The Containment and Re-Deployment of English India
A Teleology of Letters; or, From a "Common Source" to a Common Language
Rita Raley, University of Minnesota
My favourite notion of proceeding [is] from the utile to the dulce, in which last may be comprehended persian, arabic, sunskrit, with every other branch of local attainments, as each may become in its turn a useful, lucrative, or pleasant pursuit to any sojourner in the east. - John Borthwick Gilchrist, The Hindee-Roman Orthoepigraphical Ultimatum (1820)
Every complex form of language bears in itself the elements of its own destruction. - Mr. Mosse, Enclytica. Being the Outlines of a Course of Instruction on the Principles of Universal Grammar, as Deduced in an Analysis of the Vernacular Tongue (1814)
The period around 1800 is remarkable for the cultivation of two antithetical paradigms of language: one model of complexity and incomprehensibility, embodied for example by the philological work of Sir William Jones, and one model of basic, common simplicity, embodied by the work of the Methodist preacher John Wesley, and in different terms by William Wordsworth in the "Preface" to the Lyrical Ballads. Coterminous with an increasing anxiety about language that both does not signify and is insufficient for communicating ideas (e.g. hieroglyphics, as well as Asiatic languages) was an increase of labor devoted to orthoepigraphical projects, the devising of a universal alphabet into which the Asiatic languages might be translated. Jones’s name is most familiarly linked to this kind of interpretive language work, which arose in the moment of his discovery of the "common source"—the philological structure of kinship undergirding Latin, Sanskrit, and what has become known as the entire Indo-European family of languages. The moment of the "common source," however, is also a deliberative moment about the "common" itself, about its meaning, its value, and its linguistic associations; and the name to be linked to the language work suggested by this kind of deliberation is that of one-time professor at the College of Fort William, seminary instructor, private tutor, and Orientalist John Borthwick Gilchrist.
While one of John Gilchrist’s late works, the wonderfully paranoid, epistolary manifesto of complaint, The Oriental Green Bag!!, is dominated by innumerable invectives about copyright infringement and the state of the academic market around 1820, it also pays admiring tribute within its very subtitle to "the great Sir William Jones’s civil, religious, and political creed."(The Oriental Green Bag!! Or a Complete Sketch of Edwards Alter in the Royal Exchequer, Containing a full Account of the Battle with the Books between a Belle and a Dragon: by a radical admirer of the great Sir William Jones's civil, religious, and political creed, against whom informations have recently been lodged for the Treasonable Offence and heinous crime of deep-rooted Hostility to Corruption and Despotism, in every Shape and Form; on the sacred oath of Peeping Tom at Coventry. London: J.B. Gilchrist, 1820. Hereafter abbreviated OGB). Notably absent, both here and within the text, is a tribute to Jones’s philological creed, for Gilchrist himself claims to have laid the foundation stone of "practical" and "beneficial Orientalism" with his work on Hindustani and with his orthoepigraphical system (see plate 1), which he pronounces to be "the simplest and most comprehensive ever yet submitted to public inspection" (96). Universal applicability, or at least the promised transcription of all the sounds and letters of the Asiatic languages within the structures of a singular notation system, constituted one of Gilchrist’s more pronounced divergences from the philological work associated with Jones, and it formed the basis for his final public appeals for patronage. Prophesying a moment in which "chirography and typography completely assimilate," Gilchrist assured his "opulent" audience that "one universal character can easily be established for a thousand different languages" and that his system was thus situated among the premier systems of education and indubitably merited funding (The Orienti-Occidental Tuitionary Pioneer to Literary Pursuits, title page, appendix. Hereafter abbreviated TP).
Insistent self-legitimation narratives such as this are discursive hallmarks of Gilchrist’s dictionaries, grammars, and treatises, particularly the later works, and they neatly outline the analytic and evaluative distinctions between his work and that of Jones. It thus makes perfect conceptual sense that these distinctions should be figured as a literal and metaphoric divergence, as they are in the following instance of self-description and tribute: "my radical labours, or a plain, practical, rational highway to oriental literature, on which simplicity, consistency, facility, and utility take every step together, led by thought and reflection" (OGB 68). The figuration of the orthoepigraphical, or Universal mode, as a highway, passage, road, and path to knowledge extends throughout this particular treatise, and the bifurcation implied is not simply external (away from Jones and other philological laborers) but also internal (the separation of "utility" and "thought"). The mode of knowledge and education with which Gilchrist initially locates value is that of the practical, the "utile," but this figuration does not come at the expense of leisured contemplation, the "dulce." While Gilchrist’s plan of "Practical Orientalism" signifies a functional use of language, in other words, it by no means proposes to excise cultural and aesthetic value (TP 97). Rather, it sutures the values of literacy (the vernacular, simplicity, ease) to those of the literary (thought, reflection), the ultimate end for which is a unification of "art and profitable industry" (OGB 69). Such a double coding of a vernacular linguistic object first provides for the legitimation of the idea of the vernacular. Next, and this is the more provocative point, it also allows for the substitution of one common vernacular for another, which is the condition of possibility for the shift from Hindustani to English as the language of command and control in British India.
The Jones and Gilchrist orthoepigraphical systems were compatible insofar as they both participated in the general project of establishing a uniform Roman orthography for Asiatic words, but the two translator figures differed notably in their choice of objects—a preference for the learned languages of Sanskrit and Persian on the part of Jones, and a preference for the practical, functional language of Hindustani on the part of Gilchrist. The different choice of object resulted in profoundly different professional and scholarly models: while Jones reads the "foreign" character as an abstruse object of scholastic knowledge whose end is its own increase, Gilchrist reads it as a more easily decodable object of technical, communicable knowledge whose end is not simply functionality, but also economic possibilities both for student and for instructor. Sanskrit for Jones was "the Latin of India," while Hindustani for Gilchrist was the "universal colloquial medium" of India, and as such, a "popular language" and "intelligible tongue" (The Letters of Sir William Jones, Volume II, 747; OGB 97). The distinction is not quite that of an amateur-professional divide, but Jones emblematizes a model of scholarship that values surplus knowledge and that evaluates difference as difference. Gilchrist, on the other hand, emblematizes a model of scholarship that evaluates knowledge as a commodity and that adheres to notions of functionality and practicality. The logic of this latter model is such that scholarship on the vernacular speech of India has a greater use value and greater technical, productive possibilities than "classical erudition" and "the most profound scholarship" on the learned languages of India, erudition that is irrevocably aligned with amusement, pleasure, leisure, and even the sublime (The Hindee-Roman Orthoepigraphical Ultimatum; or a systematic, descriminative view of Oriental and Occidental visible Sounds, on fixed and practical principles for acquiring the ... pronunciation of many Oriental languages; exemplified in one hundred popular anecdotes, ... and proverbs of the Hindoostanee story teller viii, xvii-xviii. Hereafter abbreviated OU).
