Skip to main content

En/gendering Language: The Poetics of Tamil Identity

  • Sumathi Ramaswamy (a1)

Since the publication of Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities almost a decade ago, historians and anthropologists have become accustomed to think of the nation—that bedrock of our existence as moderns—as an imagined entity.1 Yet it is problematic, at least to this author, that while the spotlight is (once again) on the nation, the other key actor in Anderson's formulation, the language through which a specific nation is subjectively conceived and imagined, appears to have been relegated to the sidelines. By proposing that languages, too, be considered cultural and symbolic entities that are themselves enrolled into projects of imagination, this essay assumes its beginnings in questions provoked by Anderson's analysis. Because languages themselves are subjected to multiple imaginations, how indeed can they enable the harmonious and contention-free imagination of communities? How indeed do they acquire the capacity to generate feelings of “contemporaneity,” “solidarity,” and “belonging,” as Anderson proposes? Do they not just as well have the power to scatter and disaggregate such sentiments? These are questions occasioned by more than just theoretical curiosity. In many parts of the world, the diverse imaginations that cling to languages have frequently sparked off contestation, divisiveness, and even violence, especially in multi-lingual pluralities like India, the focus of this article.

Hide All
Abu-Lughod Lila. 1986. Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Agulhon Maurice. 1980. Marianne into Battle: Republican Imagery and Symbolism in France, 1789–1880. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Anderson , Benedict , 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.
Appadurai Arjun. 1986. “Theory in Anthropology: Center and Periphery.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 28:3, 356–61.
Arunakirinatar . 1937. Tamilḻttāy Pulampal [The Lamentation of Tamilḻttāy]. Madras: Cenkuntamittiran Press.
Asher Ronald. 1968. “The Contribution of Scholars of British Origin to the Study of Tamil in Britain,” in Thaninayagam X. S., ed., Tamil Studies Abroad: A Symposium, 4380. Kuala Lampur: International Association of Tamil Research.
Badinter Elisabeth. 1980. Mother Love, Myth and Reality: Motherhood in Modern History. New York: Macmillan.
Bagchi Jasodhara. 1990. “Representing Nationalism: Ideology of Motherhood in Colonial Bengal.” Economic and Political Weekly (Review of Women Studies), 25:4243, 6571.
Bailey Richard W. 1991. Images of English: A Cultural History of the Language. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Barnett Marguerite. 1976. Politics of Cultural Nationalism in South India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Baskaran S. Theodore. 1981. The Message Bearers: The Nationalist Politics and the Entertainment Media in South India, 1880–1945. Madras: Cre-A.
Bharatidasan . 1948. Inti Etirppup Pāṭṭu [Songs of Hindi Opposition]. Pondicherry: Bharatidasan Publications.
Bharatidasan . 1978. Tamilḻukku Amutenṉṟu Per [Tamil, Verily, Is Ambrosia]. Madras: Pumpukar.
Bharatidasan . 1978a. Vēṅkaiyē Elḻuka! [Rise, O Tiger!]. Madras: Pumpukar.
Bharatidasan . 1986. Pāratitācan Kavitaikaḷ [The Songs of Bharatidasan], Vol. 1. Madras: Pari Nilayam.
Bharatidasan . 1987. Pāratitācan Kavitaikaḷ [The Songs of Bharatidasan], Vol. 2. Madras: Pari Nilayam.
Brass Paul. 1970. Language, Religion and Politics in North India. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Brass Paul. 1990. “Language Problems,” in his Politics of India Since Independence, 135–68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Caldwell Robert. 1856. A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages. London: Harrison.
Chatterjee Partha. 1986. Nationalist Thought in the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? London: Zed.
Chatterjee Partha. 1989. “The Nationalist Resolution of the Women's Question,” in Sangari Kumkum and Vaid Suresh, eds., Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, 233–53. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Cohn Bernard S. 1985. “The Command of Language and the Language of Command,” in Guha Ranajit, ed., Subaltern Studies IV, 276329. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Das Veena. 1986. “Gender Studies, Cross-Cultural Comparison, and the Colonial Organization of Knowledge.” Berkshire Review, 21:5876.
Dasgupta Jyotirindra. 1970. Language Conflict and National Development: Group Politics and National Language Policy in India. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Davin Anna. 1978. “Imperialism and Motherhood.” History Workshop, 5:965.
Dirks Nicholas B. 1992. “Castes of Mind.” Representations, 37:5678.
Edwards John. 1985. Language, Society and Identity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Elmore W. T. 1984 [1913]. Dravidian Gods in Modern Hinduism. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.
Forrester Duncan. 1966. “The Madras Anti-Hindi Agitation, 1965: Political Protest and Its Effect on Language Policy in India.” Pacific Affairs, 39:1936.
Gandhi Mohandas K. 1956. Thoughts on National Language. Ahmedabad: Navjivan.
Gordon David C. 1978. The French Language and National Identity (1930–1975). The Hague: Mouton.
