Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Social Space of Language

The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial Punjab

Farina Mir
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 294
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Social Space of Language
    Book Description:

    This rich cultural history set in Punjab examines a little-studied body of popular literature to illustrate both the durability of a vernacular literary tradition and the limits of colonial dominance in British India. Farina Mir asks howqisse, a vibrant genre of epics and romances, flourished in colonial Punjab despite British efforts to marginalize the Punjabi language. She explores topics including Punjabi linguistic practices, print and performance, and the symbolic content ofqisse.She finds that although the British denied Punjabi language and literature almost all forms of state patronage, the resilience of this popular genre came from its old but dynamic corpus of stories, their representations of place, and the moral sensibility that suffused them. Her multidisciplinary study reframes inquiry into cultural formations in late-colonial north India away from a focus on religious communal identities and nationalist politics and toward a widespread, ecumenical, and place-centered poetics of belonging in the region.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94764-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    The following story has been circulating in northwest India for at least the past four hundred years: A young man named Dhido sets out from his village Takht Hazara on an epic journey in search of the renowned beauty named Hir. Through trials and tribulations, he makes his way to Hir’s hometown of Jhang, where the two fall in love at first sight. Their love blossoms on the banks of the Chenab River, where Ranjha (as Dhido is always called) takes cattle to pasture each day, Hir’s father having hired him—at her suggestion—as a cowherd. Hir and Ranjha’s...

  7. 1 Forging a Language Policy
    (pp. 27-61)

    The East India Company’s half-century of vigorous territorial expansion in India began with the marquess of Wellesley’s governor-generalship in 1798 and culminated in the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. The Punjab’s Sikh kingdom of Lahore (map 3), established by Ranjit Singh in 1799, had proved a particularly capable adversary, and the Company conquered the region only through a combination of political intrigue and military might. The new colonial administrative unit that resulted from this conquest—Punjab province—encompassed all or parts of what had been the Mughalsubas (provinces) of Lahore, Multan, and Kabul before they had been wrested...

  8. 2 Punjabi Print Culture
    (pp. 62-90)

    In May 1877, the Punjab University College Senate produced a document entitled “The Punjabi Language, a Memorandum.” The memo was the report of a committee constituted to consider the following two questions: “What is Punjabi?” and “Is it a literary language?” These questions had been raised in the senate when a faction of senators called for Punjabi to be included as one of the languages in which students could be examined at the college.¹ The proposal alarmed another faction of senators, who argued that if Punjabi were admitted alongside the more established Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit, then other...

  9. 3 A Punjabi Literary Formation
    (pp. 91-122)

    Punjabi print culture in the late nineteenth century continued many distinct practices of precolonial Punjabi literary culture. Most significantly, during the first half-century of print production, the overwhelming majority of Punjabi printed books were composed in classical verse genres. As discussed in chapter 2, this continuity provides evidence of the resilience and significance of these literary traditions for their composers and audiences. If the genres of late nineteenth-century Punjabi printed books show the tenacity of classical compositional styles, then they also point to the aural and performative dimensions of Punjabi literature. This is because these genres (theqissa, var, dole,...

  10. 4 Place and Personhood
    (pp. 123-149)

    In her important bookFiction in the Archives,historian Natalie Zemon Davis underscores how, in writing histories from traditional archival records, historians often work with texts that have literary qualities, what Davis refers to as their “fictional qualities” or “their forming, shaping, and molding sentiments: the crafting of a narrative.”¹ Despite the influence of the linguistic and cultural turns made by historians in the last twenty years, moving actual fiction to the center of scholarly analysis—as opposed to using government archives with “fictional” aspects—has remained more the purview of literary critics than that of historians.²

    This book argues...

  11. 5 Piety and Devotion
    (pp. 150-182)

    This chapter will focus on the proper performance of piety and devotion, a theme that figures prominently in both the form and the content of colonial-era compositions ofHir-Ranjha.Discourse on piety and devotion in this literature was no new phenomenon; it is discernible in precolonial texts as well. Important differences emerged, however. First, many colonial-era texts highlight precisely those moments in the narrative where the proper performance of piety is at issue. This is done in one of two ways. In epic-length texts, poets elaborated such scenes, adding depth to their treatment by inserting additional narrator commentary, dialogue between...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 183-194)

    It should now be evident that when Amrita Pritam wrote her elegiac poem “To Waris Shah,” in the wake of India’s partition in 1947, she was invoking something like the ethos of the Punjabi literary formation. “Today corpses lie in the thickets and full of blood is the Chenab [River],” Pritam wrote. “Somebody mixed poison into the five rivers, and those waters watered the earth. . . . Lost is the flute where once sounded the pipings of love. Ranjha and his kind have forgotten how to play.”¹ Indeed, through the rest of her life (she died in 2005), Pritam...

  13. APPENDIX A. Colonial-Era Hir-Ranjha Texts Consulted
    (pp. 195-202)
  14. APPENDIX B. Punjabi Newspapers, 1880–1905
    (pp. 203-205)
  15. APPENDIX C. Punjabi Books Published Prior to 1867
    (pp. 206-208)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 209-244)
    (pp. 245-270)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 271-278)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)