Article ID: CBB237149961

Failed Legacies of Colonial Linguistics: Lessons from Tamil Books in French India and French Guiana (2017)


The archives of French India and French Guiana, two colonies that were failing by the mid-nineteenth century, elucidate the legacy of colonial linguistics by drawing attention to the ideological and technological natures of colonial printing and the far-reaching and longstanding consequences of the European objectification of Indian vernaculars. Torn between religious, commercial, and imperialist agendas, the French in India both promoted Catholicism and advanced the scientific study of Tamil, the majority language spoken in the colonial headquarters of Pondicherry. There, a little known press operated by the Paris Foreign Missions shipped seventy-one dictionaries, grammars, and theological works printed in Tamil and French to Catholic schools undergoing secularization in French Guiana, a colony with several thousand Tamil indentured laborers. I analyze the books’ lexical, orthographic, and typographical forms, metalinguistic commentaries, publicity tactics, citational practices, and circulation histories by drawing on seldom-discussed materials from the Archives nationales d'outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence, France. I propose a theoretical framework to investigate how technology intersects with the historical relationship between language and colonialism, and argue that printing rivalries contributed to Orientalist knowledge production by institutionalizing semiotic and language ideologies about the nature of “perfectible” and “erroneous” signs. My comparative approach highlights the interdiscursive features of different genres and historical periods of Tamil documentation, and underscores how texts that emerged out of disparate religious and scientific movements questioned the veracity of knowledge and fidelity of sources. Such metalinguistic labor exposed the evolving stances of French Indologists toward Dravidian and Indo-Aryan linguistics and promoted religious and secular interests in educational and immigration policies.

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Authors & Contributors
Blok, Aad
Downey, Greg
Sreekumar, P.
Martín Butragueño, Pedro
Barriga Villanueva, Rebeca
Pugach, Sara Elizabeth Berg
Historiographia Linguistica: International Journal for the History of the Language Sciences
History of Religions
Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Medical History
French History
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Cambridge University Press
Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Lingüísticos y Literarios
University of Michigan Press
Palgrave Macmillan
Pickering & Chatto
Labor and laborers
Linguistics; philology
Roman Catholicism
Slavery and slaves
Campbell, Alexander Duncan
Ellis, Francis Whyte
Holmes, Oliver Wendell
Rush, Benjamin
Stifter, Adalbert
Büchner, Georg
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century
20th century, early
17th century
21st century
Great Britain
United States
Theosophical Society

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