"How the Vernacular Became Regional: Language and Territory in Colonial Orissa" presented by Pritipuspa Mishra

Pritipuspa Mishra is a Fung Fellow at Princeton University.

This paper tracks the process of-- what I would like to call-- ‘the colonial vernacularization of India’ in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In this period, the new Colonial state’s efforts to understand and rule its Indian dominion resulted in the establishment of major regional Indian languages as mother tongues with discrete geographical, demographic and political constituencies. By tracking this process and its unexpected consequences in regional India, I suggest that we need to rethink the way the term ‘vernacular’ is understood in post-colonial scholarly discussions on linguistic politics in multi-lingual India.

Mirroring a precolonial process of vernacularization during what Sheldon Pollock has called the vernacular millennium, colonial vernacularization was driven by both the new colonial state’s administrative needs as well as reigning ideologies of language in the colonial metropole. Regimes of juridical administration, philological enquiries as well as educational policy led to meticulous linguistic mapping of India in the early to mid-nineteenth century. While these changes resulted in the colonial state’s categorization of its Indian subjects into discrete linguistic groups, the mechanics of this mapping engaged Indian subjects in vociferous debates about the boundaries between languages and their people. In founding the access of the newly colonized to the emergent colonial state, languages came to be deeply contested ground among regional Indian elite. Under such circumstances, claims that certain languages were ‘vernacular’ to certain areas were already implicated in colonial relations of power and native politics of representation. Vernacular, therefore, was not merely indigenous and local, but it was also the vehicle of native power.

Monday, March 3, 2014 - 12:00pm
Foster 103 (1130 East 59th Street)