LING/ASIAN 344: The Languages of South Asia

Meeting time:	Monday and Wednesday, 4:00 to 5:30	Place: 3518 Frieze

Instructor:	Peter Edwin Hook			Phone: 763-9178

Office hour:	Wednesday, 12:30 to 1:30 pm (or appt) in 3084 Frieze Bldg.
In matters of language, literature and culture, the nations of South Asia
are among the most diverse and complex in the modern world.  In India
alone more than one thousand named languages and dialects are spoken, some
by tens of millions, others by as few as five households.  Among these
several dozen have systems of writing and traditions of literature as
ancient and as highly developed as any in Europe.

South Asia is a region that continually draws in outsiders.  Coming as
scholars, missionaries, traders or conquerors, these immigrants have
brought their own languages with them.  Foremost among these is Sanskrit,
a vehicle for some of the world's earliest surviving works of religion,
philosophy, and literature, and the first (perhaps the only)  language in
the world to be completely described.  From Sanskrit over the past three
thousand years have developed dozens of modern languages that have been
deeply influenced by languages of three other major groups of settlers:
Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman.  The interactions among these
peoples, sometimes peaceful and sometimes not, have led to the formation
of a South Asian language type whose characteristics will be the focus of
the first part of this course.  The second part will look in more detail
at several individual South Asian languages.  In the third part we will
examine the social and political forces that are responsible for the
convergence as well as the surviving diversity in the languages of South

The course will explore the languages of South Asia from a variety of
points of view:

a. Typological: What do the languages of South Asia have in common? What
makes them as a group different from English and other European languages?

b. Historical: Where do South Asian languages come from? What do they tell
us about the movements of prehistorical populations?

c. Cultural: What is Panini's Astadhyayi? How did it enable liturgical and
scholastic languages like Sanskrit and Pali to create transnational
cultural unity? How have regional languages like Tamil resisted
assimilation into that unity?

d. Literary: Does language structure have an effect on literary forms and

e. Sociolinguistic: What is diglossia? How does a multilingual society

f. Politics and planning: How are ethnic tensions expressed through the
politics of language? How to build a united nation out of a multilingual
and multiethnic state? What is the place of English in South Asia?

In addition to some fundamental concepts of linguistics, the course will
introduce students to the characteristic grammatical structures of South
Asian languages by having them investigate and report on particular
typological features in a descriptive grammar of a South Asian language of
their choosing.  Coursework will include (1) readings and lectures on the
major phenomena which define South Asian languages, (2) five short reports
on these phenomena as they are manifested in the languages that students
adopt, (3) discussion and comparison of these individual findings in 
class, (4) a midterm exam, and (5) a 10 page term paper examining some
linguistic or sociolinguistic phenomenon in South Asia.  During the final
weeks of the course students will make five to ten minute oral
presentations in class of a pre-final version of their term papers.

Course grade:	Short reports (4 best of 6):		20%
		Midterm:				35%
		Oral presentation:			 5%
		Course paper:				30%
		Attendance and participation:		10%

Provisional schedule of course activities.

Last updated on 21 January 2004.