I propose to raise a set of interrelated questions
and look for answers. Even if the answers I offer are not found acceptable,
I hope they will at least serve to stimulate further thinking.
LANGUAGE AS POWER?
The first question is: Is there some kind of power in language?
Is language the manifestation of some power?
Let me call in as a witness Desdemona.
You will recall how Othello was charged with using the power
of witchcraft in order to seduce her.
This is what Othello has to say (Othello: Act 1: Scene 3)
Her father lov’d me, oft invited me;
Still question’d me the story of my life
From year to year…..
I ran it through…….
Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field;
Of hairbreadth scapes……
This to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline…..
She’d come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up my discourse
……often did (I) beguile her of her tears….
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs
That heaven had made her such a man.
And bade me, if I had friend that lov’d her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story,
And that would woo her. Upon
this hint I spake;
She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d;
And I lov’d her that she did pity them.
This only is the witchcraft I have us’d.
Here comes the lady; let her witness it.
On being asked Desdemona
confirms that Othello had indeed won her through the power of words.
In our own Indian civilisation we greatly praise prowess with
words. In the bhān*a plays of Sanskrit
the character of a vit*a is known for his advancing the plot
by virtue of his linguistic adeptness.
The character of son*gād)yā in marathi tamāśā
theatre could easily be a latter day descendent, as also the Bhojpurya
Kakkaji in the Hindi television serials.
One looks for skill in language not only in a speaker or a
writer but in a listener or a reader as wel,l. Whether it is the speaker
or the listener, the writer or the reader, properly activating the
relationship between words and the meanings is a job shared between
the communicator and the addressee.
As the listener listens, words (śabda) on the one
hand and the power that activates words (śabdaśakti)
on the other hand conjoin in actual word use (śabdaprayoga).
It is from this actual use that meanings (artha) emerge.
śabda- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -artha
It is word power that
leads the addressee from words to meanings in the course of
word use. Such is the case whether word power takes the
form of bare word power (abhidhā) or enriched word power
whether word power takes form of direct word power (vācyārtjaśakti)
or displaced word power (lakṣyārthaśakti).
speaker speaks, just the reverse turns out to be the case. Word power conjoins here with meanings in the
course of word use leading the speaker to select words. In this context, word power is called ukti,
which renders meanings cognizable-by-other? (parasaṁvedya)
with the help of words.
śabda- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -artha
It is word power as ukti
that leads the communicator from meanings to words in the course of
word use. Such is the case
whether word power as ukti takes the form of bare ukti
or enriched ukti (atiśayokti),
whether word power as ukti takes the form of direct ukti
(saralokti) or displaced ukti (vakrokti).
Whether word power yields meanings for the addressee or words
for the communicator, it is certainly the power we have been looking
for in language. Language
use is the manifestation of this power to activate the bond between
words and meanings (śabdārthasaṁbandha). (Please note how I have consistently employed
the plural “words” here, since I am not concerned with this or that
word as a constituent entering a sentence – that is, word as a pada; śabda here simply refers to the accessible
aspect of language whether speech or writing.)
The bond between words and meaning as well as the power that
activates if (śabdaśakti) are both inherent in the
language system. It
is by adopting and assimilating this system that anyone can become
a member of a language community.
The member of a language community goes from words to meanings
or from meanings to words with a certain ease by virtue of the language
system. Now the
question may be raised as to how anyone attains membership in the
first place or maintains the membership once gained. Attaining membership concerns children especially.
(Our ancients raised the question – how does the child accomplish
word power gain, śabda śaktigraha?) Maintaining the
membership once attained concerns adults especially. Child or adult,
man certainly possesses language power (faculté
de language) – a gift of nature to man.
(A parrot or a child readily repeats what it keeps hearing,
but a parrot remains a parrot, a child gains membership of a language
community.) Once a member of some language community, man
makes use of language as he wishes by virtue of this language power. In the course of this whole activity of attaining
and maintaining language community membership, the language system
itself is created or rather almost recreated with the entry of a new
member. Once language power,
a gift of nature, establishes language system in the listener – speaker
through word power gain, this language system makes itself felt in
word use through word power. This
word power, a gift of the language community, is inherent in the language
bhāṣāprayoga- - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - bhāṣāvyavasthā
The relationship between language system and language use
is essentially a dialectic in Hegel’s sense of the term.