That the practical value of vernaculars and the inefficacy of the uncommon, often learned, languages forms a constitutive thematic thread in Gilchrist’s work is evident in the recurring verse that appears as an epigraph to his Dialogues and The Bold Epistolary Rhapsody: "What spell have Arms, with useless Tongues when led? / Or Lions’ hearts—without a human head?" The implied connection between common languages and military, governmental control in these lines partly accounts for Gilchrist’s extensive valorization of functional rationality, as does the suggestion that language ultimately cannot awe, mystify, enthrall, or contribute to the militaristic "spell" if it is not common. Communicating, or spelling, the vernacular with the Roman alphabet is thus the necessary first step to achieving rational, administrative control. Gilchrist, however, was careful not to repudiate the value of the learned languages without qualification. His critical contest instead concerned the severing of the links between this value and particular languages (allowing for its transportability to the common); the use value of the learned languages; and their privileged place in the preparatory training of Company officers. "Truly beneficial Orientalism," in Gilchrist’s terms, then, disregards neither the vernacular nor the classic, but labors to standardize both the demotic (Hindustani) and a formal written system (Persian) (OGB 96). So it was that he insisted on the use of his orthoepigraphical system for the translation of Persian and Hindoostanne alike; insisted that "classic erudition" had no place in India without "the command of vernacular speech"; and carefully constructed 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 (OGB 70, 96-7; OU viii, xv). Moreover, Gilchrist can be said to embody the mode of picturing the Orient not as immediately accessible but as something into which one could submerge: the shift is from voyeur-observer to participant-observer. The end results of the bifurcation of philological work are two analytically distinct paradigms of scholarship, a humanist model on the one hand, and a utilitarian, eventually technocratic model on the other. The problem of how to account for an overlap or even a repetition of work, then, is partially solved by thinking of the different kind of intellectual work each is performing, the distinct institutional status each maintains.
Although a similar oppositional structure would apply, this is a different staging than Saree Makdisi's in Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity, with Jones and Thomas Babington Macaulay embodying two discourses of Orientalism, "two antithetical paradigms of British imperialism and colonial rule," respectively figured by the sea and the river (101). Insofar as Jones’s work adheres to an idea of ineluctable difference (the unbridgeable gulf of the sea) and Macaulay’s adheres to a progressivist evolutionary model of re-programmable difference (the stream of modernity), for Makdisi, these two paradigms trouble the monolithic category of modern Orientalism and they further suggest an epistemological shift from an older discourse of Orientalism, to modern discourses of racism, evolution, and industrialization. Such a shift from isolation to incorporation within the grand narratives of progress, and from the "appreciation" to the "improvement" of difference, then, signals "the emergence of the Universal Empire of modernization" (117). This article traces the contours of a different kind of paradigmatic split, one that results in protracted confluence and contest rather than an immediate absorption of one model by another. When the notion of a common source begets the notion of a common language, with "common" to resonate as the shared, the easily legible, the colloquial, and the vernacular, then two models of language emerge: the classic and the complex, on the one hand, and the demotic and the basic, on the other. A profound and powerful set of confluences exist between this dialectic model and those of universal and national literacy, liberal and useful knowledge, and humanist and functional scholarly activity; and one of the purposes of this article is partially to trace out what has historically been situated at their nexus and offered as their logical resolution: the common language of English.
The first volume of the journal inaugurated to publish the transactions of the newly founded Asiatic Society of Bengal, Asiatic Researches: or, Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, for inquiring into the history and antiquities, the arts, sciences, and literature, of Asia (1788 - ), contains Sir William Jones’s opening discourse on the intended objects of the society’s scholarly and institutional inquiry: man and nature, the knowledge of which he classifies as history, science or art (xii-xiii). It was in the interests of what the patrons call in their inaugural letter a literal and a figurative "extension of knowledge" (one that has two senses of "universal" as its end) that Jones and the other members of the society embarked upon an academic compendium that was at once what we might now recognize as historical, anthropological and, most famously, philological (The Works of Sir William Jones, Volume 1, vi). In its nascent moments, and indeed throughout much of the nineteenth century, what became the institutional discipline of comparative philology depended not only upon the fallacy of presuming a linear and teleological model for the "evolution" and progress of letters, as has been critically remarked, but also upon the mystification and debasement of the foreign grapheme and grammatical structures of writing. More specifically, comparative philology derived its strength from the belief that the languages of South Asia in particular were a mystificatory veil, one that obfuscated the texts, transactions, and even people behind it, and one that blocked the entry of western languages and knowledge. The name inevitably linked to this discipline was Jones, "discoverer" of the "common source" and academic Orientalist as well, insofar as he strove to identify similarities between England and India.
As Jones attested, it was precisely because so-termed "useful knowledge" could presumably be contained and transmitted in the western languages alone, and specifically in the Roman alphabet, that the institutional need to study, and thereby to master and decode, the eastern languages gained even more momentum. Legitimation for this study came from the figuring of Eastern languages as impediments to rationality, transparency, civilization, knowledge, and an efficiency of communication. For example, Jones explains that the primary object of study for the Asiatic Society is to be "their languages, the diversity and difficulty of which are a sad obstacle to the progress of useful knowledge; but I have ever considered languages as the mere instruments of real learning, and think them improperly confounded with learning itself: the attainment of them is, however, indispensably necessary" (xiv). Where multiplicity and "diversity" confound, the singular steps in as the necessary means toward knowledge, and indeed as its proper vehicle, from which most notably it can be held as separate. Language as "mere instrument" signals a severing of language from ideas, and, by extension, culture, and this severing parallels the investiture of English as a vernacular stripped of racial, geographical, or cultural value. In turn, too, the figuring of language as transmitter of knowledge means that the process of language acquisition becomes necessary, so it is not just that language bears a cultural value on its own because it functions as a transmission system, but the larger context here is one in which utility itself bears a distinct cultural value.
