ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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‘Study Farsi and Sell Oil’

Colonialism, Gender and Language in Late 19th-century India

Focusing on two texts—Ismat Chughtai’s “Dust of the Caravan” and Ashapurna Devi’s The First Promise (Prothom Protishruti in Bengali)—this article studies the mechanism and consequences of Farsi’s loss of administrative signifi cance, consequent interiorisation and “feminisation”—the shift from a masculine to a feminine accomplishment—in light of the 19th-century discourses of home and abroad.

Until the early 19th century, Farsi was the most important admini­strative language in India. But it gradually lost relevance thereafter, and in the course of the next century, it was erased from the public sphere. This shift in the reception and importance of Farsi becomes further interesting if studied through the lenses of the unique distinction of gender roles in colonial India and the discourses of the public sphere.

Language, as Saussure (1959) puts it, is a social fact and hence is also an interesting means of observing sociocultural contexts and transformations. Bakhtin (2008) asserts that language, as it evo­lves, is always stratified not into dialects, but other languages. He calls these languages “socio-ideological: languages of social groups, ‘professional’ and ‘gen­eric’ languages, languages of generati­ons and so forth” (Bakhtin 2008: 271–72).

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Updated On : 17th Oct, 2022
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