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Languages and Nations: The Dravidian Proof in Colonial Madras / Edition 1

Languages and Nations: The Dravidian Proof in Colonial Madras / Edition 1

by Thomas R. TrautmannThomas R. Trautmann


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British rule of Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|India brought together two very different traditions of scholarship about language, whose conjuncture led to several intellectual breakthroughs of lasting value. Two of these were especially important: the conceptualization of the Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|Indo-European language family by Sir William Jones at Calcutta in 1786—proposing that Sanskrit is related to Persian and languages of Europe—and the conceptualization of the Dravidian language family of South Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|India by F.W. Ellis at Madras in 1816—the “Dravidian proof,” showing that the languages of South Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|India are related to one another but are not derived from Sanskrit. These concepts are valid still today, centuries later. This book continues the examination Thomas R. Trautmann began in Aryans and British Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|India (1997). While the previous book focused on Calcutta and Jones, the current volume examines these developments from the vantage of Madras, focusing on Ellis, Collector of Madras, and the Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|Indian scholars with whom he worked at the College of Fort St. George, making use of the rich colonial record. Trautmann concludes by showing how elements of the Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|Indian analysis of language have been folded into historical linguistics and continue in the present as unseen but nevertheless living elements of the modern.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520244559
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 11/04/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 321
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Thomas R. Trautmann is Marshall D. Sahlins Collegiate Professor of History and Anthropology at the University of Michigan. Among his books are Aryans and British Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|India (UC Press, 1997), Lewis Henry Morgan and the Ícaro|Ícaro|Ícaro|Invention of Kinship (UC Press, 1987), and Dravidian Kinship (1981).

Read an Excerpt

Languages and Nations

Conversations in Colonial South India

By Thomas R. Trautmann

University of California Press

Copyright © 2006

Thomas R. Trautmann

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-24455-9

Chapter One

Explosion in
the Grammar Factory

In the European thought of the eighteenth century, languages and nations
were understood to be parallel, in that the histories of both were viewed
as governed by genealogical relations and linked; therefore, the genealogical
relations among languages could serve to extend the reach of historical
memory concerning the relations among nations and to repair it
where it was defective. Language history in this sense became a new tool
for ethnology on a universal scale, producing original and unexpected
groupings of kindred languages that have in many cases endured to the
present. To supply this new ethnological project with the raw material
on which it operated required the production of grammars and dictionaries
virtually without limit and covering the entire world-an explosion
in the grammar factory that continues to this day.

Several of these new and still-valid groupings are associated with
British India: the Indo-European language family, which is the best known
and the pattern for all the others; the Malayo-Polynesian language family;
the Indo-Aryan origins of the Romani language; and the Dravidian
language family. Of these four cases, the emergence of theconcept of a
Dravidian language family has the richest archive, available in hitherto
unexamined colonial records of Madras. The first published proof of the
Dravidian language family appeared in British-Indian Madras in 1816,
the product of a circle of scholars associated with the College of Fort St.
George. In this book I examine the languages-and-nations project that
the British brought with them to India in the light of the Dravidian proof,
and vice versa; that is, this book moves on two planes, using each to illuminate
the other. The premise of the book is that the exceptional productiveness
of British India as a terrain for the languages-and-nations
project of Europe had to do with the exceptional development of language
analysis in India since the times of Panini and earlier. The conjuncture
of these two traditions of language analysis in British India can be
examined at close quarters through the Dravidian proof.

The first two chapters concern, respectively, the European and Indian
traditions of language analysis. In the remaining chapters the discussion
turns to Madras and the Dravidian proof. In the present chapter I examine
well-known material, including the formation of the Indo-European
concept, but from a new direction, and interpret it in a way that departs
considerably from the received view. I begin with the idea of what I call
locational technologies, the more inclusive set that includes the languages-and-nations
project and its genealogical scheme of locating particulars
in relation to one another.


The propensity to exaggerate the originality of one's thoughts is a failing
that is perhaps most acute among those who do not work in teams
as the laborers in the vineyards of the natural and social sciences do. Humanities
scholars, given to the solitary mode of production, most often
work in caves or in studies-like St. Jerome who, as translator of the
Bible into Latin, an immensely successful book, is something of a patron
saint of scholars. We have two images of St. Jerome. In one he is shown
living in a rough cave, with ink and paper at hand, smiting his breast
with a stone, saying to himself, as I imagine it, "I must finish my book!"
The scholar in agony is paired with another image, of which Albrecht
Dürer has made so appealing a rendering, that of the great scholar in his
study, a tame lion at his feet, sunlight streaming through the window:
the scholar happy in his work. I think of these two opposed images, of
scholarly agony and pleasure, as St. Jerome before and after tenure. In
both, the scholar is-not counting the lion-utterly alone.

