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Judges and Grammarians in Britain’s Liberal Pedagogic Performance: a Diglossic Approach to Colonial Bengal

Juges et grammairiens dans l’exercice pédagogique libéral britannique : une approche diglossique du Bengale colonial
Probal Dasgupta
p. 151-186


Nombreux sont les citoyens de notre monde censément unifié qui considèrent comme un discours sérieux plutôt que comme les symptômes d’une idéologie, la posture occidentale quant à son intervention coloniale dans les pays du sud. En observant de plus près la mission culturelle de certains de ces « modernisateurs » impériaux, on découvre que les trois premiers auteurs de grammaires du Bangla (parfois appelé Bengali) ont de manière évidente négligé leur responsabilité dans l’apprentissage de cette langue et ont produit un travail de mauvaise qualité qui leur a néanmoins valu l’admiration sans bornes de leurs collègues de l’administration. C’est sur ces bases pour le moins vacillantes de « savoir » culturel que les Britanniques ont construit un « État de droit » dont les juges, avant de s’aventurer au Bengale, ont « étudié » la langue et la culture dans des « manuels » qui reflétaient les faibles standards établis par leurs prédécesseurs dans le domaine culturel de l’entreprise coloniale. Des asymétries inadmissibles perdurent jusqu’à ce jour dans l’étude culturelle. Tant qu’un nombre suffisant d’ « universitaires » occidentaux ne se sera pas amendé en acquérant le niveau adéquat dans les langues du sud et fait preuve de leur sérieux dans les écrits qu’ils infligent à leur public, il serait prématuré d’affirmer qu’ils ont établi une « science » impartiale des langues, cultures ou sociétés.

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  • 1 In English, Qayyum and some others use the term ‘Bengali’ for the language of Bengal (which now st (...)

1The empirical basis of this paper comes from assiduous archival investigations by two students of British colonial rule, Muhammad Abdul Qayyum (1982) and Anindita Mukhopadhyay (2006). Qayyum looked at codification on the grammatical axis; Mukhopadhyay examined similar work in the juridical domain. Their preoccupations intersect at the codification of Hindu law under the aegis of British colonial rule in general and its major translators in particular. It so happens that the major translator of Hindu laws on whose work the imperial edifice rested, Nathaniel Brassey Halhed (1751-1830), was also the first Britisher to write a grammar of a modern Indian language, Bangla1.

2Qayyum (1982: 31) reports: «It was Hastings who set Halhed off on his second literary venture, A Code of Gentoo Laws, or Ordinations of the Pundits. A digest of Sanskrit law books, it was first compiled in Sanskrit… then translated by a munshi into Persian and thence into English by Halhed. Hastings was delighted with the work».

3The «delight» that the Governor-General of Bengal Warren Hastings expressed in 1775, when he wrote to the East India Company’s Court of Directors that the work was «executed with great Ability, Diligence and Fidelity by Mr. Halhed» (Qayyum 1982: 31), is hardly a matter of the past. To this day, in western academic institutions, media, ‘informed’ civil society milieux, there is widespread satisfaction about the colonial pedagogic exercise that Britain commenced at that moment. Western children are brought up believing that the western world’s modernizing mission in its colonies – apart from a few acts of undue violence, easily enumerated and set aside as aberrations – was a civilizational success to be recalled with pride. Halhed is seen as one of the many pioneers of this cultural labour, which until recently was called ‘the white man’s burden’.

4It is important to underscore my reference to the modernizing mission. The concept of the civilizing mission mutated into this as the western empires moved from the Spanish-Portuguese classical type to the Anglo-French ‘modern’ type. Or so everybody is told – not only in the west, but also in its victim territories, collectively termed the ‘south’ – in the schools, the homes, the churches and the secular church-substitutes at the heart of the system of ideological reproduction. To be sure, there are corresponding, and opposite, ideological settings that shape the upbringing of children in the nations of the ‘south’. But universality claims on behalf of ‘southern’ beliefs have never been widely accepted. Since the western standpoint is likely to strike many readers of this text as universal, my engagement correspondingly focuses on those alone – without prejudice to the possibility that ‘southern’ ideological formations may also require demystification for equally general reasons, a project that other authors, no doubt, shall take up. With their permission, I now return to the contrast between the classical and the ‘modern’ empires of the west.

5It was not in their military tactics or geopolitical strategy, but in their ideology, in their styles of ruling, in the supposed link between such governance and the epistemic and conceptual basis on which it rested, that self-described ‘modern’ colonizers from France and England successfully marginalized Spanish, Portuguese and to some extent Dutch predecessors, who have come to be seen as having built pre-‘modern’ empires.

6The ideological postures of Anglo-French colonialism remain relevant today, even after the apparent dismantling of the apparatus of the colonial misadventure. Many citizens of our ‘one world’ accept the chronicles of that posturing as tokens of serious discourse rather than symptoms of ideology.  Perhaps one reason for this state of affairs is that nowhere in the west have ‘informed citizens’ or even ‘specialists’ found the time to reexamine the cultural mission of those ‘modernizers’. In other words, they have not found the time to scrutinize the cognitive and moral basis of the ‘modernity’ claims of the British and French empires inherited by the coalition (or, if you prefer, the American non-empire) that puppeteers the institutional apparatuses of the international system. Hence this paper.

Language and Norms

7Does the ‘scientific’ understanding of language currently available make it possible for ‘impartial’ observers to adjudicate between rival claims allegedly driven by ideological factors? In this section, I consider the state of affairs in the forms of ‘scientific’ study of language known as generative grammar and sociolinguistics. I also take the liberty of presenting my own method (than which there must be better alternatives) of overcoming the standoff between these two approaches. The point is to move towards an approach to language that does not prematurely scientize our limited understanding.

8The understanding of language available in the most highly regarded academic writings today is beset by serious irresolutions at the language/ normativity interface. In this section, I first consider this difficulty, in some detail, and then specify the speaking position from which this paper is enounced.

9The dominant characterization of language in our times, due to generative linguistics, focuses on the notion of a ‘grammar’ as a mapping between ‘sound’ (sentences uttered) and ‘meaning’ (the interpretations of these sentences). Most generative linguists are wedded to formalistic assumptions built around methodological individualism – in particular, around the claim that the grammar of a particular language L is a mapping located in the mind/brain of an L-speaking individual. The best-known formal successes of this approach pertain to the structure of complex, multi-clausal sentences.

10At the heart of these achievements is the understanding of ‘recursion’ or ‘recursive embedding’ – the human ability to nest an ‘embedded’ clause within a ‘matrix’ clause, as in John thinks Bill can swim; and then to further embed that ‘matrix’ clause in yet another clause, as in Susan knowsJohn thinks Bill can swim; and so on, ad infinitum. Recursive embedding instantiates a uniquely human capacity. Such primates as chimpanzees have been shown not to share it with humans. A formalistic paradigm that focuses on the mathematical properties of this ability as a uniquely human and pan-human biological trait has the effect of keeping linguists focused on the boundary separating humans from other animals. One consequence is that ‘pure’ linguists are deterred from looking closely at social, political, historical, cultural issues – which the generative paradigm suggests are extraneous to ‘scientific’ questions.

  • 2 It may be relevant to mention that I write generative grammar articles myself from time to time.
  • 3 The reader may find the persistent scare-quotes distracting. But removing them would amount to acc (...)

11Formalistic research on language produces results of undoubted value. One would have to be astonishingly illiterate to dismiss the enduring contributions of the Chomsky revolution.2 However, it unfortunately also serves as an alibi. The focus on the contrast between humans and other animals is all too often taken, even by brilliant minds, to mean that intercultural issues within our species can be removed from the agenda of ‘scientific’ linguistics. As a result, language ‘specialists’ in the west have locked themselves into patterns of ‘inquiry’ that reinforce the linguistic and cultural learning asymmetries between the west and the ‘southern’ victims of the west’s colonial misadventure.3

12For example, linguists, anthropologists, comparative literary theorists and other ‘specialists’ in the west (those among them who are not native users of contemporary southern languages by accident of birth or upbringing) do not learn any language of the south to the point of academic reading and writing capability. This systematic non-learning – a continuation of colonialism by other means – is a moral and intellectual problem of some importance that needs to be noticed and corrected. Just how such correction should proceed is a long-term question not addressed here. What we face first is the task of highlighting these asymmetries and identifying factors that contribute to their persistence. The long-term issue should be taken seriously by those who intend to turn cross-cultural dialogue into a serious enterprise, with teeth, and who want the resulting intercultural discursive community to address today’s conceptual irresolutions at the language-normativity interface.

13To approach those irresolutions, I shall first rehearse some familiar features of the theoretical scene as it stands. Generative grammarians concern themselves with the formal specification of ‘knowledge of language’, that is to say, of the sound-meaning mapping – the ‘grammar’ internal to the ‘mind-brain’ – that enables an individual to produce and comprehend infinitely many well-formed sentences of her language, as well as to identify, and often to comprehend, ill-formed strings. The formal methods of grammar-writing are such that those generative grammarians who wish to address social or cultural issues must do so by other means. However, the formal results obtained by generative grammar impose an upper limit on the range of languages that cultural theorists may imagine as spoken in some community. UG or Universal Grammar, some of whose properties are understood, specifies necessary conditions that a system must meet in order to be acquirable by the human mind-brain as a possible language.

  • 4 Again I feel like hiding in a footnote when I admit that I have done some sociolinguistics myself (...)

14Sociolinguists and others studying linguistic variation on social axes have fashioned models for the analysis of such variation.4 In these models, linguistic norms are like other social norms, responsive to cultural and political factors like prestige.

15Social scientists are known to be agnostic about religious issues. Sociologists of religion hold at arm’s length both the beliefs and practices they describe and the thought of any imaginable general, pan-human characterization of the core of all religions. Along the same lines, sociologists of language seek objectivity by staying detached from the particular languages and variations they describe, as well as from the notion of any conceivable general take on the core of all languages.

16For constitutive reasons, then, neither a social scientific enterprise of sociolinguistics nor a mathematically based enterprise of generative grammar has the wherewithal to come up with a bipartisan characterization – which grammarians and social scientists alike can use – of the linguistic-normative axis. By this I mean the axis on which speakers distinguish relatively explicitly norm-governed uses of language (where pedagogic institutions and their political apparatus come into play) from relatively spontaneous forms of language use.