Language system regulates language use – if there were no regulation
of this kind, man would have had to remain content with soliloquy
and colloquy would have eluded his grasp.
Language use constantly renovates language system – if there
were no renovation of this kinds man’s colloquy would have remained
more a monologue than a dialogue proper.
It will be seen that we have just distinguished between three
levels of language use:
soliloquy (or interior monologue) (svasaṁvāda)
colloquy as monologue (anyasaṁvāda)
colloquy as dialogue (anyonyasaṁvāda)
bidirectionality of the relationship between language system and language
use makes this three-level use possible.
between words and meanings is equally bi-directional, equally a dialectic.
People commonly enough assume that meanings are ready-available,
one need only to couple them with words. But this is not a correct picture. Why did Desdemona respond so appreciatively
to Othello’s skill with words? Words do not merely convey meanings,
they embody or mould or construct meanings.
Language is the medium of understanding. Othello presented to Desdemona, even as a poet
would, a whole new world mediated by words. Othello thus moves from soliloquy to monologue and then to a true
dialogue with Desdemona. It
is as if colloquy as monologue is the passage way between soliloquy
(or interior monologue) and colloquy as dialogue.
this vital bidirectionality gives way. A time came when Sanskrit ceased
to be the everyday language—children had no entry to that language
community, neither had women or sudras. This by itself was
no calamity—for a language to die a natural death is a normal historical
event. In spite of this event Sanskrit remained in use; for centuries it
was the medium of Indian thinker wishing to give words to his thoughts
had to resort to Sanskrit prose (or verse), while the living languages
did not develop any intellectual prose as such.
The end result was that Sanskrit remained inn suspended animation
as it were: the unbilical cord with everyday life (vyavahãra) snapped. Some examples are in order. Consider the senses recorded against the word
hari :yellow-green, red-brown, Vishnu, Shiva, Indra, Bramha,
Yama, Sun, Moon, Man, light ray, fire, wind, lion, horse, koel, frog,
parrot, snake, peacock, sense organ.
Consider, again, the words recorded against the sense ‘water’:
jala, udaka, āpa, vāri, salila, payas,
madhu, sāra, ghṛta,
pandiya, tirtha and dozens of others.
Consider, finally, that you are informing somebody that Narayan
drinks cold water you could say nārāyaṇo jalam pibati śitam, or any other out of the total
of 4x3x2x1=24 permutations. These
are no signs of richness in language but signs of phenomenal bloating. No living language can tolerate polysemy or
synonymy of this sort, because it will only obstruct everyday life.
No wonder that, in consequences of
a language in suspended animation remaining the sole medium of Indian
intellectual life, the relationship between words and meanings ceased
to be bi-directional and there was no recognizable coherence between
intellectual life and life at large.
In an almanac, candradarśana meant no more than
just that with no connection with actually sighting the moon.
Indian intellectual life slowly ground to a halt.
(The condition of Persian and Arabic in India was not too different.) The coming of the British rule saw the deśī languages being put to use
in learning and teaching and in expressing one’s thoughts, which were
now linked to the English language—certainly not tio everyday English
life. The net result was the emergence of a new version
of the language in suspended animation—one could perhaps call it English
in a Sanskrit grab. The intellectual
life did not flourish, but constantly slipped into intellectual parroting. Making jokes about sarkārī hindī is a favorite pastime of intellectuals,
but is intellectual Hindi so very different? Where would the intellectual
find a better means of concealing the absence of thought? Similar
observations could be made about other desi languages (or about
deśī English, for that matter).
Well, let us not forget our questions.
The first question about power in language can now be answered
certainly present in language. At
the level of language use, word use can be seen as a manifestation
of word power. Word power
is inherent in the language system.
At the level of language system, language system can be seen
as a manifestation of language power, which is so natural to man.
is a medium of understanding. Words
and meanings shape each other. Language
use and language system shape each other.
is vital. In certain circumstances
the bond between words and meanings gives way at the level of language
use, and so the bond between language and life at large give way too,
to the detriment of the community.
we can move to the second question.
The second question is: Is language
in any way connected with power in society? Can language be the vehicle
of any power or the instrument at the disposal of any desire for power?
It is obvious that we are no longer
speaking of power in this second question in the same sense in which
we spoke of power in the first question.
It will be worthwhile to bring out the distinction between
power-1 (śakti) and power-2 (sattā, prabhutā).