For historians and others writing in solitude (I include myself), it is
all too easy to be seduced by the pleasing notion of one's own originality,
lured by its inherent sweetness and egged on by romantic ideas of
individual work of literary genius and the individual scientific breakthrough.
Through the distorting optic of an exaggerated sense of individual
originality, the social and the historical pass out of view, and a
single self occupies the center of the field of vision. It takes special effort
to remember that every intellectual project derives its meaning in relation
to larger, collective projects that long preceded and will long outlive
the individual, and that the text written by an individual contains
within it many voices of a continuing conversation. When we open out
the field of vision to its widest extent, the individual work becomes a
speck in a larger intellectual project that is the work of many hands across
many nations and centuries, It is in relation to this wider field that the
efforts of individuals are rendered significant and lasting.

One such project of the longue durée is the charting of the heavens,
a project that has been underway since the times of the ancient Sumerians,
perhaps longer, and which we have every reason to think will continue
in process as long as there is a human race to carry it on. Astronomy
above all seems to have a unitary history that combines the work
of countless individuals of many nations over a very long time. John Playfair,
speaking at the end of the eighteenth century, put it nicely when he
said that the successive developments in the observation of the heavens
and the reasoning about them comprise "an experiment on the human
race, which has been made but once" (Playfair 1790:136). It is this compelling
sense of singularity that puts astronomy at the heart of ideas about
science as a progressive accumulation of knowledge that is universal.

Another such project is astronomy's inverse, the mapping of the earth's
surface. Yet others are the construction of a unitary chronology of the
past, and the classification of nations and languages-the topic of this
book. We may call all of these locational projects because they define
representational spaces and represent entities as locations within those

The space of each of these locational projects of the longue durée is
defined by what, for want of a better word, I will call a technology of
location. The star chart is a good example. It defines its space by dividing
the sky as seen from earth with lines of declination and right ascension.
Within that space one determines the placing of each heavenly body
in terms of degrees (or hours), minutes, and seconds. Those units bear
witness to the Mesopotamian origins of this locational project: 360 degrees
in the whole circle of the sky (or 24 hours), 60 minutes in a degree,
60 seconds in a minute, in the base 60 numbering system of the Sumerians.
Every star in the heavens has its position fixed by a pair of numbers.
The star Aldebaran, for example, is at right ascension 4 h. 30 m.,
declination 16º19'. The relation between any pair of stars is a derivative
of their positions within this space.

The star chart, like the other locational projects, arose in the deep past
and is very much in use today. This long-term intellectual venture, carried
forward by the incremental contributions of innumerable individuals
over many centuries and across many different countries and cultures,
this vast and largely anonymous collective effort, is, like the others, a
part of the living core of modernity. Yet precisely because it is so very
central it is practically invisible. No deep rupture, no Kuhnian paradigm
shift, has cast it aside. Not even the famous shift from an earth-centered,
Ptolemaic conception of the planetary system to a sun-centered, Copernican
one has upset the structure of the star chart.

The space of the star chart first developed as a fiction that, though false,
turns out to be highly useful: the useful fiction that the sky is the interior
of a titanic sphere, on the surface of which the stars are hung. This imagined
sphere was then marked off into sectors by a rectilinear grid as a locational
technique to fix the heavenly bodies in place for study. Or perhaps,
in the beautiful metaphor of an ancient Sumerian poem, the sky is
the tablet of lapis lazuli upon which the goddess Nidaba inscribes cuneiform
signs, the stars, which tell the destinies of human beings down below.

For the study of the earth, this imagined celestial sphere was projected
back onto the real sphere, or spheroid, of the earth, for which it is both
useful and a reasonably true representation. The earth, in turn, was divided
into sectors by degrees of longitude and latitude, which define a related
locational space. Thus the earthly space was theorized through astronomy.
It was astrology, however, that was the connective tissue between
the two projects of mapping the stars and mapping the earth, the belief,
that is, in the influence of the heavenly bodies upon earthly destinies-for
what the goddess Nidaba writes on the tablet of the sky is the destinies
of humans, if only we can read it. The desire to read that sky tablet
of our futures was a powerful motivation for the entire enterprise from
the start, but it was the locational projects themselves that survived the
ultimate casting out, from the table of recognized sciences, of the ages-old
project of astrology that first set these sciences in motion.

Ptolemy of Alexandria, in Roman Egypt of the second century A.D.,
wrote works of astronomy, astrology, and geography that became canonical
for later ages and had an immense influence in the Christian West,
the Muslim Middle East, and beyond, into Central Asia and India. Although
Ptolemy was not the inventor of the highly theorized space of the
locational projects of astronomy and geography, he raised the science of
Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece to a higher level, and it was through
his writings that this tradition was transmitted to future ages. We know
the names of some of his predecessors in the development of this space,
such as Marinus, Hipparchus, and Poseidonius. But the names of the
many Mesopotamians and Egyptians who had made celestial observations
for two thousand years before Ptolemy are largely unknown. There
is a certain justice in calling this astronomical and geographical space
Ptolemaic, and I shall do so in this book, but it must be understood that
it was not his invention; it was the culmination, in his works, of a long-continued
effort by many, many people.