17This is a serious problem for the following reason. Pre-‘scientific’ grammar is an instrument of traditional elite authority. The whole point of the ‘science’ of language was to critique elite-driven traditional grammar and strengthen democracy in this domain. If linguistic investigators cannot get their act together across the formal science/ social science divide, then normative processes in the domain of language will remain poorly understood and unamenable to democratic intervention.

18That this intractable mountain separates our generative grammarians from our social scientists is a challenging irresolution. I began to dig a tunnel through this mountain in 1988, proposing (Dasgupta 1988/1997) a notional ‘society function’ at the interface between individual knowledge of language and society’s management of linguistic resources.

19In that paper I postulated an ‘external language’ as an object of social scientific description whose relation with a mind-brain’s grammar or ‘internal language’ (a sound-meaning mapping) needed to be redescribed. My argument was that the mind-brain characterizes (a) its own grammatical proficiency internally, as a formal mapping between sounds and meanings, and (b) its knowledge of the fact that this proficiency is shared with other speakers as a substantive mapping across knowledges.

20I proposed that the mind-brain of an individual speaker S of language L mentally represents L’s external form through a metagrammaticalidentification and a discursive investment, and that these supplement S’s grammar (her internal sound-meaning mapping for L). Her identification inexactly equates S’s own grammar with those of other members of the L speech community. Her investment is in a body of discourse BD(L) – entirely oral or partly written, depending on the social formation. Her investment in BD and her identification triangulate with a society function SF(L).

21This counterfactual function would have mapped from S’s grammar of L to specifiably near-identical counterpart grammars in the mind-brains of fellow speakers – if SF(L) could have been built, that is. But in fact each mind is hermeneutically protected from total specification by other minds, making SF(L) formally unavailable in principle. The investment in BD(L) is what fulfills the desire of S’s mind to make sense of how her discursive creativity meets that of others, in the absence of an actually specifiable SF(L).

22In other words: the society function SF(L), for reasons of principle, gets displaced on to an identification coupled with an investment in the body of discourse BD(L). This BD characterizes the normative community that speaks L (mutatis mutandis for Deaf users of sign languages) and that in ‘preliterate’ social formations harbours (or in ‘literate’ social formations empirically instantiates) the capacity for writing in L. The political content of BD is the expectation that, among those who speak and write language L, the writ instantiated in BD shall run. Where the speech community of L is colonized – politically subordinated to the will of others – BD(L)’s writ does not run.

23Given the rapidly accelerating process of linguistic and cultural disenfranchisement in ex-powerful non-Anglophone societies under the impact of linguistic imperialism, it is possible that visible scholars from those societies will find it appropriate to rearticulate their conceptual understanding of the linguistic and cultural coordinates of democracy, and to fashion corresponding strategies in intellectual labour and in its political continuation by other means. Certain issues concerning the way the imperial western powers ran their cultural pedagogy in their Asian colonies may take on theoretical significance in such a cultural-political context. To maximize the usability of these remarks in such a setting, I have couched the present section in location-free conceptual terms. Up to this point, I have rehearsed my argument that human language is a normative affair through and through (even when viewed from a standpoint that does face its formal content); that linguistics cannot avoid the political at a constitutive level; and that a conceptually viable bridge can be built between contemporary formulations of formal linguistics and of sociolinguistics.

24I now propose to identify a speaking position of maximal utility for the pursuit of shared intellectual and moral goals in the domain of intercultural dialogue. Given the default assumption that generative work belongs to the ‘natural/ formal’ sciences and sociolinguistics falls within the ‘social’ sciences, does the society function SF(L) – my proposed bridge between generative grammar and sociolinguistics – place an investigator on the ‘natural/ formal science’ side or on the ‘social science’ side of the divide?

25My actual views render me unable to accept this as a valid question, for I do not recognize the ideological default that characterizes the ‘natural and formal sciences’ as dealing with hard currency and as therefore deserving universal assent and epistemic centrality. When the same default goes on to characterize ‘social science and humanities disciplines’ as involving ‘essentially contested’ matters of opinion rather than knowledge – where apparently the only way to be objective is to offer equal time to differing views, but on the basis of some universal bottom line such as insisting on human rights and other international treaty obligations – my patience is particularly severely tested. However, in the current context I propose to work with readers who claim to find such an epistemic divide meaningful. I tentatively accept the viability of those readers’ beliefs for the sake of dialogue; I urge them, even if they retain their overall perspective, to reconsider the specific belief that generative grammar has established a branch of natural science or (as a minority variant of that view would put the matter) of formal science.

26My reason for urging them to abandon this view is not a perverse desire to deny the achievements of the Chomsky revolution. What I question is the ‘natural scientific’ specifiability of the generative hypothesis that syntactic recursion is the main formal feature dividing humans from other animals. (The actual technical form of the family of generative claims summarized here is far more nuanced, in ways that do not affect the argument.) One major difficulty I have is that the formulations offered by generative linguists are empirically deficient. For the ‘human surplus’ distinguishing humans from other creatures in fact also includes access to the specific complexity of poetic texts, distinct from the recursive properties of prose. Generative grammar studies only prose, but silently assumes that prose can unproblematically stand in for ‘language’ tout court. Thus my argument (stated at greater length in Dasgupta (2010)) is that even if we accept at face value the cardinal claims of generative linguistics, nonetheless the generative diagnosis of the ‘human surplus’ in ‘language’ remains only preliminary. It can hardly become a basis for ‘natural scientific’ claims until that diagnosis is disentangled from cultural parameters involving prose and poetry.

27Do I then prefer a social scientific speaking position? Alas, I cannot. Sociolinguists too omit poetry from their core agenda, as do all the ‘social sciences’ that have come to my (no doubt limited) attention. I propose to settle for the following formulation, faute de mieux. This paper is enounced from the standpoint of a project that seeks to construct, through intercultural study, a defensible panhuman grid of cultural coordinates. This is a project, not a fact. Even careful articulations available today are at best points of departure for that level of viable cross-cultural analysis. Politically, the need for participatory global democracy urges us to accelerate such inquiry. But intellectually, the lack of viable resources compels us to move slowly. It is all one can do to stay on course.

28This course, in my view, needs to be corrected on the basis of the following general considerations, which I place on the table before moving on to the specifics of colonial Bengal. The putatively universal pedagogy of promoting human rights, empowering, capability building, etc. is a successor to the ‘modernizing’ colonial tutelage provided by the British and French empires. This successor claims to have decolonized the old performance into a clean act. My fundamental reason for not accepting this claim is as follows.

29Those empires were run by the British and French nation-states. They superficially proposed to educate their colonial subject populations into modern legality. But legality was and remains only half of the nation-state’s mandate. A nation-state’s core imperative is to supply commodities to its citizens. If in its judgment its task of providing comfort to citizens within its borders requires predatory behaviour in some wilderness elsewhere, then its citizens will overlook or even praise this naughtiness as long as the state observes legality within its core territory. The occasional repressive actions in which the state targets some of its own citizens merely carry into its core territory, when ‘required’, its accepted predatory policies in the external wilderness whose inhabitants do not count as equally human.

30Legality, in other words, has always been a half-truth. The untold half is exclusion of the benighted ‘others’, first classified as ‘heathen’ because Britain and France were nations of believing Christians, then redescribed as benighted on other dimensions when crucial sections of the population in those master nations converted to atheism. It is in the wake of this redescription that fresh problems arise with western settings that have been masquerading as universal defaults. Contrary to the beliefs that western ideology imparts to its victims in and outside the west, the fresh settings reimpose a centre-periphery structure, ensuring that only those who inhabit the centre count as fully human.

31Many readers are bound to find these charges inconsistent with what they think are the facts of decolonization. They are able to maintain their beliefs because formal decolonization has ended or weakened some gross forms of the exclusionary behaviour towards southerners that marked colonial rule. But the operative core of that exclusion – the refusal on the part of the west’s ‘leading thinkers’ to enter the cultural spaces of the south with empathy and respect – has not even begun to change. In today’s globalized ‘one world’, the brightest western minds systematically avoid doing any serious linguistic or cultural learning where the south is concerned, a clear sign of wishing to keep old asymmetries intact. I am not referring to personal deviations from an acknowledged norm, but to inappropriately institutionalized norms themselves.

32My main point is that this sanctioned illiteracy about the south in the core of the western system of ‘knowledge’ is not a new phenomenon caused by reduced contact between the west and its former southern colonies. Even at the height of the colonial adventure, the ‘experts’ of the west were not learning the languages they were ‘experts’ about. They papered over this ignorance in ways that have been described in print, in English, but are being systematically ignored in the ‘knowledge’ system of the west today. This systematic ignorance, as old as the ‘modern scientific’ adventure of the west, is constitutive of ‘modernity’.

33Until it is highlighted, publicly acknowledged, and changed, there will be no serious content to the ‘international community’s’ claim that decolonization has been successfully completed. My take is that, in the hearts and minds of western successors to colonialism’s unrepentant perpetrators, decolonization has not even started.

Judging the codifiers

34Contrary to the impression my preliminary remarks may have given, the point is not to target westerners past or present for well-meaning interventions that must have cost them considerable mental and moral effort. Quite the reverse: I give such individuals today full credit, and propose to honour their predecessors as pioneers. In order to enable ‘one world’ to truly emerge, all participants in history, westerners and southerners alike, will need to judge the performance of individuals on the basis of intentions and effort.

35I propose to target the institutions, the norms, the continuing willingness to extol the cultural practices of British and French imperial rule and admire their outcome. Institutions and norms need to be judged in terms of consequences rather than the intentions of their design, so that the work of redesigning can be based on full understanding.

36If the British codifiers in early colonial Bengal got it wrong, the reader may want to hear, at the outset, what getting it right would have looked like. For this reason, I begin by looking not at ‘their’ work, but at ‘ours’. In the grammatical domain, the task is straightforward. It only involves revisiting an earlier analysis (Dasgupta 1988, 1993b) of the major grammar of Bangla written by a Bengali scholar (Shiroratna 1860/1869) whose writ ran in the school system for fifty years; in Bengal, Shiroratna’s first name Loharam became synonymous with grammar.

