Vyakarana or the ancient Indian science of (Sanskrit) grammar, I examine how the tradition of linguistic analysis developed by Panini and transmitted to Europeans by Indian pundits influenced the development of linguistic thought in nineteenth-century Europe. Taking a broad interdisciplinary approach, I try to establish five basic contexts of influence for investigating the impact of Vyakarana on nineteenth-century language ideology: poetics, epistemology, ethnology, linguistics and the figure of the linguist/scientist. Tracing the imbrication of Indian linguistic knowledge in the discourses of Romanticism, positivism and empiricism, I highlight the role of Vyakarana in showing nineteenth-century Europe that language could be described on its own terms without reference to thoughts or things. I argue that it was the way Sanskrit was codified and taught by Indians that made the language seem so structured and the identification of cognates so easy, even though the very systematicity and thoroughness of Vyakarana rendered Sanskrit suspicious in the eyes of some Europeans. Exploring the ways in which the Sanskrit grammatical tradition encouraged the use of language for ethnological purposes, I examine how the Vyakarana apparatus, mediated through the scholarship of the British Orientalists, injected brahminical ideologies of language into the stream of Romantic thought that nourished nineteenth-century linguistic nationalism. By emphasizing the metalinguistic, conceptual or ideological contributions of Vyakarana, I wish not only to complicate the conventional view of Sanskrit as simply the most privileged exotic site for western constructions of history and linguistic theory, but also to con

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