The Ptolemaic grid of declination and right ascension for the mapping
of objects in space from the viewpoint of earth, and the grid of longitude
and latitude for the mapping of objects on the earth's surface as
seen from space, have become the taken-for-granted frameworks within
which those mappings proceed as a steady accumulation of knowledge
by increments-our surest example of progress in knowledge. Such locational
devices are not mere metrics, like the meter stick that stands
inertly in the corner until it is taken up to measure something. The grid
defining Ptolemaic space is, rather, like a vessel that is meant to be filled;
it has, as it were, the project of its filling engineered into it. There is nothing
passive about the grid. It asks to be filled up with an infinite number
of points of information, put into meaningful relation to one another
through their locations in the grid. It is a project engineered into a tool
for its accomplishment, a locational project embedded within the locational
technology for carrying it out.

While the locational project of mapping the earth has an event-filled
history that we can partially capture, the locational technology is the enduring,
defining frame for the project. One might suppose that Ptolemaic
space has had a continuous existence from antiquity to the present, but
that is not the case. Most of the first printed atlases produced in Europe
and many early Arab maps were Ptolemaic, in the double sense that the
maps were framed by the Ptolemaic grid of longitude and latitude, and
the maps themselves depicted the features of the earth's surface as represented
in the tables of places and their longitudes and latitudes given
in the text of Ptolemy's Geography (see figure 1). But it is a question
whether the maps attributed to Ptolemy and attached to his Geography
are truly his or are of later design. Moreover, many maps of antiquity
and of the European middle ages were clearly made in a quite different
space that is not Ptolemaic; examples are pilgrimage maps and the well-known
T-O maps, in which a circular earth is divided into three continents
by a T-shaped watery body: Asia at the top, Europe to the left, and
Africa to the right. For a very long time many, indeed most, maps were
not constructed within the Ptolemaic space, especially in the middle ages.

Moreover, there were serious alternatives to the Ptolemaic space that
had possibilities for cumulative, scientific mapping and that might have
displaced it. A leading example comes from the portolan, or harbor-finding,
sea charts for sailors developed in Catalonia and coastal northern Italy
in the thirteenth century. These charts had wind roses, or compass roses,
with lines (called rhumb lines or loxodromes) radiating outward from
their centers. The four-sided figures formed by the intersection of lines
from several compass roses at standard locations could define the position
of any point in the open ocean and fix the locations of the coastline
for purposes of navigation, just as latitudes and longitudes could. We
have several surviving examples of the transferal of these principles to
the mapping of the world as a whole, in competition with the Ptolemaic
maps (see figure 2). The space of the portolan maps still survives today,
marginally, in the navigational charts used at sea, but always in combination
with the now standard Ptolemaic coordinates of longitude and

Again, the Ptolemaic map of the world, and Ptolemy's tables of locations
which the map illustrates, contained many errors which were exposed
and corrected by the new knowledge accumulating through European
seagoing. Since the new knowledge contradicted Ptolemy's tables
and his highly theorized world map, it is not surprising that we have early
printed maps based on the new knowledge that cast aside the Ptolemaic
grid of longitude and latitude along with the Ptolemaic map. The history
of mapping in Europe since the first printed atlases of the Renaissance
in brief is the story of how the map of Ptolemy was ushered out and replaced
by the knowledge newly acquired on the ground, even as the Ptolemaic
grid was made the standard frame for the space of that new, improved
mapping. We may say that Ptolemaic space survived not only the
overthrow of Ptolemy's planetary system by that of Copernicus but also
the demise of his own map of the world. Everything became obsolete but
the framework, while the framework itself has proven exceptionally enduring
and, indeed, indispensable. Cheap hand-held Global Positioning
System devices, drawing upon hugely expensive geosynchronous satellites
circling the earth many times a day, now routinely locate objects of
all kinds in Ptolemaic space.

We are all familiar with the graticule of longitude and latitude because
it appears on maps and globes and is taught in school. The comparable
technology for the location of historical events, however, is not well
known, being a more dispersed entity with a more backstage existence.
Yet all written history depends upon the chronologies that ancient nations
worked out for themselves and the synchronisms among the national
histories established by the Christian chronologers of the early centuries
after Christ. It was Eusebius, in the fourth century A.D., who constructed
a chronological canon or table that synthesized national chronologies
into a single whole for the writing of a history of Christianity. This table
is the foundation of world-historical chronologies to this day.

The Eusebian chronological canon is a locational technology for time.
It is a simple device in which events in the chronologies of the various
ancient nations are put side by side in columns, such that each horizontal
line represents a year of synchronic time. Thus, reading across the
columns one finds the synchronisms between events in the various national
histories. It was by this means that biblical history was synthesized
with the Greek chronological system of Olympiads, and these plus
the national histories of the Romans, Chaldeans, Egyptians, and others
were brought into a synoptic table that rendered possible the writing of
a history across nations-a universal history.


Excerpted from Languages and Nations
by Thomas R. Trautmann
Copyright © 2006 by Thomas R. Trautmann.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1. Explosion in the Grammar Factory
2. P1âini and Tolk1ppiyar
3. Ellis and His Circle
4. The College
5. The Dravidian Proof
6. Legacies
7. Conclusions

Appendix A. The Legend of the Cow-Pox
Appendix B. The Dravidian Proof

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