|DOES LAKSHMI SPEAK ENGLISH?
4/27 Empire, Nation, Diaspora: Transidiomatic Sensibilities and Identities
Read ALL of the following:
Jacquemet, Marco. 2005. “Transidiomatic practices: Language and power in the age of globalization.” Language and Communication Vol. 25 (3), 255-277.
Chandra, Shefali. 2009. “Mimicry, Masculinity, and the Mystique of Indian English: Western India, 1870-1900.” Journal of Asian Studies 68: 199-225.
Anand, S. 1999. “Sanskrit, English and Dalits.” Economic and Political Weekly, July 24-30, 2053-56. [On the issue of Dalits and English, please also read the Indian Express article by Vrinda Gopinath and visit the website of Chandrabhan Prasad: http://www.chandrabhanprasad.com/index.aspx]
Read any TWO of the following
Bachchan, Harbans Rai. 1998. In the Afternoon of Time. “Bacchchan” (a pen-name meaning “kiddo”) was Hindi’s best-known and best-loved twentieth-century poet. (Now, of course, his fame has been eclipsed by that of his superstar son, Amitabh Bachchan.) This selection from his autobiography shows Bachchan supporting his poetic vocation by taking up a job as a translator in the Hindi section of the Ministry of External Affairs—the Indian equivalent of the State Department.
Devidayal, Namita. 2008. The Music Room. New Delhi: Random House India (selection). Devidayal, a journalist in her late thirties, is in some ways a typical Bombay-raised, English-speaking, upper-middle class Indian (and Princeton graduate). Slightly less typical is her passion for Hindustani classical music and devotion to her Marathi-speaking music teacher, which is the subject of this memoir.
Mohan, Peggy. 2007. Jahajin. In the nineteenth century after the British abolition of slavery, the demand for plantation labor in the Caribbean and elsewhere was fulfilled in large part by Indian indentured laborers, who sailed overseas on what were ostensibly short-term contracts but in practice life-long furloughs. Peggy Mohan, a Trinidian linguist descended from Indian laborers and Scottish overseers, recently published this semi-autobiographical reconstruction of the life (and language) of her ancestress, who left Bihar as a Jahajin—“ship person”— to make a new life for herself.
Theroux, Paul. 2007. “The Monkey God.” Theroux, an acerbic travel writer from Malden, MA, recently published The Elephanta Suite, a collection of three novellas about Americans from various walks of life encountering the “new India.” The protagonist of “The Monkey God” is a young white woman who is traveling in India after her graduation from Brown. Tiring of the cloistered atmosphere of the ashram where she is staying, she takes a job as a trainer at a call center.
Our final set of readings explore the shaping of identities across linguistic boundaries in a number of different settings. Jacquemet’s essay is a good place to start. His notion of “transidiomatic” practices is especially formulated to describe the signature phenomena of globalization (e.g. media flows and transnational migration). A question we might consider, however, is whether “transidiomaticity” can also be fruitful for understanding identity-formation at different historical moments (e.g. the colonial or early national eras) or in contemporary contexts that are less about globalization per se than about social differences within the nation.
For example, Chandra’s essay on the gendered practices marking the colonial dissemination of English in Western India considers the different ways in which men and women’s identities were articulated in relation to English, albeit within the same elite, high caste, Hindu milieu. In a quite different context, an ongoing debate about the potential of English to empower Dalits (previously known as “untouchables”) more effectively than other Indian languages might also be construed as a transidiomatic project of politics and identity-formation.
The second set of readings, which includes selections from a variety of fictional and autobiographical sources, is intended as an opportunity to delve deeper into how individual lives and senses of self (“subjectivities”) takes shape in relation to larger social forces, including linguistic ones.