Gramsci , Antonio , 1985. Selections from Cultural Writings, Forgacs David and Nowell-Smith Geoffrey, eds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Grierson George A. 19671968 [1903–28]. The Linguistic Survey of India, Vols. 1–11. l: Motilal Banarsidas.
Halbfass Wilhelm. 1988. India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Hardgrave Robert. 1965. “The Riots in Tamilnad: Problems and Prospects of India's Language Crisis.” Pacific Survey, 5:8, 399407.
Hardgrave Robert. 1966. The Dravidian Movement. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.
Harrison Selig. 1960. India: The Most Dangerous Decades. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Horowitz Donald. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hunt Lynn. 1984. Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Inden Ronald. 1990. Imagining India. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Irschick Eugene F. 1969. Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman Movement and Tamil Separatism, 1916–1929. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Irvine Judith T. 1990. “Registering Affect: Heteroglossia in the Linguistic Express of Emotion,” in Lutz Catherine A. and Abu-Lughod Lila, eds., Language and the Politics of Emotion, 126–61. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jones R. F. 1953. The Triumph of the English Language: A Survey of Opinions Concerning the Vernacular from the Introduction of Printing to the Restoration. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Joseph John E., and Taylor Talbot J., eds. 1990. Ideologies of Language. London: Routledge.
Kailasapathy K. 1970. “Kālantörum Kaṭavul Vālḻttu [Invocation through the Ages],” in his Aṭiyum Muṭiyum [Essays on Tamil Literature], 64119. Madras: New Century Book House.
Kailasapathy K.. 1986 “The Tamil Purist Movement: A Re-evaluation,” in his On Art and Literature, 137. Madras: New Century Book House.
Kakar Sudhir. 1978. The Inner World: A Psycho-Analytic Study of Childhood and Society in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Kalyanasundaran T. V. 1935. Tamilḻccōlai Allatu Kaṭṭurait Tiraṭṭu, Vol. 1 [The Garden of Tamil]. Madras: Sadhu Publications.
Karunanidhi M. 1987. Neñcukku Nīti [Justice of the Heart], Vol. 2. Madras: Tirumakal Nilayam.
King Christopher. 1989. “Forging a New Linguistic Identity: The Hindi Movement in Banaras, 1868–1914,” in Freitag Sandria B., ed., Culture and Power in Banaras: Community, Performance, and Environment, 1880–1980, 179202. Berkeley: University of California Press.
King Christopher. 1991. “Images of Virtue and Vice: The Hindi-Urdu Controversy in Two Nineteenth-Century Hindi Plays,” in Religious Controversy in British India: Dialogues in South Asian Languages, Jones Kenneth W., ed., 123–48. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Kolodny Annette. 1975. The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters. Chapel Hill: University of California Press.
Kothandaraman P. 1986. Tamilḻ Uṇarcci, Tamilḻ Vaḷarcci, Tamilḻ Āṭci [Tamil Consciousness, Tamil Improvement, Tamil Rule]. Madras: Ambuli.
Kumar Krishna. 1990. “Quest for Self-Identity: Cultural Consciousness and Education in the Hindi Region, 1880–1950.” Economic and Political Weekly, 25:25, 1247–55.
Lakoff , George , and Johnson Mark. 1980. Metaphors We Live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lakshmi C. S. 1990. “Mother, Mother-Community, and Mother-Politics in Tamilnadu.” Economic and Political Weekly (Review of Women's Studies), 25:4243, 7283.
Lane Christel. 1981. The Rites of Rulers: Ritual in Industrial Society—The Soviet Case. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Adigal Maraimalai. 1962. Ciṟuvarukkāna Centamilḻ [Pure Tamil Reader for Children]. Madras: Shaiva Siddhanta Kazhagam.
Margolis Maxine L. 1980. Mothers and Such: Views of American Women and Why They Changed. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Metcalf Thomas R. Forthcoming. The Ideologies of the Raj. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Moore Sally F., and Myerhoff Barbara, eds., Secular Ritual. Assen: van Gorcum.
Nagarajan K. 1980. Tamilḻē Ellām [Tamil is Everything]. Madras: Tamil Publishers.
Nambi Arooran K. 1980. Tamil Renaissance and Dravidian Nationalism, 1905–1944. Madurai: Koodal.
Nandy Ashis. 1983. The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Ong Walter. 1977. Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Panchanathan . n.d. Tamiḻ Annai Collukiṟāl [Mother Tamil Speaks]. Ponneri: Tamilccelvi Nilayam.
Pandian Jacob. 1987. Caste, Nationalism and Ethnicity: An Interpretation of Tamil Cultural History and Social Order. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.
Peruncittiranar . 1979. Peruñcittiraṉār Pāṭalkaḷ [Songs of Peruncittiranar]. Madras: Tenmoli.
Presler Frank. 1987. Religion Under Bureaucracy: Policy and Administration for Hindu Temples in South India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kulantai Pulavar. 1972. Pulavar Kuḻantai Pāṭalkaḷ [Songs of Pulavar Kulantai]. Erode: Vela.