  • 5 Vopadeva’s adaptation of Pāṇini’s theory-focused grammarAṣṭādhyāyī to the needs of pedagogy has (...)

37Loharam Shiroratna was a pandit who had specialized in the study of Sanskrit vyākaraṇa (grammar) in general, and of the grammarian Vopadeva’s work in particular. Coward and Kunjunni Raja (1990: 482) report that one version of Vopadeva’s grammar5Mugdhabodha they consulted, item «G1018», was a volume of «Selections [from the Mugdhabodha] edited by Loharam Shiroratna, Calcutta, 1868».

38It made sense that pandits well versed in Sanskrit should be called upon to codify and teach the grammar of Bangla. The orthography of Bangla (whose erudite register words are Sanskritic) is roughly as remote from its pronunciation as the spelling of French (including its Latinate learnèd words) is from the way French actually sounds. Pandits familiar with Sanskrit know how to teach some institutionalized (and incidentally theory-laden) mnemonics that initiate children into the mysteries of Bangla spelling. Besides, until recently, Sanskrit was an obligatory subject in the schools of Bengal (in the Indian state of West Bengal, it was dropped from the core curriculum only in 1972); thus, many schools would ask the same teacher to handle Sanskrit and Bangla.

39At the level of grammatical codification, the Paninian oeuvre and its pedagogic simplifications for Sanskrit had served as the model for the codification of other Indian languages. Bengal was no different. Scrutinizing Shiroratna’s performance within this overall context and abstracting away from effects of the British intervention, we find that he had internalized Paninian principles thoroughly and applied them to the facts of Bangla, which he described with care, without slavish adherence to the facts of Sanskrit.

40For instance, describing an état de langue exhibiting subregular adjectival agreement for masculine and feminine gender in the erudite lexical stratum, Shiroratna recognizes a masculine-feminine contrast for Bangla, but he explicitly merges the neuter into the masculine in his system, noting that the neuter has no empirical correlate (1860/1869: 21).

41To take another particularly striking example, Shiroratna abridges the discussion of classical mnemonics intended to help students to learn those aspects of Bangla orthography that reflect Sanskrit phonemic contrasts lost in the sound system but retained in its spelling. While he does provide complete mnemonics for the retroflex nasal, an especially frequent letter, Shiroratna cuts short the discussion of the retroflex sibilant. He writes [and I translate]: «There is a lot to say about sibilant retroflexion; but the material is hard for young children to understand; so I have chosen not to elaborate» (Shiroratna 1860/1869: 18n).

42Such attention to the needs of children, unusual anywhere in 1860, is also what motivates the derecognition of the neuter gender mentioned above. In the following passage, I highlight the locution that shows this: «In Bangla one does not find any formal variation that has to do with the neuter gender. Besides, it is not easy to learn which words [borrowed by Bangla from Sanskrit] are neuter» (Shiroratna 1860/1869: 21).

  • 6 I have drawn these examples from the earlier discussion (Dasgupta 1988, 1993b), to which the reade (...)

43These highlights may suffice6 to show that Shiroratna’s work deserved the recognition it received from 1860 onwards as an optimal school textbook. However, what he described was the ‘high’ standard variety of Bangla – confined to serious written discourse and characterized by sixteenth-century inflectional forms for pronouns and verbs – and this ‘high’ standard represented one end of an overt diglossic spectrum in the sense of Abel (1998) and Britto (1986). The overt diglossic arrangement did not prove stable (Singh & Maniruzzaman 1983). Early twentieth century Bengal replaced grammars such as Shiroratna’s with a codification that gave pride of place to the ‘low’ rather than the ‘high’ end of the diglossic spectrum.

  • 7   An account of their successful campaign in favour of dismantling overt diglossia is available in (...)
  • 8 Tagore (1984); see also writings by Tagore and his allies in Azad’s (1984) compilation.

44By the turn of the twentieth century, advocates of the systematic written use of the ‘low’ spoken norm of the middle class were already mobilizing scholarly opinion in favour of dismantling overt diglossia. The newly established literary academy of Bengal served as a platform for describing and legitimating the ‘low’ norm of Bangla. The campaign’s leaders, including Rabindranath Tagore, questioned the legitimacy of basing school education and public discourse on a ‘high’ norm remote from standard speech.7 Tagore pioneered the work of describing the ‘low’ norm.8 The dismantling of diglossia, completed by the mid-twentieth century, radically reset the parameters for the codification of Bangla in a direction that could not have been foreseen in the early colonial context – a context to which I now return.

  • 9 In his footnote 16, Qayyum cites “‘A letter of Warren Hastings on Wilkins’ translation of Bhagvat- (...)

45Recall that we were watching Warren Hastings expressing admiration in 1775 for the diligence with which Nathaniel Halhed had compiled A Code of Gentoo Laws, or Ordinations of the Pundits. Qayyum (1982: 31) describes the production process as follows: «A digest of Sanskrit law books, it was first compiled in Sanskrit by eleven Brahmins, who were, Hastings tells us, content to work for a mere subsistence of one rupee per day.9 It was then translated by a munshi into Persian and thence into English by Halhed».

46This translative labour was part of a longer process of appropriation establishing the paramountcy of British over Indian law, Anindita Mukhopadhyay (2006: 21-22) suggests: «the British engaged with the task of identifying what the laws of the Indians were, and how best to administer legal justice, inseparable attribute of governance, to the indigene. [Note omitted.] From the early collaboration between [Hindu and Islamic] legal discourses and their many indigenous interpreters, there probably was a sharpened awareness of ‘law’ as sets of principles which coded social,economic, and political norms. As a response to this external impetus coming from Western legal discourse, and guiding indigenous legal redefinitions, this constant modelling and remodelling became part of a conscious collaborative project for the learned indigene. … this early collaborative stint did much to establish the legitimacy of British rule, and when the Indian specialists were edged out of their function as interpreters of the law [emphasis added], the British had already established control over the language and meaning of the texts thought to be at the core of indigenous legislation.»

47Mukhopadhyay presents some factors that led not only to the ‘edging out’ of indigenous interpreters of Hindu and Islamic law, but even to the marginalization of Warren Hastings and, with him, of the early colonial style of governance. «The devastating Bengal famine of 1770», she writes, «exposed many unscrupulous Europeans and Indians in favoured positions. The Court of Directors ordered enquiries into the rapacious activities of Muhammad Reza Khan and Shitab Roy, following the outcry in England headed by Edmund Burke. The two Indians relentlessly collected taxes even when multitudes of people were dying of starvation, while Hastings had turned a blind eye to their activities. Nand Kumar openly accused Warren Hastings of receiving a heavy bribe from Muhammad Reza Khan in his petition dated 8 March 1775. He also piled evidence against Muhammad Reza for extortion and misappropriation of funds to the tune of three crores [30 000 000] of rupees. Hastings dismissed both accusations. H. Beveridge, reconstructing the chain of events in 1878, concluded, ‘as Hastings stifled all enquiry into Nand Kumar’s charges we may fairly presume that he did receive money on the occasion’. Nand Kumar was counter-charged with fraud, ‘by the first week of May he was in a felon’s prison and hanged in August 1775’ [note omitted]» (Mukhopadhyay 2006: 22).

48Mukhopadhyay narrates the reaction to this episode in Britain, led by Burke, whose words she quotes: «‘this Trial and Execution was looked upon by many of the natives as a … political measure, the tendency of which is, to make the Natives feel the extreme Hazard of accusing, or even giving Evidence of corrupt Practices against any British Subjects of Equal Rank and Authority’» (Mukhopadhyay 2006: 23).

49The misuse of public office by unscrupulous Englishmen like Hastings, Burke argued, would «seriously jeopardize the position of the British in India as exemplary rulers,» Mukhopadhyay writes. «It would poison the well-spring of European jurisprudence at the source, and make its misrepresentation with a different people with different customs inevitable. Burke enunciated clearly the cultural norms of legality for Oriental governance through his attack on an ‘Indianized’ Hastings. Burke’s indictment of Hastings constituted and posited a larger vision of a morally upright imperial Rule of Law that moved on the fulcrum of a common set of ethical codes for both the black and the white… Burke was for the rule of law that was to be the signifier of metropolitan Britain. James Mill was an ardent votary of the new rule of law, a system of governance far superior to the arbitrary whims of Oriental rulers [note omitted]. John Stuart Mill followed suit in a new cultural language dominant enough to convince a new generation of indigenous intellectuals who chose the British rule of law over Mughal rule in 1857 [note omitted]» (Mukhopadhyay 2006: 23-24).

50I have quoted Mukhopadhyay at length to remind readers that the phase transition from early British governance (using Persian as the administrative language and engaging with Indian juridical and grammatical expertise) to the form of British rule whose image has endured (governance and the dispensing of education in the English language, imposing normative standards prevalent in England, virtuously uninterested in the beliefs and practices of non-white subjects who were to be civilized into occidentality) was supported by intellectuals like John Stuart Mill. To this day, Mill is highly regarded as a founding figure of a western liberalism that the ‘international community’ invites all southerners to emulate. My point is not to question the basis of Mill’s prestige as an individual, but to ask how we can admire his achievements but at the same time move away from the unacceptable institutional and normative architecture that he supported because he was a child of his times.

51Before I explain what I think of the Burke-led anti-orientalist turn in British colonial policy, I must consider how it looked to those campaigning for it. The liberal imagination saw itself as carrying out a course correction. A bad representative of Britain, Hastings, was impeached, and with him the phenomenon of ‘going native’. Uprooting this evil would mean perfecting the British pedagogic mission in its colonies. To this end, Britain would send morally and intellectually spotless men to administer, judge and teach the natives. To train such men, an Indian Civil Service examination would be put in place. Preparation for this examination would include language and culture training, and fortunately British experts already knew the languages and cultures in question.

