Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Philology and the Politics of Language: The Case of Bengali, 1893-1955
by Panda, Ahona, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2019, 236; 22583521
Abstract (Summary)

In 1947, two regions with majority Muslim populations, Punjab and Bengal, decided to join Pakistan after Indian independence. From 1948 on, however, the Bengali-speaking majority population of East Pakistan decided that on linguistic grounds they should assert their identity against Urdu-imposing West Pakistan. The 1950s witnessed several movements premised on the right of East Pakistan to have Bengali as a state language. The language movement of East Pakistan was ultimately seen as a nationalist forerunner to the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. This dissertation traces a longer history of Bengali ethno-linguistic nationalism by charting out the life of philology in colonial Bengal and mapping its relationship with the Hindus and Muslims. Contending that philology was critical to the construction of a twentieth-century communitas, a space of inspired friendship and conflicted collaboration between Hindus and Muslims, which ran as a parallel trajectory to realpolitik, a world of real political events dominated by questions of national interest, this dissertation argues for an alternative political history of the Hindus and Muslims that does not stop with the telos of the Partition in 1947.

Philology and the Politics of Language: The Case of Bengali, 1893-1955 begins and ends with two academies of language. The first is the Bengal Academy of Literature or the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, established in colonial Calcutta in 1893, and the second is the Bangla Academy, established in Dhaka in 1955. Analyzing the period between the founding of these two academies, this dissertation explores the role of philology—the structures of linguistic and literary understanding of the world—in the unfolding of the political relationship between Hindus and Muslims in Bengal in this period of political history, which witnessed a number of major events and ruptures. From the second decade of the twentieth century, literary societies established by Bengali Muslims responded to the institutional hold over Hindus in the cultural and literary realms. By studying the proceedings of these literary societies and the popular periodicals of the time, I trace the debates and discussions surrounding the language question in the early twentieth century. By the 1920s, while a number of Bengali Muslims favored turning to Urdu or debated about adopting Arabic as a universal Muslim lingua franca, the majority of Bengali Muslims—now a visible political and social bourgeois interest group—staked their claims on the Bengali language, arguing that national and social interest lay in the joint cultural reconstruction of the Bengali language by both Hindus and Muslims.

The first threat to philology as a unified communitas was posed in the late 1930s with the rise of separatist sentiments. The utopian fraternity of Hindus and Muslims in the cultural realm eventually dissolved with the Pakistan movement in the 1940s. After the Partition of 1947, however, the language question emerged anew in East Pakistan with a widespread movement demanding that Bengali be made the state language. Many of the debates that unfolded during this high period of linguistic nationalism occurred in earlier iterations in the colonial period such as distinctions between mother tongue and state language, various forms of linguistic imperialism, the Sanskritization of Bengali, and the recognition of the long history of Muslim contributions to the Bengali language. Muslims and Hindus who remained in East Pakistan dissented together against the imposition of Urdu by West Pakistan. By examining the prehistory of the language movement and linking it to earlier conflicts and allegiances within the joint philological milieu of Hindus and Muslims, I examine the many complexities inherent in the articulation of a Bengali Muslim political identity and consciousness.

The problem of the nation-state remains embedded as a basic fact of twentieth-century South Asian historiography. The Partition of 1947 is the most striking indictment of the divergent paths of Hindu and Muslim nationalisms. This dissertation rejects 1947 as the most decisive break in the history of modern Bengal. By tracing a history of Bengali philology from the late nineteenth century to 1971, it posits a Hindu-Muslim relationship that constitutes a unity marked by tense and conflicted collaboration. The philological communitas ultimately outlived the great events and ruptures of the twentieth-century South Asian nation-states of India and Pakistan, and was decisive to the making of Bangladesh.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Majumdar, Rochona
Commitee: Chakrabarty, Dipesh, d'Hubert, Thibaut
School: The University of Chicago
Department: South Asian Languages and Civilizations
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 81/3(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: South Asian Studies, Asian History, Literature
Keywords: Bengal, Language, Philology, Political history, South Asia
Publication Number: 22583521
ISBN: 9781088323076
Copyright © 2019 ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved. Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Cookie Policy
ProQuest