I’ve all the time been struck by the distinction between the seductive thriller of language and the type of sterile stuff that emerges from conventional linguistics departments. Language is endlessly thrilling. Indeed, now we have lengthy believed that the potential to make use of language is the essential distinction of our species. The plainest act of linguistic communication is a fancy dance of understanding and misunderstanding–jaane kya toone kahi, jaane kya maine suni…. Philosophers wrestle with the elusive and irreducible ambiguity of language, poets make love with it and linguists, they itemise the physique components! Happily, Peggy Mohan’s Wanderers, Kings, Merchants: The Story of India by its Languages, is a whole outlier on this dreary tutorial universe. She is a formidably-educated linguist–but she recognises that the tales that language can inform go effectively past the tedious classes of formal linguistics.
India’s linguistic diversity–dozens of languages, a whole bunch of dialects–is effectively-identified. This range is of a bit with the different kinds of diversity–sartorial, gastronomic, godly–and is equally infuriating to tidy-minded puritans. The process that Mohan units herself right here is to ask, “how did these languages come to mix and what does it tell us about the people who speak them?” Innocent sufficient, one would have thought. But this falls afoul of the “Aryans are us” speculation that, for mysterious causes, instructions nice loyalty from a sure type of Indian. This speculation affirms, mainly, that the Aryans, bless them, originated on this blessed land, and unfold the gentle of their divine language and tradition over the complete ungrateful, unknowing world. And, after all, it’s our sacred obligation to renew the position of vishwaguru and make this common message higher identified. Anything that threatens this with talk–worse, evidence–of combination, hybridisation, and many others. is more likely to be resisted.
Well, “ancient India” has turn into a fair bloodier battlefield these days, what with the DNA research emanating from Professor David Reich’s lab at Harvard. (That damned Harvard again–where is the college of Hard Work after we want it?!) Well, genetic archaeology has put a bomb
below the complete Aryan delusion. And now right here’s somebody proposing a type of linguistic archaeology–“…to decode the signs of early language mixture and match them to known history and other new emerging evidence to understand how people met and intermingled in South Asia long ago, leaving behind a linguistic trail of adaptation to this ancient land.”
The conservative engagement with historic India has lengthy been haunted by a dream of purity–of a virginal, originary second earlier than the promiscuities of historical past start. And Sanskrit–born of Brahma himself, falling totally fashioned from his divine lips, is the prime image of that longing. The identify itself–“refined” and many others.–is a little bit of a giveaway, inevitably suggesting a previous one thing, a course of and a doing. And Dr Mohan, heedless linguistic-archaeologist, tells the story of the making of Sanskrit when it comes to (horror of horrors!)–creolisation, hybridisation, varna-sankara, the advanced interaction of “two distinct parental streams…the vocabulary layer…which is the superficial legacy of the more powerful group in the fray, and the more intrinsic sound system and grammar, which tell the maternal side of the story…” I odor sex–and the celibate Brahmin, fairly as dedicated to the virgin delivery of Sanskrit as the religious Catholic is to Mother Mary’s “virginity”, is unlikely to be happy.
The matter of Sanskrit performs out and in of the story of the making of lots of India’s fashionable languages, and I can hardly think about anybody who is not going to discover recent insights right here: Sadhu Bangla, Manipravalam Malayalam, DMK-Tamil–in a civilised world, the cultural processes at play could be a comparatists’ dream. Of course, there may be far more on this beneficiant e-book, the great compound verbs of Hindi–aa jaao (come go)–the retroflex sounds, aspirated and unaspirated, which are the despair of non-native audio system. We are assured that “in the very forms of the mixed languages we speak…are encoded unwritten parts of our long, long history.”
I can solely make passing reference right here to the Sanskritisation of contemporary Hindi, the invention of the barbarous dialect that’s the despair of schoolchildren. Mohan experiences somebody’s plaintive query: “Why do they keep telling us that Sanskrit is close to Hindi?” It isn’t, after all. Sanskritised “Hindi” is merely the monstrous lexical grafting of poorly-understood Sanskrit onto the traditionally developed language of Hindustan. But the story of why this lie will get repeated in classroom after classroom, day after day is, in impact, the story of the making of contemporary India–
or, maybe, extra precisely, the story of the making of the Hindi belt. And consequently, some consider, of the “unmaking” of contemporary India?
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