52Notice the logic of this course correction. It marginalizes not only Hastings and other British ‘nabobs’ who had ‘gone native’, but the whole enterprise of (however limited) intellectual and cultural dialogue with the natives that was part of Hastings’ style of ruling. This dialogue can now stop, for what there was to learn and codify has been addressed. The course correctors take it that British experts know all that they need to know about India’s languages and cultures in order to be able to administer impartial justice. The best young men from Britain shall learn the rudiments that they need of Indian languages/ cultures as part of their training for a Civil Service examination, which they shall pass in order to be qualified to represent the best of British values in India.

53In other words, the logic of the course correction at one level endorses and continues Hastings’ admiration of Halhed and other British codifiers of Indian languages and cultures – if the Halheds had not got it right, the teaching material for the Civil Servants would be defective. At another level, however, this logic decisively rejects even the limited respect for Indian civilization and its codifications that underwrote Hastings’ praise for Halhed.

54My response to this logic – and to the fact that the contemporary UN-led ‘international community’s’ claim to represent a ‘universal’ standpoint (anchored in ‘human rights’, ‘welfare’ and ‘capacity-building’ in such ‘pan-human’ domains as ‘education’ and ‘health’ envisaged as culture-free arenas of legitimate humanitarian aid and intervention) uncritically inherits this late-colonial British (and French, if I am not drastically wrong?) logic – is correspondingly twofold. I itemize the components of my response as (a) and (b) to help the reader to link the details of my response with those of the stimulus.

55Where the late-colonial proponents of this logic endorse and renew Hastings’ admiration for early-colonial attempts by Halhed and others to translatively recodify and interpret linguistic, cultural and legal material from serious Indian discourses, I question this renewed admiration; this is component (a) of my response. I argue that the early-colonial British efforts to translate between European and Indian linguistic and legal systems were of low quality; that their successors did not seriously improve on this performance, in part because they failed to diagnose the problem; and that the American inheritors of their cultural empire, together with their European peers, continue this tradition of underperformance. The ‘international community’s’ system of ‘intercultural cognition’, which sponsors ‘universal’ programmes for the improvement of ‘education’, no less, in all countries, rests on vapid authority claims masking incompetent scholarship past and present. Furthermore, I argue that this incompetence is system-generated and will keep being reproduced until the factors causing it are identified and corrected. Even if, as a thought-experiment, we empathize with their late-colonial project, we find that liberal Britons from Burke to Mill, misdiagnosing the problem, promoted a disastrous course ‘correction’. We, globally, have yet to recognize the magnitude of that catastrophe, which the intellectual leaders of today’s world uncritically inherit. Analysis undertaken in our times needs to contribute to a truth and reconciliation process that can underwrite recovery.

56Where the liberal logic of late-colonial British rule in India undertakes a course correction, I turn to component (b) of my response. When they target Hastings, his liberal impeachers and correctors are (i) condemning the moral turpitude that characterizes his handling of Nanda Kumar; (ii) couching this condemnation in terms that associate his crimes with a stereotyping of the orient as essentially evil, and enjoin white men to shun the corrupting influence of the orient, which involves addressing oriental persons from a deliberately hierarchical, didactic standpoint.

57My response is to conclude that those liberal British ‘course correctors’ from Burke to Mill sponsored a crime against the intellectual heritage of humanity – a crime comparable to the recent American-led destruction of part of the physical heritage of humankind in Iraq. Nineteenth-century Britons had a good deal to learn from India in grammar, from China in astronomy, etc. Instead of using the opportunity to learn, their cohort put in place a Eurocentric propaganda machine that derives all scientific knowledge from Greece and Rome. Despite casually written token footnotes about data assembled by Chinese astronomers and about the incidental excellence of Panini’s grammar of Sanskrit, contemporary western-sponsored ‘world’ reference works and university curricula deliberately misrepresent the geographical distribution of intellectual peaks. They overproject the Greek contribution in which the ideological autobiography of the west places its origins. They underproject what has been achieved in India, China and other non-European sites of intellectual labour and the continuing relevance of these achievements. Some passive co-perpetrators (western or otherwise) of today’s asymmetries may change their practices once they realize that they have unwittingly bought into asymmetric norms, with which they surely do not wish to remain complicit.

58To summarize so far: the liberal British course correctors endorsed Hastings’ admiration of Halhed and his successors, and absorbed the material supposedly adequately codified in English as part of the serious administrative and pedagogic apparatus of ‘impartial’ British governance in India. I find problematic their acceptance of what the Halhed type had accomplished, and their inability to improve on that project. Those course correctors targeted Hastings and his type for assimilating to the allegedly corrupt culture of India, and proposed to replace his policy with one that imposed a British pedagogy seen as requiring no external criticism or scrutiny, and that eschewed all further engagement with any intellectual and moral resources available in India. I find the claim that this was a liberal or democratic turn seriously problematic.

  • 10   Qayyum references it as A Grammar of the Bengal Language (Hoogly, 1778).

59I turn now to the performance of the early British codifiers in question. Qayyum (1982) provides the sordid details in the case of the codification of Bangla grammar, beginning with the pioneering figure, Nathaniel Halhed. Halhed tried, with very limited success, to learn some Bangla. He wrote his book about Bangla10 on the basis of his knowledge of Persian, getting his Bengali informants to translate material into Persian for him. As far as Qayyum has been able to ascertain, «Halhed probably never learned either Bengali or Sanskrit. He had certain linguistic techniques with which his classical background had endowed him, and he applied them to the analysis and description of Bengali». Qayyum goes on to say, with some irony: «In this respect he may be termed the first modern student of the discipline of Linguistics: he never learned to speak Bengali; he had no intention of ever doing so; he merely wished to analyse and describe it on the basis of a limited selection of ‘Authentic’ data» (Qayyum 1982: 81).

60That his ‘authentic’ data was limited to «a few folios in three Bengali manuscripts of poems composed between [the] fifteenth and eighteenth centuries and to information gleaned in note-form from informants» (Qayyum 1982: 100) had deleterious consequences.

61That his written data came from poetry alone did one kind of damage to his description: «Most of his rules and principles, formulated on the basis of poetry, unfortunately fail to apply in prose and speech; e.g. the pronominal forms tomā, āmā in the accusative, and case-inflexions –e and –re in the accusative and dative, do not occur in Bengali prose or speech. Further, through following verse he framed a false syntactical rule regarding word-order [viz.] Object-verb-agent; whereas the correct syntactical order is: ‘agent-object-verb’» (Qayyum 1982: 100).

62That the spoken data Halhed chose to rely on came from a Bengali Brahmin informant (Qayyum 1982: 101) had other significant consequences: «Not only did Halhed attempt to regulate Bengali spelling and phonology according to Sanskrit… he also attempted to rid Bengali of words whose Sanskrit origin could not be traced. This purist attitude was aimed primarily at borrowings from Persian and Arabic, but Halhed carried it further: he even abandoned Bengali words» (Qayyum 1982: 102).

63The next grammarian Qayyum considers is William Carey (1761-1834), a Bible-translating evangelist. «Though appointed by [Governor-General] Wellesley to Fort Wiliam College [Calcutta] in 1801, and though conscientious in the discharge of his duties,» Qayyum writes, «Carey’s main aim would seem to us to have remained religious: first and foremost he was a missionary, not a Professor of Bengali» (1982: 124-5).

64Qayyum notes that the secondary literature on Carey is considerable. What Qayyum adds is a demonstration that works attributed to Carey were in fact ghost-written by a variety of Indian assistants at Fort William College.

65Qayyum’s scrutiny suggests that Carey’s munshi (Persian-knowing interpreter) Ram Ram Basu – of the kāyastha caste – was the influence behind the 1801 first edition of A Grammar of the Bengalee Language (Serampore, 1801); and that the sanskritization-prone Brahmin who took Basu’s place, Mrityunjay Vidyalankar, prompted the major revisions observed in its 1805 second edition.

66Qayyum provides strong evidence, not reviewed here, for the conjecture that Mrityunjay Vidyalankar «not only pointed out all the errors due to Basu in CBG I [Carey’s Bengalee Grammar, First Edition] and corrected them in CBG II, but also actually prepared the first draft of CBG II in Bengali, so that Carey could later translate it into English» (1982: 175).

  • 11 In his footnote 14, Qayyum writes: «We shall attempt to show that the word ‘assisted’ in Carey’s v (...)

67This might seem harmless. But such ghost-writing became a standard practice, Qayyum argues: «Though Carey himself is usually credited with translating the whole Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi, Assamese and Sanskrit [footnote omitted], the names of some of the pundits who ‘assisted’11 him are known: Mrityunjay Vidyalankar in Bengali and Sanskrit; Vaidyanath in Marathi; and Parsuram in Oriya» (1982: 177). Qayyum uses contemporary archival evidence (1982: 178-206) to show that this apparently prodigious output by one author – nineteenth book-length publications in the period 1801-1818 on top of a Fort William teaching job and missionary work – in fact reflected collaborative work; the bulk of the writing was done by Indian ‘assistants’ who were not given credit as co-authors.

68This is how entire languages that Carey would never have the time to actually learn, such as Marathi, Panjabi, Telugu and Kannada (Qayyum 1982: 193), were ‘covered’ in ‘textbooks’. Let us take a look at just how Marathi was handled: «in 1804 it was conclusively demonstrated to Carey that it was possible to compose a grammar of the Marathi language largely by the process of translation… Vaidyanath should first of all translate the Bengali version of CBG II into Marathi [mutatis mutandis]. Vaidyanath would then teach Carey the script, so that he could read the Marathi grammar in Marathi … Carey could then translate the Marathi version of CBG II into English» (Qayyum 1982: 188-9). Qayyum proceeds to give solid evidence that ‘Carey’s grammar’ of Marathi was indeed written in this fashion.

69Note that, among the occidental authors of Indian languages in early colonial Bengal, Carey represented the peak of western willingness and ability to learn any modern Indian language seriously. One must bear this in mind as one evaluates Britain’s «pedagogic» performance in colonial Bengal.

70Qayyum’s third British grammarian, Graves Chamney Haughton (1788-1849), was responsible for the following contributions to the study of Bangla: Rudiments of Bengālī Grammar (London, 1821), Bengali Selections, with translations and a Vocabulary (London, 1822), A Glossary, Bengālī and English to explain Tōtā-Itihās, the Batris Singhāsan, the History of Rājā Krishna Chandra, the Purusha-Parikhya, the Hitopadêsa (London, 1825), and A Dictionary, Bengali and Sanskrit, explained in English and adapted for students of either language (London, 1833).

