Reflections on Hindi and history
Pace, Colin Gaylon
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In this paper, I consider historical periods, linguistic categories, and social theories in relation to Hindi in order to trace out the character and trajectory of the language. From sixteenth-century courtly contexts, to the adoption of the Devanagari script in the twentieth century by nationalists, Hindi has a polyvalent and yet specific history. I discuss these contexts in which social contact led to linguistic change and in which Hindi acquired many of the lexical, syntactical, and phonological characteristics by which it is recognized today. I conclude with a section that considers the motif of language and power, and I suggest that the production of knowledge and power in language use, offers both the means of distinction and expression or, in another sense, of hierarchy and communitas. A thread that runs throughout the paper is attention to the contexts in which language use enables elaboration and in which elaboration is eschewed in order to attain social unity. Pursuing a descriptive historical-linguistic project, I neither affirm nor deny the politics of such language use, but rather I indicate the ways in which actors and agents use Hindi to help articulate their agency.