As is clear from Jones’s early "Dissertation on the Orthography of Asiatick Words in Roman Letters," in order to elucidate a "common source" for the Indo- and European language branches and to divine its primordial grammar, the pictorial character had first to be brought, or made, into English. On the two methods of Asiatic orthography then in use, Jones notes that "the first professes to regard chiefly the pronunciation of the words intended to be expressed" and the other relies upon "scrupulously rendering letter for letter, without any particular care to preserve the pronunciation." Jones’s system was to combine elements of the two, so that both pronunciation and orthography were attended to: "by the help of the diacritical marks used by the French, with a few of those adopted in our own treatises on fluxions, we may apply our present alphabet so happily to the notation of all Asiatick languages, as to equal the Dévanágarì itself in precision and clearness, and so regularly that any one, who knew the original letters, might rapidly and unerringly transpose into them all the proper names, appellatives, or cited passages, occurring in tracts of Asiatick literature" (13). In order to set up one symbol for every sound used in pronunciation, the system was a posteriori constructed from both the French and the English alphabets, and it became, as Sir James Mackintosh notes, the standard for the transliteration of the Asiatic languages. For the colonial government and its scholastic appendages—the Asiatic Societies—the problem of the pictorial character was made over as a problem of alphabetic arrangement, and, in both Jones and Gilchrist’s terms, the "remedy" for the problem, for the Asiatic word was to be the Roman alphabet. In this respect, then, the question of a "common source," the philological concept with which Jones is most closely linked, begins to unfold instead as a larger question of a "common language." And in this syntactic construction, too, the "common" resonates as both the vernacular and as the shared, that is, as a language of unofficial exchange and as a language held in common.
It is worth noting that Mackintosh’s claim for the Jones system as the standard does not satisfactorily explain why John Gilchrist would still have had such a keen interest in orthoepigraphy as an unsolved intellectual and practical problem. An answer to the question of Gilchrist’s persistent labors on the subject must reach even beyond biography (that is, beyond a discussion of his ideological and practical difficulties with the Company and various figures in the Oriental knowledge trade) to account for the radically different path down which his orthoepigraphical work led him: toward a campaign to insure wide-spread 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 information and history," and to come to know Oriental literature (BIM, volume 2, xlvii). Both his historical importance and his preeminence within the fields of Orientalist language study are marked by Bernard Cohn in Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge, a study in which he accedes that Gilchrist is "generally regarded as the creator of what was to become the British language of command in India—Hindustani" (Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge 34). Indeed, Gilchrist was able to stake his claim to intellectual and economic territory precisely because a knowledge of Hindustani or a military language was mandated for all who hold staff or administrative positions in British India (OU x). Sanskrit was itself constructed as a practical and necessary foundation for service in the Company, an inevitable re-linking of the idea of education (even a practical one) to classical languages, but Gilchrist had a great deal to do with the legitimation of vernacular language study as "real science and practical wisdom" in opposition to unnecessary, even debilitating, "sheer pedantry and classical lore" (The General East India Guide and Vade Mecum: for the public functionary, government officer, private agent, trader or foreign sojourner, in British India, and the adjacent parts of Asia immediately connected with the honourable East India Company 536-7). His stark opposition of practical knowledge and classical knowledge, "local" knowledge and European knowledge, respectively, substantiated the value of utilitarian, service-oriented language instruction, particularly of vernaculars.
The homology of the philological with the interlinguistic and the syllabic containment of India in the English language might best be elucidated by Gilchrist’s The Orienti-Occidental Tuitionary Pioneer (1816), a self-published folio and personal evidentiary notebook directed to his once and future students and divided up into twenty-two parts whose contents vary widely by genre, print style, and mode of address. Included in the text are a new theory of Latin verbs, notes on "the art of thinking made easy" and "cheering accounts from my pupils in India," and a general alumni list of 1600 students. The folio is also filled with extracts from letters and reports that mention, support, and legitimate Gilchrist’s work. Its most revealing and provocative enclosure, however, is a plan for a universal language that reproduces a teleology of letters and includes a prospectus for a "new universal grammaclature" to be spoken "by all nations in every age and clime": a different kind of a posteriori linguistic system founded upon a reformation of the English language, directed ultimately toward the universal "introduction of sterling english, in the capacity of a cosmopolitan tongue," and apocalyptically prophesying a moment in which "albion’s [sic] vernacular dialect may soon pervade the whole world" (TP 25-6). Such an enclosure spectacularly introduces the evaluation of English as a vernacular dialect, reveals the particularity behind the universal character, and prophetically calculates the imperial spread of a basic, or vernacular, English dialect. Thus does it follow that Gilchrist appends an important modification to his broad statement that retrospectively carves out his intellectual territory with regard to Jones: it is not simply that he claims his system as "the simplest and most comprehensive ever yet submitted to public inspection," but it is also the system "best calculated to preserve the meed of universal application to the sterling letters and speech of old England" (OGB 96). When Gilchrist refers to "Sir William Jones’s premature bias to the Italian and continental alphabets" (OGB 96), in other words, he thereby declares his primary interest in the alphabet of "sterling english [sic]," the "language of albion [sic]," and not the Roman broadly conceived.