(Greek dunamis, latin potentia) is the natural capacity
to do something, to bring about some change.
When we notice that someone can do this or that but does not
want to or that someone wants to do this or that but cannot, we have
a case of power and will being out of tune with each other.
In respect of the exercise of human will, human communities
present either of two arrangements.
Whether someone were indeed to do this or that in accordance
with his power and will or not would either be a matter of his right
to do so or be a matter of his duty to do so.
Notice that, in moving from questions of power-1 and will to
questions of right and duty, we move from the plane of mere behavior
to the plane of socially defined conduct (ācāradharma). Morals (sādhāraṇdharma),
custom (rūd)hi), law, the conventions or
restraints enjoined within some tradition are some examples on this
plane. Now we move further on. Power-2 (Greek arkhia, kratla, Latin
auctoritas) is the capacity to bring about a shift in the definition
and range of what counts as right or duty within a certain social
framework. It is obvious that, if someone has power-2,
there has to be someone over whom he has power-2, someone subject
to this power. Power-2 and subjection go together. What plane
is this? It is the plane on which socially defined conduct is moulded
in accordance with someone’s power-1 and will.
Sovereignty, sectarian authority, the relationship between
the leader and his followers are some examples on this plane of power-2
and subjection. (It is of some interest to note that our ancients
used the term nīit
to comprehend both the plane of right and duty and the plane of power-2
and subjection. The plane
of power-1 and will was the plane of nature or prakrti.̣ The
term dharma comprehends both the plane of nature and the plane
of right and duty.)
presents a certain interweaving of power-1 and will and of right and
duty with power-2 and subjection.
Let us call this the power space (sattākāraṇa) of that society. Power moves such as resistance, alliance,
distancing, defiance, subdual, submission constitute the power
play within the power space and make a difference to the pattern
of power-2 and subjection.
power is harnessed (or purports to be harnessed) to the cause of human
welfare it deserves to be called polity (rājanīti
then turns out to be rājadharma.)
Mob rule or dictatorship or revolt
is only power play, but democracy or monarchy or revolution are correspondingly
considered worthy of being called forms of polity rather than simple
power play. (One could consider
the 1857 rebels or the cultural, social, or political rebels of the
Indian Awakeninhg of 1820-1920 in the light of this distinction between
power space and polity space.)
Let us see whether language power and
language use have a part to play in this triple network—on the plane
of power-1 and will, the plane of rights and duties, and the plane
of power-2 and subjection.
Let me call in as a witness a member
of Britain’s House of Commons. The
debate concerned the fixing of qualifications for a commissioned officer
in the armed forces. (Qualifications
are the measure of power-1 and will taken in the exercise of power-2
in conferring rights and duties.)
The minister argued that the leadership qualities of the person
will be assessed. Readily came the ironic comment of a Labour
Party member—these leadership qualities will no doubt be judged from
the person’s pronunciation of vowels.
He was alluding to the prestige of Received Pronunciation or
the BBC accent. He could as well have spoken of Nancy Mitford’s
Upper-Class usage. These used
to be the insignia of the British caste system. Members of the Upper class sent their children to public schools
and Oxbridge and used to enjoy positions of power in the armed forces,
the civil service, industry, and trade.
(Recall Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.)
In this case language use turns out to be vehicle of power-2
in that the rank and file would indeed identify the commissioned officer’s
accent with qualities of leadership.
(Indeed experiments have shown that listeners associate a recorded
speaker’s Received Pronunciation not only with education and upper
class but also with being male, tall, handsome, young, honest and
Language use need not be only a vehicle
of power, it could well be an instrument of power. The word femme in French or aurat
in Urdu or strī
in some Indian languages
means not only a woman but also a wife.
Correspondingly, the word Mann in German or Mard in Urdu means not only
a man but also a husband. It
is not our purpose to go into the historical or conceptual niceties;
our purpose is rather to highlight how terms serve to insinuate to
the language users what the principal rôle of a woman or a man is. Language thus often encapsulates the unspoken assumptions shared
by those wielding power as well as those subjected to power.
We have already
seen that language is a medium of understanding life: it embodies
the meanings that life confers on reality.
We need also to see that language is no less a means of
communication: it conveys these meanings from one person to another. Every word use calls for a communicator (speaker or writer as the
case may be) and an addressee (listener or reader). In every word use in heres a language act on the part of
the communicator and a response act on the part of the addressee. If a word use links up with a certain understanding
or reality, it equally links up with a certain social situation.
