Language, Emotion, and Politics in South India

Language, Emotion, and Politics in South India

The Making of a Mother Tongue
Lisa Mitchell
Distribution: World
Publication date: 03/18/2009
Format: Paperback 6 b&w photos, 5 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-22069-1
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Edward Cameron Dimock, Jr., Prize in the Indian Humanities, American Institute of Indian Studies

What makes someone willing to die, not for a nation, but for a language? In the mid-20th century, southern India saw a wave of dramatic suicides in the name of language. Lisa Mitchell traces the colonial-era changes in knowledge and practice linked to the Telugu language that lay behind some of these events. As identities based on language came to appear natural, the road was paved for the political reorganization of the Indian state along linguistic lines after independence.

Author Bio

Lisa Mitchell is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and History in the Department of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.


“An exceptionally provocative work, unparalleled and unprecedented, that will certainly exert a profound impact on many areas of scholarship—even, I believe, outside of the area of Indian studies. . . . A wide-ranging and exhilarating intellectual roller-coaster ride.”
 — Phillip B. Wagoner, Wesleyan University

“Written with great zest and clarity, this book deepens our understanding of the complex relationships among linguistic identity, state formation, and individual political participation in South India.”
 — Martha Ann Selby, University of Texas

“There has been an explosion of recent studies of the regional cultures of South Asia built around its major modern languages. Lisa Mitchell's book is an outstanding addition to this fine list. The emergence of modern Telugu, its geographic imagination and its political aspirations, fulfilled at the cost of the self-sacrifice of martyrs, are brilliantly narrated and analyzed in this superb study. Mitchell's prose is crisp and precise, her reasoning is historically informed and theoretically sophisticated, and her ethnography is both sensitive and astute. This book is informative, thought-provoking and a pleasure to read.”
 — Partha Chatterjee, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University and Professor of Political Science, Centre for Studie

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Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration and Spelling
Introduction: A New Emotional Commitment to Language
1. From Language of the Land to Language of the People: Geography, Language, and Community in Southern India
2. Making a Subject of Language
3. Making the Local Foreign: Shared Language and History in Southern India
4. From Pandit to Primer: Pedagogy and Its Mediums
5. From the Art of Memory to the Art of Translation: Making Languages Parallel
6. Martyrs in the Name of Language? Death and the Making of Linguistic Passion
Conclusion: Language as a New Foundational Category