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BODHI. Tongue Has No Bone

BODHI. Tongue Has No Bone

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Published by mayur chetia
Studies in History
http://sih.sagepub.com ‘Tongue Has No Bone’: Fixing the Assamese Language, c. 1800c. 1930
Bodhisattva Kar Studies in History 2008; 24; 27 DOI: 10.1177/025764300702400102 The online version of this article can be found at: http://sih.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/24/1/27

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Studies in History
http://sih.sagepub.com ‘Tongue Has No Bone’: Fixing the Assamese Language, c. 1800c. 1930
Bodhisattva Kar Studies in History 2008; 24; 27 DOI: 10.1177/025764300702400102 The online version of this article can be found at: http://sih.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/24/1/27

Published by:
http://www.sagepublications.com

Additional services and information for Studies in History can be found at: Email Alerts: http://sih.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Subscriptions: http://sih.sagepub.c

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Published by: mayur chetia on Oct 09, 2012
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12/31/2012

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http://sih.sagepub.com
Studies in History
DOI: 10.1177/0257643007024001022008; 24; 27
Studies in History 
Bodhisattva Kar
1800c. 1930‘Tongue Has No Bone’: Fixing the Assamese Language, c.
http://sih.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/24/1/27
 
The online version of this article can be found at:
 
Published by:
http://www.sagepublications.com
 
can be found at:
Studies in History 
Additional services and information for
 
 
Citations
 at UNIVERSITY OF DELHI on March 22, 2009http://sih.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
Studies in History 
,
24,1, n.s. (2008): 27–76
SAGE PUBLICATIONSLos Angeles/London/New Delhi/SingaporeDOI:
10.1177/025764300702400102
‘Tongue Has No Bone’: Fixing theAssamese Language, c. 1800–c. 1930
Bodhisattva Kar
Centre for Studies in Social SciencesKolkata
This article deals with the politics of envisioning a vernacular for Assam proper during the nine-teenth and early twentieth century. Through a small, connected history of orthographic contests,grammarians’ debates and print-culture, it tries to understand the various ways in and throughwhich the boundaries of a vernacular were drawn, policed and violated during this period. Rather than narrating the complexities of the question in terms of stable and ever-present languages, thisarticle attempts to show how the metropolis-oriented production of linguistic knowledge came tohypostatize an abstract grid of standard languages within which the mutable, heterogeneous and  fluctuating speech practices (and the corresponding scribal culture) of a frontier province had tobe definitively mobilized. The article explores the debates regarding the alleged dialectal statusof the ‘Assamese’ and traces some connections between spatial sequence, linguistic imaginationand proprietorial logic.
‘The tongue because it has no bone, says various things.In his famous compilationof 
Some Assamese Proverbs
, P.R. Gurdon classified this popular Assamese adageunder the entry of ‘proverbs relating to the human failings, foibles and vices.’
1
Inshort, this article is a note on such cultures of classification in which the pluralbecomes a sign of human frailty. Put more cautiously, the article is focused on thepolitics of envisioning a vernacular for Assam proper over the long nineteenthcentury. Through a small, connected history of orthographic contests, grammarians’debates and print culture, it tries to understand the various ways in and throughwhich the boundaries of a vernacular were drawn, policed and violated duringthis period. Rather than narrating the complexities of the question in terms of stable and ever-present languages, the present article endeavours to show howthe metropolis-oriented production of linguistic knowledge came to hypostatizean abstract grid of standard language within which the mutable, heterogeneousand fluctuating speech practices (and the corresponding scribal culture) of a frontierprovince had to be definitively mobilized. The ensuing debates regarding thealleged dialectal status of the ‘Assamese’ are closely analyzed, which allow us to
1
Gurdon (1896: ii, 8).
 at UNIVERSITY OF DELHI on March 22, 2009http://sih.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
28 / B
ODHISATTVA
AR
Studies in History, 24, 1 (2008)
trace some connections between spatial sequence, linguistic imagination and pro-prietorial logic.
‘An Active Plurality of Languages’
2
In 1836, while finalizing the press copies of the forms of ‘Pottahs and Kubooleats’,the Agent to the Governor General in the North-Eastern Frontier decided that itwas adequate to print them in two languages—English and Bengali.The Assamese version, I myself consider to be unnecessary, it is used in noneof our official documents, the Bengallee being sufficiently well understood,and it is a point, I think of great importance that we should not assent to upholda corrupt dialect, but endeavour to introduce pure Bengallee, and to render thisProvince as far as possible an integral part of the great country to which thatlanguage belongs, and to render available to Assam the literature of Bengal.
3
This brief aside of Francis Jenkins in a Revenue Consultation remains one of theclearest policy statements of the early British Indian administration regarding thevernacular question in Assam. It is difficult to trivialize the importance of theopinion of a man who headed the British Indian establishment in the North-Easternfrontier uninterruptedly for twenty-seven years. But it is always possible to askwhat this ‘pure Bengallee’ was. Thirty-five years ago, William Carey had defined‘pure Bengalee’ as a language ‘principally derived from the Sangskrito’. Although‘multitudes of words, originally Persian or Arabic, are constantly employed incommon conversation,wrote Carey in the first edition of his book, the phenomenon‘perhaps ought to be considered as enriching rather than corrupting the language.
4
Evidently, Carey was reacting to Nathaniel Halhed’s
Grammar of the Bengal Language
. Considered as the first modern grammar of Bengali, Halhed’s book isknown for its categorical detestation of the vernacular’s overlap with the Persian.
5
As an informed analysis points out today, ‘[t]o arrive at the most general qualitiesof the Indian subject, Halhed is forced to reconstruct its origins in Sanskrit, forthe surface of the linguistic map of India alone reveals chaos.’
6
In the vast territorialscope of Sanskrit, ‘the grand Source of Indian Literature, the Parent of almostevery dialect from the Persian Gulph to the China Seas,Halhed saw the perfection
2
This phrase is from Bakhtin (1984: 471).
3
F. Jenkins, Agent to the Governor General in the North Eastern Frontier, to the Sudder Board of Revenue, Fort William, dated 3 December 1836, No. 120, in ‘Extract Bengal Revenue Consulta-tions, 12 April 1836, No. 554’, in ‘Conditions for Grants of Land in Assam, Enclosed in Letter toMr. Prideaux.’
4
Carey (1801: iii).
5
Halhed (1778), see preface. See also Cohn (1985: 295–99).
6
Schwarz (1997: 517). Qayyum (1982) offers a description and analysis of Carey’s gradual‘Sanskritization’ of the vernacular. See also Rocher (1983).
 at UNIVERSITY OF DELHI on March 22, 2009http://sih.sagepub.comDownloaded from 

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