Who can speak what to whom and does is accordingly governed
not merely by power-1 and will of the parts concerned but also by
the play of rights and duties, power-2 and subjection.
Thus, the man (or boy) in the Indian street can ask a stranger
for the time of the day or the latest cricket score, provided the
stranger too is likewise a man (or a boy).
But it is
open for us to go deeper into the matter.
The ground of power-2 is either brute force (daṇd)a)
that is, offering or withholding money or what money can buy. But the ground of subjection goes beyond-these
two to reconciliatory force (sāma), that is, getting the other
to accept subjection through propagating faith or ideas and evincing
or eliciting feelings. (The
ancients recognized a fourth upāya, namely, bheda that is, sowing of dissension
and treachery. But this
can easily be subsumed under the other three for methodological economy’s
sake.) Language has obviously
a place in the deployment of reconciliatory force, which we shall
therefore dwell upon.
not assume that the propagator of faith or ideas or the expresser
of feelings is only the powerwielder or the power-seeker and the subjection-subdued
or the subjection-seeker is only at the receiving end of this reconciliatory
force. (Consider the function
of sycophancy in winning over the power-wielder or a fellow power-subjected
or even winning over the power-subjected or a fellow power-wielder.) Language use and language system provide a
sturdy underpinning to the propagation of faith and ideas and the
evincing and eliciting of feelings.
After all myth, ritual, law enforcement, advertising, the dissemination
of science and technology, exploiting of the various media—all get
constituted and maintained through the help of language.
As long as a Dalit’s expression of feelings is limited to ‘Choman
dud)’ it makes very little difference
to the power space. But then
when the Dalits of Maharashtra resort to language use (be it memoirs,
poems, slogans, speeches, or the rest) or to change in language system
(a film rejection of the reconciliatory term harijan and of
certain older derogatory idioms and usages), this does make some difference
to the on-going power play. There
is just no substitute for language.
Along w3ith language one need also to reckon the spread of
literacy. It was not for nothing
that Dr. Ambedkar and Paolo Freire identified the spread of literacy
and education as a powerful, if unobtrusive, engine of social change.
We have already made a note of the
movement of language power from soliloquy through monologue to dialogue
in the modality of understanding.
In power play the modality of communication of propagation
is the one that counts, and the movement of language power in this
modality is in the reverse direction, namely, from dialogue through
monologue to soliloquy. Let us say, for instance, we overhear an on-going dialogue between
husband and wife on some such lines—
“It’s your fault all right!”
“Of course, it’s your fault!”
say then somewhat later one of them keeps his or her peace and the
other goes on in a monologue—
“You see it’s all your fault, because
of such and such”
the course of time the one that has been silent starts speaking to
himself or herself in a silent soliloquy or interior monologue—
“Looks like it’s my fault after all.”
the end of such a movement one typically comes round to moṛally accepting one’s power-seeking
or one’s subjection. What
one says to others or what one hears others say to oneself often ends
up as what one says to oneself, making the presence of the others
redundant. Such a moral acceptance of one’s power-wielding
or power-seeking or subjection makes it possible for simple power
play to graduate to polity proper; then alone power play gets to be
socially defined conduct. The
distribution of power and subjection acquires an aura of good standing
or prestige (supratiṣṭhā). Brute force and pecuniary force acquire good
standing from sustained language use as reconciliatory force, and
this reconciliatory force is itself in need of acquiring good standing. (The opposite of prestige is of course poor
standing or loss of face.) Acts
of propagation and expression also need this support. The weakness of ‘Chomana dud)I’ is precisely this lack of
prestige. When an article
of faith suffers loss of face it is deemed to be no more than a piece
of popular superstition. Celebrations
and mournings are simply prestigious expressions of feelings. Even the powerful has an occasional need to
say ‘I am sorry’ or ‘We seek pardon’ in the interests of maintaining
prestige. Refusing to call or mention somebody by name
or denying the use of prestigious given names are ways of robbing
somebody of any vestige of respectability and rubbing in the lack
of power. (These are practices still in vogue in Bihar.)
Brute force often takes the form of verbal abuse or blame directed
against the powerless or even the powerful and thus robbing them of
good standing. Some British officers have noted that two quarrelling Indians come
to blows much less readily than two quarreling white people; a whole
session of abuse, threats, taunts, and curses, verbal violence
in short, has to intervene first.
