Book Review: An Update on AIT (Part 1)

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Mon Aug 30 20:39:21 UTC 1999

Note the following quote from Sumathi Ramaswami's "Passions of the Tongue:
Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970" published by University of
California Press in 1997.

<<The "comparative" study of languages, the genealogical links between
languages of the same "family," the "history" of language, and the "progress"
of language: these provided the agenda for the numerous linguistic studies
carried out in colonial India, "the happy hunting ground of the philologist,"
from the late eighteenth century. Colonial ideologies were driven by the
assumption that "mastery" of India's languages would secure the "mastery" of
India; it would enable British "command" and "native" obedience; and it would
ensure "the vast and noble project of the Europeanization of the Indian
mind." The "grand work" of British rule was thus inevitably accompanied by
the colonization of Indian languages, a project involving "descriptive
appropriation" and "prescriptive imposition and control" (Cohn 1985; Fabian
1986: 76). India's numerous languages were collected, classified,
standardized, enumerated, and thus  dramatically transformed from "fuzzy" and
uncounted entities into neatly bounded, counted, and mapped configurations
(Kaviraj 1992). The result was an arsenal of grammars, manuals, dictionaries,
and glossaries culminating in the grand, multi-volume authoritative
Linguistic Survey of India (1903-28). Caldwell's Grammar - most-cited
English-language narrative in Tamil devotional discourse - belonged to this
arsenal and authorized many of the founding assumptions of Tamil devotion. It
popularized the key term "Dravidian" (based on the Sanskrit word drAviDa,
itself a transmutation of tamiz) as the umbrella category for Tamil and the
other languages of South India whose origins and structure, as demonstrated
using the "scientific" principles of comparative philology, were quite
different from Sanskrit and its "Indo-European family of tongues" of the
North.>> (p.13-14)

As to be expected, Ramaswami's work fails miserably by not giving a
fact-based history of Tamils' attachment to language.

Anti-JNU Rajaram and JNU-trained Sumathi Ramaswamy make strange bedfellows.
However, with her academic position at Penn, Ramaswami's work is far more
harmful to the pursuit of knowledge than Rajaram's.

S. Pala

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