What is truly remarkable about Gilchrist’s scheme is not its phonological insistence on representing all of the sounds of all "known" languages via the Roman character, nor the spectacular suturing of language and nation that occurs within the proleptic vision of the futures of the language of albion, but its emphasis upon the futures of a particular language of albion: the vernacular dialect. An emphasis on the vernacular as an international language puts a strange tension on the opposition between the local and the regional on the one hand, and the transnational or global on the other, particularly as the "vernacular dialect" that is soon to spread over the world quickly mutates into a "cosmopolitan tongue" (TP 25). Of particular relevance to a discussion of Gilchrist’s interest in legitimating a "cosmopolitan" English and instituting Roman characters as the standard for his orthoepigraphical system is his dedicatory statement within the wildly barbed and eccentric The Orienti-Occidental Tuitionary Pioneer, in which he makes claims for the supreme distinctiveness of his universal mode. Of the other systems, he notes, "there is not one of them so constructed as to constitute the English a cosmopolitan language, clothed in a congenial catholic character, which the arrogant but ignorant Chinese may yet, in process of time, be induced to assume, from its comparative utility, perspicuity, and facility, when deliberately contrasted with their own" (1-2). The desired end, then, is not simply the universal use of English, but also the universal recognition of use of English, of its transparency and legibility and right to ascend as a cosmopolitan vernacular. Such an evaluative promotion is prepared for through Gilchrist’s efforts to supplant the court language of Persian with the "popular speech" of Hindustani in orientalist scholarship. In such a substitution, the relations between the vernacular, or local, and the international are even more so those of slippage and confusion as one common vernacular is exchanged for the other. One final example from many is his The Anti-Jargonist, in which he trumpets Hindustani as "the popular speech of India" and "the grand popular language of the east" (The Anti-Jargonist; or a short introduction to the Hindoostanee language ... with an extensive vocabulary English and Hindoostanee, and Hindoostanee and English ... being partly an abridgment of the Oriental Linguist i-ii).
While critical attention has focused, and continues to focus, on the legacy of Sir William Jones within the realms of comparative philology, John Gilchrist has thus himself contributed quite influentially to the inherited mythologies of Indo-European linguistic relations through his efforts to make the foreign character legible and reiterable by bringing it within the strictures of the Roman alphabet—that is, through his efforts "to teach a foreign tongue, in our own, not its character" (A Grammar, of the Hindoostanee Language 4). While Gilchrist was also heavily invested in the project of finding a "remedy" for what he calls "Hindee-Roman orthoepigraphy" (namely, transcribing the sounds of what he calls the "oriental languages" into the Roman alphabet), it is precisely because of his privileging of languages of the everyday, though not at the expense of "high" or scholarly languages, that his work has an importance for my argument (BIM xxx). It has a particular importance because he was able to effect at least a partial shift in philological emphasis away from "higher" forms of speech, in his case the court language of Persian, and to the demotic, in his case the popular and vernacular Hindustani.
Writing of the illegitimacy of the Asiatic character, particularly in the context of its uneasy correspondence with Western print culture, Gilchrist advocates enfolding it within the structures of the Roman alphabet in order to make it both legible and reiterable.
When we advert to the rude state of oriental types even at this day, and to the great incorrectness from points dropping out, and letters often losing their heads or tails in the press, after the whole has been carefully adjusted from two or three revisals, we should almost prefer our own letters to all others, for the dissemination and easy acquirement of the Hindoostanee. (BIM xv)
In its construction of "our own letters" as a pivotal point of reference for all "oriental" letters, this enfolding constitutes a necessary preliminary stage in the argument for English as the basis not just for a universal notation system but also for a universal language. According to Gilchrist, such an imposition of univocality is necessitated by the "varieties," inconsistencies, and instabilities of the Asiatic languages, which implicitly stood in opposition to the desirable standards of the English language:
For those readers who may still observe, that my present mode of spelling even is not always uniform, it may be necessary to remark, that a careful perusal of pages 33, 34, 35, &c. ought to convince them how impossible it must be to confer stability and consistency upon subjects, where they do not really exist... .[the purpose of his own orthographical deviancies is] to accustom learners to such varieties as they will certainly meet with in their travels over India. This observation may be extended almost ad infinitum, whenever letters are so interchangeable as they certainly are in the Hindoostanee and other oriental languages. (BIM xxiii-xxiv)
Echoing Jones on the obstructive "diversity" of the Asiatic languages, Gilchrist proposed an initial remedy in the form of an orthoepigraphical mode that involved an "Italian modification" of the Roman letters and ultimately made use of sixty-four characters. In its appearance on the page, it basically resembles all of the other phonetic projects and plans for a universal alphabet; that is to say that his translated textual object (the Lord’s Prayer) is more-or-less legible, but only at the level of general meaning. Related to Jones’s systems of notation insofar as the ideal was to establish commonalities among a number of the Asiatic languages, and participating in the larger culture project of classification and systematization, the structure of Gilchrist’s system appears to be quite intricate and carefully developed, but its desire to achieve the "basic" means that a series of lacunae and an almost-cabalistic tone must necessarily result. His eccentricities of presentation and argument notwithstanding, this preliminary conversion of Hindustani to the Roman alphabet led him to what is curiously among the most serious and extensive attempts to devise a universal alphabet adapted "the articulate, oral sounds of every nation in the world"—outlined in various fantastic forms in The Orienti-Occidental Tuitionary Pioneer (1816); The Hindee-Roman Orthoepigraphical Ultimatum (1820); and The Oriental Green Bag!! (1820) (OGB 96). With typical grandiosity, he declared his alphabetic system to be supreme among all others, "capacious enough to swallow and eclipse for ever, thus concentrating in one uniform series an endless variety of projects, all crude, imperfect, and undigested, in more or less extremes" (TP 1). Despite their claims to universality, related projects such as John Freeman, The Elements of Oral Language (1821), Carl Lepsius’s Universal Alphabet (1854), George Edmonds’s Universal Alphabet (1856), and R. Rees’s Universal Alphabet (1865) generally stopped at a compendium of the sounds of European speech, so Gilchrist’s "Orthoepigraphical Alphabet" seems in spirit to be fairly described retrospectively as an amalgam, an anachronistic "swallowing," of Alexander John Ellis and Sir William Jones’s various alphabets, importantly with a few "practical" purposes.
