Language is inextricable from other social practices, and is deeply imbricated in human struggles: identities, political practices, and power relations are made and unmade through language. Nowhere is this more apparent than South Asia, where language has long been an site of explicit political and social contestation.
This course is an introduction to the anthropological study of language through historical and contemporary case studies in the South Asian subcontinent. We will consider the ways in which language functions to reflect social contexts as well as change them, describing existing social relations as well as forging new ones. We will examine colonial translation practices, affective attachments to the “mother tongue,” language-based state formation, Hindi and Tamil nationalism and other cases. Readings from linguistic, historical, and sociocultural anthropology will animate our discussions as we explore South Asia’s linguistic landscape.