Rafael Vicente. 1988. Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Ramanujan A. K. 1990. “Telling Tales.” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 118:4, 241–2.
Ramasami E. V. 1962. Moḻiyum Aṟivum [Language and Knowledge]. Tiruchirapalli: Self-Respect Publications.
Ramasami M.S. 1947. Tirāviṭa Nāṭu Piriviṉaip Pāṭalkaḷ [Songs of Separation of the Dravidian Nation]. Aruppukotai: n. p.
Ramaswamy Sumathi. 1992. “Daughters of Tamil: Language and the Poetics of Womanhood in the Tamilnad.” South Asia Research, 12:1, 3859.
Ramaswamy Sumathi. Forthcoming. “Battling the Demoness Hindi: The Culture of Language Protests in Tamilnad, 1938–1965,” in Freitag Sandria B., ed., Culture as Contested Site: Popular Participation and the State in the Indian Subcontinent. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Ryerson Charles. 1988. Regionalism and Religion: The Tamil Renaissance and Popular Hinduism. Madras: Christian Literature Society.
Said Edward. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Random House.
Sarkar Tanika. 1987. “Nationalist Iconography: Image of Women in 19th-century Bengali Literature.” Economic and Political Weekly, 22:47, 2011–15.
Shulman David. 1980. Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South India Saiva Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sivagnanam M. P. 1970. The History and Growth of Tamil during the Indian War of Independence. Madras: University of Madras.
Stocking George. 1987. Victorian Anthropology. New York: Free Press.
Bharati Subramania. 1987. Pāratiyār Pāṭalkaḷ: Āyvu Patippu [Bharati's Poems: Research Compendium]. Tanjavur: Tamil University Press.
Subramaniyan Shaktidasan. 1939. Tamiḻ Veri [Frenzy of Tamil]. Madras: Sadhu.
Bharati Suddhananda. 1936. Painttamiḻc Cōlai [The Garden of Evergreen Tamil]. Singapore: Anbu Nilayam.
Bharati Suddhananda. 1938. Tamiḻuṇarcci: Essays on the Tamil Renaissance. Ramchandrapuram: Anpu Nilayam.
Bharati Suddhananda. n.d. Tamiḻk Kaṉal [The Fire of Tamil]. Madras: Suddha Nilayam.
Suntharalingam R. 1974. Politics and Nationalist Awakening in South India, 1852–1891. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Suryanarayana Sastri V. K. 1903. Tamiḻmoḻiyiṉ Varalāṟu [History of Tamil Language]. Madurai: V. C. Swaminathan.
Suseendirarajah S. 1980. “Religion and Language in Jaffna Society.” Anthropological Linguistics, 22:8, 345–62.
Tamaraikanni V. P. 1938. Puṉitavati Allatu Tamilar Viṭutalaip Pōr [Punitavati Or the Tamilian Fight for Freedom]. Madras: Sakthi Publications.
Tamil Lexicon, Volume 3. 1982. Madras: University of Madras.
Terdiman Richard. 1985. Discourse I Counter-Discourse: The Theory and Practice of Symbolic Resistance in Nineteenth-Century France. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Thaninayagam Xavier S. 1963. “Regional Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Tamil Literature.” Tamil Culture, 10:1, 123.
Tickner Lisa. 1987. The Spectacle of Women: Imagery of the Suffrage Campaign, 1907–14. London: Chatto and Windus.
Trawick Margaret. 1990. Notes on Love in a Tamil Family. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Uberoi Patricia, 1990. “Feminine Identity and National Ethos in Indian Calendar Art.” Economic and Political Weekly (Review of Women Studies), 25:17, 4148.
Pillai Velayutam. 1971 [1949]. Moḻiyaraci [Queen of Languages]. Madras: ShaivaSiddhanta Kazhagam.
Venkatachalapathy A. R. 1990. “Cuyamariyātai Iyakkamum Caivarum,” [Self-Respect Movement and the Shaivites]. Nāvāviṉ Ārāycci, 35:6378.
Venkatesvara Ayyar V. 1918. Tamiḻum Ataṉ Perumaiyum [Tamil and its Greatness].Pudukottai: published by author.
Visweswaran Kamala. 1990. “Family Subjects: An Ethnography of the ‘Women's Question’ in Indian Nationalism.” Stanford: Stanford University, doctoral dissertation.
Warner Marina. 1985. Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form. New York: Atheneum.
Washbrook David 1989. “Caste, Class and Dominance in Modern Tamil Nadu: Non-Brahmanism, Dravidianism, and Tamil Nationalism,” in Frankel Francine R.and Rao M. S.A., eds., Dominance and State Power in Modern India: Decline of a Social Order, 204–65. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Washbrook David. 1991. “ ‘To Each a Language of His Own’: Language, Culture and Society in Colonial India,” in Corfield Penelope J., ed., Language, History, and Class, 179203. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Whitehead Henry. 1988 [1921]. The Village Gods of South India. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 13 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 229 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.