Not the least of these practical purposes was the promotion of "sterling English" and the combination of the values of "utility, simplicity, facility, perspicuity, brevity, and practicability," but this promotion did not come at the expense entirely of beauty, despite his claims to prefer substance to appearance, or the "nutritious kernel" to "the rejected glossy shell of a nut" (TP 1, 26). Again, the value of the "orthoepigraphical" or "Universal mode," what he envisions as "the plain, practical, rational highway to oriental literature," is that it combines both "art" and "profitable industry" (OGB 68, 69). My suggestion here is that, because one part of Gilchrist’s project was to construct Hindustani as the most useful language for study, a case can be made for the vernacular as the most useful by drawing certain parallels between the Latin-English divide and something like the Sanskrit-Hindustani divide. 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 strengthens, by extension, the claims to legitimacy on the part of all vernaculars; and it most particularly paves the way for the legitimation of English.
Enclytica, a highly-intricate philosophical and philological text from the period, published anonymously but with a MS attribution to "Mr. Mosse," links to Gilchrist in its contribution to an emergent theory of the vernacular, particularly in its 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. Functioning much like our contemporary understanding of the Derridean "supplement," the title comes from the grammatical term for casting emphasis back on the preceding syllable, such that the second not only loses its independent accent through its absorption into the first, but also varies the accent of the first as a result. The "enclitic" neatly encapsulates Mosse’s thesis about the relations between originary languages and vernaculars, between primary languages and stranger idioms, between literary languages and invading languages, with "mixed jargons" and a changed "mother idiom" as a result. Such a syllabic contest can only result in self-implosion, in the spontaneous combustion, rupture, and "destruction" of language. Thus is it the case that Enclytica figures vernaculars both as useful for the everyday, easy to learn and even inherently uncomplicated, and as the inevitable endgame of language, with only the intrusion of the academies able to halt the devolutionary movement of languages from the ornate to the simple.
Within the terms of the text, only academies, criticism, and an "academic standard" have the power to maintain a level of complexity with language and to resist degeneration and a relapse back to a primordial state of simplification (iv). Written standards, then, are presented as the stabilizing force that prevents excess mutation. Such a mutation and "progress towards artificial brevity" does not discriminate among languages; rather, it is "common to every tongue," for all words are "mere signals, susceptible like those of the telegraph, of improvement and abbreviation" (100). English, too, has receded from extreme complexity, "lapsed" as it were, from a state of sophisticated cultivation: "Our language has proceeded no further; or rather has dropped all subsequent refinement, and lapsed back, in this respect, into primeval simplicity" (37). But the gradual simplification of the formal aspects of language is read as progress and "improvement," such that an abbreviated English is an improved English, one that has increased its efficiency and likened its communicative speed to that of the telegraph. So while it is the case that "the progress of all alphabetic character is from more complex systems to others less so," "simplification and rapidity are at the same time the only end and only means of its improvement" (121). Enclytica’s concern with the construction of a theory of language decay in relation to an elemental, universal grammar grounds its other concern: constructing an evaluative theory of vernaculars in general and of English in particular. The two tracks converge in an articulation of English as the supreme and yet the most basic "dialect of the lettered world":
the lead which our native tongue, the least inflected dialect of the lettered world, has taken in science and in literature, the splendid proofs it holds forth of its entire competency for the expression of every idea that feeling or science may wish to impart, at a period when all the efforts of intellect and imagination challenge its adequateness, and try its powers, is alone a sufficient proof that language needs little of inflection, to convey with rapidity every thought the human mind is able to cherish or conceive. (133, emphasis mine)
In these terms, the power of the "least inflected dialect" is sheer speed, flexibility, and total translatability. Offering "on-the-fly" transmissions of all that "feeling," "science," "thought," and "imagination" can generate, the basic vernacular dialect promises absolute, instant, and universal communicative action. Akin to the "Preface" to the Lyrical Ballads in its valorization of a simple dialect as a literary language, this passage is representative of Enclytica’s articulation of the aesthetic, expressive, and representational power of linguistic simplicity. This legitimation of the vernacular, specifically English, as the bearer of aesthetic and historical value on the one hand, and practical and communicative value on the other, forms an important point of corroboration with Gilchrist’s own legitimation of vernaculars.
At the opening of the second volume of The British Indian Monitor (1808), Gilchrist figures the vulgar and "common" as the useful, in a voice that carefully constructs an image of the heroic, singular, Admiral Nelson-like figure whose work ultimately benefits the masses:
I have stood almost alone, for thirty years past, in favour of the vulgar tongue in British India, as the one thing most needful...I have lived to see it cultivated and esteemed as a useful acquisition, instead of being stigmatised as a jargon, though as much above the comprehension of the unthinking multitude, as it was far below the notice of men of letters, when I first visited India. (lxi)
Given both the historical ties of vernaculars to trade and commerce and the gap between vernaculars and the learned classes, Gilchrist’s argument for the validity of vernaculars in fact links this linguistic ascendancy to the ascendancy of a new, technical class. Also, because he proposes that the value of utility be reconstituted, his is much more than a reactionary turn against the stultifying forms of Latin, Greek, Sanskrit and Persian. Instead, the vernaculars are figured as the means by which one can access these classical forms, though they are much more than "gateway" languages and thereby have a legitimacy in their own right. Witness, for example, what is perhaps Gilchrist’s most powerful and sweeping claim for the value of English:
I cannot lose the great consolation which naturally flows from a consciousness of having been of some service in my day and generation, nor can I conceal the supreme satisfaction of now endeavouring to raise the English language to that pre-eminent rank and estimation, which it merits in every seminary of learning within the extended bounds of the British empire, as the first and surest step to all other classical pursuits. That it will one day become so, there can be no doubt in the breast of any rational being, who has seriously attended to the progressive improvement of every other art and science; but whether this shall happen in my time or not, the praise of being an advocate for so necessary a reform can hardly be denied me by those who must reap the greatest advantage from such a change, if they peradventure cast their eyes on these sheets, when the writer of them is numbered with the dead. (BIM, volume 2, lxii-lxiii; emphasis mine)
Self-elegiacal in tone, and unconditionally proleptic, this passage suggests that the imperial spread of English is an as-yet-unfinished and ineluctable project, a reform tied to the labors of individuals and of institutions. In this perfect conjoining of the world-wide spread of English with the academic institution, here named as a seminary, English is figured as the foundational "first and surest step" in a teleological progression of knowledge, from the new or modern classic (English) to the classic-classics (in his terms, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, Latin, and Greek). The path of knowledge Gilchrist charts is one "from the utile to the dulce, in which last may be comprehended persian, arabic, sunskrit [sic]"; and the dulce is in turn coded as an attainment that is at once "useful, lucrative or pleasant" in character (OU xv). But, so too is the utile, for English itself comes to be figured as the useful and the delightful, a double coding that will emerge from this period as paradigmatic. Broadly put, this is an age in which the shifts in language use from the genteel to the common are quite profoundly accelerated by mass education movements and the spread of print culture, but this shift from genteel to common is complicated by the emergence of a "new" common, one that is both the learned and the everyday. For Gilchrist, for J. S. Mill, for the founders of the first universities in India, and for innumerable scholars then and since, English ultimately can be said to function in these terms, as itself the "practical, rational highway" on which "thought" and "reflection" can coexist with "utility" (OGB 68).