71This sounds substantial, until one discovers the circumstantial evidence that he never learnt Bangla. «Haughton compiled virtually the whole of his Grammar with the help of other works,» Qayyum (1982: 225) writes. «Thus his original contribution to Oriental languages was slight. Indeed, he composed nothing in Bengali, not even a single illustrative sentence in his Bengali Grammar. All his examples of Bengali composition were quoted from either Halhed’s or Carey’s grammars; or from Fort William College textbooks. … [I]n his [application for a job that involved teaching Sanskrit and Bengali], Haughton made no mention of his knowledge of Bengali… indeed, even Carey mentioned only Haughton’s study of Sanskrit» (1982: 225).

72Did things improve after these three non-performers? If any Briton had learnt serious Bangla between 1833, the date of Haughton’s dictionary, and 1947, when the British left India, they would have left a footprint or two, in the form of texts published in Bangla, personal letters and the like to demonstrate their proficiency; recall the way they loved to occupy the high moral ground. Alas, there is no known evidence that any Briton coming from imperial England did learn Bangla; my colleagues will inform you if they did better in other Indian languages, but Bengal is where they concentrated their effort, and where the evidence shows that they did not perform.

73As for the performance of Britain’s American successors, assessment is not yet appropriate in the case of experts still alive or of schools of thought still thriving and therefore capable of further development. But surely it is not too early to comment on the performance of the structuralists. The major American structuralist Zellig Harris – Chomsky’s teacher – supervised doctoral work on Bangla by Charles A. Ferguson (see Ferguson 1945a, b). Harris – who gives Ferguson credit for the data – comments on Bangla twice in his classic work (Harris 1951/1960). He comments on the syntax of negation (1951/1960: 185n61) and on verb morphology (pp 215-8). The points he makes are intriguing and of potential interest, but are vitiated by elementary errors of a kind Harris would not dream of allowing himself to make for languages whose speakers were on his personal screen.

74Harris (1951/1960: 185n61) claims that «we have Bengali verb plus na for the negative of a verb, but na plus verb for the negative in a subordinate clause (even when there is no subordinate particle)» – a reader proficient both in Bangla and in syntax and exercising considerable charity can guess what generalization Harris has in mind, but the actual generalization that Harris does provide is wildly false. There is nothing about this matter in Ferguson (1945a, b).

75Harris (1951/1960: 216) offers the following sentences as seriously glossed data –

dori tano ‘you (ord.) pull it.’
dori tanbo ‘I will pull it.’
dori tanlo ‘he pulled it.’

  • 12   It is possible to apportion discredit with some precision here: Ferguson (1945a: 63) knew that th (...)

76One presumes that by this he means doṛi ṭano etc., with a retroflex flap /ṛ/ and a retroflex plosive /ṭ/.12 Even though it is unclear why Harris reserves such sloppiness for Bangla alone (as far as I can judge) in his exemplifications, perhaps charity requires us to ignore the sloppy transcription here. Even with utmost charity, however, it is difficult to stomach the glosses: the noun doṛi, with or without retroflexion marking, means ‘rope’; but Harris consistently provides the contentless ‘it’ instead, leading me to wonder how far I can trust his glosses for other languages.

  • 13   I hope it is clear to all readers that I have Ferguson in mind, not Chomsky. Ferguson, like Qayyu (...)

77Just as Carey was a uniquely painstaking British performer in colonial India, who took the trouble to learn the language, likewise Harris mentored a comparable American star13 and was himself the only major structuralist player of British or American origin to provide any Bangla examples in writings that codified the principles of linguistics. It is interesting that both Carey and Harris underperform in the case of Bangla. I also find it puzzling that neither of the references to Bangla in Harris (1951/1960) is mentioned in the reasonably thorough index. This absent-mindedness looks like another indication that, for Harris, Bangla was remote from the centre of his concerns. But perhaps I am being hypersensitive.

78Despite my many criticisms, I remember at all times that the individuals whose actions and inactions are under scrutiny in this paper must bepresumed to have been doing their best. Those of us enjoying the advantages of hindsight, without feeling the heat of their concrete circumstances, must give them as much credit as possible, for personal contributions circumscribed by constraints and pressures we cannot fully visualize. Criticisms that may sound like personal targeting need to be replaced, in careful reformulations, by a critique of institutions and normative forces. Ideological pressures often push individuals into invalid statements, misperceptions, inappropriate patterns of action or inaction.

79In the next section, I emphatically move the discussion from personal performances to the normative axis.

Codification and Diglossia

80Britain’s colonial rule based its legitimacy claims on an image that combined juridical integrity with a specific cultural profile built around ‘fair play’. Alleged criminals are not coerced into self-incrimination; the state is not afraid to face the challenge of demonstrating their culpability without resorting to torture and the extraction of confessions. A modern juridical and penal system rests on modern science, which embodies the Popperian principle that a statement counts as scientific only if it is empirically falsifiable. To count as a scientist, one must not only fearlessly face critics, but even build this courage into one’s methodology. One’s statements must include direct empirical claims open to straightforward refutation through confrontation with facts whose status independent observers can converge on. I stress courage here because the ideology of the ‘white man’s burden’, the cultural foundation of ‘modern’ empires, was formulated in those terms. White men claimed moral and intellectual superiority that amounted to greater tenacity and courage, including a marked capacity for irony, humour, self-deprecation.

81Is that modern, fearless, science-based juridical-penal system a genuine British gift to India, then? Am I merely noting that their grammarians were not up to the mark, and implying that their juridical experts were acceptable and even excellent, especially from the course correction onwards?

82Readers may find the present study curiously deficient at the level of direct criticism of the legal system Britain installed in late-colonial India. In part this omission has to do with attention span issues. To keep the paper readable, I focus on Qayyum rather than on Mukhopadhyay, to whose work I refer readers with a strong juridical interest. But the central argument of this paper is actually independent of the quality of the laws the Britons wrote and implemented.

83Assume, for argument’s sake, that the Indian Penal Code and its adjuncts were written and administered by upright Britishers at a level of juridical perfection that would have moved classical spectators like Cicero to tears. Assume that the post-Hastings course correctors from Burke to Mill did reach all their goals.

84My criticism is directed at the pursuit of these goals in a context shaped by a strong desire not to comprehend the mental and moral content of those human beings that such a system is claiming to be competent to judge. The adage that ‘justice is blind’ characterizes the decision to avoid looking at emotion-arousing specifics that can cloud impartial judgment. A policy of such avoidance is not an option for ‘judges’ who have trapped themselves in a total incapacity to look at specifics whose overall cultural comprehension (to be distinguished from specific gazing at facts about this or that individual) is a prerequisite for those who claim to know how to judge members of the relevant culture. The British took a misreading of the adage that ‘justice is blind’ to new heights by imposing on their brilliant and often well-meaning administrators the ideology of sanctioned, and proudly flaunted, blindness to the cultural coordinates of the labour they were setting out to do.

  • 14 It is significant that the diglossia paper carefully steers clear of the facts of Bangla. Even a c (...)

85My point is that, in so doing, Britain exhibited civilizational cowardice at the intellectual and moral level. The rhetoric traditionally deployed to extol the courage embodied in British systems of science, of jurisprudence, of team sports and of self-deprecation prompts me to choose the following wording: Britain ‘let the side down’. I propose to articulate my point in terms of the key concept that French and English authors have termed diglossie/diglossia. As history would have it, the seminal text in which the French term ‘diglossie’ morphed into the English ‘diglossia’ was authored by Harris’s student Charles A. Ferguson (1959)!14

86Diglossia intersects with our concerns at three points that my exposition now takes up – point X, an observation by Qayyum; point Y, the rootedness of structuralism in the Anglo-French ideological partnership with Asian classicism; and point Z, Tagore’s critique targeting both partners of the classicist-imperialist coalition.

87Point X: Qayyum (1982: 102n60) does not portray the British in general, or Halhed in particular, as having initiated the campaign to purge Bangla of ‘alien’ accretions from Perso-Arabic sources: «the purist movement in Bengali has a considerable history. Halhed merely endorsed it; he did not invent it. Nor did Halhed’s Bengali Brahmin pundit. It was in fact ‘sādhu bhāṣā’, the language of the Brahmins, which had had a long history in their hands».

88The sādhu bhāṣā (‘chaste language’) Qayyum refers to is the maximally codified norm at the high end of the diglossic spectrum described in section 3. Here Qayyum echoes what is common knowledge in Bengal: due to the hegemony of Sanskrit-proficient Brahmins, written Bangla until recently systematically employed a special acrolectal or sādhu norm whose pronominal and verbal inflections, lexical choices and syntactic patterns preserved a late-mediaeval état de langue. To this day, some daily newspapers publish editorials in acrolectal Bangla, and schooling involves learning the acrolect as well, without which one cannot read the major modern authors.

  • 15 Bengal-specific literary evidence for the fact that this process was still vibrant up to the Briti (...)

89I have briefly outlined (see section 3 above) the mobilization of anti-acrolectal forces in Bengali society from 1900 onwards, leading to the destruction of overt diglossia in our times. I now need to add that in historical terms this rejuvenation of the discursive space continued a process that had been interrupted by the British intervention, which froze the culture by sanctifying what British codifiers saw as optimal boundaries circa 1800. Mediaeval India witnessed a democratizing process of cultural renewal in several domains at once: music, language, religion, philosophy. This ‘mediaeval mutation’, as it is called in Dasgupta (1993a), transformed the terms of discourse in a basilectal direction.15 The twentieth-century campaign against acrolectal Bangla took its inspiration from, and renewed, the mediaeval democratization that the British intervention had interrupted and reversed.

90Qayyum is at pains to note that all three British grammarians he studies took active part in the work of consolidating the Sanskritization of Bangla and strengthening the hegemony of the Sanskrit-wielding Brahmins in Bengali society.

