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International Journal of the Sociology of Language

Founded by Fishman, Joshua A.

Ed. by Garcia Otheguy, Ofelia / Duchêne, Alexandre / Coulmas, Florian

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Volume 2018, Issue 252

Issues

“In the mouth of an aborigine”: language ideologies and logics of racialization in the Linguistic Survey of India

Hannah Carlan
Published Online: 2018-06-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0016

Abstract

The Linguistic Survey of India (LSI), edited and compiled by George Abraham Grierson, was the first systematic effort by the British colonial government to document the spoken languages and dialects of India. While Grierson advocated an approach to philology that dismissed the affinity of language to race, the LSI mobilizes a complex, intertextual set of racializing discourses that form the ideological ground upon which representations of language were constructed and naturalized. I analyze a sub-set of the LSI’s volumes in order to demonstrate how Grierson’s linguistic descriptions and categorizations racialize minority languages and their speakers as corrupt, impure, and uncivilized. I highlight how semiotic processes in the text construct speakers as possessing essential “ethnic” characteristics that are seen as indexical of naturalized linguistic differences. I argue that metapragmatic statements within descriptions of languages and dialects are made possible by ethnological discourses that ultimately reinforce an indexical relationship between language and race. This analysis of the survey sheds light on the centrality of language in colonial constructions of social difference in India, as well as the continued importance of language as a tool for legitimating claims for political recognition in postcolonial India.

Keywords: language surveys; language ideologies; racialization; British colonialism; India

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About the article

Published Online: 2018-06-13

Published in Print: 2018-06-26


Citation Information: International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Volume 2018, Issue 252, Pages 97–123, ISSN (Online) 1613-3668, ISSN (Print) 0165-2516, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0016.

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