So much for
the play of word power and word use in the power space. Now we could move to language power and language
use on the part of man. Knowing
a language, that is, having the language at the disposal of one’s
language power, can well be an instrument of power. The withholding of the knowledge of Sanskrit
from women and sũdras in ancient and medieval India amounted
to keeping them away from the propagation of ideas at the prestigious
level. In contemporary India two distinct powermotives
may underlie the parental craze for sending one’s children to English-medium
schools. The power-wielders
thereby would hold themselves apart from those bereft of power so
that the latter could not attain positions of power or access to prestigious
communication channels. On
the other hand, the powerless thereby would seek access to better
channels of education, chain of command, mass media, positions of
rights, livelihood, or commerce. Such a motive may or may not be linked with
power-seeking : it may as well stem from an acceptance of their subjection.
The position of Persian in medieval India was fairly analogous.
What about the position of the knowledge of Hindi in contemporary
India? At a certain historical juncture Hindi was looked upon as a
vehicle and instrument of India’s unity, essentially a political motive. At a later juncture Hindi came to be looked
upon as a vehicle and instrument of Hindi imperialism- and there is
a certain factual basis too for this perception.
Harsh criticism has led to a certain weakening of this power-seeking
motive, though it still persists in certain spheres. Moving to the international level, one can see the dissemination
of the American way of life and thought and its imitation through
the medium of language. One
can also connect this phenomenon straightway to power-seeking and
subjection-acceptance and thus to power play in power space.
So then the
second question about language in power-2 can now be answered as follows
Power-1 and will, rights and duties, power-2 and subjection
(and the moral acceptance of these two together constitute the fabric
of the play of power-2 (and within it polity proper.)
Language is not merely a medium of understanding meanings
but also a means of communicating those meanings. Naturally language has a bond with life in society—and within it
life in the power space.
In the course of language use propagation through language
can be an underpinning of the grounds of power-2.
Access or lack of access to language can be a vehicle or instrument
Now the two questions raised so far about language in relation
to power-1 (language as power?) and to power-2 and power play (language
in power?) are distinct, yet not wholly unconnected. The connection yields the third and last question
in the present series.
Language as empowerment?
The third question is: Is it possible that the proper manifestation
of language power should assist the proper sort of moves in power
play? Can language help us in promoting power play to the level of
In a sense, we have already answered this question in the
affirmative by implication.
The withholding of
the learning and use of Sanskrit from the powerless and the limiting
of the intellectual life of the power-wielders to the language Sanskrit
(which remained in suspended animation) did considerable harm to the
powerless and even much more to the power-wielders.
The 17th century bhakti poet Tukaram says
he was much better off born in a lower caste.
Kabir expresses analogous sentiments. (At this point I am reminded
of Virginia Woolf’s comment in A Room of One’s Own: having
related how she was denied access, being a woman to a University library,
she wryly points out that it is “unpleasant to be locked out…..it
is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.”)
A similar harm is being done in contemporary India by the
use of English in a Sanskrit garb.
The rampant spread of English-medium schools is giving rise
to a new generation that is linguistically disabled, being neither
able to use their own language effectively nor able to draw intellectual
sustenance from English. A golden opportunity indeed to the blatant
If the prestigious medium of intellectual life needs to be
closely related to the speech of everyday life, it is true as well
that the prestigious medium of emotional expression needs to be closely
related to the indigenous deśī speech forms.
This will ensure the health of our thought, our faith, and
our feelings. It is no sign
of health that Indian symposiasts or seminarians fail to relate to
each other, to reality, or to life.
That our thoughts, articles of faith, feelings are imprisoned
in the tradition rather than nourished by it.
That our regional feature films are becoming carbon copies
of Hindi cinema. That the
whole world is having the rich variety of cultures painted over with
American colours. (If this
impoverishes the rest of the world, it impoverishes America too by
blocking inputs from outside.)
No, we are not by any means raising the slogan of swadeshi.
The window on the West should certainly keep open, but the
eyes looking out from the window should be our very own.
Indeed, not just the Western window should be opened.
Is it not strange that, while many Indian texts were translated
into Chinese, there were no Indian translations of Chinese texts?
Our contact with the Arabs in Medieval times yielded analogous results.