91The fact that English in contemporary India is situated in acrolectal niches in the linguistic and cultural repertoire (Dasgupta 1993a) is not a phenomenon confined to the postcolonial present. British power occupied acrolectal space from the moment it started its cultural work in India. The self-proclaimed liberal course correction in the nineteenth century, contrary to its avowed claims of combating arbitrary authoritarian rule, actually strengthened the acrolectal and non-accountable character of British rule and its coalition with the forces of Brahminical orthodoxy.

Point Y

92It is not only the codification of oriental linguistic, cultural, legal systems that is at stake. The structuralist style of codification, which overwhelmed other options in the study of all languages and cultures, has been argued in the case of grammar (Dasgupta 1993b) to be rooted in the western orientalists’ adoption of the logic of Pāṇini’s grammar of Sanskrit, with whose brahminical exponents they formed a coalition when the cultural parameters of British rule in India were set.

93This may sound like an irrelevant historical detail; but actually it bears on the context of our times. Structuralist methods and cosmetic revisions of structuralism – reinvigorated by the tendency to present computer-driven data mining techniques as a complete theory that needs no conceptual supplementation – have a considerable following in western academia. They address key needs of contemporary ideological systems. Structuralism is an ideal method for the description of a dead language or a captive language. Describers using this approach merely need to obtain a body of data, from which they can extract and tabulate patterns; the data cannot articulate any description of itself, and, unable to talk back, must take the describers’ hypotheses lying down.

  • 16 The wording here only half-seriously alludes to Spivak’s (1999: 244-311) rearticulation of her ‘ca (...)

94The dangers of structuralism are both intellectual and political. When the writ of structuralism runs, living languages count as tantamount to dead languages, and their speakers who in real life try to talk back are codified into silence. It is thus of great importance to trace structuralism back to its roots in the ‘modern’ colonizers’ encounter with classical systems, and with their exponents exercising intellectual hegemony, in the Asian and African colonies of Britain and France. It seems to me likely that Francophone scholars may have detected similar patterns in the cultural coalitions French power formed with classical intellectuals in Indo-China or in Muslim-majority colonies. Much has been said about how Eurocentric ethnographers have othered hapless subject populations in all western colonies; I am suggesting a more specific interrogation, which focuses on the decision by ‘modern’ western power, as it entered these societies, to build coalitions with the exponents (such as the Brahmins) of indigenous hegemonies who had been practising what we may designate as ‘community-internal othering’. Obviously colonial power had to subordinate these indigenous hegemons to the new sovereign’s paramountcy, another point frequently made in the literature. My point is that despite this subordination there was a species of alliance between the colonial power and the indigenous hegemonic systems, and that this alliance left the traditional victims of these hegemons at their mercy. For the new arrangements meant that subalterns would be able to speak to the new colonial masters only through translative mediation by the indigenous hegemons.16

95The codifying arrangements that the empires put in place thus had an anti-democratic design. The western colonial master, by consolidating the power of the indigenous cultural elite (inviting it to speak for the entire society), stifled the voice of those dominated by this elite, and terminated their earlier struggles against its hegemony. For ideological reasons internal to colonial Britain and France, colonial power was able to project this enterprise as bringing modern, liberal, democratic rule to these benighted heathens even as it went about setting the clock back by several centuries. For corresponding ideological reasons today, it remains easy to sell the old legitimations of colonialism to contemporary western schoolchildren, whose parents fail to see what could possibly be wrong with the narrative.

96The persistence of structuralism and its variants to this day in the west’s human and social sciences is related to the cultural formations that I have been describing in the case of colonial Britain’s project in India and that I have been conjecturing about in the case of colonial France’s enterprises.

97Endemic western incomprehension of the Other, systematically built into its cultural institutions, has taken a structuralist form. Structuralism is usefully seen as a distillation of the architectural logic of bureaucracy, of the managerial imagination, and of other iconic organizational practices of systematic control that western societies have consistently projected as the teloi towards which all serious historical development must flow.

98Structuralism can read diglossia only as a dyad of two norms hierarchically arranged. This view has its uses (it is no accident that it has gained so many adherents); at the moment of articulating the task of overcoming elite-led acrolectal oppression, for instance, egalitarian structuralist rhetoric can serve the cause of an emerging basilectal normativity. But that rhetoric reaches its limits very soon. Truly basilectal processes cannot be optimized by the methods of institutional standardization and pedagogy. After overt acrolectal power has been dismantled, such a programme soon forces the ‘basilect-in-power’ into repeating history, into committing all the sins the acrolect had been guilty of. At that juncture, the democratic imagination runs out of structuralist resources and must look elsewhere – such as the comprehensive critique by Rabindranath Tagore, who saw both the British rulers and their indigenous elite allies as adversaries of the serious development of the Indian people’s own capabilities.

Point Z

99In section 3, I have mentioned the role Tagore played in the campaign against acrolectal Bangla and its orthodox Sanskrit-wielding exponents. At the heart of his positive programme was the idea of courage – the notion that ordinary people can and must dare to stand up for their own interests, upsetting the best-laid plans of the fearful elite and foreign rulers who, in their incomprehension, defend themselves against the people by erecting mechanical barriers, whose mechanical character Tagore associates with their origins in this fear.

100Asok Sen’s (2005, 2006) extensive account of Tagore’s perspective portrays him as seeking to nurture authentic social bonds based on mutual acquaintance, relationships and a community of interests that brings out people’s strengths. Sen shows Tagore critiquing both British rulers and their Indian elite allies as wedded to externally, insightlessly contrived mechanical schemes that are installed at the cost of social bonds embodying genuine comprehension of the people that institutions are supposed to serve.

  • 17 Sen’s note 249 references «Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Sāhitte ādhunikotā’ [‘Modernity in literature’], (...)

101The place of courage and fear in such a vision becomes apparent when Sen writes (and I translate): «I have tried to give some idea of the importance that cooperative and democratic principles had in Tagore’s socio-political thinking and action. Even full voting rights may fail to advance the truth of democracy. The dominance of capital, extreme economic inequality and the consequent misuse of resources leave the formal institutional arrangements of democracy devoid of meaning. As a severe critic of predatory nationalism based on commercialism and limitless greed for wealth, Tagore commented on the inter-war period as follows: ‘In country after country, the chains on the voice, the hands, the feet of the public are becoming solid; individuals who have an unbounded appetite for violence are the ones who emerge as national leaders. This state of affairs stems from a timidity embodying the spirit of avarice. They are afraid of their competition for wealth running into some obstacle, afraid that adversity might get into their treasure-house through some hole in the wall and bring everything crashing down. This is why the people in these countries do not mind giving up their freedom and dignity, and letting big and powerful guards take over’17» (Sen 2006: 84).

  • 18 Sen references Tagore’s article ‘Swadeshi samāj’ (Tagore 1975: 526-558).

102The notion of externality underlies Tagore’s simultaneous rejection of western colonization and Indian elite governance as arrangements that cannot possibly lift India’s masses out of misery. Sen writes: «Tagore’s socio-political thinking does not see generous outsiders as capable of showing a way out of misery. In this connection his invocations in his book Swadeshi samāj18[‘the society of one’s homeland’] were crucial: the consciousness and agency of those in distress will begin to flourish once the movement for national self-reliance gains their confidence. Tagore does not seek salvation for the country in the wisdom and activism of the middle class alone» (Sen 2006: 78).

  • 19 Sen references Tagore’s book Ātmashakti (Tagore 1975: 515-636).

103To see what Tagore’s critique does or does not target, even in the limited space of this paper, I must mention science. Referring to Tagore’s keyword ātmashakti19 ‘inner strength’, Sen writes: «His thinking about ātmashakti did not involve a rejection of science and technology. Adequately pursued and practised, science was universally accessible to all human beings; it was not any nation or continent’s exclusive possession. However, unlimited self-seeking, excessive consumption, aggressive attitudes and policies – these were factors that distorted the practice of science. It would be possible to disengage science from these factors and direct scientific research energies towards a flourishing life for all, progress and security. Such were Tagore’s thoughts on the issue. In a letter written in 1898, on the issue of expanding the agenda of the Indian National Congress, he had this to say: ‘The magnanimous Parsee from Bombay, Mr Tata, has donated a great deal of money in order to establish a scientific research laboratory in India; associating such activity with India in its entirety is a task that only an organization that truly brings all Indians into contact and friendship such as the Congress can take up.

104«‘The work of building the laboratory in question cannot be adequately completed with Mr Tata’s money alone. If representatives of various regions of India raise funds from their respective home provinces and turn Mr Tata’s project into a truly national enterprise, then the birth of the Congress will have been worthwhile.

  • 20 Sen references Tagore (1978: 574), a passage in the article ‘Prosonggo kathā 5’ (‘Occasional remar (...)

105«‘Likewise, in industry, commerce, education, in all matters we are in great distress, and all people in the country look to the Congress for true leadership.’20

  • 21 Sen references Tagore (1978: 623), a passage from his article ‘Desher kathā’ (‘On our country’, Ta (...)

106«Neither Tagore’s thinking about ‘inner strength’ nor his perspective on ‘the society of one’s homeland’ turned its back on science. Mental cultivation would have to draw inspiration from the social. This would be ceaselessly manifested in a selfless commitment to service, in affectionate association with all compatriots. It is confidence in such a commitment that prompts Tagore to write, ‘…we do indeed have to build a nation – but not one that imitates Britain. Our people harbour a core value, a vital value, which is what we must absolutely protect, and this is why we must unite – why we have to set our mind free, set our talent free; we must raise our society to the peak of independence and strength. To be able to do this, we need to devote ourselves to our own country, we must direct our utmost respect towards our homeland – that which education and circumstance have prompted us to send elsewhere will have to be redirected, homewards’21« (Sen 2005: 68). After this critique, what options for repair are available?

Hierarchy and Amphiglossia

107Britain’s late-colonial course correction installed a juridical order, and cultural accoutrements protecting its high and majestic self-estimation, that stand to this day and have been translated into what are packaged as neutral international organizations working for global development. If my analysis is on the right track, this entire order is built on unjust foundations. It gives primacy to the hierarchical, non-accountable elements of the civilizations participating in the nineteenth-century colonial encounter. It marginalizes the potential of the democratic elements in those civilizations.

