Coventry

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52.406822

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-1.519693

Raley, "A Teleology of Letters; or, From a "Common Source" to a Common Language"

Like Sir William Jones, the Orientalist John Borthwick Gilchrist, one-time professor at the College of Fort William and seminary instructor, composed an orthoepigraphical system for the transcription of South Asian languages into the Roman alphabet. Gilchrist's project, though, was inherently instrumental, and it effected a partial shift in philological emphasis away from the decoding of the scholarly and classical languages to the demotic and vernacular; his campaign was to insure colloquial proficiency in Hindustani, generally considered the popular language of the East, so that those bound for India could have the proper foundation with which to converse with the natives, to acquire local knowledge, and to come to know Oriental literature. The connection between common languages and governmental control partly accounts for Gilchrist's extensive valorization of functional rationality, as does the idea that language ultimately cannot awe, mystify, enthrall, or govern if it is not common. Gilchrist, however, did not discount the value of the learned languages; rather he transported this value to the vernacular by articulating a teleological model of philological work that was to progress toward a suturing of the utile and the dulce within a particular 'common' language. English came to be situated in these terms at the intersection of these two paradigms of scholarly activity, at the divide between Jones and Gilchrist, liberal and useful knowledge, and universal and national literacy. In his search for a "remedy" for the Oriental languages and a "new universal grammaclature" to be spoken "by all nations in every age and clime," Gilchrist ultimately directed his efforts toward the introduction of what he called "sterling english" and prophetically calculated the imperial spread of a common, basic, or vernacular, English dialect. Coming at a historical juncture in which the claims for the practical, utilitarian, and scientific uses of language were on the rise, Gilchrist's alignment of scholastic philological work with the vernacular strengthened, by extension, the claims to legitimacy on the part of all vernaculars; and it most particularly paved the way for the legitimation of English. Gilchrist and the author of the coterminous philosophical text Enclytica (1814) contributed strongly to an emergent theory of the vernacular, particularly in their suggestions that vernaculars are tied to industrial and scientific development, that they function as the languages of contemporary record and of history, that they contribute to nation formation, and that the systemic code underlying all languages, the universal grammar, is marked by a profound simplicity.
November 2000

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