(Indian self complacency was phenomenal and duly noticed by
an Arab traveler al-Biruni). New
ideas, new emotional expressions, new turns of verbal expression-from
whatever source-are always welcome as revelatory of new possibilities.
If we are raising a slogan, it is one of swaraj in ideas and
authenticity in feelings. Just
consider the manifold ways in which the present enquiry into power
and language has gained through the interplay of Sanskrit, Marathi,
and English. Translation can nourish language just as surely
as it can debilitate language. (Recall
our comments on English in a Sanskrit garb passing for intellectual
prose in Hindi.)
Two things become evident if we go deeper into the matter.
The first thing has to do with the propagation of faith and
ideas. (Let it not be forgotten,
that ‘faith’ is not quite the same as śraddhā, nor
is ‘reason’ quite the same as viveka.)
As we have already seen both these processes serve to underpin
reconciliatory force which in turn is a ground of power play.
As such they assist the movement from bare power play to polity
proper. The opposite of faith
is certainly not reason—man badly needs reason so that faith may not
turn to blind faith. The opposite
of faith is doubt or skepticism.
In order that doubt may not turn to blind, unthinking doubt,
reason is just as badly needed. The opposite of reason is unreason.
doubt and reason confronts unreason.
These are two distinct matters.
The crucial point is whether faith resorts to reason or unreason
for support. Likewise with
doubt. The propagation of faith chiefly works towards
mystification. When mystification
turns unreasonable one has to resort to doubt. Doubt chiefly works
towards demystification. When
demystification turns unreasonable one has to fall back upon reason. (This even applies to investigative journalism!)
strengthens the prestige associated with power, while demystification
weakens it. When it comes
to the purification or refinement of power, mystification, assists
the propagation of faith and demystification assists the propagation
of ideas. (It is certainly a piece of excruciating irony that in order to
lend prestige to science it is often shrouded in mystery! This is
no prestige conferred on science, rather it could be a clever move
on the part of power-wielders.) When
the propagation of faith has to cope with some unanticipated shift
in reality, then mystification can endure only by resorting to ‘interpretation’
of the text (ijtihād in Islamic parlance).
The object of faith may be Aristotle or Pāṇinī,
Vedas or Qurāṇ,
Marx or Gandhi—it makes no difference to the reconciliatory force
being exercised in the interests of maintaining subjection to what
the text represents. Ambiguity
and complexity in meanings and indirection and complication in words
favour the maintenance of mystification.
The object of mystification may be the justification of socially
defined conduct or the policy espoused by popular leadership or the
doctrine of accepted thinkers—it makes little difference.
matter that needs to be gone into has to do with literary language. Literature in the broad sense (vāṅmaya)
is the body of such word uses as are considered fit objects for going
over repeatedly : when a single word use is put to use in several
language uses we see the emergence of a text (pā ̣ṭhya)
in the course of repetition āvṛttī,
and once such a text emerges, it is open to interpretation (vyākhyā
ṭikā, bhāṣya). Literature in this broad sense comprises the
literature of ideas, religious texts, and of course literature proper
maya). (Journalism will
count as literature in the broad sense only if it stands repetition
and establishes itself as a text.)
In the present context we consider together all kinds of literature
in the broad sense.
language use assists the propagation of faith and ideas and the evincing
and eliciting of feelings. For
example, the call of ‘Chomana dud)i’ may not have been heard by
others in real life, but is certainly being heard now thanks to the
literary sensibility of Shivaram Karanth and his readers. Naturally, power-seekers, be they in or out of power, are always
eyeing literature for its potential as reconciliatory force, conformative
or subversive as the case may be.
The connection between literature and power play is quite indirect
indeed in connecting literary language with power in a more direct
fashion, we shall have to look for it elsewhere and at a deeper level.
When language power manifests itself
in language use language power exhibits two distinct tendencies.
There is the tendency towards diversification and decentralization
in the language system in tandem with the various modalities and divisions
of social, life. Language
use comes to vary according to occupation, ethnicity, region, generation. Diversity of language is maintained likewise.
And there is the opposite tendency towards refinement, standardization,
stabilization, uniformity – the impulse to link up various occupation,
ethnic groups, regions, generations and to set up a strong center
is active here. The various facets of culture often earn their prestige
in conjunction with this latter centripetal tendency. Gautama Buddha asked his followers to propagate
the dhamma each in his own speech form and forbade the rendering
of his word into Sanskrit, the language of the learned—and yet later
Buddhism employed Sanskrit on a large scale.