At core, the Orientalist-Anglicist controversy at the time may be understood as a great debate about the proper uses of educational funding, specifically with regard to outlays on literary and language study. Because this debate parallels, if not prefigures, our own debates about the state of the humanities within what Bill Readings has described as the university "in ruins," one of the most pressing questions produced by the genealogical link between John Gilchrist and "multiversity"-champion and -president Clark Kerr is as follows: how is English to be evaluated and organized, when the insistence is to make knowledge "useful," serviceable, and translatable into skills-based jobs? The historical answer to this problem has been to code English as a skill-based, but also a knowledge-based, discipline, which has in turn satisfied alike the demands of both Orientalist and Anglicist, humanist and technocrat, apologist for the learned languages and defender of the vernaculars, adherent to the value of "culture" and promoter of the value of "excellence" within the university.
1 I am indebted to Lois Cucullu, Alan Liu, Russell Samolsky, David Simpson, Timothy Wager, and Vince Willoughby for their careful critical engagement with the ideas presented in this article.
2 Among Gilchrist’s most well-known works are the A Dictionary: English and Hindoostanee (Calcutta: Stuart and Cooper, 1787-90); Dialogues, English and Hindoostanee; for illustrating the grammatical principles of the Stranger's East Indian Guide and to promote the colloquial intercourse of Europeans, on the most indispensable and familiar subjects with the natives of India, 3rd Edition (London: Black, Kingsbury, Parbury, and Allen, 1820); the uncompleted A Grammar, of the Hindoostanee Language, or Part Third of Volume First, of a System of Hindoostanee Philology (Calcutta: Chronicle Press, 1796); and both the two-volume British Indian Monitor; or, the Antijargonist, Stranger’s Guide, Oriental Linguist, and Various Other Words, compressed into a series of portable volumes, on the Hindoostanee Language, improperly called Moors; with considerable information respecting Eastern tongues, manners, customs, &c. (Edinburgh: Walker & Grieg, 1806-8) and The Orienti-Occidental Tuitionary Pioneer to Literary Pursuits, by the King’s and Company’s Officers of all Ranks, Capacities, and Departments, either as probationers at scholastic establishments, during the early periods of life, their outward voyage to the East, or while actually serving in British India...A Complete Regular Series of Fourteen Reports...earnestly recommending also the general Introduction, and efficient Culture immediately, of Practical Orientalism, simultaneously with Useful Occident Learning at all the Colleges, respectable Institutions, Schools, or Academies, in the United Kingdom,...a brief prospectus of the art of thinking made easy and attractive to Children, by the early and familiar union of theory with colloquial practice, on commensurate premises, in some appropriate examples, lists, &c. besides a Comprehensive Panglossal Diorama for a universal Language and Character...a perfectly new theory of Latin verbs (London: 1816 [folio]), which is made up of fourteen reports on language and education and includes the diorama of a universal language.
Notable among the other scholars contributing to the "practical" study of Hindustani was George Hadley, whose preface to his own Hindustani grammar can also serve to articulate the distinctions I draw in this essay between two paradigms of scholarship. On the occasion of a new edition in 1809, Hadley recalls the late Sir William Jones’s personal response to the first edition: "This book is small change of immedate use: mine is bank notes, with which in his pocket one may starve, and not be able to get what one wants. Where one buys mine, you will sell a hundred." While the classical grammar does not circulate in the market for which it sets the evaluative terms, the popular grammar maintains a common currency, a high street-, use-, and exchange-value. Hadley proceeds to his audience and his work from those of Jones by claiming that his grammar is "without the least pretension to erudition" and instead devoted to those who have need for "immediate practice" and "have not either inclination, abilities, or time, to enter into a more intense, accurate, and laborious disquisition on the Eastern languages." See Hadley vii-ix.
3 Edward Said has argued that the study of Oriental languages is intimately aligned with governmental command, "policy objectives," and propaganda, in other words, that language training is inherently about command and control: "[the] acquired foreign language is therefore made part of a subtle assault upon populations, just as the study of a foreign region like the Orient is turned into a program for control by divination" (Orientalism 292-3). Orientalists and Orientalism, as Said notes, functioned in both academic and administrative terms, and for a reading of Said on these taxonomic distinctions between the "literary" and the "official," see Jenny Sharpe. Gilchrist's 1833 letter to the proprietors of the East India Stock Company serves as a primary example of a fraught Orientalist position in that it exposes the paradox of arguing both for the implementation of English in India and for the education and training of civil service offers in Asiatic languages. An East India Company stockholder himself, Gilchrist maintains "the propriety of diffusing a knowledge and cultivation of our own mother-tongue, by ample encouragement and patronage to every Hindoostanee" (16), yet he also insists that no one "should be allowed to depart for the Indian peninsula, before proving, by a public examination, that he can read, write, cast up accounts...with a reasonable colloquial knowledge of the most useful language of Hindoostan" (A Bold Epistolary Rhapsody 10). For Gilchrist and the other philologists and civil officers producing the increasingly ubiquitous grammars for the vernacular languages of India, such language guides were not only aimed at providing an "insider's" view into native cultures (with detailed descriptions of such cultural practices as greetings and the removal of shoes), but were also intended at some level both to eliminate the need for interpreters and to expedite practical communication with the natives.
