Zombie Languages, Ambiguous Nationalism, and the Second-Language Acquisition of Sanskrit: An Update on the Imagining Sanskrit Land Project
Patrick McCartney, Phd - JSPS Postdoctoral Fellow - Kyoto University
Date: Tuesday 27 November 2018
Location: Kyoto University, Yoshida Main Campus, Faculty of Letters Main Building (Building 8 https://www.kyoto-u.ac.jp/en/access/main-campus-map.html), Level 2, Seminar Room 3
Time: 9:00am - 10:15am (GMT+9)
The Imagining Sanskrit Land project is a secondary, self-funded project that I attend to in my spare time. I first became interested in this topic of language revival through studies in archaeology; which flowed into higher-level studies in historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, Indo-European studies, and a particular focus on South Asian languages. Learning about communities in India that still speak Sanskrit, in 2009 I spent 3-months conducting my master's research that focused on code-switching/mixing between Hindi and Sanskrit in a Mahāvidyalaya in Gujarat. This is the same ashram where I conducted my PhD fieldwork over 12 months during 2012-13.
Throughout this project I have endeavoured to document how Sanskrit survives as something of a 'zombie language'. I have approached this research through the lens of linguistic human rights, language revival, and second-language acquisition. Over the years spent in India, I met many people from all walks of life who informed me of 'a village in India where everyone speaks Sanskrit'. I became intrigued by this proposition; and more so by the gulf between those who asserted it to be true and those who asserted it to be completely false. In an attempt to ascertain the veracity of these claims and put them into perspective through a sociolinguistic lens, I have over the last 6 years collected many rumours of potential Sanskrit-speaking villages. Due to the lack of funds and time, I am only part-way through ticking these villages off the list. I have purposely avoided documenting the higher-registers of Sanskrit linked to ritual specialists trained in traditional pāṭhaśālas. Instead, I have focused on the villages that have been cultivated as language nests by the RSS and its linguistic wing, Samskrita Bharati. Sanskrit has an interesting role in the moral philosophy of the Hindu nationalist project. So too, the monolithic Indian village, as mythologised by Gandhi, has become ambiguous. At least, due to technological advancements, particularly to do with telecommunication, the journey and barrier between between urban and rural -scapes has become, as Appadurai extols, ambiguous. This has led me to explore issues related to the broader implications of Sanskrit's imposition in areas within India that have less prestigious languages. India has a very poor record in protecting unscheduled languages, and the rate of language shift and linguicide (or glottophagy) is one of the worst amongst nation states https://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/a-language-is-not-just-words-it-s-also-about-political-power-of-the-people/story-fRxRLAdYOEhqZiLoWp4xwJ.html. This is a key topic of concern for the People's Linguistic Study of India https://sari.anu.edu.au/events/sari-annual-public-lecture-2018-professor-g-n-devy-memory-language-and-aphasia-the-future-of-human-speech/. The current Hindutva-inspired regime at the centre of Indian politics, combined with the fascination of Sanskrit within the global yoga episteme, urges us to consider the ethical implications related to the continued vitality and relevance of less prestigious languages within India; which are compromised by the preference for the perceived 'morally superior' political theology related to the devabhāṣā amongst Hindu supremacists, Hindus in general, and global yoga fundamentalists. In short, the global popularity of yoga implicates its consumers in the ongoing push towards language death for minority languages in India. Also, many people believe that a 'pure' Sanskrit is necessary to achieve a utopian Rāmrājya; or, as this term has evolved beyond Gandhi's original sentiment to mean a Hindu rāṣṭhra, or an ethno-nationalist theocracy; however, the logic of this sentiment insists on a 'pure' language being spoken. Yet, even though this idea is deeply problematic for a sociolinguist, and knowing full well that even Ṛgvedic Sanskrit has a couple of hundred loan words from other languages, combined with the imperfect learning of the target language and the interference from the substrate language, the internal logic of this project collapses in on itself.
In preparation for my presentation on Tuesday morning, below are some of my articles and films regarding the topic of Sanskrit Revival in India. I don't expect people to have read or watched them all. Please, at your leisure, explore them.
0) Spoken Sanskrit in a Gujarat Ashram (academic and long) https://www.academia.edu/…/Spoken_Sanskrit_in_a_Gujarat_Ash…
1) Sanitizing Power of Spoken Sanskrit (not academic and short)https://www.academia.edu/…/The_sanitising_power_of_spoken_S…
2) Imagining Sanskrit Land (not academic and short)
3) Reflections on the Imagining Sanskrit Land Project (not academic and short)
4) Jhiri: A Sanskrit-speaking Village in Madhya Pradesh (academic and long)
5) Speaking of the Little Traditions: Agency and Imposition in the 'Sanskrit-speaking' Villages in North India (academic and long)
6) Episode 1 (of 5): Imagining Sanskrit Land (10 mins)
7) The Political Theology of Global Yoga Fundamentalism - Part 1 (not academic and short)
8) The Political Theology of Global Yoga Fundamentalism - Part 2 (not academic and short)
Look forward to seeing you on Tuesday or, if you cannot attend, via the YiJ FB page https://www.facebook.com/yogascapesinjapan/ or Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/yogascapesinjapan/?hl=en
Here is the link to the next conference we are organising. Click HERE to find out more about the themes, dates, locations, etc.
Am so grateful and humbled by the efforts of everyone to come all the way to Kyoto for the Yogascapes' Conference. Here are the different groups that presented over the two days. Some people were presenting at a conference for the first time, and held their own alongside seasoned professors. Every talk provided a variety of fascinating insights and departure points for further stimulating contemplation and conversation about yoga, today, in all its different guises and manifestations. Stay tuned, for the release of the videos, more photos, and hopefully an edited volume of the presentations, either as an edited book or special edition of a journal. See you at Yogascapes 2.0 in 2019!