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Studies in History, 24, 1 (2008)
trace some connections between spatial sequence, linguistic imagination and pro-prietorial logic.
‘An Active Plurality of Languages’
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.
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.’
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.
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.’
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
This phrase is from Bakhtin (1984: 471).
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.’
Carey (1801: iii).
Halhed (1778), see preface. See also Cohn (1985: 295–99).
Schwarz (1997: 517). Qayyum (1982) offers a description and analysis of Carey’s gradual‘Sanskritization’ of the vernacular. See also Rocher (1983).