A closer scrutiny of some of these language texts, however, reveals what one might expect in such circumstances: that the hierarchies of civilized/primitive and West/East were never disbanded by this gesture toward translingualism and diplomacy; rather, they were reconstituted and reinforced. For example, Gilchrist's Dialogues, while it attempts to instruct its readers in certain fundamental grammatical principles, contains as its core phrase after phrase on such topics as "dining," "sleeping," "walking" etc.—phrases one would use to correct and order one's servants, complete with reprimands and insults. Bernard Cohn also comments on this discursive thread of the Dialogues (Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge 39-43). The emphasis on command and control might be attributed partly to Gilchrist's readers—middle managers whose sphere of authority was in the main limited to the domestic."
4 Also see Gilchrist, Dialogues, Anti-Jargonist, The Hindee-Roman Orthoepigraphical Ultimatum and The Oriental Green Bag!!
5 The Asiatic Society of Bengal’s founding in 1784 was followed by Sir James Mackintosh’s founding of the Literary Society of Bombay in 1804, an organization that became the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1838 and was itself followed by a Ceylon branch in 1845. Other Asiatic Societies were begun by Sir John Newbolt and Mr. B.G. Babington, Société Asiatique at Paris (1822); Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1823); Sir John Davis, Asiatic Society of China at Hong Kong (begun in 1847 and dissolved in 1859); Asiatic Society of Japan (1875; Straits branch begun in 1878); Korean branch of the Asiatic Society (1900-1).
The story of the choice for the name of the Society is worth telling. Jones makes a case in his opening discourse for the use of the descriptive term "Asiatic" as opposed to the non-descriptive "Oriental"—a word that he claims "conveys no very distinct idea" (xii). "Asiatic" resonates, to Jones, with all that is "both classical and proper" and it suggests as well a natural boundary of Egypt and the African coast of the Mediterranean. As such, the intent was a kind of geographical and conceptual specificity, one that has almost proto-anthropological insistence on the "real" as opposed to the fictive or non-scholarly. Like the language structures that gives it shape, then, the category of the "Asiatic" was imagined to have a "real" and material equivalent.
6 The reasoning here, which is Said’s, is that hierarchies are established by sameness and not by differences in these instances of cultural comparison. For a reading of this conceptual strain in Jones, see Jenny Sharpe.
7 For an analysis of the ways in which British Orientalists’ study and cultivation of the native Indian languages was central to colonial rule, see Bernard Cohn.
8 Jones’s paper was addressed to the committee in 1784, two years before his most famous presentation to the Royal Asiatic Society. It was published in the first volume of the Asiatic Researches. For related work on the relations between universal grammar and the common source, see James Beattie, especially 95-105.
9 Supporters of the first included Major Davy and of the second included Mr. Halhed and Mr. Wilkins. Sir William Jones, "A Dissertation on the Orthography of Asiatick Words in Roman Letters," Asiatic Researches: or Transactions, Volume 1, 5-6. The attempt to translate simply on the basis of pronunciation has parallels with Alexander John Ellis’s plans for a "universal digraphic" character, which I discuss elsewhere in my book manuscript, Global English and the Academy, from which this article is excerpted.
10 See Gilchrist, The British Indian Monitor, volume 1: "The Roman alphabet, that I have used, is fully adequate to express all the various oriental sounds, however defective it must naturally appear, when two or more letters are employed to denote only one sound, against which, however, I have at least proposed a remedy, in page 45, that will, in general, answer all the purposes of Hindee-Roman orthoepigraphy" (xxx). Hereafter abbreviated BIM.
11 Gilchrist experienced an inordinate number of difficulties with the Company and with other Asiatic instructors and scholars. The roots of many of his complaints lie with the Haileybury College Suspension Act (which he calls a suspension of the habeas mentem act at the presidencies of Fort William, Fort St. George, and Bombay as well). The official suspension meant that the Court of Directors of the East India Company could appoint anyone to the post of writer who passed an exam and provided some sort of documentation of his character and conduct. Gilchrist argued intensely against the licensing of one or two establishments as examining, qualifying institutions on the grounds that it constitute a monopoly and that the establishments did not know what they were doing. Such a limited system of certification resulted in a scramble for students and for funds from patrons as a "new class" of temporary knowledge workers (tutors, lecturers, instructors, authors of textbooks and guides) grew up to support the need to legitimate colonial clerks.
12 On the institutional status of Sanskrit, see Monier Williams's preface to his A Dictionary, English and Sanscrit (London: Wm. H. Allen and Co., 1851), which was published under the patronage of the East India Company.
13 I have not standardized the spelling or punctuation of this or any of Gilchrist’s texts; indeed, some of his orthographic variations, e.g. "sunskrit," reinforce his insistence on the mutable and re-programmable quality of language. The appendix on "the art of thinking made easy" forecasts the future publication of an extended work on the same theme of English as a universal character founded on the disparate components of all languages of the "human race," to be issued under the title "The Polyglossal British Atlas, or His "New Comprehensive View of Literal Economy," which Gilchrist promises will outline the principles of
Sterling English as a Catholic Tongue, which has been chiefly founded on the Rational Etymology of significant Roots, Prefixes, Interfixes, and Affixes, visible in most Dialects, and regulated universally by the euphonous Commutability of Letters, the Contraction or Expansion of Words, and the Transposition of their component Parts, including various other Effects that spring from one grand Cause namely, an inherent Euphony of Speech common to the whole Human Race, and actually in harmonious Concord with the very Nature of Man, through every Age and Clime. (appendix)
For the homological entanglements of language and money exemplified by the phrase "sterling English," see Jean-Joseph Goux.