Arabic spread along with the spread of Islam—so much so that
many local languages (Berber, Egyptian etc.)
were either lost or reduced to being local dialects. In literature
proper we see the manifestation of both the centrifugal and the centripetal
tendencies. Consider, on the one hand, the use of khicadi
dialects in the devotional and the heroic poetry of Medieval North
India: or the diversity of idioms (raznorecie) noted by Mikhail
Bakhtin in the European bourgeois novel.
On the other hand, the use of Braj and Braj-coloured dialects. (Braibuli, for instance) by non-Braj-speaking poets in Krishṇa-bhaktī
poetic traditions; or the refinement and stabilization of classical
Urdu poetry and its spread among Dakkhini-speakers, or the deep influence
of Chinese language and literature on the greater part of East and
South-East Asia. It will be worth examining to what extent such
literary events connect with the power spaces concerned. Perhaps the power-1 and the inspiration of
can be traced in terms of the two tendencies and the power-2 ambience
of that play.
of language power as language use is mediated through language system,
otherwise identified as word power.
When word power manifests itself in actual language use, it
is subject to either of two movements, as we have seen earlier. To recapitulate, either it is a question of the understanding of
meanings from interior monologue through monologue to dialogue or
it is a question of propagation through communication in the reverse
direction, that is, from dialogue through monologue to interior monologue.
In the one the addressee is led through monologue
to interior monologue and mystification. Witness the works of Kālidāsa or Tulasīdās,
poets who are essentially conformist and traditionalist. In the other the addressee is led through monologue
to dialogue and demystification.
Witness Bhavabhūti or Kabīr, poets who are essentially subversive and iconoclastic.
Of course a fuller study and analysis of these two tendencies
is called for before we can understand the complex effect of Jñāneshvar or Shakespeare, Ibsen or Brecht.
is merely an indication of the kinds of problems that could be raised
and investigated, nothing more, should we probe the depths.
question about language as empowerment can now be answered as follows:
Let the language of ideas remain affiliated to everyday speech
so that the swaraj of ideas be maintained.
Let the language of feelings not lose its touch with deśī speech forms so that the authenticity
of feelings be maintained.
Let the languages
of ideas and of feelings be ever in search of new possibilities whether
such possibilities are native or borrowed, traditional or innovative.
is directly connected with mystification and demystification and indirectly
connected with the propagation of faith and ideas.
use, especially in literature (whether in the broad or the narrow
sense), can manifest language power in a centrifugal or centripetal
manner—perhaps in a way linked in the power space.
use, especially in literature (whether in the broad or the narrow
sense), can manifest word power in a way that leads the addressee
either in the direction of interior monologue of propagation (with
understanding) or in the direction of dialogue of understanding (with
propagation) in a way that gets linked in the power space.
So I have kept my promise of offering answers to the three
interlinked questions of language as power, language in power, and
language as empowerment. It
is quite possible that you may not accept them all, but it is, by
now, quite probable that you accept the questions as crucially relevant
to the understanding of language and its bond with human life – and
literature even in the narrow sense is after all included in language
was presented at the workshop on Literary History, Region, and Nation
in South Asia at the University of Hyderabad on 28-30 December 1993. The workshop was organized by the Social Science
Research Council, New York in collaboration with the University. It
has also benefited from useful comments by Professor K.V. Tirumalesh
inquiry of this kind naturally puts one in debt to many thinkers of
the past. Even so it will
be only proper to single out some of these by name in a chronological
order – the political theorist Kautilya, the grammarian – philosopher
Bhartṛhari, the grammarian Nāgeshbhaṭṭa Kale, the historian Vishvanath Kashinath
Rajwade, the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, the American jurist
Wesley Newcombe Hohfeld, the English mathematician-philosopher Bertrand
Russell, the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Baktin, or the literary
theorist-philosopher Dinkar Keshav Bedekar.
disclaimer that the responsibility for the thoughts presented is not
theirs is especially appropriate in the present case, as I may have
quite possibly distorted their ideas knowingly or unknowingly and
added my own by way of interest on the loan.
It was published
in Indian Philosophical Quarterly 22:1:25-40, 1995. There is also a Hindi version (Bhaṡā: Šakti: Sattā,
Samās No. 3, 1994) and a Marathi version (Pratiṣṭhān