108An actual course correction would involve, first of all, identifying the sanctioned cultural incomprehension at the heart of the liberal imperial mission, and decisively disengaging modernity and democracy from the colonial adventure, whose rapacity has been denounced by some authors, but whose semi-literate initial installation settings most observers in the west have been unaware of.

109In the south, it has always been recognized, in spoken and written commentary, that the Bible ‘translations’ sponsored by western missionaries were bizarre concoctions. They used words from southern languages, but could not possibly be taken seriously as part of socially meaningful discourse.

110That the missionaries were using a bizarre and unintelligible diction had been made clear to them while they were installing their settings. Qayyum says of William Carey’s Brahmin assistant Golaknath Sharma that «his refraining from correcting Carey’s [translations from English into Bangla] will in all probability have been a form of indirect flattery. Carey was later to realize he had been flattered in this way. On August 9, 1808, he wrote to his sister: ‘…I recollect that after I had preached, or rather thought I had, for two years, a man one day came to me and declared that he could not understand me; and this, long after my flattering teachers had declared that everyone could understand me. I feel the impression which that poor man’s remark made on me to this day. I laboured long, and saw no fruit’» (Qayyum 1982: 131, citing in footnote 18 «Carey to his sister, quoted by E. Carey, op. cit. [Eustace Carey, Memoirs of William Carey, London], 1836, p. 503»).

111The availability of such a critique from below suggests the option of forging a politically meaningful construal of diglossia not as a dismissable zone of formal pathology, but as an active region of heterogeneity in which practices of mutual pedagogy between stronger and weaker stakeholders can be put in place.

112I would like to propose the term ‘amphiglossia’ for a programme of forging counter-sovereignty for the locutionary critique – from the standpoint of concrete locutors in deliberative conversation – of the scriptive discourse of the Sovereign. Such a political goal has some affinity to the old and never implemented proposal that democractic arrangements should give constituents the power to initiate a referendum and recall deputies who fail to perform in parliament.

  • 22 In connection with the research reported here, I must acknowledge my personal indebtedness to
    two (...)

113The notion of amphiglossia, under the Bangla designation ubhoshanketon, is argued for and developed in Dasgupta (in press; to appear). Those papers of mine, responding to other authors in cultural spaces unfamiliar to the readers of the present study, take the debate into regions – such as the option of using the Archimedean language Esperanto to reposition the metalinguistic and political settings of the diglossic games that different social formations play differently – where readers of this paper may not wish to tread. To complete the thread about classical India and the mediaeval mutation, however, I must highlight the fact that amphiglossia echoes the much earlier course correction carried out by the post-classical Sanskrit grammarian Bhartrihari (Pillai 1971, Subrahmanya Iyer 1969), who created the formal and postformal apparatus that enables a democratic reconstrual of the Paninian oeuvre. It is this perspective, underlying the substantivist approach to language, linguistics and translation (Dasgupta 2011), that brings together the epistemic grids of the Esperanto enterprise, formal linguistics and translation studies into politically relevant convergence.22

114My own timidity, or at least bashfulness, prevents me from discussing amphiglossia at greater length in a text like this: it may turn out that colleagues in the relevant fields of inquiry see in the amphiglossia proposal just as much timidity as I see in British colonial arrangements. My notion of intercultural courage is such that I would find it abhorrent if, in response to deficient linguistic and cultural learning by Anglo-French intellectual workers managing nineteenth-century colonies, anybody today proposes to force southern languages down the throats of westerners today. Unwilling to advocate coercive programmes of repair, I hesitate to advocate too strongly any particular programme of persuasion. I do see that the theoretical proposal by Ducrot (1984) to deploy speech act theory in a way that stresses the juridical commitments associated with each act of promising or threatening – to take only one example of a relevant text – is of crucial importance as we fashion a new understanding of the judges and grammarians responsible for the architecture of liberal modernity as it stands. But none of us is in a position to offer a politically viable necessary and sufficient reading list for would-be architects of intercultural change.

115All I can say with confidence is that the very process of developing a common agenda – despite the urgency of the task involved, since such immediate issues as refashioning language policy in ‘Education for All’ and other on-going developmental programmes are at stake – has to be tentative and based on persuasion rather than dramatic demands for ‘extra intercultural learning today’ as some sort of compensation for insufficient homework done by the colonial masters yesterday. For example, I am certainly not asking western readers to learn Bangla in order to be able to read my recent papers and the work of Sen and other colleagues that they respond to. Individuals cannot and should not be forced to take on heavy burdens they cannot carry. There has to be a way to refashion institutions towards democratic settings without inflicting coercive measures on each other in the name of fairness. With some help from critics and other readers, we will soon learn what some of those ways look like.


  • 23   My reference is to the italicized part of following passage: «The thing we find unpalatable about (...)

116I thank Michael McGhee, my friend of thirty years, for resisting southern colonialism in the spiritual realm (he wishes to practise his Buddhism as a self-consciously refashioned world religion). I am grateful to Leonard Cohen23for his insistence that westerners are stuck with western traditions and have to practise them deeply while continuing to accept input from other cultures. I thank Prathama Banerjee for inviting me to the ‘conceptual histories’ exercise of 2011; some elements of the present exposition were incubated in my paper for that workshop. I thank the Esperantic Studies Foundation for material and moral support en route to a viable take on amphiglossia. I thank colleagues in the Droit et Cultures team for making this special number possible and particularly my friend Daphné Romy-Masliah for translating this text (she and I made a joint decision not to inflict my ‘missionary French’ on our blameless readers). The usual disclaimers apply.

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Abel, Rekha. 1998. Diglossia as a linguistic reality. Rajendra Singh (ed.) Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics 1998. New Delhi: Sage. 83-103.

Azad, Humayun (ed.). 1984. Bānglā Bhāshā [prothom khando]: Bānglā Bhāshābishayok Probondhoshankolon [1743-1983]. ‘Bangla language [vol 1]: papers about the Bangla language 1743-1983’. Dhaka: Bangla Akademi.

Bhattacharya, Nairrita (ed. & tr.) 2004. Mugdhabodhaṃ vyākaraṇam, by Vopadeva. Trivandrum: International School of Dravidian Linguistics.

Britto, Francis. 1986. Diglossia: A Study of the Theory. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Chattopadhyay, Suniti Kumar. [Note: his publications in English use the form Chatterji and not Chattopadhyay.] 1939. Bhāshāprokāsh Bānglā Byākoron. ‘A grammatical description of the Bangla language.’ Kolkata: Calcutta University Press.

Coward, Harold G.; Kunjunni Raja, K. 1982. Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol.  5. The philosophy of the grammarians. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. 1990.

Dasgupta, Probal. 1988/1997. The external reality of linguistic descriptions. Canadian Journal of Linguistics 33:4.345-65. Reprinted in Rajendra Singh (ed.) Grammar, Language and Society: Contemporary Indian Contributions. New Delhi/ Thousand Oaks/ London: Sage. 143-66.

Dasgupta, Probal. 1988. Lohārām Shiroratner Bānglā Byākoron. Jiggasa 10:3.229-246.

Dasgupta, Probal. 1993a. The Otherness of English: India’s Auntie Tongue Syndrome. New Delhi/ Thousand Oaks/ London: Sage.

Dasgupta, Probal. 1993b. The roots of structuralism and Loharam Shiroratna. Alok Bhalla, Sudhir Chandra (eds.) Indian Responses to Colonialism in the Nineteenth Century. New Delhi: Sterling. 48-92.

Dasgupta, Probal. 2009. Characterizations in linguistic science. Amiya Dev (ed.) Science, Literature and Aesthetics (History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization vol. XV pt. 3). Delhi: Centre for Studies in Civilization. 149-65.

Dasgupta, Probal. 2010. Compositionality, the prose default, and poetry: a cognitive approach. International Journal of Mind, Brain and Cognition 1:2.55-76.

Dasgupta, Probal. 2011. Inhabiting Human Languages: The Substantivist Visualization. New Delhi: Samskriti, for the Indian Council of Philosophical Research.

Dasgupta, Probal. In press. Gödel ār goddo. ‘Gödel and prose’. Ranjan Mukhopadhyay, ed. (In press) Mihir Chakrabartir Gödel uposthāpon proshongge. ‘On Mihir Chakrabarti’s take on Gödel’. Kolkata: Nandimukh Sansad.

Dasgupta, Probal. To appear. Goddo o Bankimchandra: Ubhoshanketoner prostābonā. ‘Prose and Bankimchandra [Chatterjee]: The adumbration of amphiglossia’. Kobikriti 2014.

Ducrot, Oswald. 1984. Le dire et le dit. Paris: Minuit.

Ferguson, Charles A. 1945a. The Phonology and Morphology of Standard Colloquial Bengali: A dissertation in Oriental Studies. Unpublished University of Pennsylvania dissertation.

Ferguson, Charles A. 1945b. A chart of the Bengali verb. Journal of the American Oriental Society 65:1.54-55.

Harris, Zellig S. 1951. Methods in Structural Linguistics. Repr 1960: Structural Linguistics. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Mukhopadhyay, Anindita. 2006. Behind the Mask: The Cultural Definition of the Legal Subject in Colonial Bengal (1715-1911). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Pillai, K. Raghavan. 1971. The Vakyapadiya : Critical Texts of Cantos I and II (with English translation, summary of ideas and notes). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Qayyum, Muhammad Abdul. 1982. A Critical Study of the Early Bengali Grammars: Halhed to Haughton. Dhaka: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.

Sen, Asok. 2005. Rājnitir pāṭhokrome Robindronāth. ‘Rabindranath’s political itinerary.’ Bangadarshan 10.41-85.

Sen, Asok. 2006. Rājnitir pāṭhokrome Robindronāth: uttorārdho. ‘Rabindranath’s political itinerary: part two.’ Bangadarshan 11.35-125.

Shiroratna, Loharam. 1860. Bāngālā Byākoron ‘Bangla Grammar’. Calcutta: The New Sanskrit Press. [I have seen only the 14th ed. of 1869, an unmodified reprint of the 10th ed. of 1867.]

