Towards a Common Language: Social Movements and Vernacular Publics in Telugu, 1900-1956

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Towards a Common Language: Social Movements and Vernacular Publics in Telugu, 1900-1956

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My dissertation foregrounds the ruptures in the constitution of vernacular languages, and in the publics these languages generate, to posit that the vernacular and its publics are unendingly fractured. This fracturing is significant for comparative and regional literary studies, where even as scholars attend to the exclusions that mark the vernacular public, they treat vernaculars as bounded and discrete languages whose limits of linguistic use could potentially be expanded. The equation of vernaculars with a place (within which they are spoken) and the association of people who live within a place with a given language plays a significant role in establishing the coherence of these languages. Such equation is not limited to Anglophone discourse; in South Asian languages as well, the words desa (region), bhasha (language) and praja (people) were repeatedly invoked in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to establish the importance of vernaculars in that region. To critique the pervasiveness of this framework for studying vernaculars, I analyze the ruptures that mark the emergence of each of these categories at the turn of the twentieth century. The archives I draw on come from three social movements in the Telugu sphere that together led to the formation of a recognizable discourse on language and caused widespread transformations in how literature was read and written. These were: the Andhra movement (1900-1956), which sought to establish a separate state (administrative unit) for Telugu speaking people in the Madras Presidency and represented the interests of Telugu speakers in Hyderabad State; the Telugu language debates (1910-1915), which argued over what form of Telugu (classical, literary or modern, non-literary) should be used in contemporary prose writing; and the Andhra public library movement (1914-1956), which established public access libraries across the region. Drawing on these discourses, I argue that there is an enduring connection between vernacular languages and the formation of exclusionary linguistic communities. These movements constituted linguistic communities both as common, or commonly shared among people, and as exclusive/majoritarian entities. I show that to move toward a different concept of the vernacular, we would have to attend to both these concepts of the common.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2019. Major: Asian Literature, Culture & Media. Advisor: Ajay Skaria. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 159 pages.

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Kollu, Sravanthi. (2019). Towards a Common Language: Social Movements and Vernacular Publics in Telugu, 1900-1956. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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