14 He makes similar claims in Volume 1 of The British Indian Monitor: "we should almost prefer our own letters to all others, for the dissemination and easy acquirement of the Hindoostanee" (xv). For some of the recent criticism on Sir William Jones, written in the wake of Said, see Jenny Sharpe; Alun David, "Sir William Jones, Biblical Orientalism and Indian Scholarship" Modern Asian Studies 30:1 (1996), 173-84; Garland Cannon, "Sir William Jones and Literary Orientalism," Oriental Prospects: Western Literature and the Lure of the East, Ed. C.C. Barfoot and Theo D’haen (Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998), 27-41; David Kopf, "The Historiography of British Orientalism, 1772-1992: Warren Hastings, William Jones, and the Birth of British Orientalism in Bengal," Objects of Enquiry: The Life, Contributions, and Influences of Sir William Jones, Ed. Garland Cannon (New York: NYU Press, 1995), 141-60; Michael J. Franklin, Sir William Jones (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1995); Fred Hoerner, "‘A Tiger in a Brake’: The Stealth of Reason in the Scholarship of Sir William Jones in India," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 37:2 (Summer 1995), 215-32.
15 Gilchrist also used this particular syntactic construction as a title of the work devoted to clarifying his system of transcription: The Hindee-Roman Orthoepigraphical Ultimatum.
16 Reading his transcribed texts is ironically much like his exercise in the "art of thinking" in The Tuitionary Pioneer—one has to fill in the gaps in order to grasp what is being said.
17 These various projects can all be linked to Gilchrist’s in their interest in locating an orthoëpical fulcrum point (usually English, but also Saxon and Greek), a "common stem" or literally universal standard by which all languages could be measured, registered, and gauged. See John Freeman, The Elements of Oral Language (London: H. Teape, 1821); George Edmonds, A Universal Alphabet, Grammar, and Language: Comprising a Scientific Classification of the Radical Elements of Discourse: and Illustrative Translations from the Holy Scriptures and the Principal British Classics: to which is added, a Dictionary of the Language (London: Richard Griffin and Co., 1856); Carl Lepsius, Universal Alphabet, In Christian Bunsen, Christianity and Mankind, Volume 4 (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1854); R. Rees, The Reesic Elements of Languages, or Universal Alphabet (London: R. Rees, 1865). See Alexander John Ellis, A Plea for Phonetic Spelling; or the Necessity of Orthographical Reform (London: Fred Pitman, 1848); Universal Digraphic Alphabet, composed entirely of ordinary types for accurately exhibiting the pronunciation of all languages (London: F. Pitman, 1856); Universal Writing and Printing with Ordinary Letters, for the use of Missionaries, Comparative Philologists, Linguists, and Phonologists (Edinburgh: R. Seton, 1856).
A universal alphabet was imagined as the key to all linguistic mythologies, a system whereby the codes of other languages might be cracked, that is, made legible or audible by being translated or pronounced. A universal alphabet, then, was seen as a system that would aid the acquisition of other languages and international and interethnic communication ("interethnic" is a term relevant in connection with the nineteenth-century interest in ethno-philology, of which Lepsius’s work is an example). A universal alphabet was seen as being particularly instrumental for the missionary project because the bible could be translated into a language which "everyone" could "read."
18 The move to claim the value of the useful for Hindustani occurs repeatedly in his work, at least one example of which can be found in BIM, Volume 1, xxvii.
19 The use of the first-person plural "our" in this passage about a native tongue troubles somewhat the attribution of the MS to Mosse, insofar as the only other publication under that name was Chronique de Paris, ou le spectateur moderne (Paris 1812). Halkett and Laing attribute the book to Mosse as well. Contemporary review journals, such as Gentleman’s Magazine, The Scots Magazine and Edinburgh Literary Miscellany, The British Critic, The British Review, and London Critical Journal, do not show a record of the book, but its publication was announced in The Edinburgh Review; Quarterly Review 10 (October 1813-January 1814) and Critical Review 4 (November 1813). Philological treatises certainly did come to public notice in the review sheets so it is not impossible that Enclytica should have appeared, especially given its emphasis on the philosophy of language (the title of Part Three, for example, is "Of the Philosophy of Language, and of Alphabetic Character").
The evaluation of English as that tongue most suited to the expression of feeling refers back to a slightly earlier commentary in the text on the same theme: "The loftiest darings of poetic genius have in later ages most signalized those tongues, which are generally thought the farthest removed from poetic pliability...the people whose language is, after the Italian, the most flexible of modern tongues, has thought proper to bind down under the severest trammels of rule and prescription the energies of her muse" (132-3).
20 One way of shifting the critical emphasis away from the date held to be singularly important as a historical marker of a moment in which the tide turns in favor of English in India—1835—is to work with the concept of generation, one that virtually announces itself through the accident of typesetting that suspends this word at the bottom of the page in the second volume of Gilchrist’s BIM (lxii). Viswanathan handles the problem of the 1835 narrative by shifting the marker to another date—1813—but it is also worthwhile to talk of a kind of generational consciousness of an era after the first stage of colonization and before a prophetically expansive era of empire (hence the tendency in colonial writings to look ahead to an imperialistic, what I read as an apocalyptic, future). This question of a generational consciousness came to me after a discussion with Alan Liu about the theme of generation in relation to new literary-historiographic work such as James Chandler's. Within this historical interregnum, a moment in which the teleology of letters is also a teleology of civilization and of culture, lie the beginnings of the idea that language can be severed from its uses, and even from power, class, nation, ethnicity. This is an epistemological turn not wholly completed in the nineteenth century, but its roots lie nevertheless in this historical moment.
21 For an earlier example, see Henry Kett’s celebration of the beauties of English in his A Dissertation.
22 See the lectures by former University of California President Clark Kerr, published as The Uses of the Multiversity.
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- Sir William Jones
- John Gilchrist
- comparative philology
- Saree Makdisi
- orthoepigraphical transcription
- Roman letters
- universal alphabet
- universal character
- Asiatic languages
- Asiatic Society of Bengal
- common source
- Indo-European languages
- vernacular languages