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sanskrit tamil mediaeval india

Bilingual Discourse and Cross-cultural Fertilisation:
Sanskrit and Tamil in Mediaeval India

International Workshop 22nd - 23rd May, 2009

Convenors: Dr Vincenzo Vergiani (Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge) and Dr Whitney Cox (School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London).

Venue: Wolfson College, Cambridge.

The generous support of the British Academy and of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Cambridge) is gratefully acknowledged.

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About the workshop

Sanskrit, pre-modern South Asia's cosmopolitan language of culture and learning, and Tamil, the oldest and best preserved South Asian vernacular, existed for centuries in a state of mutual influence. It is clear from historical sources and other sorts of textual evidence that bilingualism was very common among literati writing in Tamil, while the influence of the Dravidian language on the style and usage of those writing in Sanskrit is evident across a wide variety of genres and discourses.

There has been some scholarly discussion on the relation of the two languages’ literary cultures (Hart 1976, Hardy 1983, and Tieken 2001), but hardly any research on their intellectual and philological textual traditions. Other than the pioneering work of P.S.S. Sastri (1930, 1946) and the recent work of Takahashi (1995) and Wilden (2004), this discussion is as yet in its infancy.

This international workshop seeks to assess the current state of the questions of the relationship between Sanskrit and Tamil, to ask new questions of the abundant primary materials, and to place this scholarly discussion within the wider framework of the humanistic and social study of language in society and culture.

The workshop will take as its starting point the question of translation, especially the creation of parallel or equivalent technical vocabularies and discursive strategies within the Sanskrit and Tamil knowledge systems of grammar, phonetics, theology, jurisprudence, and literary theory.

The creation of these systems of equivalence- translations of Sanskrit vocabularies and conceptual schemata within Tamil will be the principal object of study, but we also intend to examine the ways in which this process reflected back into Sanskrit systematic thought within Southern India (in this respect, our workshop is an intellectual-historical counterpart to Bronner and Shulman's [2006] recent arguments about the creation of local Sanskrit literary cultures).

The participants have independently been working on this topic area, and this workshop will provide a unique forum for them to present and discuss their findings.