Singh, Udaya Narayana; Maniruzzaman. 1983. Diglossia in Bangladesh and Language Planning. Kolkata: Gyan Bharati.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1999. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Towards a History of the Vanishing Present. Kolkata: Seagull.

Subramania Iyer, K.A. 1969. Bhartṛhari : a study of the Vākyapadīya in the light of ancient commentaries. Poona: Deccan College.

Tagore, Rabindranath. 1975. Rabindra Racanābali 3. [‘Collected works of Tagore vol. 3’.]Kolkata: Visvabharati.

Tagore, Rabindranath. 1978. Rabindra Racanābali 10. [‘Collected works of Tagore vol. 10’.]Kolkata: Visvabharati.

Tagore, Rabindranath. 1984. Bānglā shabdotatto ‘Bangla philology’ (3rd ed.) Kolkata: Visvabharati.

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1 In English, Qayyum and some others use the term ‘Bengali’ for the language of Bengal (which now stands divided into Bangladesh, i.e. East Bengal, and the Indian state of West Bengal); for the last fifty years or so, decolonization has prompted some of us to call it ‘Bangla’ instead. For certain South Asian languages, the terminological transition from colonial to post-colonial names in English has been completed, e.g. ‘Canarese’ > Kannada. For others, like ‘Assamese’ > Asamiya or ‘Oriya’ > Odia, it is still under way. In the case in question, the fact that the indigenous ethnonym Bāngāli ‘Bengali’ is distinct from the indigenous language name Bānglā – a distinction that many non-Bengalis in and outside India find confusing – may slow down the transition from the language name ‘Bengali’ to ‘Bangla’ in English usage.

2 It may be relevant to mention that I write generative grammar articles myself from time to time.

3 The reader may find the persistent scare-quotes distracting. But removing them would amount to accepting certain egregious claims made by the ‘academic’ sector of the western ideological system. Such acceptance would mean complicity with the culpable omissions that characterize that establishment’s strategy. To any individual reader who finds the scare-quotes distasteful, I apologize for the inconvenience. The point that these scare-quotes are intended to make, however, is institutional, not personal. From this point onwards I shall use the terms ‘south’ and ‘southern’ without those quotes.

4 Again I feel like hiding in a footnote when I admit that I have done some sociolinguistics myself (Dasgupta 1993).

5 Vopadeva’s adaptation of Pāṇini’s theory-focused grammarAṣṭādhyāyī to the needs of pedagogy has served as the basis for Sanskrit learning in Bengal for centuries. Vopadeva’s grammar of Sanskrit, Mugdhabodhaṃ vyākaraṇam, has recently been translated into English in its entirety with serious commentary (Bhattacharya 2004).

6 I have drawn these examples from the earlier discussion (Dasgupta 1988, 1993b), to which the reader is referred for a more complete account of the way Shiroratna balances descriptive and pedagogic imperatives in his work.

7   An account of their successful campaign in favour of dismantling overt diglossia is available in Singh and Maniruzzaman (1983), Dasgupta (1993a). For original documents, see Azad (1984), Tagore (1984).

8 Tagore (1984); see also writings by Tagore and his allies in Azad’s (1984) compilation.

9 In his footnote 16, Qayyum cites “‘A letter of Warren Hastings on Wilkins’ translation of Bhagvat-Geeta, addressed to Nathaniel Smith Esqr’ in Asiatick Miscellany, vol. II, 1786, p. 315.”

10   Qayyum references it as A Grammar of the Bengal Language (Hoogly, 1778).

11 In his footnote 14, Qayyum writes: «We shall attempt to show that the word ‘assisted’ in Carey’s vocabulary was often equivalent to ‘prepared the first drafts in the appropriate Indian language’».

12   It is possible to apportion discredit with some precision here: Ferguson (1945a: 63) knew that the word /doṛi/ has a retroflex /ṛ/ in it and means ‘rope’.

13   I hope it is clear to all readers that I have Ferguson in mind, not Chomsky. Ferguson, like Qayyum’s grammarians, relies heavily on his informants; in paragraph 0.2 of the Preface to his dissertation Ferguson writes, “The grammar could not have been written, of course, without the assistance of Dr. B.V. Mukerji and Mr. N.B. Mondell, who have always been willing to help me and willing to answer patiently the questions with which I have constantly troubled them. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Dr. Mukerji, whose phenomenal mastery of both Bengali and English idiom made much of my work incalculably easier and actually made practicable a serious study of the language in the sort time available”. More details about his informants are given in Chapter 1, where Ferguson (1945a: 2-3) uses the technique of damning Suniti Kumar Chatterji with faint praise in order to prevent the reader from even noticing the very existence of Chatterji’s descriptive Bangla grammar (Chattopadhyay 1939), which standard scholarly practices in that period should have required Ferguson to read with full seriousness. Not only does Ferguson not refer to a single academic text published in Bangla; he goes so far as to extol Halhed as a precursor and to whimsically adopt a piece of Halhed’s grammatical terminology (Ferguson 1945a: 64n2).

14 It is significant that the diglossia paper carefully steers clear of the facts of Bangla. Even a cursory reading of Ferguson (1945a) shows that he learnt of the importance of the acrolect/ basilect duality during his doctoral work in Bengal.

15 Bengal-specific literary evidence for the fact that this process was still vibrant up to the British take-over, available in Mukundaram’s Chandimangal, Bharatchandra’s Annadamangal or Ramprasad Sen’s lyrics, has long been commonplace in standard academic commentary in and on Bangla literature.

16 The wording here only half-seriously alludes to Spivak’s (1999: 244-311) rearticulation of her ‘can the subaltern speak?’ argument. However, much of the present exposition is seriously indebted to that rearticulation, in ways that must be obvious.

17 Sen’s note 249 references «Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Sāhitte ādhunikotā’ [‘Modernity in literature’], Sāhitter swarup [‘The essence of literature’], Kolkata [: Visvabharati], 1350 B[engali Era, = 1943 A.D.], p. 24».

18 Sen references Tagore’s article ‘Swadeshi samāj’ (Tagore 1975: 526-558).

19 Sen references Tagore’s book Ātmashakti (Tagore 1975: 515-636).

20 Sen references Tagore (1978: 574), a passage in the article ‘Prosonggo kathā 5’ (‘Occasional remarks 5’, Tagore 1978: 572-575).

21 Sen references Tagore (1978: 623), a passage from his article ‘Desher kathā’ (‘On our country’, Tagore 1978: 619-623).

22 In connection with the research reported here, I must acknowledge my personal indebtedness to
two scholars who remain committed to intercultural dialogue under adverse circumstances, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Ben Anderson, who provided moral support and relevant input while this paper and some pieces leading up to it were being written. That they are able to see and acknowledge the democratic potential of Esperanto makes me less pessimistic about the disabling effects of western academia than I might have been.

23   My reference is to the italicized part of following passage: «The thing we find unpalatable about the law», [Cohen] says, «is that it is there to protect property, not the spirit. It is no longer holy. We rebel. But what we’ve been calling a revolution we should call a return. As soon as the old law is dead – as soon as everything becomes possible – you suddenly learn the necessity for law. Things have to be placed in order again. So we will have to write a new law. One which is meaningful to us. A very pedestrian law about how to behave with one another».

«‘People keep saying India, India, India. But the Indian vocabulary is much too precise for us. Our natural vocabulary is Judaeo-Christian. That is our blood-myth. We have to rediscover law from inside our own heritage, and we have to rediscover the crucifixion. The crucifixion will again be understood as a universal symbol, not as just an experiment in sadism or masochism or arrogance. It will have to be rediscovered because that’s where man is at. On the cross’» (William Kloman, ‘Leonard Cohen’, repr. from The New York Times 1968 in Songs of Leonard Cohen, New York: Collier, 1969, pp 4-5; this quote is from p. 5).

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Probal Dasgupta, « Judges and Grammarians in Britain’s Liberal Pedagogic Performance: a Diglossic Approach to Colonial Bengal »Droit et cultures, 67 | 2014, 151-186.

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Probal Dasgupta, « Judges and Grammarians in Britain’s Liberal Pedagogic Performance: a Diglossic Approach to Colonial Bengal »Droit et cultures [En ligne], 67 | 2014-1, mis en ligne le 07 juillet 2014, consulté le 02 février 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Probal Dasgupta

Probal Dasgupta, Ph.D. (Linguistique), 1980, New York University, a enseigné à New York, San Francisco, Melbourne, Barlaston, Calcutta, Pune, Hyderabad. Il est depuis 2006 à l’Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Il a notamment dirigé Indian Linguistics (1982-87), Language Problems and Language Planning (avec Humphrey Tonkin, 1990-), Beletra Almanako (avec Jorge Camacho, Istvan Ertl, 2007-), les séries d’ouvrages Language and Development (avec Udaya Narayana Singh, 1993-2004) et Yearbook of South Asian Languages and Linguistics (avec Rajendra Singh, 1998-06). Il est membre de l’Akademio de Esperanto depuis 1983 [en raison de la traduction de 50 poèmes de Tagore en Esperanto publiés sous le titre Primico, Antwerp: TK/Stafeto, 1977] et depuis 2001, il en assure la Vice-présidence. Membre honoraire de la Linguistic Society of America (2004-), il a été Président of the World Esperanto Association, Universala Esperanto-Asocio (2007-2013). Il a reçu l’Annual Visiting Lectureship in Philosophy 2008-09 décerné par l’Indian Council of Philosophical Research. Il ne compte pas moins de 400 publications en bangla, anglais et esperanto, dans les domaines de la linguistique, de la littérature, de la traduction et de la philosophie. Parmi ses ouvrages en anglais, on compte The Otherness of English: India’s Auntie Tongue Syndrome, New Delhi: Sage, 1993 ; Inhabiting Human Languages: The Substantivist Visualization, Delhi: Samskriti, sous l’égide de l’Indian Council of Philosophical Research. En bangla, il a écrit Kathaar Kriyaakarmo (Dey’s, 1987), Chinno Kathaae Shaajaaye Taroni (Gangchil, 2011), Bhaashaar Bindubishargo (Gangchil, 2013). Hlaapicer Kaando (Samatat, 2006) a été traduit en bangla

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