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White noise, séances and colonial linguistics

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Barbara Roe.

This talk examines the gramophone recordings of Indian languages and dialects made in Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India (1903-1928). It outlines the conflicting aims of the recordings, and considers how the narrative of command and techno-modernity they are embedded in came apart as the project developed. In his correspondence Grierson repeatedly described the recordings as “séances”. I will examine the significance of this striking description, and in conclusion, I will consider what the recordings say about Indian and colonial voices and bodies, and how they throw light on the production of knowledge in the Linguistic Survey. This production of knowledge continues to have important ramifications in South Asia today. The talk draws on my two recently published books, Nation and Region in Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India (2018) and Colonialism and Knowledge in Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India (2018).

This talk is part of the Centre of South Asian Studies Seminars series.

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