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Reordering languages: Persian and the colonial state in India, c.1820–1873

Shah, Zahra (2022) Reordering languages: Persian and the colonial state in India, c.1820–1873. Paedagogica Historica. ISSN 0030-9230

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Identification Number: 10.1080/00309230.2022.2105153


Thomas Babington Macaulay’s 1835 minute on Indian education is widely held to be representative of the views which underpinned the English East India Company’s replacement of Persian with English as the official language of administration in India in 1837, and the promotion of English and Indian vernacular languages as part of colonial educational policy. Yet, it is often overlooked that Macaulay failed to even mention Persian in his condemnation of “oriental learning”, focusing his attention solely on the shortcomings of Sanskrit and Arabic. Macaulay’s omission of Persian is telling: despite its centrality to Mughal rule and the political transactions of the East India Company alike, Persian did not fit easily into emergent colonial formulations regarding Indian languages and their relationships with particular locales, ethnicities and religions. Through an examination of colonial discussions regarding Indian education, this article argues that the complicated, often contradictory, status of Persian in educational discourse allowed the language to elude definitive categorisation and to survive in government schools and colleges during the nineteenth century. It further suggests that as multilingual cultures were formalised and reconfigured within the domain of colonial education, the continued presence of Persian alongside vernaculars such as Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali at colonial institutions both shaped–and disturbed–their identification as viable modern languages.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2022 Stichting Paedagogica Historica.
Divisions: International History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
Date Deposited: 15 Sep 2022 09:27
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2024 03:42

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