Passions of the Tongue: Language Devotion in Tamil India, 1891-1970 (Studies on the History of Society and Culture)

ISBN 10: 0520208056 / ISBN 13: 9780520208056
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Synopsis: Why would love for their language lead several men in southern India to burn themselves alive in its name? Passions of the Tongue analyzes the discourses of love, labor, and life that transformed Tamil into an object of such passionate attachment, producing in the process one of modern India's most intense movements for linguistic revival and separatism.

Sumathi Ramaswamy suggests that these discourses cannot be contained within a singular metanarrative of linguistic nationalism and instead proposes a new analytic, "language devotion." She uses this concept to track the many ways in which Tamil was imagined by its speakers and connects these multiple imaginings to their experience of colonial and post-colonial modernity. Focusing in particular on the transformation of the language into a goddess, mother, and maiden, Ramaswamy explores the pious, filial, and erotic aspects of Tamil devotion. She considers why, as its speakers sought political and social empowerment, metaphors of motherhood eventually came to dominate representations of the language.

From the Inside Flap: "An important and original book providing a completely new perspective on the intellectual and cultural history of southern India. . . . Sumathi Ramaswamy has both produced a major work of comparative history and made the finest scholarly contribution to the intellectual and cultural history of modern Tamil Nadu to date."—Nicholas B. Dirks, author of The Hollow Crown

"The most thorough account of the history of the symbolic profusion of a language—any language—I have ever read . . . The scholarship is extraordinary, and Ramaswamy is quite likely the most knowledgeable on this subject in the whole of India—nay, the world."—E. Valentine Daniel, author of Charred Lullabies: Chapters in an Anthropography of Violence

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